LOS ANGELES (AP) - Charlie Sheen may not get quite the audience he wanted for his $100 million lawsuit over his firing from "Two and a Half Men" - a judge on Wednesday ruled that an arbitrator should determine whether the case is handled privately or in a public courtroom.
Sheen's contract with Warner Bros. Television has a valid clause requiring the private arbitrator to decide how the case proceeds, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan Goodman wrote in a 21-page ruling. The decision will likely dampen publicity about the case in the short-term, although Sheen's attorney said he will still argue the case should be heard publicly.
Sheen sued Warner Bros. and "Men" executive producer Chuck Lorre on March 10, days after Sheen was fired from his starring role on television's top-rated comedy.
Goodman ruled that Lorre also has a valid clause in his contract with Warner Bros. to have disputes handled through arbitration.
Warner Bros. and Lorre both want the case handled privately. Sheen opposed those efforts in court filings and an all-day hearing on the issue in April.
Attorney Marty Singer, who is representing Sheen, said the ruling does not decide whether the case will be heard privately and he will argue that it should be handled in the public court system. He said Sheen had valid claims in his lawsuit and the studio was holding back at least $10 million in royalties on reruns and sales of the show.
Warner Bros. and Lorre's attorney welcomed the ruling Wednesday and said it was the correct one given Sheen's contract.
"This matter will now proceed in an orderly fashion as the parties agreed to," Lorre's attorney Howard Weitzman wrote in an email.
"We're very gratified by the court's ruling enforcing the parties' arbitration agreement," Warner Bros. said in a statement.
Sheen sued in March, claiming they breached his contract and halted work on "Two and a Half Men" to punish Sheen for a pair of hospitalizations and comments in which he attacked Lorre personally in a series of highly-publicized interviews. He also claimed the studio was trying to cut him out of royalties he is owed for the broadcast of reruns and DVD sales.
"Two and a Half Men," which debuted in 2003, starred Sheen as womanizing bachelor Charlie Harper, who creates an ad hoc family with his neurotic brother, the divorced Alan (Jon Cryer) and Alan's son, Jake (Angus T. Jones).
It has been television's top-rated comedy and reruns frequently air, although the long-term prospects of the show are unclear.
Goodman has asked the parties to update him on the status of arbitration by Nov. 30.