A judge has indicated he is poised to grant a motion by the two producers of “The Wendy Williams Show” and order a photographer to pay more than $65,000 in attorneys’ fees after the companies won dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit alleging that he was libeled and slandered during an episode of Williams’ show dealing with his 2020 encounter at a park with Hilary Duff.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra issued a tentative ruling on Friday stating that the $66,300 sought by Fox Broadcasting Co. and Talk WW Production Inc. from photographer Darryl Wilkins is reasonable. Kalra is scheduled to hear arguments later Monday before issuing a final ruling.
Wilkins’ lawyer, Fred Hanassab, argues in his court papers that the fees motion was not complex and that the producers are entitled to no more than a total of $20,000. The defense’s fees request is “outrageous and abusive, ” Hanassab states in his court papers.
“It does not take a giant leap to demonstrate Hilary Duff is a public figure,” Hanassab stated in his court papers. “It does not take a giant leap to demonstrate that events surrounding her and her family are matters of public interest.”
Fox and Talk WW were entitled to attorneys’ fees after winning dismissal of the part of Wilkins’ claims against them on May 9 under the state’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
“Here, the complaint only alleges that the statements were disparaging and intimated that the plaintiff was a child predator,” Kalra wrote in granting the anti-SLAPP motion. “However, when looking at the transcript of the judicially noticed video, the only comment made on `The Wendy Williams Show’ about the plaintiff that would be unkind is that the plaintiff’s actions were `creepy.’ As such, the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to constitute libel or slander.”
When the suit was filed in February 2021, Duff and Williams were also named as defendants, but neither were ever served.
Wilkins encountered Duff, now 35, in a public park on Feb. 22, 2020, and the actress asked him not to photograph young children, including her 7-year-old son, as they played soccer, according to the two companies’ court papers.
Duff recorded the encounter with Wilkins on her cell phone and posted the video to her Instagram page, where it became publicly disseminated and reported in the celebrity news media, with a portion being played during the “Hot Topics” segment of an episode of “The Wendy Williams Show” discussing celebrity news, according to the companies’ court papers.
Williams began a discussion of the Duff-Wilkins encounter, including opinions on whether Duff might have handled the encounter differently, according to the defendants’ court papers. Williams said Wilkins’ actions were “creepy to me,” according to the producers’ court papers.
“Although plaintiff’s complaint alleges Duff called him a `child predator,’ there is no such statement made by anyone in the `Wendy’ segment,” according to the companies’ court papers.
In his ruling, Kalra agreed that Williams was expressing an opinion of what she saw in Duff’s video.
“As the defendants’ motion indicates, the only statement made by Williams is that (Wilkins’) actions were `creepy,”’ the judge wrote. “Whether or not someone’s actions are `creepy’ are opinions.”