Judge in Disney dispute with Scarlett Johansson over 'Black Widow' release recused from case proceedings

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A judge presiding over Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney regarding the distribution of "Black Widow" has recused himself from overseeing the matter moving forward, Fox Business has learned.

Last month, a minute order submitted by the court to Johansson’s attorneys disclosed that the judge was receiving a monthly pension from O’Melveny & Myers LLP – the legal counsel representing Disney – which in the least, may have given off the appearance of court bias in favor of the defendant’s attorneys, according to a notice of non-stipulation obtained by Fox Business.

Now, court documents filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday have shown Judge Robert S. Draper to be reassigned from the case and replaced by Judge Elaine Lu for all further proceedings.

In the Aug. 27 memorandum, the court maintained "if the parties waive disqualification" it would stay involved.  However, the actress’ attorneys refused to waive and the case was moved to a new judge.

"Plaintiff Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc. is in receipt of and has reviewed the court’s minute order disclosing the court’s prior partnership in and continuing monthly pension from O’Melveny & Myers LLP, and stating that the court shall recuse itself from this matter absent a joint stipulation waiving the disqualification," the filing read.

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This image released by Marvel Studios shows Scarlett Johansson in a scene from “Black Widow.” (Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios-Disney via AP, File / AP Images)

It went on to say that Johansson’s lawyers met with Disney counsel regarding the minute order, but they did not reach an agreement to waive disqualification.

"Ms. Johansson’s lawyers, therefore, suggested that the parties jointly serve notice that there would be no joint waiver of the court’s recusal, but Disney’s lawyers declined," it continued. 

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"Because no joint stipulation to waive recusal is forthcoming, and to facilitate prompt reassignment and resolution of Disney’s pending motion to compel arbitration, Ms. Johansson respectfully requests that, as set forth in the minute order, the court recuse itself, advance and vacate all future hearing dates, and send the matter out for reassignment by order of the supervising judge."

Disney previously filed a motion to move Johansson's lawsuit to arbitration in Los Angeles and also revealed it had initiated arbitration against Johansson on Aug. 10, court documents obtained by Fox Business on Aug. 21 showed.

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"Periwinkle agreed that all claims ‘arising out of, in connection with, or relating to’ Scarlett Johansson’s acting services for ‘Black Widow’ would be submitted to confidential, binding arbitration in New York," the court filing stated. 

"Whether Periwinkle’s claims against Disney fall within the scope of that agreement is not a close call: Periwinkle’s interference and inducement claims are premised on Periwinkle’s allegation that Marvel breached the contract’s requirement that any release of ‘Black Widow’ include a ‘wide theatrical release’ on ‘no less than 1,500 screens.’ The plain and expansive language of the arbitration agreement easily encompasses Periwinkle’s Complaint."

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In Johansson’s lawsuit, the "Avengers" star claimed "Black Widow" was guaranteed a theatrical release by Disney’s Marvel Entertainment – which is significant based on the claims that her bonuses were tied to box-office performance, according to the 36-year-old actress.

Johansson went on to accuse Disney of reducing her potential for bonuses by making the movie available on Disney+.

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Disney has since claimed that "Black Widow" appeared on 9,000 screens, despite being required to show the film on no less than 1,500, according to the current court filing.

Johansson's lawyer John Berlinski told Fox Business at the time that Disney was trying to "hide its misconduct" in arbitration.

"After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration," Berlinski said in a statement given to Fox Business. 

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"Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public? Because it knows that Marvel’s promises to give ‘Black Widow’ a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened – and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it."

A Disney spokesperson previously told Fox Business the lawsuit had "no merit whatsoever."

"The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," the Disney spokesperson said.

The spokesperson went on to reveal that Johansson already had made $20 million off the movie.

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"Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date."

Attorneys for Disney did not immediately respond to Fox Business’ request for further comment.

Fox Business’ Lauryn Overhultz contributed to this report.

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