Writer told to pay triple legal fees
NEW YORK - Author Laura Albert must pay nearly $350,000 in legal fees, triple the amount a jury said she owes a production company for duping it with a novel supposedly based on the life of a prostitute named JT LeRoy, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Kaplan said in an order Monday it was reasonable for Albert and her company, Underdogs Inc., to pay legal fees that are triple the $116,500 that a jury in June found she owes Antidote International Films Inc.
Lawyers for Antidote had asked for $850,000 in fees and $214,000 in expenses. The judge awarded the Antidote lawyers $279,175 in fees and $70,325 in expenses, totaling $349,500.
A lawyer for Albert did not immediately respond to a call for comment Tuesday.
Albert had testified at her trial that she was LeRoy, who was promoted as the male author of "Sarah," the tale of a truck stop prostitute that was marketed as being based on his life. The jury ordered $110,000 paid to Antidote and $6,500 in punitive damages.
An Antidote executive had testified during the trial that he did not learn until 2006, six years after "Sarah" was published, that LeRoy was a fictitious character.
Albert had testified she objected to people calling LeRoy a hoax, saying she did telephone interviews with reporters under that name because she believed he was inside her.
According to trial testimony, Albert's friends donned wigs and posed as LeRoy at book signings and duped journalists with the phony back story about truck stop sex.
I just don’t get it. When did we start criminalizing a nom de plume? How can JT Leroy be punished so harshly for doing the “Cyrano de Bergerac” thing of pretending to be someone else? Will I be hauled off in handcuffs for calling myself “Prairie Mary?” It’s one thing for a journalist to be punished for making up “facts” or for an academic to falsify credentials, but for a memoirist to pretend the story is true? Doesn’t this tradition go back to Robinson Crusoe?
Is it because of the nature of the content? Cormac McCarthy writes about worse things. Ed Abbey advocated eco-terrorism. Lillian Hellman and Annie Dillard borrowed content from others (not the actual words).
They say that the difference in pay for the same book can be hundreds of thousands of dollars more if it’s represented as truth rather than fiction. How can this make the publisher or agent unhappy since they get a fraction of the total profit? And why isn’t the publisher liable for co-conspiracy?
Does this have something to do with the government’s obsession with getting everyone properly identified with “real” ID cards and guarding the borders against touring Americans trying to return from Canada? But doesn’t the government itself put people in the witness protection program? Is this a byproduct of trying to track down the last of the Nazi criminals before they die? But what does truck stop sex have to do with that?
My best guess is that our obsession with identity and reality is simply a by-product of knowing who we are ourselves. Today the NYTimes has an article on subconscious purposes in the “reptilian brain” that we have no awareness of. How can we say we are citizens of the USA in face of bumbling and hatred caused by disrespecting the boundaries of another country, lying in order to invade? How can we feel we are “regularly” male or female when people go back and forth ? How can we reconcile Miss Manners with Paris Hilton?
My next best guess is that the publishing industry in its floundering distress has simply gone a little nuts, lashing out at the writers that make them rich. One day they are “packaging” a chiclit novel by plagiarizing other writers and hiring someone to impersonate the author, and the next they are suing someone for not being the wretched example of the misery genre that the public thought the author was. (Usually the publisher or at least the agent knows very well who the author really is.) Instead of doing some heavy duty pondering, the publishers pick up the phone and call the Gonzales-type lawyers on retainer to see how to twist the situation into a money wringer. Is this confined to the American publishing scene? I get the impression that it is.
But I notice that the news story doesn’t speak of a “publisher.” Rather they use the phrase “a production company” named “Antidote International Films Inc.” (Maybe they should say “a cluster-production company” since these outfits seem to have imprints and subsidiaries that come and go with more frequency than a truck stop prostitute.) Evidently this production company is not angry because the story is invented, but because they were stupid enough to pay so much money for a banal tale worth less in terms of fiction. Laura Allen’s company, “Underdogs, Inc.” is the actual entity being sued, so presumably this is corporation-to-corporation stuff and Laura herself is barely involved. But “underdogs” as a name rather implies a bit of social motivation, a defense of losers which were always considered more virtuous than winners in the mind of my Irish failure grandfather. (A matter of self-defense.)
At the website of “Antidote,” it turns out that they are a second-tier movie company rather than a publishing house. “Our aim is to counter everything in filmmaking that is banal, lifeless and lacking in passion.” Oh, right. Like truckstop prostitutes.
So, all through the trial of Laura Albert, an interested party sat in the back of the courtroom taking notes for a movie about this movie company that failed to produce a decent screenplay about a nonexistent author invented by the person who actually wrote a provocative book. Laura now claims she was producing alter-egoes as a way of coping with childhood abuse. The Culture of Blame and Misery goes on and on.
They say there was a lot of bitter laughter at the trial. It was about money mostly. Evidently the real problem was that the movie company couldn’t finance the book, whatever the reason.