Former “Storage Wars” star David Hester just might have been popping open champagne bottles in his lawyers’ office recently.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson recently refused to throw out Hester’s wrongful-termination claim, leaving the door open for Team Hester to win $750,000 in general damages, in addition to unspecified punitive damages.
This comes as a blow to defendants A&E Television and Original Entertainment, which won the first legal round when Hester’s unfair-business-practices claim was tossed out on First Amendment grounds. Hester claims he was fired for complaining about the A&E reality TV show allegedly being rigged.
In his lawsuit, Hester claims “Storage Wars” is fake–the self-storage units are staged with antiques, the producers give money to less talented bidders and the producers tell certain bidders which units to bid on.
A&E’s legal team filed a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, asserting that Hester’s wrongful-termination claim should be thrown out. Why? The A&E folks said the claim violated their First Amendment rights by essentially forcing producers to use certain on-screen talent.
Johnson didn’t go for it. The defendants’ contract–which offered Hester $25,000 for each of the 26 episodes in Season 4–did not require that A&E put Hester on the air. As the judge explained, Hester isn’t trying to return to the program–he’s just trying to recover lost income.
The defendants also tried to strike down Hester’s wrongful-termination claim on the grounds that it didn’t violate a specific public policy. Again, Johnson disagreed.
For Hester to win this case, Johnson said he doesn’t have to prove his termination violated a public policy. Rather, Hester must prove he was fired for reporting “reasonably based suspicions.”
The judge also refused to strike down Hester’s references to the federal Communications Act of 1934 and California’s Unfair Competition Law, making it possible for Hester to seek punitive damages against A&E and Original Productions.
As it stands now, David Hester v. A&E will go before a jury, but until then, the scoreboard shows a tied game. Team Hester, represented by Martin Singer and Allison Hart: 1. Team A&E and attorney Kelli Sager: 1.
Images courtesy of Brian Quarstad, Inside Minnesota Soccer (insidemnsoccer.com) and aetv.com.