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Burden of Proof

1991 Restraining Order Against Fox's 'Multi-Millionaire' Groom Revealed

Aired February 21, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The Fox network scored huge ratings playing matrimonial Cupid on prime-time television. But the honeymoon may be over as court documents reveal a previous restraining order against the show's groom based on accusations of assault from a one-time fiancee.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Last week, the Fox TV network cashed in on the latest prime-time game show craze with a hit of its own. "Who Wants to Marry a Multi- Millionaire?" garnered more than 23 million viewers by the end of its broadcast, but new revelations about the show's groom has prompted network executives to cancel tomorrow's rebroadcast.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: In the program, 50 women paraded on stage in bikinis and wedding dresses in competition to be chosen the bride of 42-year-old bachelor Rick Rockwell, who's birth name was Richard Balkey. But 1991 court records reveal that Rockwell was accused of hitting and threatening an ex-girlfriend after she broke their engagement. At the time, a Los Angeles County superior court judge issued a restraining order against Rockwell, instructing him to stay at least 100 yards away from his former fiancee.

Joining us today from New York is James Poniewozik of "Time" magazine. His article, "Fox's Bride Idea," can be found in this week's issue of "Time."

VAN SUSTEREN: Here in Washington, civil litigator Andrew Marks, divorce lawyer Sanford Ain and Tina Drake (ph). And in our back row, Muna Otaru (ph), and Al Pedersen (ph), and Barbara Zimmerman (ph).

Let me go first to you, James, what is the show all about?

JAMES PONIEWOZIK, "TIME": The show basically played matchmaker for 50 women and one multi-millionaire, who was apparently barely a multi-millionaire, worth about $2 million, just meeting the definition, and it was essentially a beauty pageant minus the, you know, class and intellectual depth.

They trotted out women in bathing suits, in basically sort of an evening gown competition except with wedding dresses, and asked them questions along the lines of, you how would you spend my money and would you mind if I went to strip clubs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So it was quite a flabbergasting crass spectacle that drew a tremendous amount of rubber necking among the viewing audience.

VAN SUSTEREN: James, there was a qualification process for the bride, how about for the groom? Did the show try to find the perfect groom or did they do any sort of search themselves, or is it just one man applied?

PONIEWOZIK: Perfect is quite a relative term. If you are producing a TV show, apparently, "perfect" means "very media-genic." And the groom that they found had worked as -- he was sort of a -- had not a very successful stand-up comedy career, a role in the movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," and was a corporate motivational speaker. So they were trying to pick up somebody who came across well on TV.

They say that they vetted him fairly extensively, apparently not quite extensively enough, judging by the egg they have on their face today.

COSSACK: Jennifer Mann joins us by telephone. Jennifer, you were a contestant. Tell us how you became a contestant on the show?

JENNIFER MANN, CONTESTANT, "WHO WANTS TO MARRY A MULTI- MILLIONAIRE": I actually was a morning show in the D.C. area that I heard an interview being done, and the DJ had asked for callers, particularly women, to call in and give their opinion. So being 6:30 in the morning sitting in traffic, I did just that.

From there, I got an invite to participate in a local, I guess, preliminary, and entered that, not really realizing what it would end up into. But entered that, and then got an invite later on from Fox to participate in the show.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jennifer, what was the attraction to you to do this?

MANN: At the time, I was -- Well, I am 23, single, hadn't dated anyone for about a year and a half and I thought: Why not? What the heck?

COSSACK: Jennifer, were you prepared to get married, if you would have been selected?

MANN: At time I was, believed or not, yes. Actually, everyone that signed on to the show that was the agreement we made going to Las Vegas for the week.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jennifer, did you sign a prenuptial agreement of any sort, and what were the sort of the rules and regulation of it?

MANN: Actually, every single woman that was flown out to Las Vegas did sign a prenuptial agreement, as did the groom, obviously. Pretty much it stated that what we walked into the marriage with, as well as the groom, we would both walk out with.

I can't go into details as to what else was mentioned within the prenup, but that was -- that is a good summary of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Without telling me the details of the prenuptial agreement, did the prenuptial agreement lay out the assets of the groom, how much he had?

MANN: Not detailed. It gave a summarization of his assets.

COSSACK: Jennifer, did anybody tell about this groom? I mean, what did Fox tell you, other than the fact that he was supposed to be a multi-millionaire, did he tell you anything about his background and what he did?

