By Ken Stone
Conan O’Brien and Carmel Valley comedy writer Alex Kaseberg have settled their nearly 4-year-old joke-theft case, one of the TV host’s attorneys said Thursday.
“It just happened. Literally today,” said the attorney, Patricia Glaser of Los Angeles. “We filed a notice of settlement. Both sides did.”
She declined to provide details of the deal, except to say O’Brien would release a statement “in his own words. That’s the statement you should be looking for.”
On the Variety website, O’Brien said: “Short of murder, stealing material is the worst thing any comic can be accused of, and I have devoted 34 years in show business striving for originality. Had I, for one second, thought that any of my writers took material from someone else I would have fired that writer immediately, personally apologized, and made financial reparations. But, I knew that we were in the right.”
Attorneys for O’Brien and Kaseberg were to have met May 23 in San Diego federal court for an in-person settlement conference — only days ahead of a scheduled May 28 trial.
O’Brien’s team denied they stole jokes from Kaseberg’s Twitter feed or blog.
Jayson M. Lorenzo of Carlsbad, the University of San Diego-trained intellectual-property lawyer for Kaseberg, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Kaseberg’s blog hasn’t yet mentioned the settlement.
But Glaser — once named “Legal Legend” and “Power Lawyer” by The Hollywood Reporter — told Times of San Diego in a brief phone interview: “It’s finalized — over, done, finished.”
O’Brien faced copyright-infringement penalties of $450,000, plus other damages in the case involving three jokes O’Brien told during 2015 monologues.For example, Kaseberg had tweeted: “Tom Brady said he wants to give his MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll.”
The next night, O’Brien said in his monologue: “Tom Brady said he wants to give the truck that he was given as Super Bowl MVP . . . to the guy who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Which is very nice. I think that’s nice. I do. Yes. So Brady’s giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.”
Now 60, Robert Alexander “Alex” Kaseberg sued O’Brien, 56, in July 2015 after the red-headed comic allegedly stole five jokes off his Twitter feed or blog and used them later on air. Other defendants were Conaco, the show’s production company, Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner Inc. and several writers for O’Brien.
Sammartino dropped one joke from the case, leaving three at issue — with a possible $150,000 penalty apiece if a jury found them stolen. Damages could have boosted the amount.
Last month, Sammartino declined a request by O’Brien and Turner Broadcasting System to either split the issues of liability and damages into separate trials or close the courtroom and seal documents and transcripts related to nonpublic financial information.
Sammartino instead said she would close the court during testimony about confidential financial issues.
The 69-year-old San Diego judge also disallowed testimony on Kaseberg’s behalf from film producer David Barsky as “not only unreliable but also irrelevant” and Elayne Boosler.
“Although the Court recognizes that Ms. Boosler is undoubtedly an expert comedienne, Defendants are correct that her conclusion that the Jokes at Issue ‘are the same, identical and/or substantially similar’ … ‘performs none of the analytical dissection that is the hallmark of the extrinsic test,'” Sammartino wrote April 23.
That same order concluded: “The Court set a hearing on the parties’ amended proposed jury instructions and verdict form for May 23, 2019, at 1:30 p.m., in Courtroom 4D. The parties shall file their amended proposed jury instructions and verdict form and e-mail Word versions to the Court on or before May 9, 2019.”
In his 830-word statement, O’Brien concluded:
“This saga ended with the gentleman in San Diego and I deciding to resolve our dispute amicably. I stand by every word I have written here, but I decided to forgo a potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t even make sense anymore. Four years and countless legal bills have been plenty.
“What’s important to me, today, is defending the integrity and honesty of my writers. They are remarkably hard working and decent people, and this episode has been upsetting for them, and for myself. As I wrote several years ago, ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty.’ Of course, William Shakespeare is now claiming he tweeted that in 1603, but that dick can talk to my lawyers.”
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