Web Site Headed for Court Over Simpson Manuscript
Thursday, June 21, 2007
MIAMI, June 20 -- Lawyers for the family of Ron Goldman and a bankruptcy trustee say the celebrity gossip Internet site TMZ.com should be held in contempt for posting a manuscript of O.J. Simpson's book "If I Did It."
The Web site and its lawyer contend that the company did nothing wrong and that the manuscript was posted only briefly, though excerpts remained on the site Wednesday afternoon.
At an emergency hearing Wednesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol said he would schedule a hearing later on whether to hold TMZ in contempt and suggested that the company, a joint venture of America Online and a Time Warner subsidiary, could eventually be held financially liable for any violation.
"This may be a good thing rather than a bad thing," Cristol said, noting that the parent firms have "deep pockets."
For his part, O.J. Simpson told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he had nothing to do with TMZ's posting of the manuscript and that he never saw a final copy of his book, which was canceled by HarperCollins after widespread criticism of its proposed publication.
"The book was stopped and the only people who made this book come back are the Goldmans and TMZ also profited," Simpson said in a telephone interview. "If the book is out on the Internet, I wish they would tell me where it is."
Simpson has maintained his innocence in the killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994. Though the former football star was acquitted of murder charges, Goldman's family won a civil wrongful death case against Simpson now totaling more than $33 million.
As part of their efforts to collect, the Goldmans seized on securing the rights to the aborted "If I Did It" project.
Last week, Cristol ruled in favor of the Goldman family, which wants to rewrite the book and put it out under the title "Confessions of a Double Murderer." He ordered all copies of the manuscript and related materials turned over to a court-appointed trustee, partly to satisfy Simpson's debt to the Goldmans.
Goldman attorney Paul Battista said TMZ's posting of the manuscript on Tuesday violated that order and may do irreparable harm to the family's attempt to benefit financially from it.
"I can't tell you how distraught the Goldmans are to hear that this hit the Internet for free," Battista said.
Brian Rich, attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, called the posting a "serious violation" of the order, asking the judge to haul TMZ executives into court to explain why the company shouldn't be held in contempt and perhaps sanctioned.
"We believe the estate has been damaged," Rich said. "This thing is out there."
TMZ attorney Scott Grossman, however, said that the manuscript has surfaced previously on other Internet sites and that it was on the TMZ site for only about 10 minutes before it was removed. Excerpts remain, but Grossman said those are protected under the "fair use" doctrine as a legitimate news story.