MANN: Well, we were given information that he was undergoing the exact kind of extensive background check that we were going, and I don't know if you read in the "Washington Post," but it stated that we went through criminal background checks, financial checks, medical history, things of that nature. We were told, you know, that he was a prominent man in society, very well known, et cetera, et cetera.

VAN SUSTEREN: Sandy, you represented a lot of men and women in writing prenuptial agreements. Does a prenuptial agreement to be binding have to be detailed or can it summarize assets?

SANFORD AIN, DIVORCE LAWYER: Well, it needs to have some reasonable level of detail. The basic requirements for any prenuptial agreement are that each party have independent representation; that there be full disclosure, so that each party knows exactly the assets and liabilities than the other, and that they not be signed under duress. This one seems fails on a variety of respects.

COSSACK: Why?

VAN SUSTEREN: For instance?

COSSACK: Why would duress fit into this? or would it?

AIN: It may, because they are presented, they are on the show, they're given the opportunity to be in this terrific position, for some of them, although I question that myself. And they can't go forward unless they sign this prenuptial agreement. It is analogous to handing someone a prenuptial the day before the wedding or a week before the wedding and say: sign this or we're not getting married, or you are not going no the show. And these people are faced then with the dilemma of: Do I sign this and waive everything, or do I walk away at this point, after having gone through all the steps up to that point?

COSSACK: You think that is duress? I don't think that is duress when you can walk away and say: Listen, so I won't be on the television show. AIN: Well, you can walk away from a wedding too, a month before the wedding or a week before the wedding, if you don't want to sign this prenuptial agreement, you just don't have to get married.

VAN SUSTEREN: Frankly, I that is the least of the problems. They may not be legal problems, but there maybe others.

But let me go back to James. James, what do we know about the asset? You said a few minutes ago that he just barely qualified as a multimillionaire. Do you know what his assets are?

PONIEWOZIK: Well, we know that he apparently made most of his money in real estate investing, investing in a boom market, not apparently in the lucrative field of corporate motivational speaking. But we don't have a lot of specifics on, you know, what type of, you know, what type of assets his money is tied up in and so forth, simply that he met the sort of minimal qualifications of $2 million in value one way or another.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jennifer, how far did you get in the selection process and did you have second thoughts at any point during the process?

MANN: I actually made it to the final five during the taping of the show. As for second thoughts, I think with any potential bride, getting up to the point of putting the wedding dress on and walking out on stage, yeah, I had second thoughts, but not that I was putting my faith in the Next (ph) Entertainment or the Fox Group as to picking my potential husband, but I know what I had gone through in order to be a contestant on the show, and I had no qualms that they had also made the bachelors go through the exact same questioning and background check. So I was fairly comfortable.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we are going to take a break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a rally in New York City.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Forty-two-year-old real estate developer Rick Rockwell was chosen from more than 100 potential multi-millionaires to appear on Fox's wedding game show. The program, which aired the night after Valentine's, pitted 50 bachelorettes in competition for Rockwell's hand in marriage.

Andy, this was played on a network. Does a network have any obligation to vet, for instance, Mr. Rockwell, to make sure that he's a good candidate to engage in this marriage?

ANDREW MARKS, CIVIL LITIGATOR: I'm -- I would think that they do have an obligation to do due diligence. And, to the extent that they did not act in a diligent way, to the extent they were careless, they didn't look where they should have looked, I think they do open themselves up to potential exposure.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, isn't it sort of buyer-beware in a marriage? I mean, this isn't selling one corporation to another corporation. I mean, any sort of woman who is willing to engage in this type of arranged marriage -- I mean in some countries they do range marriages -- I mean, isn't it sort of like tough?

MARKS: Well, there's certainly a...

VAN SUSTEREN: And he may be a good catch.

MARKS: He may be a good catch. There is, certainly, a certain amount of risk that the potential brides assumed and agreed to assume. But, it sounds like that they, the potential brides, went through a very rigorous vetting process. And they were told by the network, this is as I understand it, that the potential groom also went through a vetting process. And so, to the extent that that representation was made, but it wasn't lived up to, it wasn't carried out.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we don't -- but do we really know if it was? I mean, I'm sorry, Roger, but James says he qualified as a multi- millionaire just barely.

MARKS: Right.

COSSACK: But, wait, Jennifer says -- Jennifer? Jennifer, are you still with us?

MANN: I am, I am.

MARKS: All right, Jennifer, now, what did they tell you about the groom? Didn't they tell you that they were checking him out the same way that you were checking out, and didn't you rely on that?

MANN: I wouldn't state it that way. But, like I said, the...

COSSACK: But why don't you state it that way?

