Paltrow & Baldwin Lawsuits Explained
CELEBRITY LAWYER CHRISTOPHER C. MELCHER, WHO IS RANKED AS A BEST FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY IN CALIFORNIA, BREAKS DOWN the celebrity lawsuits of Gwyneth Paltrow and Alec Baldwin in WGN’s Legal Face Off PODCAST.
Joe Brand: Continuing on the Legal Face-Off podcast, let’s get to the latest on the Gwyneth Paltrow and Alec Baldwin lawsuits. We bring in top family law attorney Christopher Melcher, partner of acclaimed Walzer, Melcher & Yoda LLP, which was ranked one of the best family law firms in California. He has made appearances on Extra, Fox News, Yahoo, and now the Legal Face-Off Podcast. Again, Christopher, thank you very much for being here today.
Christopher Melcher: Thanks for having me.
Rich Lenkov: Chris, we love the Gwyneth Paltrow trial on this podcast, because it was one of the most compelling trials I’ve ever seen. Certainly the public seemed to feel the same way. You cover lots of celebrity trials. What do you think made this one so compelling and so viewable and so social media worthy?
Christopher Melcher: Well, I think the camera in the courtroom with a celebrity is going to be a hit every time. The facts of that case were interesting to me as a skier, because I didn’t really understand those right of way. I mean, just maybe common sense I did, but I never had any training on right of way on a ski slope. But going into that trial when I saw that it was approaching, the facts didn’t seem that interesting to me, but that camera in the courtroom makes a huge difference.
Right now we have the Danny Masterson retrial in LA. I mean, these are some very serious charges against him. Really, no one’s watching that case, because there’s no camera in the courtroom. So short answer, camera and celebrity in courtroom, going to be a hit.
Rich Lenkov: Let me just pick up on something really quick, because I’m a skier too, and I literally try, I listened to what, 90% of that and I watched about 90% of the Paltrow trial, because I found it so fascinating. And like you, I never thought about the Code of Conduct. I mean, you see it on a sign, but actually made me think of all those rules. Also, that one expert that the defense brought in that a lot of the jurors said was the most compelling, he is a ski expert on the dynamics of skiing and accident reconstruction. And how important do you think, I mean obviously a lesson that you take away from that trial is the importance of experts, the importance of having a more compelling expert than the other.
And perhaps it does give you some confidence in the jury system to know that it wasn’t all about celebrity. They actually listened, according to at least a couple of them that I heard, that the expert testimony weighed the credibility of each, and decided in favor of who they thought was more credible.
Christopher Melcher: Well, sure. I mean, there was that expert testimony. It’s a little bit difficult to reconstruct an accident like that. A lot of came down to, he said, she said. There was one supposed witness, but he was far away from the accident. He gave some inconsistent testimony. So it really came down to who did they believe. And the cross examination of Gwyneth was some of the weirdest questioning, and if listeners, you haven’t seen that, you should go and get a clip of that, because it was absolutely bizarre and uncomfortable for me as a lawyer to watch.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Cross Examination
That lawyer made no points with Gwyneth at all on cross-examination, and it actually made Gwyneth look more relatable than I ever thought that Gwyneth could come across as, because she was not dismissive or demeaning of these bizarre questions that were being asked of her. She was kind, and that made her look good.
On the other hand, Terry Sanderson, the plaintiff, he got mauled on cross-examination. There were inconsistencies that came out. So I think what drove the jury decision was, he said, she said there were inconsistencies exposed on cross for Terry Anderson, but there were really none on cross of Gwyneth.
Christina: So Chris, Gwyneth Paltrow decided to go to trial here, but there are numerous instances where celebrities would rather settle cases than expose themselves to the potential scrutiny of a televised trial. Why do you think she chose a different route here? There was a lot of coverage about what she wore, for example, and how that was going to play with the jury, as well as her mannerisms, the way she spoke. So clearly there was a lot of scrutiny. She was pretty brave in some ways to choose this route. Why do you think she did it? And do you think the verdict here is going to embolden other high profile defendants to try more cases?
