A judge ordered singer/actress Ronee Sue Blakley to pay more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees to her former lover, who won dismissal earlier this year of a lawsuit alleging he based the character of an abusive mother on his ex-flame when penning the screenplay for the film “What Maisie Knew.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rafael Ongkeko granted $209,670 to writer Carroll Cartwright on June 5, the same day he heard arguments on the motion for attorneys’ fees brought by Cartwright’s attorneys. He also ordered Blakley to pay Cartwright an additional $1,840 in associated legal costs.
The judge had taken the case under submission after the arguments.
Ongkeko said during the hearing that an anti-SLAPP motion involves a complex area of law and that the 476 hours Cartwright’s lawyers spent working on the motion was a reasonable amount of time. He also said that prior to acting as her own attorney Blakley was represented with lawyers very knowledgeable about libel law.
“This is a case that did require multiple staffing,” the judge said, adding that it was necessary at the time for Cartwright to hire lawyers to counter the “firepower” of the attorneys representing Blakley at the time.
The California anti-SLAPP law was enacted by the state Legislature in 1992 to protect the petition and free speech rights of all citizens. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
Blakley and Cartwright were a couple from 1982-87, and they had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1988, according to the suit filed in April 2014. Blakley alleges Cartwright developed a “deep hatred” for her during a long custody battle concerning their daughter.
The lawsuit alleged the mother character in the 2012 film, portrayed by Oscar winner Julianne Moore, is a “thinly disguised portrait” of Blakley, now 69. According to the lawsuit, Cartwright penned the plot for the movie out of spite for Blakley.
But Cartwright’s attorney, Kelli Sager, said the movie was based on an 1897 novel of the same name by Henry James. She said there are numerous dissimilarities between the lives of Blakley and Cartwright and those of the characters in the book, in which James condemns parents for abandoning their responsibilities to their children.
Blakley maintained Cartwright engaged in “wrongdoing” and therefore should not benefit by her having to pay his attorney fees. But Sager said the anti-SLAPP law requires plaintiffs to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees after a case is dismissed.
“The law is crystal clear that fees are mandatory,” Sager said. “There is no evidence of wrongdoing and I take umbrage over the way she attacks everyone without any proof whatsoever.”
In his earlier ruling dismissing Blakley’s case, Ongkeko said that a typical viewer would not see any similarities between the Susanna character and Blakley.
“Thus, plaintiff has not shown that a reasonable viewer would understand Susanna to be plaintiff,” Ongkeko wrote.
Blakley, who said she once toured with Bob Dylan, was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the 1975 film “Nashville.”
—City News Service
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