Lawyer: Morita Deserves Compensation for Emotional Distress, Lost Wages

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

A former personal assistant to Hollywood producer Jon Peters deserves more than $2.5 million for the alleged sexual harassment she suffered at his hands, as well as for lost wages, the woman’s attorney told a jury Wednesday.

Attorney Philip Kaufler said that more than six years after Shelly Morita began working for the “Superman Returns” producer, she still deals with her experience internally.

“Shelly’s nightmare that year will stay with her for the rest of her life,” Kaufler said in his final argument in the trial of his client’s lawsuit against the 66-year-old filmmaker.

Morita, 44, filed her suit against Peters and his company, J.P. Organization Inc., in December 2006. She claims that Peters groped her at his Malibu home during portions of the time she worked from him beginning in February 2005 and ending a year later when she quit.

She also claims he crawled into bed with her in the two-bedroom suite of their Australia hotel and blew marijuana smoke in her face in a car while both were in that country for a week in July 2005 during filming of “Superman Returns.”

She additionally maintains he exposed himself to her and her daughter, then 2, in an outdoor restroom of his Santa Barbara ranch in December 2005.

According to Kaufler, Peters initially said before trial that he did not remember going into the restroom. But during trial, when he knew he would be contradicted by others, he testified he did go inside, Kaufler told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury.

Although Peters denied exposing himself, he said on the witness stand that engaging in such conduct in front of a mother and her daughter would be wrong, Kaufler said.

“Jon Peters actually said to you that any man who did such a thing … should be shot,” the lawyer told the jury.

He said that throughout the litigation, Peters has used his financial advantage over Morita to her detriment. Peters has had three teams of different lawyers, according to Kaufler, who said the producer “has unlimited resources to make her life miserable.”

Breaking down his suggestions for damages, Kaufler recommended $2 million for emotional distress and nearly $580,000 in past and future lost wages. He said his client made $154,720 in salary and bonuses while working for Peters, but has not been able to get another job as a personal assistant to a celebrity since then.

Morita testified that prior to working for Peters, she held the same position for Jennifer Aniston, Nicollette Sheridan, Pamela Anderson, Marisa Tomei, Justine Bateman and Jennifer Connelly. She now works as an executive for a Los Angeles law firm and makes just over $100,000 annually, her attorney said.

Kaufler also alleged Peters acted with malice toward Morita and that she is entitled to punitive damages.

But attorney John Gatti, on behalf of Peters, said his client committed no wrongdoing. He also said Morita signed a release of all claims against Peters in January 2006 and told the jury that her lawsuit has no merit.

“This is really about a money grab and greed,” Gatti said, maintaining that Morita has no way of corroborating her sexual harassment allegations against her former boss.

“Not one single witness came into this courtroom to back up Ms. Morita’s claims,” he said. “What we said we would prove in this case we have proven 100 percent.”

Gatti will continue his closing argument Thursday, then Kaufler will make his final pitch to the jurors before they begin deliberating.

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