One thing's for sure: all the media hoopla surrounding Charlie Sheen is bringing with it lots of legal lessons for those who want (or need) to know something about the American legal system and how it works - there's lots to follow for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
First, there's all the postering and rumor.
That started a couple of months back for Sheen: I'd guess around Christmas-time, really. Same thing for lots of lawsuits: each side starts getting the word out, putting the best light on the situation from its own perspective. This is true for family law cases as well as big business disputes. And if you think that lawyers aren't involved in the spin this early in the program, not true. If they've been hired on at that point, the attorneys will have a say in what's going on here.
Second, there are those nasty, long, and formal letters from lawyers. Notice. Demand. Sometimes, they are required by law. Here in Texas, for example, there are several kinds of lawsuits that cannot legally proceed until a notice letter has been sent out, giving an attempt to resolve the dispute before any lawsuit is filed down at the courthouse.
Did we see them in the Charlie Sheen coverage? Why, yes, we did.
Here's the notice letter from Sheen's people.
Here's the response letter from CBS/Warner's lawyers.
Having read both, I have to admit that while both are well-written, I liked the response letter better. More short sentences. Less Big Bad Wolf stuff. And, nice how they listed all those links at the end, without cross-referencing them to specifics within the correspondence. I liked that.
After you've had attorneys throwing punches on paper like this, you know there's two ways to go: negotiate a settlement or go to war. We don't know that there were any real negotation attempts here. It's been my experience that attorneys will call each other up here, as unlikely as it may be that anyone's willing to resolve things.
Lawyers know their opposing counsel: they've had them on cases before, and they will again. You call up, you tip your hat at the minimum, it's just common courtesy before you strap on the guns. "Hey, bud, how's the wife and kids?" "Fine, yours?" "Fine." "Okey dokey, then."
If you aren't talking, then you're walking. As in, down to the courthouse to file your pleadings. Sometimes, there's a race on who's first - because there's an advantage to being plaintiff. You get to talk first. You get to talk last. Big deal.
Back to the Sheen Example of Civil Litigation.
Sheen's lawsuit has been filed. No race here -- well, sorta. CBS technically filed first with the arbitration forum according to their letter; looks like Sheen's gonna fight that arbitration clause.
Here's the pleading if you want to read it, thanks to TMZ.
As for the pleading, well done. Pretty. Lots of causes of action, lots of great adjectives. Well-written. Well played.
Charlie Sheen may be addicted to something or not. He may suffer mental health issues or not. But Charlie Sheen and his lawyers are doing a stellar job so far of positioning him in this controversy, and using trial by media to their advantage. (Potential jurors will remember those negative drug tests, for example, as well as the "I'm ready to go to work" interviews, and the "I'm fighting for the crew, too" statements.)
Sheen's looking like a good team player on this legal team and that's a good client to have. (#winning.)