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A+E Networks Argued That Wendy Williams’ Guardian Sought To “Unconstitutionally Silence” Criticism Via Effort To Halt Airing Of Documentary

Newly unsealed documents shed light on A+E Networks‘ successful appeal of a last-minute effort to halt the airing of the Lifetime documentary Where Is Wendy Williams? last month.

A temporary guardian, Sabrina Morrissey, had sought a court order to stop the project, arguing in a lawsuit filed last month that the documentary was a “blatant exploitation of a vulnerable woman with a serious medical condition,” and that the talk host had lacked mental capacity to enter a contract to do the show.

A New York judge initially granted the order to prevent the airing of Where Is Wendy Williams?, but that was quickly reversed on appeal.

In arguing against a temporary restraining order to stop the project, A+E Networks’ attorney Rachel Strom wrote that Morrissey’s effort was an unconstitutional prior restraint, and on a topic that was in the public interest.

“At a time when guardianship proceedings are being debated in our own State legislature and through headlines across the nation, the Order impermissibly gags defendants from publishing speech that is unquestionably a matter of public concern, namely [Wendy Williams] own journey through the guardianship process.”

A+E’s attorney contended that “only after seeing the Documentary’s trailer and realizing her role in [Wendy Williams ] life may be criticized did Ms. Morrissey enlist the courts to unconstitutionally silence that criticism.”

Williams’ representatives disclosed last month that she has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. She had participated in the documentary and served as executive producer.

Read the unsealed A+E Networks’ Wendy Williams brief.

Peter Moulton, the appellate judge, found that blocking the release of the project would be an “impermissible prior restraint on speech that violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The documentary ultimately aired on Feb. 24-25, but only recently have court documents in the case been unsealed, although there are still some redactions including those of Williams’ name. A+E Networks also opposed the initial broad sealing order over the case.

Morrissey also argued that the contract, between another defendant in the lawsuit, Entertainment One, and Williams is void because she was incapable of managing her business and personal affairs and was placed under a guardianship under the supervision of the court.

In its response, A+E Networks’ attorney wrote that even if the contract was found to be void, “its invalidity still would not provide any basis for enjoining the documentary.”

“Even if [Wendy Williams] was precluded from being portrayed in any works as a result of her alleged inability to enter into agreements like the Talent Agreement (even though she did so months before ever being diagnosed with dementia), plaintiffs position would mean that no newspaper, no documentary, no book could ever tell [Williams] story or that of anyone with dementia,” Strom wrote. “That, of course, is not the law.”

A+E Networks’ attorney also pointed out that delayed seeking to halt the project even though she was aware of it for a year.

Morrissey “had months and months to seek a remedy, intervene in filming, or voice her concerns to” the defendants, [Williams] or her family. Plaintiff did not, and her delay is contrary to the supposed need for emergency relief.”

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