Go west, young man.
It was the legal opinion of a Cook County judge who dismissed a defamation suit filed by former “Windy City Rehab” co-host Donovan Eckhardt against showrunners on the grounds that Eckhardt’s contract called for legal disputes to be settled in a California courtroom.
Eckhardt’s attorney, Daniel Hogan, had argued it would be overly burdensome for witnesses in Illinois to travel to the West Coast to participate in legal proceedings.
But Judge Patricia O’Brien Sheahan, in a decision handed down Friday, rejected the argument, pointing to other options such as videotaped testimony that would allow remote participation.
Hogan hopes to have the decision overturned and filed an appeal Monday.
In an email, Hogan declined to answer questions, including whether Eckhardt would seek to file suit in California if the appeal is unsuccessful.
The lawsuit, which was filed in January, sought more than $2.2 million in damages.
It claims the people behind the show, through a process of selective editing, falsely portrayed Eckhardt as an untrustworthy “villain” who stole money from accounts he shared with his co-host, Alison Victoria.
The ploy was an effort to boost ratings, according to the lawsuit.
A key issue in the suit was Eckhardt’s contract, which gave producers “the unlimited right to cut, edit, add to, subtract and omit from, adapt, change, arrange, rearrange or otherwise modify” footage.
However, Sheahan did not weigh in on the merits of the defamation claim and whether emotional distress was intentionally inflicted on Eckhardt.
“The extent to which defendants were granted license to manipulate the footage and facts in producing the show” is still left to be determined, she said.
Eckhardt claimed he “suffered from depression, sleeplessness, loss of appetite” and has undergone counseling for the “embarrassing, traumatic and humiliating” experience.
He claimed the show turned him into a scapegoat and a target of social media scorn, with fans commenting that he should “drop dead” and that he’s an “a–hole” who deserves to go to prison.
For months, Eckhardt bit his tongue and endured the criticism because he was essentially under a gag order due his contract which prevented him from speaking with the media without approval.
Eckhardt, who lives in Bucktown and earned $3,500 per episode, was fired from the show in the spring of 2019.
The suit names Discovery Inc., parent of HGTV, and Big Table Media, the production company that makes the show. It does not name his former co-star, Alison Victoria, who has maintained what appears on the show is accurate.
In February, HGTV announced it had ordered nine additional one-hour episodes of the show.
The new episodes are slated to air in late 2021.