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Judge Overturns $128 Million Award in ‘Bones’ Dispute

A California judge Thursday overturned a $128 million arbitration award in a contract dispute between the stars and creator of the TV series “Bones” and 21st Century Fox over profits from licensing revenue.

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California judge Thursday overturned a $128 million arbitration award in a contract dispute between the stars and creator of the TV series “Bones” and 20th Century Fox over profits from licensing revenue.

The series, which starred Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz and was inspired by novels written by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, aired for 12 seasons on Fox. The three sued Fox in 2015, claiming the studio cheated them out of more than $100 million in gross licensing revenue while overcharging millions of dollars in alleged expenses.

In this May 16, 2016 file photo, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel attend a Fox party. The actors claims the network cheated them out of millions of dollars. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

The case went before arbitrator Peter Lichtman, who found after two years of litigation that Fox executives did cheat the stars and writer out of millions of dollars. Lichtman awarded the actors and Reichs $128 million in punitive damages and more than $50 million in fees, damages and interest.

Fox then argued that an arbitrator does not have the type of power Lichtman exercised and asked Los Angeles County Superior CourtJudge Richard Rico to vacate the punitive damages.

On Thursday, Rico agreed, denied the $128 million award and ruled that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages. However, in the minute order, the judge upheld the $50 million in actual damages against the studio.

A full ruling explaining Rico’s decision was not immediately available.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision to strike punitive damages from the award and vindicating our position,” Fox said in a statement. “We look forward to concluding the litigation.”

Attorney Daniel Saunders, of Kasowitz Benson Torres, represents the actors and writer. He said in a statement Thursday they would challenge the ruling.

“Today’s decision in no way impacts the arbitrator's findings that our clients are owed more than $50 million for Fox’s fraudulent and deceitful accounting,” Saunders said. “It deals only with the technical issue of whether our clients waived their right to receive punitive damages. As the arbitrator concluded, they did not – and we look forward to showing the Court of Appeal why it should reverse today’s ruling.”

Fox purchased Reichs’ literary property and life story rights, as “Bones” is loosely based on her work as a forensic anthropologist. She was promised a 5% share of the profits from the series, while Deschanel and Boreanaz were entitled to 3% shares per their contracts. They are also entitled to periodic accounting statements showing how Fox calculates their profits.

They claim Fox breached its contract with multiple licensing transactions – domestic broadcasting, international licensing and streaming.

Fox says it saved the show’s future and enhanced the remuneration paid to the plaintiffs.

While the show was in production, Fox called it “a middling show with middling ratings” not worthy of a full cost of production option for its fifth season, but the show went on for several more seasons and was one of the network’s longest running hour-long dramas when it ended in 2017.

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