A Los Angeles judge Thursday struck down $128 million in punitive damages that an arbitrator awarded the stars and producers of the Fox crime drama "Bones," but let stand roughly $50 million in compensatory damages in the dispute over studio profits.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Rico granted a request by 21st Century Fox to eliminate the punitive damages from a February decision handed down by an arbitrator who chastised the studio's handling of the profit dispute.
"The motion to confirm the award is denied, the motion to correct the award is granted," according to a minute order issued by Rico's court in the case. "Punitive damages shall be stricken from the award. The award will be corrected and confirmed as so modified."
Rico did not immediately issue a full written decision explaining the reason for striking the punitive damages. Fox attorneys contended that its studio contracts bar the awarding of punitive damages in arbitration disputes.
When arbitrator Peter Lichtman announced his $179 million decision in February, it was called one of the largest damages awards ever handed down in a dispute over studio profits. In his decision, he said studio witnesses in the case "lacked credibility and at times appeared to intentionally deviate from the truth even in the face of clear and unequivocal controverting facts."
"A myriad of explanations by the Fox witnesses cannot account for their complete disregard for obvious and uncontroverted facts," Lichtman wrote. "There simply appeared to be a companywide culture and an accepted climate that enveloped an aversion for the truth."
Fox excoriated the arbitrator's ruling, calling it "categorically wrong on the merits."
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"Fox will not allow this flagrant injustice, riddled with errors and gratuitous character attacks, to stand and will vigorously challenge the ruling in a court of law," according to a statement from the studio.
Lawsuits over profits from the series were filed in 2015 on behalf of stars David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, along with producer Barry Josephson and author Kathy Reichs, whose books were the basis of the series.
Daniel Saunders, attorney for the plaintiffs, stressed in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter and other trade publications that the compensatory damages of more than $50 million still stand, the result of "Fox's fraudulent and deceitful accounting."
The ruling "deals only with the technical issue of whether our clients waived their right to receive punitive damages," Saunders said. "As the arbitrator concluded, they did not — and we look forward to showing the Court of Appeal why it should reverse today's ruling."