Dave Hester can move forward with the wrongful termination portion of his wide-ranging lawsuit against A&E and the producers of Storage Wars, a judge ruled today. In a hearing Tuesday in LA Superior Court, Judge Michael Johnson rejected the network’s free speech related attempt to dismiss the wrongful termination aspect of the former reality cast member’s nearly 10 month old legal action. Citing the First Amendment and California’s anti-SLAPP statute, A&E had argued that Hester’s suit would effectively hand him control over who they could put on the hit reality show. Johnson didn’t agree. “Plaintiff’s contract expressly states that Defendants had no obligation to use Plaintiff on the program during the term of their agreement. Plaintiff is suing to recover money, and not to inject himself into the program,” wrote Johnson in a tentative ruling issued before this morning’s hearing. Hester sued A&E and Storage Wars’ producers Original Productions back in December 2012. At the time he called the show a staged “fraud on the public” and claimed he was suddenly kicked off the storage locker auction series before the fourth season when he complained about their methods. Hester is seeking over $750,000 plus punitive damages that could add up to millions more. The judge today also rejected A&E’s motions to dismiss the punitive damages. The first round of the case went A&E’s way when Johnson threw out the unfair business practices claims of the former series star’s suit against the network and the producers on March 12. That loss for Hester lead to Judge Johnson ordering him to pay a $122,692 portion of the defendants’ legal fees. Johnson also agreed in March with A&E and Original that their First Amendment rights would be violated if the court were to let to Hester’s attorneys’ request for an injunction against Storage Wars for the alleged staging of the show. Marty Singer and Hester’s other lawyer Allison Heart of Lavely & Singer have now removed that request from the suit in an amended complaint. A&E and Original Productions are represented by Kelli Sager, John LeCrone and Michelle Bussarakum of LA firm Davis Wright Tremaine. Storage Wars returned for a fourth season on April 16 – without Hester.
Round 1 of the Storage Wars legal battle looks to have gone to A&E. In a hearing today, a judge threw out the unfair business practices claims of the series former star Dave Hester’s wide-ranging lawsuit against the network and producers of the reality show. LA Superior Court judge Michael Johnson ruled that the claim fell short under California’s anti-SLAPP law. The Judge also sided with the defendants that their First Amendment rights would be violated if he were to agree to Hester’s attorneys’ request for an injunction against Storage Wars for alleged staging of the show.
A&E had requested that the unfair business practices claim be striped from the five-claim suit and their Constitutional rights affirmed in their January 28 response to Hester’s initial December 11 complaint. Johnson told the downtown hearing that in granting the requested injunction he would essentially be telling A&E what they could and could not programming on their network, something he did not agree was right or warranted. Additionally, he demanded more information on the wrongful termination aspect of Hester’s complaint for the suit to progress in the courts. Hester and his lawyer Marty Singer now have 20 days to amend their initial complaint.
EXCLUSIVE: Original Productions, the FremantleMedia-owned company founded by prolific reality producer Thom Beers, has returned to WME. Beers moved his company from WME to CAA last June. Two months later, he was named CEO of FremantleMedia North America. As a result, Original underwent executive restructuring, with Philip Segal replacing Beers as CEO & executive producer and Jeff Conroy named president and executive producer. Beers holds a chairman title at Original in addition to his CEO duties at parent FMNA. Since its inception in 1997, Original has produced more than 2,500 hours of TV, including 250 hours in the last year. The company currently has 14 series airing on cable, including The Deadliest Catch, Bering Sea Gold, Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, Wild Justice, Storage Wars, Storage Wars: Texas and American Hoggers.
