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State News: Actress Geena Davis sues Duluth nonprofit

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Duluth-based Dads & Daughters founders Joe Kelly and Nancy Gruver were "shocked" to learn Monday evening that Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis is suing them over one of the nonprofit's programs, Kelly said Tuesday.

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Davis filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday that accused Kelly, Dads & Daughters [DADs] president, and Gruver, DADs executive director, of stealing her concept for a program called See Jane, which was intended to "research and become involved in advocacy related to the depictions of gender in children's media," according to court documents.

In 2004, Davis became involved with DADs, a national nonprofit founded in 1999 that encourages fathers to participate in the lives of their daughters.

Her purpose was to use the Duluth organization's nonprofit status to help raise funds for those studies, her attorney, George Hedges, said from his Los Angeles office Tuesday.

But Kelly said Tuesday that Davis came to him and Gruver in asking for their opinion. "She came to us saying, 'I have this concept.' ... basically she said, 'I have an interest in doing this and what do you think?' "

They told her she could start her own nonprofit or see if another nonprofit would accept it as a program. She asked whether DADs would take it on and eventually, after the board of directors approved it, the Duluth organization did.

"See Jane was born at DADs," Kelly said. It has always been a program of the nonprofit, not something that can be owned, he said.

In the lawsuit, Davis asserts she has always "maintained complete and exclusive control of the See Jane concept."

Kelly said Davis, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in "The Accidental Tourist" in 1988 and starred in the ABC television series "Commander in Chief," was generous in volunteering her time and money to the program.

"I can't emphasize enough how grateful we are for all the volunteering Geena Davis has done with this," Kelly said. She raised nearly $750,000 for the program, Kelly and court documents said.

According to court papers, "In July of 2007, Defendants announced to Davis that they were expanding their operations and would be hiring a new executive director to focus on fundraising for their own projects in New York City, and who would not fundraise for See Jane."

On July 20, Davis told Kelly and Gruver she wanted to run See Jane independently from DADs.

Although they were disappointed, they accepted Davis' decision, Kelly said. On Aug. 13, he said, he and Gruver sent Davis a list of tangibles and intangibles for which DADs sought compensation as the relationship ended.

They had no response until the court complaint was delivered to them after business hours Monday, he said.

"We really are shocked and it's really been distressing," said Kelly, who now lives in St. Paul.

Hedges said that the DADs officials "made these multi-million dollar demands on her [Davis]," but Kelly countered that they asked Davis to make a proposal for compensation of the listed items. DADs did not name a dollar figure, Kelly said.

Davis is demanding a jury trial; an injunction to prohibit DADs from using See Jane's intellectual property and interests; compensatory damages; court costs; a complete accounting of funds; restitution; attorney fees and other relief. She also asked for punitive damages "because Defendants' conduct was fraudulent, oppressive and malicious." No amounts were specified.

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