Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro found himself in the midst of a heated courtroom battle on the first day of his trial in New York City, facing accusations of abusive behaviour by his former personal assistant, Graham Chase Robinson.
The former assistant filed a lawsuit against the actor, seeking $12million (£9.8million) in damages for ‘severe emotional distress and reputational harm’.
Robinson, who worked for De Niro from 2008 to 2019, alleged that her job as De Niro's vice president of production and finance involved various tasks, from decorating his Christmas tree to late-night hospital visits when he had accidents.
In her opening statements, Robinson's attorney, Andrew Macurdy, alleged that De Niro had berated his former assistant, called her derogatory names, and assigned her demeaning and physically objectionable tasks.
The former assistant further claimed that De Niro refused to provide her with a job reference when she resigned in 2019 after clashing with his girlfriend, Tiffany Chen.
During his testimony, De Niro, who is now 80 years old, appeared visibly frustrated, raising his voice multiple times and even blurting out, "This is all nonsense!" when questioned about his interactions with Robinson.
The actor acknowledged that he had listed Robinson as his emergency contact and relied on her for tasks like helping with greeting cards for his children.
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The trial took a contentious turn when Robinson's lawyer suggested that De Niro had bothered her early in the morning to take him to the hospital in 2017.
De Niro vehemently denied this, explaining that he had fallen down the stairs and only contacted Robinson hours later. The actor's former wife, Grace Hightower, was available at the time, but he didn't want to disturb her sleep.
Throughout the trial, Judge Lewis J. Liman repeatedly reminded De Niro of the rules of testimony and that there were limits to what he could say. The actor attempted to ask questions and make comments that the judge deemed inappropriate.
Correspondence between De Niro and Chen was presented as evidence, indicating that Chen had suspicions about Robinson's motives.
She believed Robinson acted as if she were De Niro's wife and had an "imaginary intimacy" with him. De Niro initially disagreed with Chen's assessment but later admitted, "maybe she had a point."
On the other side, De Niro's lawyer, Richard Schoenstein, characterised Robinson as "condescending, demeaning, controlling, abusive" and stated that she had an undue sense of entitlement.
He described De Niro as "kind, reasonable, generous" and promised that jurors would understand this after hearing from other employees of De Niro's company, Canal Productions, which has countersued Robinson.
The trial is expected to last two weeks, with Robinson's legal team planning to introduce voicemails and text exchanges as evidence.
One of the voicemails reportedly features an expletive-laden rant from De Niro, where he threatens Robinson with termination.