Circling in front of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Monday morning, about 10 protesters with placards shouted "No gag orders," "Hold Hollywood accountable" and "Let Charlotte speak."
Charlotte is Charlotte Kirk, the British actress who has been at the center of Hollywood sex scandals that toppled two studio chiefs. Kirk, who was expected to attend, failed to show up while an attorney spoke on her behalf.
"Powerful men are using the courts to silence Charlotte and other women," said Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College and a leading advocate for victims of rape and other sexual assault, who helped spearhead the demonstration.
The protest in Kirk's name was over a judge's ruling last week that denied a request by her legal team to vacate an injunction preventing her and director Joshua Newton from disclosing a confidential settlement made in 2017. The settlement contained a confidentiality agreement regarding Kirk's sexual relationship with former Warner Bros. Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara as well as other allegations.
The legal wrangling — which has engaged some of Hollywood's highest-profile men and their attorneys — has provided a window into the high-stakes drama that has been playing out over three years, largely under wraps in confidential arbitration, buried beneath sealed court filings among parties shielded by pseudonyms.
A Times review of court documents, emails and interviews paints starkly conflicting depictions of Kirk and the events that have circulated publicly, raising new questions — and a thicket of dueling claims — surrounding Kirk's interactions with a clutch of film executives. Some activists view her experience as a potential test case of California's #MeToo laws regarding the enforceability of confidential agreements.
In a sworn declaration made public last week and first revealed in a story by the Hollywood Reporter, Kirk, 28, alleges that she was victimized by Tsujihara and producer Brett Ratner, billionaire producer James Packer and Millennium Films CEO Avi Lerner. In her declaration — contained in a new petition filed by Newton in Los Angeles County Superior Court to vacate the injunction — Kirk states that the men "coerced me into engaging in 'commercial sex' for them and their business associates."
Kirk contends that Packer, whom she had dated for a period, and Ratner "sexually exploited me," with Ratner sending her "crude sexual text messages, and offering me as an inducement to his business partners," according to her declaration.
Further, Kirk alleges in her declaration that after discussing potential film roles in his office, Lerner "coaxed her into coming to his home, where he coerced her into engaging in oral sex. This was followed by additional instances of sexual abuse of me by him."
But in confidential arbitration proceedings recently made public, the producers have accused Kirk, Newton and another man, her fiance Neil Marshall, of "civil extortion."
"Suffice it to say that my clients categorically and vehemently deny engaging in any wrongful or unlawful conduct with respect to Charlotte Kirk, Joshua Newton, or Neil Marshall, and they are confident that they will prevail on the merits of their claims against Ms. Kirk, Mr. Newton, and Mr. Marshall for engaging in a $300+ million civil extortion plot," attorney Martin Singer, who is representing the four men, said in a statement.
Tsujihara has previously denied helping Kirk secure roles and said he had a consensual affair with the actress.
“Any claims made against Kevin Tsujihara related to Ms. Kirk are legally and factually baseless, manufactured many years after their brief consensual relationship to unjustly seek the payment of money," said Bert H. Deixler, another attorney representing Tsujihara. "The relationship was pursued by Ms. Kirk and at all times understood by Kevin to be entirely consensual. While Kevin continues to regret the relationship and the impact it had on his family, he will pursue all legal remedies available to protect himself from extortionate claims and prevent false accusations against him.”
Kirk's lawyers moved to overturn the injunction, questioning the enforceability of confidentiality agreements under California's new #MeToo laws.
But an arbitrator who approved the preliminary injunction in July was skeptical of Kirk's claims that she was a victim of "sexual trafficking," describing her allegations as "casting couch sex." In her ruling, the arbitrator wrote that she "highly doubts that offering to help an actor with his/her career in exchange for sex, if that in fact occurred, could be prosecuted as commercial sex or sex trafficking."
A Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge declined to scrap the injunction, saying the court lacked jurisdiction. He also sanctioned Newton's lawyer, Larry Caldwell, for violating a sealing order. Caldwell said he is no longer representing Newton.
Lawyers for Kirk are expected to file an appeal.
