Judge Nixes Borat Suit

L.A. judge granting 20th Century Fox's motion to strike the lawsuit filed by two college students featured in Borat who accused the film's producers of fraudulently getting them to participate in the film

By Natalie Finn Feb 22, 2007 3:48 AMTags

This is very nice news for 20th Century Fox.

A Los Angeles judge has granted the studio's request to scuttle the fraud lawsuit brought by two of the fraternity brothers featured in the Oscar-nominated Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Courtroom assistant Rosie White told the Hollywood Reporter's media law site, hollywoodreporteresq.com, last week that Judge Joseph Biderman's ruling was to have been made available on Friday.

While the judge's decision can be appealed by the two South Carolina men who alleged that they were plied with alcohol before signing the waiver that allowed them to be shown on camera acting like a couple of boors, a ruling based on California's Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation statute would nullify all of the plaintiffs' claims.

(Meaning, the state frowns on so-called retaliatory lawsuits of which the intent appears to be to silence, intimidate or punish those who use public forums to discuss or move for action on an issue.)

According to the statute, a judge can dismiss such a complaint and order the plaintiffs to pay the other side's attorneys fees if the defendants can show that the suit was directed at speech that's in furtherance of the public interest. The plaintiffs are also required to show that they have a probability of success based on the merits of the case.

20th Century Fox attorney Louis Petrich filed a motion last Wednesday stating that the film at the center of the lawsuit brought against the studio and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen definitely falls within the state's definition of speech regarding matters of public concern.

Biderman had already rejected the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Fox to remove or alter the men's scene from the film's DVD release and future theatrical copies pending the outcome of the litigation.

Christopher Rotunda and Justin Seay appeared in Borat for about five minutes, during which they invited the bogus Kazakh journalist aboard their RV, downed a few beers, screened the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape and commented that "minorities have all the power" in this country.

Meanwhile, Cohen has explained, and most critics have agreed, that one of the points of Borat was to highlight the absurdity of prejudice and the people who harbor it rather than to make fun of any one race, religion, gender or ethnicity.

And if a bunch of people were embarrassed in the process, so be it.

Rotunda and Seay sued 20th Century Fox, Cohen, One America Productions, Everyman Pictures and Gold/Miller Productions in November, alleging fraud, rescission of contract; statutory and common law false light, for framing their comments to make them appear "insensitive to minorities"; appropriation of likeness; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. 

In their suit the former Chi Psi brothers stated that they had been told the film would never be shown in the United States, and that their portrayal in the blockbuster had made them "the objects of ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress" and caused them to suffer "loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community." 

The plaintiffs' attorney, Olivier Taillieu, argued last week that the anti-SLAPP rule should not apply because his clients are protesting the allegedly shady conduct of the film's producers rather than the film's content, which they argued in court documents was wrought by "behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in" if they hadn't been so darn drunk.

Taillieu said that his clients will appeal the court's decision.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan's envoy to the United States apparently didn't get the memo about Borat's intentions, either.

Speaking at Yale University Tuesday, Kanat Saudabayev defended the former Soviet republic from any "misconceptions" that may have been caused by the film, which portrays Kazakhstan as a country full of prostitutes, criminals and anti-Semites and where homosexuals have to wear blue hats.

Saudabayev emphasized the nation's modernity and oil wealth, saying, "I hope it would give you some ideas about what the real Kazakhstan is about and not the misconceptions provided in the movie by Sacha Baron Cohen."

The Kazakh official's cause has already been taken up by the Romanians from the isolated village that stood in for Borat's hometown in the film's opening and closing sequences. In November, the residents of Glod filed a $30 million federal lawsuit against Cohen and his fellow Borat producers, objecting to the film's portrayal of them as "rapists, abortionists, prostitutes, thieves, racists, bigots, simpletons and/or boors."