LA judge declares mistrial in ‘Desperate Housewives’ firing case

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Monday in Nicollette Sheridan’s wrongful termination trial after the jury deadlocked, leaving an unresolved finale to a trial that focused on the behind-the-scenes intrigue and personalities of TV’s “Desperate Housewives.”

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White excused the panel after it deadlocked 8-4 in favor of the claim by Sheridan.

Sheridan strolled out of the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Her attorney Mark Baute said he would retry the case.

The jury first reported problems in deliberations on Thursday then resumed discussions Monday. It later reported no change and said they didn’t expect any additional time or attorneys’ arguments would help break the impasse.

Two jurors who sided with Sheridan said after being released that the deliberations hinged on witness credibility, but wouldn’t specify whom they found to be more trustworthy.

Sheridan had been seeking roughly $6 million from her former employers.

Sheridan claimed her role as Edie Britt was eliminated because she complained that series creator Marc Cherry struck her in the head during a September 2008 on-set dispute.

ABC attorneys denied all wrongdoing and presented witnesses who said Cherry received permission from top studio and network officials to kill Britt four months before his dispute with Sheridan. The veteran TV writer was not in court during the mistrial declaration.

Cherry denied hitting the actress, claiming he tapped her on the head for artistic direction.

The jury of nine women and three men was presented conflicting evidence and testimony throughout the two-week trial. A vote of at least 9-3 was required to reach a verdict.

Defense attorney Adam Levin said Sheridan’s account of Cherry striking her had grown “progressively more exaggerated” over the years, and pointed to the testimony of numerous witnesses who supported Cherry’s testimony that he killed off the actress’ role for creative reasons.

He said Monday that the case would be more streamlined during a retrial. “We’re anxious to move forward with that trial,” he said.

Baute, accused ABC’s witnesses of lying and destroying evidence, said it was unclear when White’s calendar would allow a retrial, but that they would be ready.

Sheridan sued Cherry in April 2010, claiming he hit her and later killed off her character after he was exonerated by an ABC human resources investigation.

Juror Beverly Crosby said she thought ABC failed to thoroughly investigate Sheridan’s claims, but wouldn’t call the company’s actions a cover-up. “To my estimation, it wasn’t handled correctly,” said Crosby, a retired elementary school principal.

She said jurors didn’t spend a lot of time debating whether Cherry struck the actress, saying the evidence supported Sheridan was touched without her permission. She said jurors also didn’t consider how much money was at stake.

White dismissed a battery count against Cherry at the end of testimony last week, which removed him from liability in the case. His actions before and after his dispute with Sheridan remain a key component of the case when it is retried.

Initially, the Britt character had only been expected to appear in the show’s pilot, but Cherry said he urged ABC to make her a regular on “Desperate Housewives” and later lobbied for Sheridan to receive a share of the show’s profits. The glossy primetime comedy/soap opera was a ratings hit in its early seasons, but viewership has dwindled.

By the show’s fifth season, during which Britt was killed off, the show’s producers were under pressure to cut costs, and Cherry said all storytelling options for Sheridan’s character had been expended.

Cherry testified that co-stars were relieved when they learned Sheridan’s role was being cut, and he accused the actress of arriving late and forgetting her lines. Baute noted that none of those allegations were ever documented.

During the trial, Baute said it didn’t make sense that Sheridan’s contract was renewed weeks after the decision to dump her character. The agreement guaranteed the actress would be paid for the entire season and get a full share of the series’ profits.

Levin and defense witnesses frequently cited the death toll for characters in the show as evidence that Sheridan’s role could be cut at any time. Many of the deaths involved minor characters.

The show featured days of testimony from Sheridan, Cherry, actor James Denton and several current and former show workers. It did not feature appearances by any of the show’s other stars, including Eva Longoria and Felicity Huffman.

“Desperate Housewives” is in its eighth and final season. Cherry is working on other projects, including a new show titled “Devious Maids,” but Sheridan has struggled since leaving the series’ Wisteria Lane. She has not found steady work or an agent in the past two years, her entertainment attorney told jurors.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.


Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP