Written by Annie Diamond
In a twist that could be in the next summer hit, writer Emma Cline recently filed a counter-suit to writer Chaz Reetz-Lailo’s lawsuit at the same San Francisco courthouse over allegations of plagiarism, spying, and physical abuse.
You might remember Emma Cline for her summer hit debut novel The Girls. The story features a girl joining a cult led by a Manson-esque figure in 1960s California. Cline’s novel spent 3 months on the New York Times Bestsellers List and Cline sold the novel to Random House for a seven-figure three-book deal. According to the New York Times, her ex-boyfriend Chaz Reetz-Laiolo has now formally sued her, alleging that Cline used spyware to read his emails as well as other personal documents, and that she plagiarized phrases and scene structures. Reetz-Laiolo’s suit also names Cline’s publisher and Scott Rudin Productions, the company which optioned the screen rights, for damages.
Cline’s counter-suit refutes Reetz-Laiolo’s claims, saying that the spyware used was due to Cline’s suspicion that Reetz-Laiolo was being unfaithful. Cline also accuses Reetz-Laiolo of creating this whole affair out of a jealous attempt to convince Cline to give him large amounts of money. In addition, Cline’s suit also claims that Retz-Laiolo had been physically and emotionally abusive: Cline recounts a 2012 incident where she says that Retz-Laiolo, after reading a text, choked her and threw her possessions on the street.
Reetz-Laiolo has contested the claim that he was physically abusive and Cline has rejected the idea that she committed plagiarism, saying that most of the alleged infringements were short one- or two-word phrases and that the structure and theme of Girls had been in place long before Reetz-Laiolo entered the picture. Neither Cline nor her lawyers have refuted the spyware allegations and two of Reetz-Laiolo’s female friends have also accused Cline of reading their emails. Reetz-Laiolo has made veiled threats against Cline, intimidating her by speculating on public interest in nude photos of Cline and threatening to write a tell-all article about their relationship.
The narrative of this legal proceeding—already rife with ex-lovers, violence, and jealousy—gets more complicated when looking at the lawyers. Reetz-Laiolo is represented by Boies Schiller Flexner, currently in the news for representing Harvey Weinstein and helping Weinstein hide allegations of sexual assault against him. Cline’s team includes Carrie Goldberg, a female lawyer specializing in claims of harassment and revenge porn. Goldberg is also representing one of Weinstein’s accusers, the actress Paz de la Huerta.
When Cline was twenty, she met the then thirty-three Reetz-Laiolo. Although the relationship ended in 2012, the two apparently stayed in touch. According to Cline’s suit, Reetz-Laiolo’s threats started soon after she sold her book to Random House in 2014. The first draft of Reetz-Laiolo’s complaint featured an accusation that Cline made full “use of her sexuality to extract compensation and manipulate older men” and included explicit messages Cline had sent to other lovers. In a statement to the Times, Cline said she regrets the time she has spent battling an ex she thought she had escaped, instead of spending that time writing another book.