Leo "Vindicated" in Lawsuit

Judge tosses $45 million civil suit against actor for alleged 1998 brawl

By Joal Ryan Sep 30, 2004 12:05 AMTags

For Leonardo DiCaprio, it looks like the 1990s are finally over.

A judge in New York on Wednesday dropped DiCaprio as a defendant in a $45 million lawsuit filed back when Titanic mania was barely subsided and Elizabeth Berkley was a cause allegedly worth fighting over.

"It's an exceptionally long and old case," DiCaprio's attorney, Paul Callan, said Wednesday.

DiCaprio stood accused in the Titanic-sized complaint of egging on an alleged attack of Roger Wilson, an actor/writer, outside a Manhattan restaurant in March 1998.

The reported fisticuffs were said to have started after Wilson, once a movie star in the Porky's series, confronted DiCaprio pal Jay Ferguson, once a sitcom star on Evening Shade, over phone calls reputedly placed by Ferguson to Berkley, once a Saturday-morning TV star on Saved by the Bell. At the time, Berkley was Wilson's live-in girlfriend.

Wilson filed suit against DiCaprio and nearly a dozen others a year later. From the outset, DiCaprio's camp branded the allegations against the actor as "absolutely false."

On Wednesday, more than five years after the lawsuit began working its way through the courts, DiCaprio felt "total vindication."

"What's terrific about the American justice system is that justice is served, and we hope this discourages [others] from making money on false claims," Ken Sunshine, the actor's publicist, said.

A call to Wilson's attorney was not returned Wednesday.

Per DiCaprio's camp, New York Supreme Court Justice Paula Omansky dismissed Wilson's claims against every named defendant, both person (i.e., DiCaprio) and thing (Asia de Cuba restaurant), save for one.

Todd Healy, described by Callan as a friend of a DiCaprio friend, remains a defendant in the case, the attorney said. Healy is alleged to have punched Wilson, Callan said.

Healy claims he acted in self-defense, the Associated Press said.

In the suit, Wilson said he was struck twice, suffering damage to his throat and larynx.

Wilson accused DiCaprio of telling friends to go outside Asia de Cuba and "kick his [expletive]," the wire service said. But Callan said Healy couldn't have been incited by DiCaprio's alleged remark because Healy was never inside the restaurant with the star's group--he met up with them outside the establishment.

"For Leonardo DiCaprio, it was an entirely frivolous lawsuit," Callan said. "He was named because he is a prominent celebrity."

In March 1998, DiCaprio was beyond prominent. He was ubiquitous.

He was 23. He was the star of Titanic, a box-office phenomenon steaming its way toward a record 11 Oscar wins and record domestic gross of $601 million. And he was the headliner of a "posse" whose every nightclub move was documented by the tabloids.

These days, DiCaprio is in the news for reportedly buying a home in Las Vegas, presumably so he can spend his golden years in the desert. He turns 30 in November, not long before he's back on the big screen as mogul Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator.

Other players in the Wilson-DiCaprio affair also have moved on: Berkley, 32, wed Ralph Lauren nephew Greg Lauren last November; Ferguson, 29, did guest spots last season on Judging Amy; Wilson, now in his mid-40s, cowrote the just-shot horror movie, Devour.