Music producer Dr. Luke is seeking to take a deposition of Lady Gaga relating to text messages she exchanged with pop star Kesha. Per Luke, the texts are relevant to a defamation lawsuit brought by Luke against Kesha.
Kesha is a popular singer famous for, among other hits, “Tik Tok”. She was on contract with Kemosabe Records which is owned by Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald). Kesha claimed he drugged and raped her, and continuously harassed her sexually. He denied the allegations. She sued for rescission (nullification, cancellation; a remedy in equity which is a system of law based on fairness) seeking to terminate the recording contract, and for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, which requires “extreme and outrageous conduct intolerable in a civil society.” A judge can grant rescission when the interests of fairness and justice demand. In 2016 a judge dismissed Kesha’s rescission case. In doing so, the judge noted that the record company offered to record Kesha’s music without Dr. Luke being involved in the process. The judge also commented that Kesha’s evidence was insufficient to support a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress
Dr. Luke is now suing Kesha for defamation, the tort of harming a person’s reputation by untruthful statements. He claims she falsely accused him of drugging and raping her. He discovered that Kesha and Lady Gaga had texted about Kesha’s claims and he has sought copies of the texts from Gaga. She provided a four page spreadsheet of text messages but, per Luke, they were “heavily redacted” (edited). Luke wants to see the unedited version; Lady Gaga has refused saying the material is irrelevant to the lawsuit and addresses private matters. Luke served a subpoena (an order directing a witness to appear) mandating her appearance at a deposition, which is a question and answer session, often held at an attorney’s office, during which opposing counsel asks the other party or a witness about the case. She has failed to respond claiming, through her lawyer, a busy concert and film schedule. Her world tour begins August 1st. Luke’s lawyer, Jeffrey Movit, has repeatedly offered to travel to a location on the singer’s tour and/or film shoot. He further offered to limit the deposition to no more than three hours. Gaga has nonetheless refused to offer a date when she will make herself available. Movit has now made a motion (a request to a judge for specified relief while a case is pending) seeking to compel the pop star to participate in the deposition. The motion is returnable in court on August 8th. Gaga’s attorney claims she is not an essential witness, and that Luke is seeking the deposition only to attract press attention to his case.
A deposition is part of discovery, the pre-trial process in a lawsuit whereby each party obtains information held by the other. Answers to questions are given under oath, meaning the person being deposed is sworn to tell the truth. Untruthful answers could lead to a perjury charge which is the crime of lying under oath and punishable by jail and/or a fine. A court reporter records the testimony using a stenography machine, and thereafter creates a written transcript that is typically used by the attorneys at trial when cross-examining a party or witness.
Anybody with information relevant to a case can be deposed provided the deposition does not invade the witness’ privacy and the deposition is not sought for an improper purpose. The party seeking the deposition must serve the witness with a subpoena. If the person fails to appear, the party seeking the deposition can seek a court order mandating the person to appear at the deposition or face penalty for civil contempt (not criminal), disobeying a court order in a civil proceeding. Civil contempt can result in punishment, including jail time and/or a fine, but the sanctions typically end once the party in contempt complies with the court order.
If a person subpoenaed for a deposition believes the procedure is improper for one of the stated reasons (testimony not relevant, privacy would be invaded, and the deposition is sought for an improper purpose), that person can seek a protective order from a court which limits the permissible scope of discovery.
Dr. Luke is seeking the court order to compel Lady Gaga to attend the deposition. Her attorney will no doubt seek a protective order. Watch the news for the result following the upcoming hearing.
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Do you think Lady Gaga is legally justified in refusing to appear at the deposition? Why or why not?