Crime & Justice

Stevie Wonder wins attorneys fees from defamation lawsuit

Stevie Wonder and two employees of a Los Angeles radio station he owns are entitled to $325,525 in attorneys' fees it cost them to get a defamation lawsuit by a former colleague dismissed, a judge ruled today.

In his suit filed in February 2008, ex-KJLH disc jockey Clifton Winston claimed he was the one being talked about in an April 18, 2007, broadcast of a voicemail from a woman who alleged she had gotten pregnant during an extramarital affair and the man would not admit it.

Winston demanded punitive damages from the defendants, including Wonder's company, Taxi Productions Inc., which operates the radio station.

Winston also sued KJLH program director Aundrae Russell and afternoon radio personalities Lawrence Williams and Janine Haydel, claiming they allowed the defamatory message to be broadcast twice within an hour "despite having knowledge of the falsity of the statements and knowledge of the damage that the statement would cause."

In 2008, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern dismissed Wonder, Haydel and Russell as defendants on grounds the suit interfered with their right to free speech. He also tossed a claim against Wonder for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Stern also found the entertainer was unaware the voicemail would be broadcast and that the topics of the radio broadcast – marital infidelity and children born out of wedlock – are matters of public concern.

Stern denied similar dismissal motions made on behalf of Williams and Taxi Productions. But in November, a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed that ruling and also threw out the case against them.

The state Supreme Court denied Hill's petition for review.

In today's ruling, Stern said the lawyers for Wonder, Williams and Haydel spelled out their requests with precision.

"I have to say, they've documented what they've done," Stern said. "It's probably among the best prepared I've ever had."

Attorney Michelle E. Hill, who represented Winston, said the amount sought was excessive and asked for a reduction. But Stephen G. Contopulos, the lawyer for Wonder and the others, said the documents simply reflected what he and his colleagues billed their three clients.