Sunday, January 16, 2011

Globes face lawsuit on eve of Hollywood show

LOS ANGELES: A former publicist for the Golden Globes show is suing its organizers for breach of contract and allegedly taking bribes, a lawyer said, on the eve of the annual Hollywood awards gala.

Michael Russell, who worked for the Globes' organizers for 17 years, wants at least two million dollars in damages and lost wages from them and accusing them of running a "payola" scheme, according to the lawsuit, obtained by a French news agency.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) dismissed the action as a case of "a disgruntled former consulting firm" trying to cash in.

The lawsuit was filed at the Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, three days ahead of Sunday's glitzy Golden Globes show, seen as a pointer to success in the far more prestigious Academy Awards next month.

"Michael Russell has brought this lawsuit in the hope that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will take these problems seriously and change their practices," said Russell's lawyer Tim McGonigle on Friday.

The heart of the complaint was that HFPA members could receive compensation from film companies in return for lobbying for certain movies to be nominated for the awards.

"Journalists are supposed to be independent, and representing films to the members, that's a conflict of interest," he said.

The 36-page legal document includes the allegations that "HFPA members abuse their positions and engage in unethical and potentially unlawful deals and arrangements which amount to a 'payola' scheme."

It says the Golden Globes lost its network television contract in 1982 following a scandal involving alleged kickbacks, but after Russell started to work for them in 1993 they secured a deal with NBC in 1995.

The 10-year deal -- which runs out this year -- was initially worth a reported 12 million dollars a year to the Globes, but that increased to 26 million a year, it says.

The HFPA dismissed the lawsuit, calling the allegations "completely without merit.

"This is no more than the case of a disgruntled former consulting firm, whose contract was not renewed, attempting to take advantage once again of the Globe's international stage for their own gain," it said in a statement.

Sunday's show kicks off Tinsel Town's annual awards season, leading up to the Oscars on February 27.

British historical drama "The King's Speech" starring Colin Firth and Helen Bonham-Carter leads with seven nominations for the Globes, followed by six for Facebook movie "The Social Network."

Industry insiders point to the HFPA's relatively tiny voting body of 81 members, against the Academy Awards' more than 5,700, alleging that the Globes are too open to undue influence by movie companies.

One film's inclusion in the shortlist this year triggered smirks around Hollywood.

"The Tourist," starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, was critically panned but nominated surprisingly in the comedy or musical category, in what gossips suggested was a blatant bid to gets its A list stars to attend Sunday.


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