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Judge declares mistrial in 'Desperate Housewives' lawsuit

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
Actress Nicollette Sheridan sued the
Actress Nicollette Sheridan sued the "Desperate Housewives" creator and ABC for wrongful termination.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Juror says she questioned credibility of ABC's witnesses
  • Actress Nicollette Sheridan sued the show's creator and ABC for wrongful termination
  • She claims her firing was in retaliation for complaining she was struck by show's creator
  • The jury was deadlocked at 8-4, in favor of the actress

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A judge declared a mistrial Monday in actress Nicollette Sheridan's wrongful termination lawsuit against "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry and ABC.

The jury told the judge they were deadlocked at 8-4, in favor of the actress, after three days of deliberations. They needed nine jurors to agree on a verdict.

Sheridan sued, claiming her character was killed -- and her acting job eliminated -- in retaliation for her complaining that Cherry hit her during a rehearsal for the ABC comedy.

Lawyers for Cherry and ABC's Touchstone Television argued the demise of her character was a creative decision unrelated to the workplace complaint.

ABC executives testified that Cherry gained their permission to have Edie Britt -- the sassy blonde played by Sheridan -- die in May 2008, four months before an incident in which Cherry allegedly struck Sheridan.

Feuding on 'Desperate Housewives' set

The hit during a rehearsal was just "a light tap on the head" intended to demonstrate "a piece of physical humor" Cherry wanted Sheridan to perform, the defense said in opening statements.

Sheridan testified that Cherry hit her because he was frustrated during a discussion over her lines in a scene. "It was a nice wallop to my head" she said.

One juror who voted for Sheridan's case said afterward that the defense story "just didn't hold water for me."

Beverly Crosby, a retired elementary school principal, said her decision to find the studio liable was based on her doubts about the credibility of several defense witnesses, which included high-level ABC executives.

"There were a lot of people that some of the jurors found not too credible," Crosby said.

Juror Johnny Huynh, who also voted for Sheridan's side, said it seemed to him that ABC executives scripted their stories "just a little bit."

"I don't say they was scripted," Huyhn said. "It's more like the story don't match for me."

Sheridan lawyer Mark Baute said while there was no victory, the jury's 8-4 vote did send a message to ABC and parent company Disney.

"They had 10 witnesses tell their little scripted story, with no documents, and eight jurors looked at their best, their presidents, and said, 'No, I'm not buying it, I'm not buying what you're selling, Mr. President,' " Baute said.

Lawyers will now prepare for a retrial, because an out-of-court settlement is not expected, he said.

"My view is that Disney is the unhappiest place on Earth, so why would there ever be a settlement offer?" Baute said.

ABC lawyer Adam Levin said the retrial will be "far more narrow than the previous case" since the judge tossed out Sheridan's battery complaint, leaving only the wrongful termination issue against the studio. In fact, Cherry is no longer a defendant, he said.

The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating on Wednesday but told the judge on Monday morning they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Although the show's line producer reported the hitting incident to the studio's human resources department, there was no investigation until an ABC senior executive saw a National Enquirer story about it at a grocery store two months later, according to testimony.

What followed was a "fake" investigation designed "to protect the money machine known as 'Desperate Housewives,'" Baute said. "Nobody wants the 'Desperate Housewives' applecart turned upside down."

The human resources investigator did not interview Cherry or Sheridan about the incident, only three people who worked for Cherry, Baute said.

Five months and 11 episodes after the rehearsal incident, Cherry informed Sheridan that Britt would die during a show taping the next day, ending her five-year run on "Desperate Housewives."

"To my estimation, it wasn't handled correctly," juror Crosby said. "It wasn't handled the way it should have been handled."

Sheridan was asking for $5.7 million in damages from ABC and Cherry, although the actress was paid $4 million in her last year of work and is still earning royalties from her vested interest in the hit series.

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