Kirk exploded into the limelight last year when the Hollywood Reporter published text messages between Tsujihara and Kirk, who appeared in "Ocean’s 8” and the thriller “Vice.” The messages implied that Kirk had been lobbying for auditions and movie roles after an alleged sexual encounter with Tsujihara.
The texts also disclosed that Kirk had a relationship with Packer, the Australian billionaire who introduced Kirk to Tsujihara. Packer had a business partnership with Ratner, and together they secured a $450-million deal with Warner Bros.
Among the text messages, Kirk texted Ratner and suggested she was “used as icing on the cake” for the deal between Warner Bros. and Ratner’s company. Ratner has denied the claim.
Two weeks after the text messages were published, then-WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced that Tsujihara was out after 25 years at the studio.
#MeToo advocates, however, remained silent on Kirk, who publicly and repeatedly disputed the suggestion she was a victim.
In a statement given to The Times last year, her agent said: “My client Charlotte Kirk, emphatically denies any involvement with Kevin Tsujihara. She has never had any issues with him or claims against him." In an interview with DailyMail TV last year, Kirk said, "It was my choice. I wasn't forced into anything, and I did what I wanted to do. I regret doing it but that was then."
Kirk told the Hollywood Reporter at the time that she had been romantically involved with Packer but said, "I emphatically deny any inappropriate behavior on the part of Brett Ratner, James Packer, and Kevin Tsujihara, and I have no claims against any of them."
However, Kirk now alleges in her sworn declaration that Packer pressured her into having nonconsensual sex with Tsujihara during a meeting he set up at the Hotel Bel-Air in September 2013.
Kirk, who says she has Asperger's syndrome, also says in her declaration that her statement to the media last year denying she was a victim was made "under duress and extreme external pressure" from her attorney and the lawyer representing the producers.
In letters to The Times, Singer called the latest allegations against his clients "specious," saying these "new fabricated contentions are contrary to Ms. Kirk’s voluntary media interviews." He said that Kirk's claims that she was a victim of "sexual trafficking" were never made in 2017 and that they coincided with "escalating demands for hundreds of millions of dollars."
This August, Kirk’s name resurfaced again when NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer announced that he was stepping down, saying that he had agreed to pay a woman, later identified as Kirk, $2.5 million in hush money to cover up a years-old affair. He released a statement suggesting that “other parties” had been made aware of the settlement and were demanding money not to disclose it publicly and threatening to implicate NBC. The unnamed parties were later identified as Newton and Marshall.
Representatives of Meyer’s contacted the FBI over the matter. A person close to Meyer who was not authorized to speak publicly said he had been interviewed by the agency. An FBI spokesperson has said the agency could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
In an earlier statement, Newton's then-attorney Caldwell denied that he had threatened to make public Kirk’s confidential settlement with Meyer or expose it to NBCUniversal, saying his client had "legitimate claims against Mr. Meyer and NBCUniversal, including breach of fiduciary duty."
In a statement to Deadline, Marshall also denied he had attempted to threaten or expose Meyer, saying that the claims were “nothing but lies based on falsehoods” and that his fiancée, Kirk, was the victim of a “witch hunt” that was “perpetrated by over privileged men in positions of power.”
Although Marshall was not part of the 2017 confidential agreement with producers, he is subject to the gag order.
His involvement appears to stem from a dispute with Lerner's Millennium Films over a movie called "Duchess," according to the arbitrator's ruling. He was to direct the film, co-written with Kirk, in which she would also star. Marshall filed a breach of contract lawsuit in L.A. County Superior Court against Millennium Films in September. The court docket does not yet list a response from Millennium to the lawsuit.
The producers allege that Marshall became aware of Kirk's confidential agreement and sought payments in exchange for not disclosing that information or filing a lawsuit, the arbitrator's ruling said.
Attorney Philip Heller, who is representing Kirk and Marshall, declined to comment.
Meyer met Kirk in 2012 at a London premiere hosted by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. The married Meyer (he’s since divorced) was about 67 and Kirk, an aspiring actress, was 19.
