Morals clause at issue in Charlie Sheen legal fight

Tue Mar 8, 2011 8:59pm EST
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By Eriq Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A day after Warner Bros. Television fired Charlie Sheen from "Two and a Half Men" and the actor responded with legal threats, the studio has written to the actor's attorney providing the most public detail to date as to what is actually in his employment contract.

For the past month, since Sheen has engaged his media blitz against the show's producers, there have been numerous reports about a lack of morals clause in his contract. However, WBTV certainly seems to be making the case that Sheen's unprecedented conduct constitutes a breach of the deal.

In its letter, WBTV points to this contractual clause:

"If Producer in its reasonable but good faith opinion believes Performer has committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude under federal, state or local laws, or is indicted or convicted of any such offense, Producer shall have the right to delete the billing provided for in this Agreement from any broadcast or other uses which are thereafter made of the episode(s) in which Performer appears. In addition, to the extent such event interferes with Performer's ability to fully and completely render all material services required hereunder or Producer's ability to fully exploit the Series, Producer shall have the right to treat such act as a default under the applicable provisions hereof."

Is the reference to "moral turpitude" a killer for Sheen?

Legal experts don't think it's that simple.

Barry Peek, an entertainment labor attorney at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, says this isn't the standard "morals clause" language in contracts.

Typically, performers agree in contracts to conduct themselves in a way so as not to bring negative press or disparagement to a show. In contrast, says Peek, this one is very specific. "They are talking about a felony," he says. "It's going to be a matter of fact whether they can prove a reasonable good faith belief he actually committed a felony (such as drug distribution), and Warner's problem is they continued to negotiate the contract and employ him despite the troubles. It's going to be a stretch."   Continued...