NEW YORK — What an incredible waste of time and money.
This story first appeared in the November 13, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That was the conclusion Judge Ira Gammerman came to in a miserable end for Gruner + Jahr, the magazine company that sued Rosie O’Donnell for pulling out of her namesake magazine a year and a half after it launched. While Gammerman will not formally rule on the case until final briefs are submitted next month, on Wednesday he KO’d the plaintiff’s hopes of winning a massive settlement from O’Donnell.
In a bemused tone that perfectly captured the absurdity of the situation, Gammerman scratched his head at how he was supposed to assess damages over a magazine that he said showed no definite signs of being imminently profitable. He also picked apart the plaintiffs for trying what he called an “ill-conceived” lawsuit.
“Leaving aside the issue of attorney’s fees,” Gammerman said in New York State Supreme Court, “I don’t think either side has proved any damages….I really think that the attorneys for the plaintiff had an obligation to speak to their client about the possibility, or lack thereof, of any substantial damages before their lawsuit was started. My impression is that the lawsuit was started as a back-and-forth public dispute that was tried in the newspapers and for some reason or other the plaintiff decided to try it in a courtroom, as well.”
He added: “This testimony [by G+J] concerning the $65 million valuation of the business was based on projections to which there was absolutely no foundation at all…all we’re dealing with is bragging rights, though I imagine a substantial amount of time, energy and money will be expended on this” by both parties.
Afterward, G+J and its lawyers attempted to spin the situation as best they could. The judge, they correctly noted, had not yet delivered a verdict as to which side breached the contract first. O’Donnell could still lose, in which case she’d get none of the $8 million in attorneys’ fees. The judge also implied she would not recover the $6 million she invested in the magazine. In a memo to G+J employees, chief executive officer Dan Brewster expressed pride that the company was “completely exonerated” of all the charges of impropriety alleged by O’Donnell. (In point of fact, G+J wasn’t being tried, she was. And though G+J was found not to have manipulated its financials in such a way that would have allowed her to break her contract, its executives admitted to intentionally deceiving Rosie’s advertisers by inflating newsstand data.)
But, as G+J executives declined to comment on whether they were disappointed, and as reporters asked them whether they would lose their jobs as a result of this, O’Donnell delivered an address on the courthouse steps that could have been mistaken for an Oscar acceptance speech.
“I’m very happy this case is over,” she said. “First, I’d like to thank my lawyers from Debevoise & Plimpton. If you are ever sued for $125 million by a major corporate giant, I highly recommend them. I would also like to thank Judge Gammerman, a very smart man. I would also like to thank my wife, Kelli Carpenter, and my family for standing by me. This case is not a story about who won and who lost, but about how many times peace was offered and war was chosen. I have no vengeance towards the company and I will never speak of them again, not because I signed any confidentiality agreements but because I am simply happy for it to be done. I have a show that opens on Broadway tomorrow. It is called “Taboo.” It is a story that emits light and yellow and God and love. In the time they were trying to shoot me down, I gave birth to a beautiful child in the form of musical theater.”