Here's something for the tabloids: Jenny Jones is in the clear.
A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals has tossed a $29.2 million civil court judgment against The Jenny Jones Show, after deciding the syndicated chatfest should not be held liable for protecting a guest who was gunned down after revealing he had a crush on another man.
The 2-to-1 ruling overturned a 1999 jury verdict that declared the show responsible for setting up an ill-fated meeting between Jonathan Schmitz and Scott Amedure in an infamous episode on "secret crushes" that led to Amedure's murder.
Amedure, who was gay, admitted during the March 1995 Jenny Jones taping that he had a thing for Schmitz. On stage, Schmitz, then 24, laughed it off, and the two, who were friends before the show, even flew home to Detroit together. Just three days later, however, the embarrassment proved too much for Schmitz, and he shot the 32-year-old Amedure dead. The episode never aired.
Schmitz was eventually found guilty in August 1999 and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.
After the murder, Amedure's family sued The Jenny Jones Show's owner, Warner Bros., and distributor Telepictures in civil court, claiming the program was liable for the man's slaying. A jury agreed, awarding the family $25 million in damages. (The additional money was interest accrued since the May 1999 verdict.)
In an eight-page ruling issued Wednesday, however, the appeals panel ruled The Jenny Jones Show could not have predicted the outcome.
While heralding the show "as the epitome of bad taste and sensationalism," the prevailing two justices said Jenny Jones producers "had no duty to anticipate and prevent the act of murder committed by Schmitz three days after [filming in the] studio and hundreds of miles away."
"Schmitz gave every appearance of being a normal, well-adjusted adult who consented to being surprised on the show by a secret admirer of unknown sex and identity...nothing in Schmitz's demeanor or in any of his interactions with the show put defendants on notice that he posed a risk of violence to others," said the judges, who concluded the case should never have gone to trial.
The dissenting opinion came from Judge William Murphy, who believed producers were at fault for not carefully screening Schmitz, whose background showed a history of alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness and several suicide attempts.
"I would hold that as a matter of public policy, if defendants, for their own benefit, wish to produce 'ambush' shows that can conceivably create a volatile situation, they should bear the risk, if a guest is psychologically unstable or criminally dangerous," Murphy wrote.
The other judges on the panel disagreed, saying that blaming Jenny Jones "would expand the concept of duty to limitless proportions."
While Jones herself was not named in the suit, she issued a statement, saying she was "elated" with the panel's decision.
"Scott Amedure's murder was a horrible tragedy, but I have always believed that it was fundamentally wrong and unfair to blame the Show," said Jones. "I am thrilled that the Court of Appeals agreed that the Show could not possibly have predicted and prevented this brutal crime."
Telepictures president Jim Paratore seconded that emotion. "We are deeply gratified by the court's ruling. This important victory, however, in no way diminishes the tragedy of Scott Amedure's death," he said in a statement. "The court today affirmed that the case against us had no legal merit and should have been thrown out of court long before it ever went to trial."
No immediate comment from Amedure's family.
Wednesday's ruling was also good news for other media outlets. Several, including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, had filed "friend of the court" briefs supporting The Jenny Jones Show, fearing that a ruling upholding the verdict could open the floodgates for lawsuits aimed at their tabloid-esque shows.