The relationship was brief. Both the nature of that affair and their continued communications, however, remain a matter of disagreement.
Last year, Meyer agreed to the moneyed settlement to be paid out in four installments and, in exchange, Kirk signed a nondisclosure agreement, according to three sources familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment. At least one payment in the amount of $500,000 was made, the three sources said.
Meyer found himself in a dispute with Kirk’s ex-boyfriend Newton, whose film “Nicole & O.J.” she was to star in, and her fiancé, Marshall, who directed 2019’s “Hellboy” and episodes of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Email exchanges between Meyer and Newton reviewed by The Times suggest Meyer was involved in multiple discussions with Newton about his film projects. In the emails, Meyer praises Newton’s work, gives advice, offers to set up meetings and invites him to screen his footage at an executive screening room at Universal.
Newton's attorney said that three days before a scheduled mediation session, Meyer canceled the session and released a statement saying that he had made a settlement “under threat” with a woman with whom he’d engaged in an extramarital affair many years earlier.
“I made this disclosure because other parties learned of the settlement and have continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money or else they intended to falsely implicate NBCUniversal, which had nothing to do with this matter, and to publish false allegations about me,” Meyer’s statement said.
Howard Weitzman, an attorney for Meyer, said in a statement: "This is false, frivolous and fabricated nonsense" by a person who "asked for hundreds of millions of dollars of imaginary claims."
By May 2017, Kirk had retained the Beverly Hills law firm of Johnson & Johnson, seeking legal advice about her claims against Tsujihara, Ratner, Packer and Lerner. A draft complaint, included in recent legal filings, says the men subjected Kirk to a "cycle of sexual abuse for a period of three years" as a condition for acting roles in various films.
Under the original settlement in 2017, Kirk would receive over $3 million over two years, roles in three of Lerner's Millennium Films movies and up to $25,000 for an acting coach; Kirk would receive $500,000 for each film that wasn’t made.
Newton, who was dating Kirk at the time, also became a signatory to the confidential agreement, which included a provision to finance film projects, whereby he would receive $1 million, later amended by an additional $2.5 million, toward his film “Nicole & O.J."
During a hearing in Superior Court, Singer contended that Newton took $1 million and bought a Ferrari. However, in his court filings, Newton said that the Ferrari was a prop, purchased to shoot scenes for the O.J. Simpson movie, which has not been completed.
A point of contention was that a “side agreement” was added to the original settlement that Kirk and Newton signed with the producers in which Singer included Meyer (and other parties), making him a released party, according to Kirk's declaration.
Kirk said she had never consented to or viewed the side agreement and was only made aware of it in June of this year when it became an exhibit in court proceedings. The declaration goes on to say that when Kirk was told that Meyer's name was included in this side agreement, Johnson, her former attorney, was told by Singer that this was an "accident."
Singer did not respond to a question on the matter.
A source close to Meyer who was not authorized to comment said he helped facilitate discussions at the request of Kirk and Newton but did not advise them on negotiations and had no knowledge he was included in the settlement agreement until later.
In another twist, Newton also appeared to be at odds with Kirk late last year. In a Dec. 3 affidavit filed in British court, Newton threatened legal action against Kirk over her settlement with Meyer, saying it breached an agreement she had with Newton.
In July, Kirk filed suit as a Jane Doe against her former lawyers, Johnson & Johnson, for, among other things, legal malpractice over the 2017 confidential settlement agreement. Kirk is seeking to rescind the agreement, which she alleged was made “under false pretenses, coercion and threats.”
Johnson declined to comment, saying he and his firm have not been served.
While Kirk remains under court-ordered silence, others are talking.
"Whether you believe Charlotte or not, she should be heard," said Emma Burrows, an Occidental student, one of the demonstrators in front of the court. "I think this is just the beginning, this is going to be a test for Charlotte and all survivors."
For the record:
3:15 PM, Oct. 30, 2020: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that attorney Martin Singer said during a hearing in Superior Court that director Joshua Newton was paid $3.5 million and took $1 million to buy a Ferrari. Singer stated in court that Newton took $1 million and bought a Ferrari.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.