Public Relations in the Courtroom

Author, Professor and Publicist Extraordinaire Kathy R. Fitzpatrick states, “…in order to provide effective representation, practitioners must acquaint themselves with the legal issues involved both in their client organizations’ operations and in communications.”[1]

As PR professionals we skim on legalities when it comes to client. There are a few issues in the courtroom that we might have missed that must be examined to avoid repeating them. In each case we can find the moral of the story and firm lesson learnt. Here are some cases that you might be familiar with in Pop culture.

Case #1: Russell v. HFPA

The lawsuit pertains to the Hollywood Foreign associated press and Michael Russell, a former Publicist for the Golden Globes Awards. Russell claims that the HFPA published defaming information that led to wrongful termination from the Golden Globes and also deterred him from securing and recruiting future clients.
What we should understand from this case is simple, “write the headlines but don’t be the headlines”, (that’s my phrase, don’t steal it). Nevertheless, HFPA won the case on the grounds of the anti –SLAPP law (defends free speech). Hollywood is a place where reputation gets you the job, but Mr. Russell should’ve weighed his pros and cons before proceeding with his lawsuit. As PR professionals, we understand that the media is a blessing and a curse, there is always the opportunity for things to go sour. It is imperative to not sever relationships with the media. If they are inaccurate about the information and quotes, a reputable media house will print a retraction and state the correct details.

Case #2: Raymone K. Bain & Davis, Bain &Associates v. MJJ Productions & Michael J. Jackson.

After reading a snippet of the case here Raymone Bain v. Michael Jackson it is evident that Miss Bain was indeed Mr. Jackson’s publicist and later on becoming the head of his LLC, taking on managerial, financial responsibilities of his estate. She claims that she was not paid for the services she provided that was outside of her area of responsibility, which included a negotiation deal pertaining to the classic album “Thriller”. On the other hand, we can learn from the lawsuit, I personally think PR Contracts should have payment benchmarks. It would be similar to a cell phone contract; there is a grace period for payment, but if the client fails to pay, then the contract is terminated with penalty fees. The fact that Miss Bain is a lawyer and played many roles in Mr. Jacksons’ career, I find it hard to believe that he did not receive pay after all those years ($44 million dollars worth). Unfortunately he passed away shortly after this lawsuit was filed.

Case #3: People of the State of California v. Hilton

This case in particular involves Paris Hiltons’ infamous jail sentence of 45 days. She had a previous DUI charge that resulted in a suspended license, 3 years of probation, fines and enrollment in DUI School. Elliot Mintz, who was Hilton’s publicist, misinformed her that she could drive, which resulted in jail time. Subsequently he was fired, which many would consider the right thing to do, but I disagree. However, PR professionals cannot meddle in the affairs of the law, that’s the function of a legal team, they might collaborate on certain matters, but that’s it. We must be able to understand it, but we are not in the position to advise. Mr. Mintz should have consulted her lawyers first before making those assertions.
These cases were various examples of what not to do with your client.

Take precautions to protect yourself as well as your client. That’s what a good PR would do.

[1] Fitzpatrick, K. R. (1995). Ten Guidelines for Reducing Legal Risks in Crisis Management. Public Relations Quarterly, 40(2), 33-38.

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