HFPA's Berk testifies in Globes trial, contradicts CBS' Moonves
Philip Berk, the current chairman and former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and a key witness in the organization's legal battle against Dick Clark Productions over who controls the television rights to the Golden Globes said in court Thursday that he's "never really been interested in contracts."
In his testimony, not only did Berk say he was not in the habit of scrutinizing contracts during his last few decades as a top-ranking HFPA executive, he also seemed to contradict himself at times during questioning from Dick Clark Productions' legal team and gave a version of events regarding a meeting he had with CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves that contrasted Moonves' account.
The HFPA and Dick Clark Productions are fighting over a 1993 amendment to their nearly 30-year-old partnership on the Golden Globes. In late 2010, Dick Clark Productions struck a deal worth approximately $150 million to keep the show on NBC through 2018. The HFPA, when Berk was president, quickly filed a suit charging that its agreement with Dick Clark Productions did not give DCP the right to renew the deal with NBC without the association's approval. Dick Clark Productions countered that the amendment gave it the right to renew the show with NBC in perpetuity.
Berk was on the stand for the second day in the bench trial being held in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Part of the debate centers around when the HFPA became aware of how Dick Clark Productions was interpreting the amendment. Berk has testified that it was not until 2002 that he concluded that Dick Clark Productions thought it had a perpetuity clause.
But Dick Clark Productions has countered that the HFPA knew or should have known much earlier and that Berk himself was aware of it in 1997 at the latest. Attorney Bradley Phillips of Munger, Tolles & Olson, who is representing Dick Clark Productions, cited a letter found during evidence discovery that had been sent to Berk from then-HFPA lawyer Eric Weissman with a copy of the amendment.
Berk said he did not recall that letter. He also said he did not recall some minutes to an undated HFPA meeting where the amendment was debated even though he was quoted saying a legal fight over it could be long and the outcome doubtful. "I don't remember the meeting," Berk said.
With regard to Moonves, Berk said on the stand the CBS chief executive called him to discuss a deal to move the Globes away from NBC to CBS and the two had lunch in July 2010 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. He said that when he was at the lunch he did not ask Moonves to make an offer but then minutes later seemed to contradict himself by testifying that as the lunch was wrapping up he asked the CBS chief for a "ballpark figure" for the show. Berk said he asked him that "off the record" and said he did not recall any additional discussions with Moonves.
In a video deposition, Moonves contradicted Berk on several points. He said it was Berk that called him for the meeting and that soon after the CBS executive gave that estimate of what his network might pay to get the show, Berk called back for more discussions about a deal.
Berk also seemed to contradict himself with regard to how closely the HFPA follows its own rules. He testified that it was typical that the president and the treasurer signed contracts and other important documents and that the HFPA seal was also routinely affixed to such documents.
However, Dick Clark Productions' legal team showed examples where that procedure was not followed and even one where an outside counsel to the HFPA signed a document on behalf of Berk.
Berk said with regard to that particular document that he was not aware of it until Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton lawyer Marty Katz, representing Dick Clark Productions, showed it to him.
The trial is expected to wrap up next week.
— Joe Flint
Photo: Philip Berk. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images