Denver author and filmmaker Julian Rubinstein, who wrote the nonfiction book “The Holly” and directed the documentary based on it, is being sued for libel along with the book’s publisher and the film’s Oscar-winning executive producer, Adam McKay, according to a statement. lawsuit filed in Denver this month.
The legal claim first appeared on May 10 and was changed on July 14 after the documentary’s release, which debuted on the festival circuit at Telluride Mountainfilm weeks earlier. The creative team received documents earlier this month, Rubinstein said.
Award-winning documentary is based on Rubinstein’s 2021 nonfiction book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood,” which investigates Denver’s gang scene, specifically, the Northeast Park neighborhood Hill controlled by the Bloods. It’s anchored in a profile of anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts, now running for mayor of Denver. A jury found Roberts not guilty of attempted murder in 2015, following a non-fatal shooting that occurred at a peace rally in the area known as Holly Square.
Just prior to its release, the producers of “The Holly” film announced that Oscar-winning director McKay (“Don’t Look Up,” “The Big Short”) had joined the completed project as an executive producer through of his company Hyperobject Industries. While the book was busy receiving praise in The New York Times in June, Rubinstein’s website was streaming a response to the first version of the lawsuit, which specifically alleged libel and slander in its description of sources Sheria Hicks and Pernell Hines.
Hicks and Hines were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Filed by Highlands Ranch attorney Chad A. Atkins, the lawsuit says Rubinstein incorrectly identified Hicks and Hines as gang members still active in Park Hill; that Hicks used crack; that Hicks and Hines were informants for the Denver Police Department; and that Hines received favorable treatment because of his relationship with the DPD, resulting in the dismissal of 10 criminal charges.
“We amended the original complaint (because of) the new defendants in the film,” Atkins explained Wednesday. “That was filed in June and we’ve been delivering it ever since.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary compensation for “damages, injuries, and losses caused by defamation,” according to the public filing. That includes lost work and violent threats to their lives, the lawsuit states. He says that the intent of Rubinstein and his team was deliberately malicious.
Attorney Steven D. Zansberg, who represents Rubinstein and the book’s publisher, FSG/Macmillan, said the lawsuit has “zero chance of success.” The lawsuit includes many allegations that aren’t even in the book, Rubinstein told The Denver Post on Wednesday. (Zansberg also represents The Denver Post on First Amendment issues.)
“Pay attention to this lawsuit and follow it as closely as you can,” Rubinstein said, “It will tell you who’s who in Denver, how urban development and policing work, and why we should start worrying about lack of oversight in this city”.
Zansberg, in a reply letter to Hicks and Hines, acknowledges that the book contained an error: Hines and his son have the same first, middle, and last names, with no indication that one is “Mr.” and other “Jr.” – But he says that Rubinstein quickly corrected him when tipped off. That was a full year before Rubinstein was contacted about it, he said.
“This lawsuit is one of many obvious attempts to smear and discredit this project that will ultimately look exactly like that,” said Rubinstein, a visiting professor of documentary journalism at the University of Denver. “There is an ocean of falsehoods out there and the reality is that the project exposes many powerful, influential, wealthy and even dangerous people.”
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