Christopher Melcher: Well, that’s a great question, because going into that trial, it was like, why didn’t this settle? Couldn’t there have been a settlement? Why would she want to sit in a courtroom for, it seemed like it almost went on two weeks. So she’s spending a good chunk of her life there, paying her attorney apparently, and then exposing herself to cross examination. And with actors, they’re in control of what their image is, because they select the projects they want and they have retakes. But in court we don’t do that. We have no control over the questions they ask and we have no retake. So I thought, wow, she’s really putting herself out there. I was really not a Gwyneth fan going into it, and I thought that she would come out looking poorly, but it just happened that she ended up looking pretty good, and it made her look like somebody who was standing up against essentially a shakedown lawsuit.
So it turned out well, didn’t turn out well for Amber Heard, and going into that trial when it started, I thought, wow, Johnny Depp is really putting himself out there and is going to damage his reputation, he should have left that alone. But the way it all just came out, he looked good and she looked bad.
My advice to clients is, stay out of the courtroom, settle, don’t take that risk.
And I just think that it’s just toxic to their brand, unless there’s a fluke where they come out looking good, these cases have shown.
Rich Lenkov: And speaking of, you’re not looking good and exposing yourself, I mean, to your point, I thought one of the best cross-examination on the recross of Sanderson was obviously when they brought out all the social media.
I mean, dozens of entries on this guy’s social media where he’s doing all sorts of activities when he is also alleging and crying to the jury that he can’t live a normal life.
So I thought that was a really artful use of social media. Turning your attention, Chris, to another high profile piece of litigation that you have covered, is the Rust shooting. So Rust is the movie that just resumed filming now after prosecutors decided to drop the charges against Alec Baldwin.
Alec Baldwin’s Trial Mishaps
It seems strange that only a few months ago, I think it was two months ago, that the prosecutor so arduously and very notably on a lot of high profile media, vigorously defended her decision to bring these charges. Why does she now drop it?
Christopher Melcher: This is the one I struggle with, and I’ve been following this case from the beginning. I think it was dropped not because of the facts or the strength of the case, but because this prosecution struggled from the beginning with this high profile case. This is a small county or state, compared to an LA or New York prosecution where we’re used to having high profile prosecutions or cases. They have the experience and the budget to do that, in New Mexico they don’t. And this prosecution had to go, or the DA had to go to the county to get funding to even start this case. So they got funding, they got half of what they asked for, for a special prosecutor, and then this personal prosecutor that was hired turned out to be a member also, I guess maybe part-time of the legislature. So Alex, very high profile and skilled lawyers, made a motion for separation of powers and generally getting rid of that prosecutor.
They also pointed out that the five-year mandatory gun enhancement that Alec was charged with, which was a big hammer to probably get him to plead guilty to something, was put on the books after the incident occurred. So that’s ex post facto, you can’t do that. So there was a series of very embarrassing things. There was testing of the gun, which of course needed to be done, but apparently they also did some drop testing of it, which damaged the gun. There was no reason to drop test it, because the gun was never dropped during the incident. There was a question of whether it would go off spontaneously when you cocked it, but it should have never been dropped.
So there was these mishaps that occurred that I think led to the charges being dropped.
They could refile it when they’re reformulating this new prosecutor team, but the wheels came off, because they didn’t know how to handle a big case, in my opinion.
Christina: So Chris, Halyna Hutchins‘ parents and sister have said that they’re going to move forward with their civil suit against Baldwin, but her widower and son have already settled their case against him. What are your thoughts on this development?
Christopher Melcher: Yeah, I haven’t looked at the state law on standing, and that’s the ultimate issue is, who can sue for wrongful death? And certainly the husband, surviving spouse of Helena, can sue and probably the child, which they did, and like you say, settled.
Now we have a sister and mom suing. I just don’t know that New Mexico law allows for that. This seemed more like a publicity grab by Gloria Allred. Sorry, but that’s just the way it felt. But hey, if they have the rights, then they should pursue them…
But I just don’t know that it’s a free for all that every relative has the right to sue for a wrongful death.
Joe Brand: Again, that’s high net worth divorce lawyer Christopher Melcher, partner of Walzer, Melcher & Yoda. Christopher, thank you very much for the insight.
©2023 WGN. No claims made to copyrighted material. Aired 4/26/23