Defamation lawsuit dismissed but now there’s no decisive way to silence the man who’s changed his name to match the Star Trek icon he claims is his father.
Being Shatner isn’t always easy. One of the actor’s biggest headaches in the last few decades revolves around a Florida radio personality who changed his name to “Peter Shatner” to reflect his sense of a family bond.
But the Star Trek star has always publicly denied that the DJ is his illegitimate son, refusing a blood test to confirm once and for all the relationship or lack thereof.
The star’s people say he’s too busy breeding horses, pursuing his causes and hanging around Twitter to lick the sample swab. It’s a transparent dodge.
Unfortunately, in the absence of genetic evidence, nobody’s ever going to have a compelling case one way or the other.
And that means nuisance lawsuits stretching to settle the truth will keep coming.
From inheritance to reputation
At this point Peter Shatner says he just wants the famous last name. He’s 61 and has been trying to get close to Bill Shatner since the mid-1980s.
Carving out a piece of the estate plan apparently isn’t even a factor. To listen to him, he’s OK with Shatner’s daughters splitting the assets and getting left out of the inheritance entirely — provided he gets a little recognition and closure.
However, direct confrontation failed. Whatever the star might have once said in private, his staff have never retreated a public inch from a blanket denial. Bill Shatner only has three daughters. There’s no son from any brief encounters half a century ago. That’s the family office line and they’re not budging.
That’s a problem because if true makes Peter Shatner into a public liar. And so while he hasn’t made a fuss over a piece of what could easily be a $100 million estate, he’s opted to file several lawsuits claiming $170 million for pain, suffering and reputation damage.
While a Florida judge threw out the most recent attempt with prejudice (defamation requires deliberately false accusations), he just won’t go away.
If Bill is sure that he’s not the father, licking the swab would’ve been easier. Here in the nebulous gap between contradictory claims, we’ll never know whether Peter is wrong — but we’ll never know if Bill’s denials are true, either.
And in that limbo, rumors can live forever. Peter can’t file a new defamation suit, but he can keep making a public fuss to embarrass, distract and annoy the star.
He can keep doing it all under the “Shatner” name as well. There’s no trademark to infringe. Even if he tries to use the relationship to advance his career, there’s no proof that he made it all up.
Bill’s people can’t shut him down without that proof. They can file all the cease and desist orders they want, but officially they have no firm ground to stand on, either. Peter can fire back that they’re trying to suppress what could be the truth and damaging his professional image in the process.
Maybe an eternal stalemate is the best solution the family office has. Peter says Bill admitted back in the ‘80s that it “might” be possible that they’re related. If Bill would rather deny it now, a DNA test that would prove the relationship just isn’t something he’d want.
After all, he’s more comfortable now with three daughters and no son. That explains the lack of time to lick the swab and settle the dispute once for good.
Besides, given the actor’s reputation as a womanizer, he might not have a sure sense that he’s not the father. Without that clarity, there’s zero incentive to take the test and prove there’s no genetic link . . . because the results may end up positive after all.
A positive result doesn’t open up the estate plan at this late date. The time for paternity suits and formal recognition passed decades ago.
But whatever the star wants, he gets. Evidently he’s more comfortable stonewalling than letting the genes argue for him.
And as long as there’s no science to tip the scales, there’s no case for defamation on either side. Bill doesn’t believe he has a son. Peter believes Bill is his dad. In the absence of objective truth, nobody is lying. The stalemate continues until one or the other is dead.
Staff training is required
With the amount of money at stake here, even the lowest-level PR rep or social media intern can make or break the case.
Peter’s lawsuit argued that the boilerplate biography on Bill’s publicity site turned him into a liar by publicly denying that the star ever had a son. No names were named, but given the high profile of his claims, it’s easy to read a personal attack between the lines.
The easiest thing to do is to simply list the daughters and not dispute known controversies. Bill and his people don’t need to deny Peter or challenge his side of the story. They just need to ignore him, neither attacking nor defending.
The fact that they couldn’t resist the defense looked just enough like an attack to trigger the lawsuits. They dodged a $170 million bullet here.
Social media interns are often the lowest-paid people on an ultra-high-net-worth team. It’s generally an afterthought. We see it over and over when a big star gets in trouble online.
It doesn’t have to happen. Train your people. Put a compliance policy in place. Document decisions that could be read later as defamatory or simply untrue.
Create plausible deniability. And that goes for the principal also. Whether Shatner told Peter back in 1984 that they were related, “could be” related or anything else, it’s better to change the subject.
If you can't lick the swab with 100% clarity, keep your mouth shut.