Start with deceased actor Marlon Brando, add a demented woman in her 80s, top it with a scoop-hunting reporter from a nationally broadcast television program, and what have you got?

An entertaining appellate court ruling that proves Brando is still stirring interest more than three years after his death.

On Thursday, Los Angeles’ Second District Court of Appeal held that the producers of “Celebrity Justice,” a now-canceled TV showthat reported on legal proceedings involving famous individuals, had every right to be interested in Brando’s will.

When Brando � who won Oscars for his roles in 1954′s “On the Waterfront” and in 1972′s “The Godfather” � died at the age of 80 on July 1, 2004, he left a will that disinherited some heirs while providing for a couple of trusted friends.

One friend was Blanche Hall, the actor’s housekeeper from 1963 until some unspecified date, according to Thursday’s ruling. Hall was to get monthly payments of undisclosed amounts from a living trust established by Brando’s will.

That interested producers of “Celebrity Justice,” who sent reporter Joe Tobin to interview Hall at a retirement home on July 12, 2004. The 82-year-old suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Thursday’s opinion in Hall v. Time Warner Inc.,07 C.D.O.S. 9236, noted Hall hadn’t known Brando was dead or that she was a beneficiary. Tobin’s on-camera interview with her was edited to a three-minute segment on the show.

In November 2005, Hall’s relatives filed a suit claiming Tobin had circumvented the retirement home’s security measures and clandestinely recorded Hall’s “virtually incoherent” responses. The relatives went after Time Warner Inc. and three other companies that produced “Celebrity Justice” for claims including trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress and elder abuse.

The companies filed a motion to strike the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that their reporting was in furtherance of their rights to free speech. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Hess denied the motion, but the Second District reversed that order.

“The public’s fascination with Brando and widespread public interest in his personal life made Brando’s decisions concerning the distribution of his assets a public issue or an issue of public interest,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote. Though a private person, Hall “nevertheless became involved in an issue of public interest” by being named in the will, Croskey wrote.

“The defendants’ television broadcast,” he added, “contributed to the public discussion of the issue by identifying Hall as a beneficiary and showing her on camera.”

Justices Patti Kitching and Richard Aldrich concurred.

The justices ordered the trial court to determine whether Hall’s family has demonstrated a probability of prevailing, then enter a new order on the motion to strike.

Mike McKee


A federal judge in Idaho and lawyers from the San Francisco office of Morrison & Foerster agreed that a transgender prison inmate should receive female-hormone treatment.

But while inmate Jenniffer Spencer’s attorneys refer to her as a woman, U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams, in a published ruling (.pdf), repeatedly identified her as a man.

“The court previously gave notice of its intent to refer to Plaintiff without the use of a pronoun,” Williams wrote in a footnote of the highly publicized July 27 ruling.

“But it has elected to use the male pronoun for ease of discussion, and not as a reflection of the court’s view of the merits of Plaintiff’s claims.”

But MoFo associate Parisa Jorjani, who worked on the case with associate Mathew dos Santos, partner James Schurz and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised Gammett v. Idaho State Board of Corrections, 05-00257, for ordering hormone treatment for a prison inmate who wasn’t already receiving the medication.

Christopher Daley, outgoing director of San Francisco’s Transgender Law Center, also said that “in the global scope,” Williams’ use of the male pronoun wasn’t a big deal.

Daley said attorneys can fight with opposing counsel over a client’s identity, and often do, but it’s tricky to make the same argument with a judge.

“It’s a really tough balancing act between getting respect for your client and getting the right outcome,” he said.

According to Williams’ ruling, Spencer castrated herself and attempted suicide while serving time for possession of a stolen vehicle. By refusing hormone treatment, the judge found that Idaho prison officials had acted in “conscious disregard” of Spencer’s health. In granting a preliminary injunction, he gave them 10 days to treat the inmate for Gender Identity Disorder.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better order,” dos Santos said.

Matthew Hirsch

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