MANN: Well...

COSSACK: No, go ahead.

MANN: We weren't told specifics on the groom. But, we were told -- I mean, we're going -- we had to go through a rigorous screening process, and so did he. We also signed a document saying that we're entering this agreement and to this show -- I don't recall if it was exactly at our own risk. But everyone went in eyes wide open.

But I think you guys are putting more of the blame on Fox than need really be. Everyone here was in this agreement...

COSSACK: Jennifer, did you think that the person that was -- you had the option to marry, was a person that had no allegations, and these are only allegations of, perhaps, assaulting a person in -- nine years ago? And those are only allegations.

MANN: I was...

COSSACK: Do you think that person is...

MANN: Is it really anyone's fault? Yes, it's someone's business entering into a marriage. But, these are allegations; nothing was proven.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I agree with Jennifer, I will tell you.

And let me go back to you, Andy. I mean, these -- there were allegations in 1991, this is not a conviction, these were allegations. It could have been a very unhappy ex-girlfriend.

COSSACK: Don't you think, though, that Jennifer should have known that?

VAN SUSTEREN: No.

COSSACK: No?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, I mean, marriage is different than a business.

MARKS: This maybe a guy-girl thing because I agree with Roger. I think that she was entitled to -- the brides were entitled to know that, and they could go in with their eyes wide open.

VAN SUSTEREN: Under a moral basis or a legal basis?

MARKS: No, I think on a legal basis. I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: Sandy?

AIN: I agree, I think, on a legal basis. Something, even if the charge is false, something that serious, I think is something that has to be disclosed and has to be discussed with each of the potential brides.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why, though, I mean, this isn't a business contract; this is a marriage.

AIN: Well, that's not true in that it is a business contract.

VAN SUSTEREN: I can't believe I've got this position and you three have this, but go ahead.

AIN: It is a business contract.

VAN SUSTEREN: What if it is completely false? And it may very well be.

AIN: Then, Rick could have said to the producers who could have said to the 50 people: This charge has been made, he says it is completely false. Do you still want to be here? Do you want to marry this person? COSSACK: James, why is Fox not showing this program again?

PONIEWOZIK: Well, clearly, it's a big embarrassment. The fact that these allegation have materialized is not something that Fox would have wanted to be saddled with in the first place, and I'm sure they certainly don't want to be seen as inviting further criticism by, you know, capitalizing and basically profiting more by a re-airing now.

VAN SUSTEREN: But isn't that -- Andy, isn't that a PR issue? You know, the fact that it might make Fox look bad, but is it a legal issue? Could Fox ever be in any way held accountable to this woman who has signed on to this marriage?

MARKS: Well, The answer is, if she feels sufficiently grieved, she could commence litigation against Fox, and I think she would have some grounds, depending on what kind of damages she might be able to allege.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are the grounds, though? You didn't go back and tell me that he had been accused once before in 1991?

MARKS: Through grounds of misrepresentation and negligence, that she believed and relied on the fact that they were doing a due diligence investigation. And even without being specific, one element of that investigation would certainly have been whether he had some kind of a record, even if it was just allegations.

VAN SUSTEREN: But he has no record, he has no record.

COSSACK: Sandy, it would be grounds for annulment in a divorce, if a wife said to her future husband: You know, before we get married, I want to know something, have you been accused of violent acts in the past? And he said no?

AIN: That is not grounds for annulment, except in some states grounds for an annulment are falsely disclosing -- or having been incarcerated and not disclosing that to your spouse or being convicted of a felony and not disclosing it to your spouse. So in some states, that would be grounds for annulment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jennifer, were you asked whether or not you had anything in your past that might be an allegation of even criminal conduct? Was that past of the application process?

MANN: I believe on one of the questionnaires, yes, it did ask whether or not we had been convicted of a felony.

VAN SUSTEREN: Convicted of a felony. So that makes a difference, does it not, Sandy?

AIN: It makes a difference in terms of the level of disclosure that the contestants were required to give. But I'm not sure it makes a difference in terms of the questions were that should have been asked. I think it's an appropriate question to have been asked.

VAN SUSTEREN: But should have versus what were is what matters if this were a legal issue.

AIN: From a legal standpoint, in terms of an annulment, yes. From a legal standpoint, in terms of the duty of Fox to do some due diligence, no.

COSSACK: OK, let's take a break. Up next -- I still love you -- according to Fox, none of the contestants were required to get married. At the end of the show, they could have said, "I don't." But will this wedding's television venue play a legal role should Mrs. Rockwell wish to say goodbye? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: What Whitewater-related case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow?

