The Tennessee family accused by retired NFL star Michael Oher of tricking him into a conservatorship and taking all the proceeds from a blockbuster film about his life responded to the allegations Tuesday by claiming that Oher threatened to go public with his story if they did not pay him $15 million.
Attorney Martin Singer issued a statement on the Tuohys' behalf that called Oher's claims "outlandish" and said "the idea that the family ever sought to profit off Mr. Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous."
"In reality, the Tuohys opened their home to Mr. Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love," Singer's statement said. "They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million."
Attorney Don Barrett, a member of Oher's legal team, said in a statement Tuesday night, "We try cases in the courtroom based on the facts. We have confidence in our judicial system and in our client Michael Oher. We believe that justice will be served in the courtroom, and we hope to get there quickly."
The story of Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy and their efforts to help raise Oher out of poverty to the NFL was immortalized in the 2009 movie "The Blind Side." On Monday, Oher petitioned a Tennessee probate court with allegations that a central element of the story -- that the Tuohys had adopted him -- was a lie concocted by the family to enrich itself. Instead, less than three months after Oher turned 18 in 2004, the petition says, the couple tricked him into signing a document making them his conservators, which gave them legal authority to make business deals in his name.
The petition further alleges that the Tuohys used their power as conservators to strike a deal that paid them and their two birth children millions of dollars in royalties from the Oscar-winning film that earned more than $300 million, while Oher got nothing for a story "that would not have existed without him." According to the legal filing, the movie paid the Tuohys each $225,000, plus 2.5% of the film's "defined net proceeds." In the years since, the Tuohys have continued calling the 37-year-old Oher their adopted son and have used that assertion to promote their foundation as well as Leigh Anne Tuohy's work as an author and motivational speaker.
In his statement, Singer said agents for Michael Lewis, author of the bestselling book that became "The Blind Side," negotiated a deal in which the Tuohy family "received a small advance from the production company and a tiny percentage of net profits."
"They insisted that any money received be divided equally. And they have made good on that pledge," the statement said. "The evidence -- documented in profit participation checks and studio accounting statements -- is clear: over the years, the Tuohys have given Mr. Oher an equal cut of every penny received from 'The Blind Side.' Even recently, when Mr. Oher started to threaten them about what he would do unless they paid him an eight-figure windfall, and, as part of that shakedown effort refused to cash the small profit checks from the Tuohys, they still deposited Mr. Oher's equal share into a trust account they set up for his son."
Singer's statement said Oher "has actually attempted to run this play several times before -- but it seems that numerous other lawyers stopped representing him once they saw the evidence and learned the truth. Sadly, Mr. Oher has finally found a willing enabler and filed this ludicrous lawsuit as a cynical attempt to drum up attention in the middle of his latest book tour."
In his court petition, Oher asks for a judge to terminate the conservatorship granted to the Tuohys in August 2004, for a full accounting of the money the Tuohys earned using Oher's name and to have the couple pay him his fair share of profits, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Singer said the family will not oppose the termination of their guardianship but "will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit."