Friday, February 8, 2013

Legal Lessons from Lady Gaga

This week, the blogosphere was buzzing with gossip about a foul-mouthed deposition given by pop star Lady Gaga. Although the entertainer's former personal assistant filed the labor lawsuit in question way back in December 2011, excerpts of the August 2012 deposition didn't surface until last week. The NY Post was the first to publish highlights of the six-hour interview, in which Lady Gaga blasted her ex-employee as an incompetent freeloader, cursed repeatedly at plaintiff's counsel, and insisted on preserving all of her uncensored thoughts for the record: "[I]f you're going to ask me questions for the next five hours, I am going to tell you exactly what [expletive] happened, so that the judge can read on this transcript exactly what's going on."

The ABA Journal and Above the Law spread the salacious story further. But as is common practice within the media, other news outlets quoted the explosive Post excerpts without providing much additional information. So researchers who hoped to read new tidbits about the self-proclaimed "queen of the universe" and her "[expletive] hood rat" "ex-best friend", or even to comb the documents independently, were out of luck.

Fortunately, savvy legal researchers know the way to locate court filings, even when the news doesn't provide a docket number or even the specific court where the suit was filed. The articles provide enough information (plaintiff Jennifer O'Neill's name, defendant Lady Gaga’s real – i.e., legal – name, and the fact that the suit was filed in a federal trial court in New York) to quickly access the docket number and other key information.

As described in the Law Library's research guide to Court Records & Briefs, federal court filings are officially housed in the PACER database. Anyone can register with the website to search and retrieve federal court documents, which are generally available from the mid-1990s to the present. However, PACER access comes at a price – currently $0.10 per page (capped at $3.00 per document retrieved). Justia Dockets provides a free front-end search to PACER, which sometimes includes access to the full text of certain filings. A search here for either plaintiff Jennifer O'Neill or defendant Stefani Germanotta retrieves the official case name, O'Neill v. Mermaid Touring Inc.; the court in which the lawsuit was filed (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York); and the docket number.

But Justia doesn't provide the documents for this case. So from there, it's a quick trip to Bloomberg Law to follow the steps in our research guide to accessing PACER materials. Lady Gaga's deposition is located as an exhibit attached to plaintiff O'Neill's Counter-Statement of Material Facts dated January 30, 2013. It's an 80-page excerpt [PDF for Bloomberg Law subscribers] of the much-longer deposition, with many pages omitted. But fans and foes alike may enjoy combing through the material for more details of the pop star's life on the road.

Feel like tracking down more information on other trials in the news? Start with our research guide to Court Records & Briefs for guidance, and Ask a Librarian for additional help.