Judge rules for Paul Haggis, Brendan Fraser in 'Crash' lawsuit
A judge in Los Angeles has found that "Crash" producer Bob Yari engaged in "creative accounting" as part of an "intentional scheme" to withhold money from director Paul Haggis, star Brendan Fraser and co-writer Bobby Moresco.
In a ruling issued this week, Superior Court judge Daniel J. Buckley found for the plaintiffs on all issues but one in their allegations that Yari improperly withheld money owed to them for the 2005 film that won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
However, Buckley said that he could not immediately determine damages to be paid to Haggis and the other plaintiffs. That amount is to be determined later. Buckley requested that both sides in the case submit briefs by Aug. 4 addressing how much in damages they believe they are owed.
Buckley agreed with the plaintiffs in the 4-year-old suit that six different companies listed as defendants were "owned, controlled and manipulated" by Yari. In a succinct summary of his findings against the defendants, the judge wrote:
Defendants breached the contracts with the plaintiffs by diverting funds to third parties; adopting bogus contractual interpretations; refusing to correct accounting errors in a timely manner; adopting inappropriate accounting procedures that were contrary to industry standards; and, ultimately, using all of these to avoid paying plaintiffs money due under contracts.
Among Yari's accounting procedures decried by the judge were inappropriately deducting costs from the film's $33.8-million in gross receipts. That shrank the pool from which Haggis, Moresco and Fraser could claim their share of the movie's revenue. The ruling noted that Yari attempted to deduct the $1,300 cost of his tickets to the Academy Awards ceremony, $8,300 for a personal ad in trade publication Daily Variety, among other inappropriate expenses, and $35,000 for legal fees and expert testimony related to this case.
Buckley also found that Yari improperly attempted to deduct $150,000 paid to co-star Sandra Bullock to settle a separate claim related to the film.
However, he ruled against the plaintiffs in a dispute over how certain costs paid to others involved in the movie should be deducted.
Richard L. Charnley, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he was confident that his clients are owed more than $5 million and that once the court rules on a precise figure, "we will continue to be aggressive to collect from those people responsible."
Yari's attorney Behzad Nahai did not respond to a request for comment.
This legal case was one of several that Yari has been involved in regarding "Crash." The producer previously sued the Producers Guild of America and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences over their decision to deny him producer credit for purposes of the Oscars. A judge ruled against him.
In 2006, Yari was sued for money allegedly withheld from fellow producers Cathy Shulman and Tom Nunan. That case was put on hold in 2010 after Yari's company, listed as a defendant, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization.
Late last year, actor Matt Dillon sued defendants including Yari and his companies, claiming that he was owed more than $100,000 for his work on "Crash." The judge in that case accepted Dillon's request that the case be stayed, in hopes that a decision in Haggis' lawsuit on similar grounds could be reached first.
-- Ben Fritz
Photos: Bobby Moresco and Paul Haggis, top, after winning the best original screenplay Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards; Bob Yari, left. Credits: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times; Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times.