Bombshell Testimony From Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta’s Joseline Hernandez
Bombs away! Even if you have never seen a single frame of VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta,” you will want to pay close attention to a blockbuster legal development – given under oath, no less – about the “reality” of reality TV.
Notorious cast member Joseline Hernandez is being sued by her former co-star Althea Hart, real name Althea Eaton, who claims Hernandez physically assaulted her during last season’s reunion show filmed in New York City. Eaton and her fiancé Benzino fought both Hernandez and Stevie J during the brawl. Eaton and Benzino were booted from the show after Benzino, a media executive and record producer, allegedly threatened the show’s producers.
According to the civil lawsuit filed by Eaton in August 2014, during the Season 3 reunion show Hernandez “began her assault by viciously punching Plaintiff in the face, then continued to hit and scratch her. Defendant then pulled Plaintiff to the ground where she continued to hit and scratch Plaintiff until security personnel were able to restrain her.” Eaton apparently “suffered a black eye, abrasions to her face and arms, and extensive bruising to her arms and legs.”
The complaint claims, “numerous witnesses and media outlets have reported observing Defendant Hernandez smoking crack cocaine out of a pipe backstage at the L&HHATL reunion show, and Plaintiffs believe that Defendant’s intoxication was a contributing factor to her violent and unprovoked assault of Plaintiff.”
READ: Hot Tea: Crack Cocaine Triggered Violent Brawl At Love & Hip Hop Atlanta Reunion – Lawsuit Filed!
Eaton, a singer, is suing Hernandez for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by a jury. Eaton did not take legal action against VH1.
The bombshell in the civil suit is that Hernandez, a so-called Puerto Rican princess, gave a 4-hour videotaped deposition to Eaton’s lawyer, in which she talked about the origins of the show’s content. Hernandez testified under oath that she and other cast members stick to a script but does that mean she is not responsible for her own actions?
“[I]t’s called reality but it’s a lot of acting….I say that because a lot of the girls on the show, they act. It’s a lot of acting in a reality TV show, whether it’s Love & Hip Hop or another show,” explained L&HHATL’s breakout star Joseline Hernandez. Are Hernandez’s statements intended to defeat sweeping claims made by VH1 producers that extreme violence is neither tolerated nor promoted on L&HHATL?
When asked by Eaton’s lawyers if what she portrays on the popular reality show is authentic, Hernandez responded, “Well, I mean, the reality TV show showcases a lot of who we are not.” If the incident was scripted and pre-planned or VH1 brass signed off on the fight, producers may be in hot legal water.
The critical question is whether producers forced Hernandez to strike Eaton or did producers conspire with Hernandez to commit battery, which is not exactly the accusation Hernandez made. But maintaining that the show was scripted calls into question the idea that Hernandez was contractually obligated to play a character and follow a violent storyline.
Many critics point fingers at the FCC for its failure to apply federal laws governing reality TV shows. Today, strict regulation is arguably more necessary because participants or “talent” on reality TV shows may be set-up for failure or duped in ways that are not entirely obvious. The charge by people like Hernandez is that producers are scripting these shows and staging scenarios the networks hope will result in ratings gold at the expense of participants who carry out vicious acts.
Just look at whom the network rewarded in this chaos: Hernandez, the alleged wrongdoer, still has a job with VH1 and Eaton, the assumed victim, does not. It has been reported Hernandez received only a four episode suspension after the disturbing incident she caused. Should the show have terminated her or was she just following a script?
Hernandez’s testimony should make us consider whether there are legitimate legal concerns parties should be looking at before signing on the dotted line, such as privacy issues, intellectual property theft, the rigging of storylines, and violent scenarios scripted by show producers.
Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and tell us what you think about Hernandez’s testimony and whether VH1 is culpable.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.