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Morality clause the subject of Corbin Bernsen’s contract dispute

| Nov 8, 2012 | Business Contracts & Disputes |

People in North Carolina of a certain age may remember the hit television series “L.A. Law.” Nearly 20 years after that legal drama went off the air, one of its stars was back in court recently. Only he was not playing a lawyer on TV, he was the plaintiff in a real-life contract dispute with an advertising company that hired him to appear in its commercials.

The firm, which specializes in producing advertising for law firms, approached the actor Corbin Bernsen in 2009 to star in some commercials. The company was probably interested in Bernsen because of his most famous role as attorney Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law.” Bernsen accepted the offer and signed a contract to do the commercials for five years for $1 million.

But about halfway through the employment deal, the company cancelled the contract. It cited a morality clause contained in the agreement and claimed that Bernsen had violated the clause through various incidents and television work. For example, the company said that Bernsen had tax problems, discussed past drug use and sexual encounters on a television show and was seen shouting at staff members at a Caribbean resort.

In response, Bernsen sued the ad company for breach of contract, saying he did not violate the morality clause and that the company was looking for an excuse not to pay him. He is seeking $668,000, while the firm is asking for $600,000 in damages. The case went to trial in federal court on Nov. 7.

One interesting allegation is that Bernsen denigrated attorneys by appearing as a lawyer in a comedy sketch on the show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” The company’s attorneys wanted to air the sketch for the jury, but Bernsen’s attorney argued that the sketch was produced three months before his client was hired. The judge ruled in Bernsen’s favor.

Bernsen was the only witness to testify on Nov. 7. Trial was scheduled to continue the next day.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, “‘L.A. Law’ star testifies in contract dispute in Norfolk,” Tim McGlone, Nov. 8, 2012

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