Sunday, February 18, 2007

Essay 1724

From The Los Angeles Times…


Kramer vs. Kramer without Kramer
Michael Richards’ accusers get their day in mock court as the comedian is ‘tried’ for his n-word outburst at an L.A. comedy club.

By Rong-Gong Lin II, Times Staff Writer

There was no bailiff, no court reporter, no public and no charges lodged at the start of the trial.

There was even no defendant in person — but no matter. The mock trial would go on, its centerpiece a videotape replay of the accused, actor Michael Richards, repeating the “n-word” over and over in an onstage tirade at a Hollywood comedy stage three months ago.

The goal: to try Richards before an audience of invited media, relying on testimony from the four African Americans who were the targets of Richards’ outburst, a UCLA psychologist and a Chicago-based expert on the history of the n-word. Presiding over the trial was a three-member panel headed by former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian, who rendered a nonbinding verdict on the comedian who portrayed Kramer on the hit TV series “Seinfeld.”

Attorney Gloria Allred, who organized Saturday’s event, held at Loyola Law School, and picked the judges, acknowledged it was unusual.

“If we went ahead with a regular lawsuit, it could have taken several years before it got to court,” Allred said of the four African Americans. “Now is when they are hurting. Now is when the public needs to hear a trial.”

Saturday’s event was scheduled after attorneys for Richards and the four audience members were unable to agree on how to proceed with a meeting or mediation. The four have not filed a civil case.

Allred invited Richards and his lawyers to attend the event; they declined, saying any meeting between the two sides should be private.

So the trial went on, and a verdict was rendered — to no one’s surprise — against Richards. The panel recommended the actor pay each of the four plaintiffs $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, double what Allred had sought.

“What a shock!” said Richards’ attorney, Douglas Mirell, feigning surprise. He called it a “Soviet-style show trial … that has utterly no legitimacy.”

But Mirell said Richards still wants to apologize to the four.

Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory, where Richards went on his tirade after allegedly being heckled, said Saturday’s event appeared to be opportunistic. “They’re trying to make a Hollywood stage show out of it,” Masada said.

Masada said that other audience members — African Americans, whites and Latinos — were in the audience, and some were crying as they left the Laugh Factory the night of Richards’ performance.

Compensation should also go to the people who were crying and walking out, Masada said.

Richards should make a donation to charities, such as those in South-Central L.A., that help homeless children, or that teach children about race relations, to show that he’s serious about his apology, Masada said.

But the four African Americans represented by Allred said they felt they were specifically targeted in Richards’ outburst, which began after one of them, Kyle Doss, told Richards that his friend didn’t think he was funny.

Doss, 26, whose voice can be heard on the video reacting to Richards’ outburst, said he hoped Saturday’s verdict would send a message that Richards’ actions “should have some kind of consequence.”

“No one deserves anything like that,” Doss said. “You don’t deserve to be thoroughly embarrassed because you’re different.”

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