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Sunday, September 21st, 2014

The Legal Battle Continues Over 'The Queen of Versailles'

A new twist has developed in millionaire David Siegel’s lawsuit against filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. Siegel, his wife Jackie, and their family are featured in Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles, one of the best documentaries from last year. The movie follows them as they struggle to adapt to a slightly lower standard of living as David’s time share empire is hit hard by the onset of the recession. Of course, “slightly lower standard of living” to these people means going from billionaires to mere millionaires. Boo hoo.

David does not come off well in the film at all. It shows audiences the ugly “how the meat is made” details of how unscrupulous agents of his company, Westgate Resorts, convinces people who can’t afford it to take part in time shares. He’s shown as a distant father and husband who openly admits to caring about the status of his business more than anything else. His eldest son Richard, who works for David, candidly admits that he’s never felt much love from the man.

That part’s important, because it concerns the latest turn that Siegel’s suit has taken. David is suing Greenfield for defamation. He doesn’t like the way he’s portrayed in the movie, and now he’s crying foul. Since there’s a lot of legal gobbledegook that I can’t easily explain, here’s how THR‘s story puts it:

Before there’s any resolution over the underlying dispute over whether Queen of Versailles was defamatory or not, a judge has to decide whether the case should be resolved in arbitration… Greenfield has a release form that stipulated that disputes would head to arbitration… Richard Siegel was the one to sign a release form, but his father now contends that he didn’t have full authority to bind Westgate Resorts to arbitration.

The plaintiff says Richard was “employed by Westgate Marketing, LLC, which acts as the broker for Westgate Resorts…Westgate Marketing, LLC does not own any property, let alone any of the physical locations at which Richard Siegel accompanied Greenfield in shooting the Film.”

According to a post-hearing memorandum filed by the plaintiff, Richard Siegel was a vice president. “However, the designation of ‘vice president’ is strictly honorary, unaccompanied by any of the traditional corporate authority such as a position might otherwise garner its occupant. Indeed, that title… has been bestowed upon approximately a dozen other individuals working for one of the distinct companies within the Westgate Resorts organization.”

Man, that’s cold. And it basically only furthers my conviction that the doc is a pretty accurate depiction of David Siegel as a man hollowed out by his wealth. It also attests to the confusing nature of the modern corporation, with it’s labyrinthine construction designed to befuddle the legal system. At the rate this is going, Greenfield will have plenty of material for a sequel film. Assuming Siegel doesn’t sue her for that, too.

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