Canceled Simpson Book May Spark Lawsuit

ByChris Francescani, Abc News Law & Justice Unit

Dec. 18, 2006 — -- Judith Regan and executives from HarperCollins and News Corp. may be deposed as part of a lawsuit that could be filed this week by the family of murder victim Ron Goldman.

One attorney described it as an attempt to "get to the bottom" of the internal decision-making process surrounding the aborted publication of "If I Did It," O.J. Simpson's hypothetical tell-all on how he would have killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Goldman.

Last month, the publication of the book and the broadcast of an interview with Regan and Simpson that was set to air on Fox Broadcasting, the sister company of HarperCollins, were canceled after public backlash and criticism within Fox from Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera.

HarperCollins fired Regan on Friday after the controversy.

The lawsuit would likely be based on the legal premise of "fraudulent transfer," which in this case would contend that News Corp. executives knowingly conspired to assist Simpson in subverting a civil judgment against him.

In 1995, Simpson was found not guilty of murder in the slayings of his wife and Goldman in a criminal case.

However, a jury in a 1997 civil lawsuit found him liable for the deaths and awarded the Goldman and Brown families $33.5 million.

Both families have not been able to collect money from the judgment, and Simpson has publicly and consistently refused to abide by the terms of the settlement.

Goldman attorney Jonathan Polak told ABC News' Law & Justice Unit that his clients remained committed to pursuing the judgment and seeking to hold those who do business with Simpson responsible.

"It is my personal belief that Regan's termination … was made out of an absolute recognition by News Corp. that she did something wrong, not just morally, but perhaps also legally," Polak said.

"We are going to get to the bottom of who did what, when and how. In all likelihood, there's going to be some very interesting depositions that people, I think, are going to find very compelling," Polak said.

Regan, a magnet for controversy forever hovering on the lucrative margins of good taste, made millions for News Corp. publishing porn-star memoirs and the biographies of attention-getters like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh before being abruptly fired on Friday.

Families of the Brentwood, Calif., murder victims characterized her termination as a battle won in a larger war.

"Hurray!" Denise Brown wrote in an e-mail response to ABC News. "This is just the beginning, though."

"She got what she deserved," said Fred Goldman, Ron Goldman's father. "But we will be taking a pretty substantial number of legal actions."

Regan was fired on orders from News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch after a phone call last week with a HarperCollins attorney that was "deemed anti-Semitic" and "offensive," The New York Times reported this morning. The caustic media veteran was terminated formally in a fax to her Los Angeles office hours later.

Late Sunday, Regan fired back.

"They've chosen war and they will get exactly that," Regan attorney Bert Fields told the Wall Street Journal. "She won't take this lying down. We'll take appropriate action for everything HarperCollins has done," added Mr. Fields. "They chose this path and I hope they remember it."

A News Corp. source told ABC News' Law & Justice Unit that executives there had been looking for an excuse to fire Regan and were "handed" one with Friday's phone call.

Goldman said he felt vindicated.

"How far or where this started internally at News Corp., I don't have any idea," he said Sunday night.

"Did any of them collectively think this was a good idea? I don't know. But the fact is that it was a horrendous idea and [Regan]'s name was attached to it and she paid a price and that's OK with me."

Goldman declined credit for the scuttling of the book project, even though he and his family launched, a Web site that garnered tens of thousands of e-signatures overnight by advocating a cyberboycott of HarperCollins and News Corp. after ABC News and other organizations reported on the online project.

"I think what happened here is that certainly the vast majority of the population in this country raised their collective voices and said 'No!'" he said.

"They said 'No!' to this disgusting book, said 'No!' to TV interviews to hawk this book," he said.

Regan told The New York Times last month that she had "contracted with a third party" that had told her the money would go to Simpson's children.

"They said the money was not going to Simpson," she said. "If it is, I hope Fred Goldman and the Browns and everyone else can get it."

She also told the newspaper at the time that she would share information about the financial deal with the families.

Simpson, for his part, laughed off the controversy in a November interview with a Florida radio station.

"Would everybody stop being so naive? Of course I got paid," Simpson told WTPS-AM. "I spend the money on my bills. It's gone."

Some media critics who spoke to ABC News said they believed that Regan's ouster was rooted at least in part in her notoriously stormy relationship with HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, who refrained from industry-standard breakup bromides in a terse dismissal statement released late Friday night.

"Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately," Friedman's statement said. "The REGAN publishing program and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group."

For years, Regan has enjoyed an often-coveted knack for spinning scandal into gold.

Most recently she has come under criticism for a forthcoming tome that "re-imagines" baseball great Mickey Mantle's story in a less than flattering light.

The Mantle book was allegedly the subject of the final straw phone call Friday.

Regan's future is uncertain. A spokeswoman did not return an e-mail Sunday seeking comment.

HarperCollins "will continue operations under the able leadership of Editorial Director Cal Morgan, reporting to Michael Morrison, president and group publisher of Harper/Morrow," the statement from the publishing company said.

The Simpson book was recalled and destroyed, though Simpson was paid for his "story."

Last month, a HarperCollins news release for the book quoted Simpson as saying, "I'm going to tell you a story you've never heard before, because no one knows this story the way I know it."

"It takes place on the night of June 12, 1994, and it concerns the murder of my ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her young friend, Ronald Goldman," Simpson said in the release. "I want you to forget everything you think you know about that night, because I know the facts better than anyone."

The release goes on to say that the book will provide "for the first time ever, a bone-chilling account of the night of the murders, in which Simpson pictures himself at the center of the action."

"This is an historic case, and I consider this his confession," Regan told The Associated Press before the book's publication was canceled by News Corp., and a rare public apology was issued to the Brown and Goldman families by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.

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