NEW: Both sides rest, clearing way for closing arguments Wednesday
Witness' emergence throws schedule of "Desperate Housewives" trial into chaos
Set worker testifies about e-mail suggesting "conspiracy to cover up" information on lawsuit
Actress Nicollette Sheridan accuses series creator of killing her character in revenge
The set construction coordinator for “Desperate Housewives” testified Tuesday he received an e-mail that suggested a “conspiracy to cover up” information regarding actress Nicollette Sheridan’s lawsuit against ABC and the TV show’s producers.
Sheridan accuses series creator Marc Cherry of killing her character and ending her employment in revenge for her complaints against him for a slapping incident during a rehearsal.
Testimony from several ABC executives supported Cherry’s claim that the decision that Edie Britt would die in season five was made in May 2008, four months before an incident in which Cherry allegedly struck Sheridan.
“Today’s antics by the plaintiff, conjuring up mysterious e-mails, (appear) to be a last-ditch effort to save her case,” Cherry’s defense team said.
The trial was set for closing arguments Tuesday, but the emergence of Michael Reinhart, who has supervised construction of the show’s sets since it began eight years ago, delayed that.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White began instructing the jury late Tuesday, with closing arguments set for Wednesday morning.
Computer technicians, however, were searching Reinhart’s work computer late Tuesday with the possibility that the case could be reopened if new evidence is found, Sheridan lawyer Mark Baute said.
Reinhart told jurors Tuesday that he called Sheridan’s attorney on Sunday to alert him to his suspicions of a cover-up conspiracy because what he read in an e-mail “started gnawing at me” and he “began to lose sleep.”
“It was my understanding that they were going to delete e-mails from the hard drives,” Reinhart said about the e-mail he received in fall 2010, soon after Sheridan filed her lawsuit.
He read the e-mail and immediately deleted it because he believed it was not intended for him, he said.
“I honestly tried to put it out of my mind,” he said, until this past weekend as he realized the Los Angeles trial was nearing an end.
What he read made him uncomfortable “because if the proposed actions were carried out, I felt it would create an imbalance between the parties in this case,” he testified.
“I just wanted to make it equal for both sides,” he said.
Reinhart said he feared he was committing “professional suicide” by revealing the e-mail, possibly ending any chances of a future job with Disney or ABC, the corporation that produces the show. He was concerned “not just for me, but for my crew and the well-being of their families,” he said.
But if he had not come forward, he “would’ve had to live with that doubt the rest of my life,” he said.
Under cross-examination by Cherry’s lawyer, Reinhart said Sheridan’s lawyer suggested he could help him find a job if he was fired by ABC. Baute denied that outside the courtroom.
The defense later called Jean Zoeller, ABC’s chief litigation lawyer, to testify that she sent memos to every employee connected to the case instructing them to save all their electronic documents. Asked if she asked anyone to delete e-mails, she said “Absolutely not.”
The defense won one victory Tuesday when White issued a directed verdict dismissing Sheridan’s battery claim against Cherry. Sheridan’s lawyer downplayed the significance of that decision, saying the damages could have only been $1 and jury deliberations will be simplified without it.
“You hit me, I complained and you fired me for it,” Baute said, giving a thumbnail description of the case that remains for jurors to decide.
The wrongful termination lawsuit contends Cherry killed off Britt, the sassy blonde Sheridan played, in retaliation for her complaints about being hit.
Cherry’s lawyers contend her violent death was a way to shock viewers and raise ratings.
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
The actress demonstrated the hit in full force on one of her lawyers, sending a loud thump across the courtroom and turning his head.
Five months and 11 episodes later, Cherry informed Sheridan that Britt would die during a show taping the next day, ending her five-year run on “Desperate Housewives.”
Jurors must decide if the death of Sheridan’s character and the end of her employment was illegal workplace retaliation or just a creative decision unconnected to the alleged battery incident.
ABC Entertainment is a defendant in the lawsuit because its executives allegedly failed to properly investigate Sheridan’s accusation that Cherry hit her and then agreed with his decision to fire her.
Although a line producer reported the 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, Baute said.
What followed was a “fake” investigation designed “to protect the money machine known as ‘Desperate Housewives,’” he 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.
Contracts introduced during Sheridan’s testimony revealed that she is still getting royalties from the show, even for the last three seasons after her termination.