EXCLUSIVE: The producers of Rebecca aren’t giving up on their four-and-a-half-year campaign to force their former press agent to pay for the musical’s collapse.
Rebecca Broadway Limited Partnership, led by Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza, requested a New York judge throw out last month’s $85,000 jury award for wrongful interference against publicist Marc Thibodeau. Sprecher and Forlenza originally sought at least $10.6 million. Their lawyer, Erik Groothuis, said in a court filing that the jury picked $85,000 “from thin air.”
On May 10, jurors exited the lower Manhattan courthouse immediately after announcing the relatively small damage award, before reporters were able to ask about the rationale.
Thibodeau has admitted to warning a prospective backer in 2012 against investing in the oft-delayed $12 million show. As part of the bizarre saga, a number of other investors in the show were found to be fabricated by a stock broker named Mark Hotton, who’s now in federal prison for a series of cons. After the real-life prospective investor backed out, Sprecher and Forlenza weren’t able to raise sufficient funds to open the show.
In the motion Wednesday, the producers requested a new trial to reassess damages. Judge Jeffrey Oing’s last day as a trial judge is June 9, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo elevated him to the state’s Appellate Division. Thibodeau’s reply to the motion is due in August, according to a schedule from the judge filed late Thursday. Groothuis said in an email that another judge will be handling the case.
During the trial, neither side presented evidence or argued for damages of $85,000, Groothuis wrote in Wednesday’s filing. “Nor could that figure have been derived from a rational assessment of the evidence presented,” he wrote. “That is why counsel for both sides were unable to decipher or explain the jury’s award after the trial.”
As evidence, Groothuis cited a May 11 New York Law Journal story by Jason Grant. The article reported that both Groothuis and Andrew Miltenberg, one of Thibodeau’s lawyers, noted that the breach of contract award of $5,000 was equal to the press agent’s fee for the show. (Total damages were $90,000.) “How jurors arrived at $85,000 for tortious [wrongful] interference was much harder to explain, they both said,” according to the article.
Groothuis also wrote: ‘What the jury could not do was pick a number out of thin air, unconnected to any of the evidence or argument presented. Yet that is precisely what happened.”
“We’re not concerned,” Diana Warshow, another Thibodeau lawyer, said in an interview. “We feel the damage award was thoughtfully and carefully determined by a smart and competent jury after days of deliberations. The fact that the plaintiff is unhappy with the jury’s decision doesn’t make it a wrong decision.”
Miltenberg, her colleague, wrote in a letter to the judge on Wednesday that the matter can’t be resolved within nine days, before Oing leaves his current courtroom. Miltenberg added that the defense anticipates seeking that the wrongful interference judgment against Thibodeau be set aside.
Because the show never opened, Rebecca Broadway LP is on the hook to return the $5.7 million it raised from investors. According to a balance sheet for Dec. 31, 2016 filed in court, Rebecca Broadway had $134 in the bank and unspecified “other current assets” of $13,816. It valued its scenery, which is in storage, at $175,000. The balance sheet also cited $323,087 paid for the rights to the show, which have lapsed, and $1.3 million in accounts payable, which is owed to creditors.
Sprecher testified that he isn’t personally liable. “The partnership has an obligation to pay this back,” the producer testified on April 28. “But me personally? No.”
Editor: Alice Scovell. This story was updated on Friday to add the motion schedule.