Judge dismisses part of suit over photographer’s encounter with Hilary Duff
A judge Monday granted a motion by Fox Broadcasting Co. and Talk WW Production Inc., the producers of “The Wendy Williams Show,” to dismiss both companies as defendants in a photographer’s lawsuit alleging that he was libeled and slandered during an episode of Williams’ show dealing with his 2020 encounter at a park with Hilary Duff in which Williams called his actions “creepy.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra affirmed a tentative ruling he issued Friday, citing free-speech grounds. The defense motion cited the state’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – – law, which is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
The decision leaves Duff, Williams and “The Wendy Williams Show” as defendants in the case, pending a Sept. 7 hearing.
Joel Weiner, an attorney for the two media defendants, said he had authority to represent Williams and asked that the part of the case against her be dismissed as well, but the judge said due process made such a move premature.
Weiner also said that “The Wendy Williams Show” was not a legal entity.
Kalra denied a motion by Wilkins’ attorney, Fred Hanassab, for a short delay in finalizing Monday’s ruling. Hanassab said he had been out of town caring for an ill relative, that he only recently found out about Monday’s proceeding and that the attorney who had been working on the case left the firm.
The judge was unswayed by Hanassab’s argument, saying the lawyer had been personally served by the defense motion, that he had months to decide what to do and that he could have communicated with Weiner.
“You can be anywhere on the planet and respond electronically,” Kalra said. “Quite frankly, counsel, I find your explanation completely lacking.”
In his ruling, the judge noted that Wilkins maintained in his suit filed in February 2021 that comments made on the show suggested he was a child predator.
“However, when looking at the transcript of the judicially noticed video, the only comment made on `The Wendy Williams Show’ about the plaintiff that would be unkind is that the plaintiff’s actions were `creepy,”‘ the judge wrote. “As such, the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to constitute libel or slander.”
Wilkins came across Duff, now 34, in a public park and the actress asked him not to photograph young children, including her 7-year-old son, as they played soccer, according to the defendants’ court papers.
The actress and singer recorded the encounter with Wilkins on her cell phone and posted the video to her Instagram page, where it became publicly disseminated and reported in the celebrity news media, with a portion being played during the “Hot Topics” segment of an episode of “The Wendy Williams Show” discussing celebrity news, according to the defendants’ court papers.
Williams began a discussion of the Duff-Wilkins encounter, including opinions on whether Duff might have handled the encounter differently, according to the defendants’ court papers. Williams said Wilkins’ actions were “creepy to me,” according to the defendants’ court papers.
“Although plaintiff’s complaint alleges Duff called him a `child predator,’ there is no such statement made by anyone in the `Wendy’ segment,” according to the defendants’ court papers.
In his ruling, Kalra agreed that Williams was expressing an opinion of what she saw in Duff’s video.
“As the defendants’ motion indicates, the only statement made by Williams is that (Wilkins’) actions were `creepy,”‘ the judge wrote. “Whether or not someone’s actions are `creepy’ are opinions.”