Morgan Freeman’s legal team is apparently standing down in its war of words with CNN.
Last month, the cable-news network dropped its bombshell probe detailing how the actor allegedly harassed or behaved inappropriately towards at least eight women. The story prompted Freeman’s attorney Robert Schwartz to issue a harsh letter insisting the article was flawed, calling for its immediate retraction.
A source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that last week Irell & Manella, LLP, the firm that employs Schwartz, will no longer represent Freeman on matters related to CNN.
It is unclear why the decision was made, but CNN previously said that the firm had a conflict of interest in any legal action against the network, as it simultaneously represented the cable channel in unrelated intellectual-property lawsuits.
Reached by phone earlier this week, Freeman’s attorney Robert Schwartz said he still represents Freeman, but would not elaborate on whether that includes matters related to the CNN ordeal. On that same question, a spokesperson repeatedly replied: “We do not comment about legal strategies.”
As such, Freeman’s publicity team declined to say whether the actor plans to find new legal representation against CNN in light of Irell & Manella’s decision to exit the case.
Since the story was published last month, Freeman has offered several apologies, attributing his behavior to “misplaced compliments or humor.” But he also maintained his innocence, going on offense against CNN by saying he was “devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye.”
After CNN released its bombshell report detailing allegations of harassment against multiple women, Schwartz released a public letter to CNN president Jeff Zucker saying the story—written by Chloe Melas and An Phung—was filled with “malicious intent, falsehoods, sleight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice.” The letter claimed that the network “baited and prodded” witnesses, and took interactions out of context.
CNN’s senior legal VP David Vigilante sent his own letter to Schwartz several days later, pointing out that other women had come forward after the network’s piece. Freeman’s claims, according to Vigilante, were “designed for press consumption, it is rife with empty speculation, overheated rhetoric, and in some instances plainly false assertions.”
“The overheated protestations in your letter do not cast any shadow on the central gravamen of CNN’s story—that Morgan Freeman engaged in a pattern of behavior that demeaned and sexualized women, whether or not they were in his employ,” Vigilante added.
Schwartz dismissed CNN’s letter in a brief statement.
“CNN’s letter is long on saber-rattling but short on substance,” Schwartz said. “It fails to address the compelling evidence we provided that the story was tarnished by manipulation of the facts and conflict of interest. Enough is enough.”