- Associated Press - Friday, January 14, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A former publicist for the organization that runs the Golden Globes sued the group on the eve of its glitzy awards show, claiming it engages in payola schemes for nominations and awards.

Michael Russell sued the Hollywood Foreign Press Association late Thursday, just three days before NBC airs the annual gathering of Hollywood royalty that has been bumped twice from the airwaves over the years due to scandal.

The lawsuit claims many association members “abuse their positions and engage in unethical and potentially unlawful deals and arrangements which amount to a ‘payola’ scheme” that could be illegal and jeopardize the group’s tax-exempt status.

The court filing, however, does not list any specific examples in which a studio or producer has paid for a Golden Globes nomination or award.

A statement from Ken Sunshine, whose company currently handles the show’s public relations, said the allegations were without merit.

“This is no more than the case of a disgruntled former consulting firm, whose contract was not renewed, attempting to take advantage once again of the Globe’s international stage for their own gain,” the statement reads.

Russell’s lawsuit seeks $2 million and alleges breach of contract, defamation and fraud over the association’s firing of Russell and his partner after the awards show last year. The complaint states the pair were dismissed after a dispute with association President Philip Berk over a charity and advertising campaign with Chrysler.

The pair frequently tried to raise the issue of ethical and potentially unlawful activity to Berk, the complaint states, but the claims were ignored.

The suit also alleges the association sells prime spots on the show’s red carpet to lesser-known media outlets.

Timothy McGonigle, an attorney representing Russell and partner Stephen Locascio, rejected claims they were acting out of spite.

Michael Russell and Stephen Locascio have brought this lawsuit in the hope that the Hollywood Foreign Press will take the problems seriously and change their practices so that their awards will have credibility,” he said.

Although the show is a precursor to the Academy Awards, it has long been criticized for some of its nominations, which are perceived as a way to gain favor with top actors.

This year’s show has been no different, with criticism of acting nominations for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for “The Tourist,” a critical and commercial flop.

Still, the show has been known to boost the Oscar chances of some contenders and to be more unpredictable than other award shows.

Preparations were progressing Friday for Sunday’s show at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, as crews laid out the red carpet, stages were built, and media personnel were shown where they could set up cameras.

Story Continues →