A: U.S. v. Hubbell. The case questions whether Webster Hubbell's immunity agreement with the Independent Counsel extends to the contents of documents he turned over that were used to indict him.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Rick Rockwell and his bride, 34-year-old Darva Conger, have returned from their post-television wedding honeymoon. But Fox officials say they're taking it slow and opted to sleep in separate quarters during their Caribbean cruise.

Greta, I want to go back to this discussion that we just got finished with or just ended with. Don't you think that in the situation that these two were presented with, to go on a ship for a week, well, they opted for separate quarters, but they are sort of trapped together for at least a week that both parties should know as much as there is to know about the other party, and if there is at least an allegation of violence in someone's background that Darva Conger should have known about it?

VAN SUSTEREN; You know, Rog, first of all, I mean, I have -- I mean, how far are we going to take this? I mean, you have two people who can go into a bar at night and meet and then go get a hotel room and we don't vet those people. We let people do pretty much what they want when they are adults.

COSSACK: We don't act as brokers, like Fox did.

VAN SUSTEREN: But nobody forced either one of these two, I think it's pretty bizarre what they did. But nobody forced them to do it. And that's the big difference. People enter into marriages all the time. For whatever reasons, these two have entered into this marriage for whatever reason. But I don't think that Fox had an obligation to find out if he had ever been accused of speeding, smoking marijuana. I think prior convictions...

COSSACK: If you buy a car with defective brakes, does the manufacturer of that car have a... VAN SUSTEREN: If there's a warranty. I don't think they're going to warranty this guy. I don't think people warranty marriages.

COSSACK: But listen, but if they knew that this guy had allegation of violence in his background.

VAN SUSTEREN: Allegations is a far cry from convictions. This was nine years ago. You could have had some unhappy girlfriend, for whatever reason, go into court and make this accusation about this guy. You can do this what they call ex parte. He doesn't even appear in court.

COSSACK: And she did it ex parte.

VAN SUSTEREN: We have no clue what his idea is. What we are talking about here...

COSSACK: But don't you think he should have been given the chance to deny it then?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, I, frankly, if these two want to get married under these circumstances...

COSSACK: Under the circumstances of knowing nothing about each other.

VAN SUSTEREN: In some cultures they arrange marriages, I don't know.

Sandy, do you want to weigh in on this?

MARKS: I think that there was duty on Fox to give some investigation. Jennifer's comments were interesting to me because she had some understanding that Fox had done some vetting of Rick.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what -- the vetting is the issue, I mean, how far the vetting? Maybe I should ask Jennifer.

Jennifer, were questions asked about health issues?

MANN: For myself and the other contestants? Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. What about -- and you don't have to answer this particular question -- but did it ask you whether or not you had ever smoked marijuana, driven your car past the speed limit, questions like that?

MANN: No, no, I was never asked any type of question like that.

COSSACK: Did they ask you whether or not you had any criminal record?

MANN: Like I said earlier, they did asked whether or not I had been convicted of a felony. But I just want to say, blasting Fox for not divulging information on his previous allegation. We all walked in knowing what we were all walking into. And to say that it's only their fault, I think, is ridiculous.

The man and the woman that entered into this marriage knew that there were going to be some questions, some blank spots, and we all agreed that we were willing to take that risk.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what is so curious about this, is that the women on this show for some reason don't think there was this huge obligation to reveal an allegation, but the men seem to think there is some legal obligation.

COSSACK: The women on the show, you and the women that went on the show, don't think there is a huge legal obligation.

MARKS: If there is a lawsuit, I think that Jennifer ought to be one of the prime witnesses.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I think I ought to represent Fox on it.

James, where is this going? I mean, are there going to more shows like this?

PONIEWOZIK: Oh, there are already more shows like this in the works. There is a syndicated show that is going to be coming out called "Wed at First Sight," which hopes to, on a daily basis, marry two strangers off to each other. It is going to be sort of a dating game-type situation, where three guys compete for a woman's hand in marriage. Fox had had plans to do more of these multi-millionaire specials, possibly reversing the genders, if they haven't backed away from that. And they are smart ratings-wise they'll go ahead with it. Because I can't imagine that any less people want to watch it now.

VAN SUSTEREN: And my prediction, the next one is "How Do You Divorce a Multi-Millionaire."

COSSACK: Let's get that one now.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Weigh-in on campaign 2000 today on "TALKBACK LIVE." The candidates head for another standoff, this time in Michigan. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

COSSACK; And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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