September 19, 2018 / 2:45 AM / in 3 months

Lawyer says director Peter Jackson might testify against Weinstein in Judd's lawsuit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson has spoken with actor Ashley Judd's legal team and could furnish "powerful" testimony supporting her defamation and sexual harassment suit against film producer Harvey Weinstein, her attorney said on Tuesday.

Judd's civil suit, filed in April, accused Weinstein of discouraging Jackson in 1998 from casting her in the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" movie franchise in retaliation for her refusing Weinstein's sexual advances.

The lawsuit cited an interview with Jackson published by the New Zealand news website Stuff in December 2017 quoting him as saying he had heard from Weinstein's former film company, Miramax, that Judd was a "nightmare to work with."

The New Zealand director, according to the Stuff article, said that assessment of Judd persuaded him not to cast her but he later came to believe she was the victim of a "smear campaign."

A spokeswoman for Jackson declined to comment further on Tuesday.

The article surfaced as a central topic at a hearing on Tuesday in which Weinstein's attorney Phyllis Kupferstein asked U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in Los Angeles to dismiss Judd's lawsuit. The judge has not ruled on the request.

Judd's attorney, Theodore Boutrous, said in court her legal team had spoken with Jackson and determined he was correctly quoted in the Stuff article and that it was Weinstein himself who had disparaged Judd to Jackson.

Boutrous said after the hearing that Jackson had information that could prove to be critical testimony supporting Judd's claim.

"We believe he will be a powerful witness and I'll match him up against Harvey Weinstein any day of the week," Boutrous told reporters.

Weinstein has also been charged with sexual assault in a separate criminal case in New York. 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 the media, entertainment, politics and corporate America.

Her lawsuit could go to trial within a year, Boutrous told reporters.

Judd, who starred in the 1990s thrillers "Kiss the Girls" and "Double Jeopardy," argues in her lawsuit that failing to clinch a role in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy undermined her career.

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Kupferstein told the judge that saying someone was a "nightmare" did not necessarily reflect on the person's professional abilities.

"I do not believe there are enough facts at this time for her to pursue the defamation allegation against Mr. Weinstein," Kupferstein said.

Neither Judd nor Weinstein attended the court hearing.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Tait

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