Judge allows Ashley Judd defamation lawsuit against Weinstein to proceed

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A lawsuit by actress Ashley Judd in which she accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of defaming her in 1998 after she refused what she said were sexual advances from him can proceed in federal court in Los Angeles, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

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In the civil lawsuit filed in April accused Weinstein of smearing her reputation by discouraging director Peter Jackson from casting her in his blockbuster movie franchise “The Lord of the Rings.”

Phyllis Kupferstein, an attorney for Weinstein who sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, had argued at a hearing on Tuesday that the alleged defamation was barred by the statute of limitations.

Judd’s attorneys argued that she had no way of knowing she had been defamed until Jackson revealed in a December 2017 interview with news website Stuff that Weinstein’s company, Miramax told him Judd was a “nightmare to work with.”

U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez wrote in a 15-page ruling that “even if she had conducted a diligent investigation” Judd would have failed to learn of the alleged defamation within the one-year statute of limitations.

“Plaintiff may proceed on her claims for defamation, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and violation of the (unfair competition law),” the judge wrote.

Judd starred in 1990s thrillers “Kiss the Girls” and “Double Jeopardy.”

The lawsuit claimed that her career was undermined by not landing a part in the multi-billion dollar franchise “The Lord of the Rings,” and she accused Weinstein of sexually harassing her in violation of a California law barring such conduct by a person in a “business, service or professional relationship” with another.

Judd also claimed that Weinstein made sexual advances toward her when she met him at a hotel to discuss potential film roles, but Gutierrez ruled that would not have been covered by the California sexual harassment law. His order, however, allowed Judd to file an amended complaint within a month showing why the statute should apply.

Judd’s attorney Ted Boutrous said on Tuesday that Jackson had spoken with Judd’s legal team and could furnish powerful testimony supporting her lawsuit against Weinstein.

A number of women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. He has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Judd was one of the first women in October 2017 to publicly accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, helping give rise to the #MeToo social media movement against sexual misconduct that has contributed to the downfall of several leading figures in media, entertainment, politics and corporate America.

Weinstein has been charged with sexual assault in a separate criminal case in New York.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bill Tarrant