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TV lawyer fired on ‘morals clause’ claim

An actor who made his reputation playing a slightly sleazy TV lawyer can tell a jury he did not violate a morality clause in his contract to be a celebrity spokesperson for a legal marketing campaign.

Virginia Beach-based Innovative Legal Marketing LLC hired Corbin Bernsen to promote its “BIG CASE” TV advertising campaign. Bernsen gained fame playing TV lawyer Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law” during the 1980s.

The parties’ 2009 spokesperson agreement said the “Talent” could be terminated for committing “any act” that would tend to bring the Talent or the clients into “public disrepute” or “scandal.”

ILM’s Brien Johnson invoked that “morals clause” when he fired Bernsen, citing his appearance in a TV skit spoofing plaintiff’s lawyers, a report of an outstanding state tax lien, Bernsen’s appearance discussing his wild youth in “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” an alleged altercation in an Ohio bar and his criticism of an event sponsored by an ILM client.

In late June, Norfolk U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Miller recommended denying ILM summary judgment on its claim that Bernsen had violated the contract’s morals clause.

Earlier this week, Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said the case can go to trial. She said there are issues of fact on whether ILM knew about Bernsen’s conduct and intended to waive its rights under the contract, and whether that behavior actually violated the morality clause. Smith dismissed Bernsen’s counterclaim for unjust enrichment.

Let’s see, fake divorce lawyer hired to tout big-ticket plaintiff’s cases, who was fired for – among other things – a “grotesque spoof” on plaintiff’s attorneys. Jurors may be lining up to hear this one.

By Deborah Elkins

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