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Stars for a Cause Sues HFPA for Defamation

Charity seeking $1 million in damages from the group behind the Golden Globes

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association continues to keep the California judicial system humming. 

The organization behind the Golden Globe Awards is being sued again; this time by the charity Stars for a Cause. Stars is seeking $1 million in damages, alleging that HFPA President Phil Berk muddied the waters while the group was trying to negotiate a contract with Chrysler and NBC. 

Stars and its co-founder George Braunstein were working with Chrysler to donate a car that would be signed by various celebrities at the awards show and auctioned off to benefit Haitian Earthquake Relief, among other organizations. 

The HFPA issued a statement Wednesday rejecting the allegations.

"This 'new' suit is nothing more than a regurgitation of the previous suit filed," the HFPA wrote. "As before, Michael Russell and his client Stars for a Cause lack any specifics of alleged HFPA misconduct. This is nothing more than another sad attempt to keep their name in the press in a futile effort to bully the HFPA into an unwarranted settlement."

The HFPA continued, "However, the HFPA and its members take such personal and unwarranted allegations seriously and vow to fight these attacks until their names are cleared. Again, Michael Russell, Steve Locasio and Cinepoint were independent consultants on a year to year contract basis. For sufficient and good reasons, the HFPA chose not to renew their contract after it expired. End of story."

Among other things, the suit alleges that Berk engaged in a phone and email campaign stating that Stars was a fraudulent organization and had been sued for fraud by Cunard Cruise Lines. 

"Berk and HFPA engaged in despicable conduct when making these statements. Berk and HFPA acted intentionally, with malice and oppression, and with knowledge that his statements were false," the suit reads. 

The HFPA has been dogged by lawsuits in recent weeks. In one, the group is charging that Dick Clark Productions, the producers of its televised awards show, re-negotiated a deal with NBC to carry the Globes through 2018 without its consent or authorization. 

In a second more damaging suit, the Globes' former publicist Michael Russell is seeking $2 million in lost salary and additional damages, charging the organization that runs the awards show with fraud and corrupt practices. Among other misdeeds, Russell claims that the Berk personally profited from a sponsorship deal in question. 

Timothy McGonigle, the attorney representing Russell, filed the suit on Stars' behalf.

Earlier, the HFPA hit back at Stars for a Cause and Russell, saying that the publicist is guilty of a conflict of interest because he represented both the Globes and the charity.

"Mr. Russell was warned not to place his own profit motives ahead of his duties to the HFPA and to alert the Board of the participation of any other MRG client in HFPA sanctioned activities," Joe Campo, legal counsel for the HFPA, wrote in response to the Russell suit. "The fact the Board chastised MRG over a breach of trust only to see it re-occur provided the cause for the non-renewal of the public relations contract."

In that letter, Campo said that MRG has an "apparent pattern of profiting from its affiliation with the HFPA" and that Stars for a Cause has a "history of unsatisfied clients."