Storage Wars star Dave Hester today sued A&E and the producers of the reality show, calling it a staged “fraud on the public”. Represented by attorney Marty Singer in his suit (read it here), Hester is seeking more than $750,000 in damages and fees from the network and Original Productions for their actions and for firing him from the show. “When Plaintiff David Hester (“Hester”) complained to producers that A&E’s fraudulent conduct of salting and staging the storage lockers was possibly illegal, he was fired from the Series. As further evidence of Defendants’ outrageous conduct, they purported to rescind their written exercise of an option retaining Hester’s services this coming season,” says the 14-page complaint, which is suing for wrongful termination, breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, unfair business practices and declaratory relief.
Reality shows are often accused of sleight-of-hand manipulation of events, contestants and other participants, but Hester’s suit tarnishes Storage Wars almost from top to bottom. “Nearly every aspect of the Series is faked, even down to the plastic surgery that one of the female cast members underwent in order to create more “sex appeal” for the show, the cost of which was paid for by Original,” the suit claims. “Original regularly ‘salts’ the storage lockers that are the subject of the auctions portrayed on the Series with valuable or unusual items to add dramatic effect, even going so far as to stage entire storage units. Original also manipulates the outcome of certain auctions by paying for storage units on behalf of the weaker cast members who lack the both the skill and financial wherewithal to place winning bids,” it adds. Hester is seeking a jury trial.
UPDATE, 5:56 PM: Original Prods in a statement this afternoon has countered claims that the company was stingy when it came to benefits and worker safety on the show. “Original Productions has always offered competitive wages and excellent working conditions,” it read. “It is the reason Original Productions attracts the kind of talent that has been successfully developed into award-winning crafts people with impeccable industry reputations. Additionally, Original Productions follows a strict Injury/Illness Prevention Program policy for all of its productions with healthy and safe working conditions as a priority for all production crews.”
The statement said neither IATSE or the Teamsters have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for certification and that for now “it is the company’s position that it is not obligated to recognize these two unions as bargaining representatives.”
PREVIOUS, 1:01 PM: About 100 people turned up outside the Burbank compound of 1000 Ways To Die producer Original Productions on a chilly Monday morning. Sympathizers including reps from WGA West as well as SAG and AFTRA joined the picket line, which got underway at 8:30 AM, chanting their call for a union contract for the Spike TV show. Today’s action comes after Original fired two-dozen workers after they voted to seek union representation; production has been stopped for more than a week, and Friday the unions called for a strike. “This is a successful television series and this company refuses to work with unions,” Steve Dayan, an organizer at Teamsters Local 399, told Deadline in front of the well-barricaded Original facility. “This company is non-union for all the unions — non-SAG, non-AFTRA, non-Teamster, non-DGA. These guys have a successful television series and they’re not willing to pay their crew their benefits.”
Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
UPDATED: Teamsters Local 399 business agent/organizer Steven Dayan said the action is series producer Original Productions’ own fault. “This is a company that has not communicated with us at all,” he told Deadline. “Our understanding is that Original Productions are crewing up again and that they are going to attempt to shoot again.” Production on the Spike TV series, now in its fourth season, came to a halt February 16 when Original fired more than two dozen crew members seeking union protection. Original also produces the reality series Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars and Ice Road Truckers. “This is a company, when it comes to safety, to health benefits, to the people who made their show a success, do not do things the way they should,” Dayan said. “It is a recipe for abusing people. The bottom line is that’s wrong and that is why we will be picketing on Monday.” Here’s the release announcing the action:
LOS ANGELES – Last Thursday, February 16, the crew of Spike Television’s series “1000 Ways to Die” voted unanimously to support the IATSE in securing them benefits, safe working conditions, and collective bargaining rights.
Original Productions, who also produce reality shows such as “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” for Discovery, refused to recognize the IA as the bargaining unit and summarily fired the crew, numbering over 25 employees. The production has been down for the past week.
Begainning at 8:30 a.m. this coming Monday, Feb. 27, , IATSE and Teamster leaders, the LA County AFL-CIO and rank and file members of several production locals will join the union and non-union crew of “1000 Ways to Die” to walk the picket line in front of Original’s production facility at 2435 Naomi Street, Burbank, CA 91504.