A judge on Wednesday dealt a serious but possibly temporary blow to a lawsuit filed by a celebrity magazine reporter who has accused a paparazzi agency of secretly filming Heath Ledger doing drugs in her hotel room.
Superior Court Judge John S. Wiley Jr. tentatively dismissed 11 of 12 claims filed against the agency and two photographers, saying most of the allegations lacked legal standing.
He allowed attorneys to file an amended complaint that could restore some of the claims.
The woman, identified in court documents only as “Jane Doe,” sued Splash News & Picture Agency and two of its photographers in April, alleging fraud, intrusion, unjust enrichment and other claims over the filming of Ledger in 2006.
The woman was on assignment for People magazine at the time.
According to the lawsuit, the tape was made after the Golden Globe awards in January 2006 and wasn’t revealed until after Ledger’s death from an accidental prescription drug overdose earlier this year. “Entertainment Tonight” and its sister show, “The Insider,” had planned to air the footage, but canceled those plans after feeling pressure from publicists and other Ledger supporters.
The video later surfaced online.
The lawsuit states the video was shot from a balcony of the reporter’s hotel room, and that Ledger became upset when he realized he was being taped. The photographers placated Ledger by telling him they would destroy the tape, the suit claims.
Mara Buxbaum, a publicist who represented Ledger, did not return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment.
Ledger — who has been celebrated this summer for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” — was already an established actor when the tape was made. Indeed, the suit claims the video was shot hours after Ledger appeared at the awards show, where he was nominated as best actor for “Brokeback Mountain.”
The lawsuit claims the video shows Ledger doing cocaine and that some of the drugs were supplied by the photographers.
The reporter’s likeness is blurred on the video.
That element, and the woman’s assignment for People, were key reasons for Wiley’s decision to remove most of the claims from the suit.
“Jane Doe is as far as the Heath Ledger public is concerned, a complete unknown,” Wiley said. “She’s not a feature. She’s some blurry bystander.”
Wiley also noted that the reporter had dated one of the photographers, and that the alleged intrusion of her privacy took place in a hotel room she had apparently rented to conduct interviews in. “It’s a professional setting, not a personal setting,” Wiley said.
The judge sided with defense attorneys, who argued that the woman could not make many of her claims on behalf of Ledger. “The tape’s valuable because of Heath Ledger, not because of Jane Doe,” Wiley said.
Neville Johnson, who is representing the reporter, told Wiley his client was also harmed by the video.
“It ruined her,” he shouted at one point during the hearing. “She didn’t get a story out of it.”
The woman’s suit claims her inclusion on the tape has damaged her ability to work.
“Just because she’s a member of the press, she has the same rights as anyone else,” Johnson said.
He said after Wednesday’s hearing that he thinks a revision of the lawsuit will restore many of the reporter’s claims.
An attorney for Splash News and its photographers declined to comment after the hearing.