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Jenny Jones found guilty

The producers of the hit talk show ordered to pay $26 million in damages to the family of Scott Amedure

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Running a talk show is dangerous, and not just if you’re Jerry Springer. Producers of The Jenny Jones Show learned that the hard way May 7, when a Michigan jury ordered them to pay some $26 million in damages to the family of Scott Amedure, who was killed by Jonathan Schmitz in 1995, three days after Amedure revealed his homosexual crush on Schmitz on the show. The ruling shocked the media world. ”From a First Amendment context, it’s very dangerous,” says attorney Dori Hanswirth of the Committee on Communications and Media Law. ”That the entity that let Amedure speak is responsible for his death seems completely wrong.”

But, counters Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney for Amedure’s family, ”this no more impugns the First Amendment than if Jenny Jones had kicked somebody in the solar plexus.” What the verdict means, continues Fieger, ”is you can’t abuse or deceive people.” Warner Bros., which owns Jones, says it will appeal. (Warner and EW are both owned by Time Warner.) Meanwhile, Hollywood is unsure how to interpret the verdict. Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures — which produces Jones, Rosie O’Donnell, and the upcoming Queen Latifah show — says, ”I’m still scratching my head, asking our lawyers, ‘Does this mean we have to do mental-health checks [on our guests]?”’

Jones says she’s ”completely shocked. I thought once people heard the whole story, there wouldn’t be a problem.” The host says she won’t ditch topics such as ”Secret Crushes.” ”I take a lot of pride in this show,” she says. ”They can’t scare me away that easily.”