Aniston Settles Topless Photo Suit

Although she showed up in court ready to testify, Jennifer Aniston didn’t have to bare her soul–or anything else, for that matter–on the witness stand in the lawsuit she filed against a men’s magazine publisher that ran photos of her sunbathing topless in her backyard.

Instead, the sexy sitcom star relied on her Friends with law degrees, who suddenly settled the matter just as it was about to be heard by a federal judge. Husband Brad Pitt also showed up to provide moral support and a victory hug.

Dressed in a shiny, striped white blouse, khaki pants and wedge-heeled sandals with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, a tense-looking Aniston arrived sans Pitt in a media-jammed fifth-floor courtroom in Downtown Los Angeles’ federal court building shortly after 9 a.m., flanked by an assemblage of attorneys, bailiffs and private security guards.

As her security guards took positions at opposite ends of the courtroom, the 33-year-old actress sat quietly for about 15 minutes with her attorneys until they and the defense legal team were suddenly summoned into a private conference in the judge’s chambers, a meeting that lasted over two and a half hours.

Meanwhile, the media waited in the courtroom, occasionally getting a glimpse of the defense’s potential exhibits. Several large poster boards featuring glamorous images of Aniston published in popular magazines such as US Weekly were assembled, along with dozens of black three-ring binders appearing to bear similar photographs.

In August 2000, Aniston sued Man’s World Publications and Crescent Publishing Group, claiming the publishers had no right to publish a photo of her, according to court documents, “reclining topless in her back yard, wearing only her panties.” The photo was allegedly taken by a “stalkerazzi” who climbed a neighbor’s wall to snap the shots with a telephoto lens on Feb. 28, 1999.

Aniston’s suit says the actress first saw the topless shot published in the September 1999 issue of Celebrity Skin and later in the December 1999 issue of High Society. She sued after the publishers (who teased the photos with headlines reading “Friends Stars X-Posed” and “Rachel Gets Raunchy–Her Shocking XXX-Rated Vacation”) allegedly ignored a “cease and desist” letter sent by her legal team.

The photo–in which, despite being shot through backyard foliage, Aniston is clearly recognizable sunbathing nude from the waist up–first appeared in the April 1999 issues of the Italian magazine Eva Tremila and the English newspaper Daily Sport, as well as the May 31-June 6 issue of French magazine Voici and the December 1999 issue of Celebrity Sleuth.

Aniston has already settled with Eva Tremila and Celebrity Sleuth, was awarded $1,000 in a judgment in her lawsuit against Voici, and has suits still pending against the Daily Sport and the photographer, Francois Navarre.

Because of the prior publication of the photo, Judge Ronald S.W. Lew threw out Aniston’s claim on publication of private information, but agreed to hear her lawyers’ arguments on counts of common law misappropriation of the right of publicity, constructive trust and punitive damages.

Although he allowed the case to go forward, Lew denied Aniston’s bid to have the case heard before a jury, telling her to produce any and all images in which she has appeared “partially nude” to see how revealing they actually are. She was also ordered to produce TV and movie contracts to determine if she’d ever employed a “no nudity” clause.

Despite the possibility that a barrage of scantily clad images of herself could be entered into evidence by the defense to dispute the invasion of privacy claim, the actress–through her attorney Jay Lavely, who represented Pitt in his 1997 nude photo lawsuit against Playgirl–publicly announced her intention to testify in the case a week prior to her court appearance.

During the hastily assembled legal conference, Lew made a brief appearance in the courtroom. “Why are you here?” he asked the press jokingly. “I don’t understand all the pandemonium.”

The judge, best known for presiding over the highly publicized “Mexican Mafia” case in 1997, had previously ruled on another case involving a naked “celebrity.” In 2001 he decreed that artist Tom Forsythe was within his constitutional rights to photograph Barbie (yes, the doll), in the altogether for his offbeat parodies on consumer culture after toymaker Mattel filed a million-dollar copyright infringement suit against him.

Around noon, Aniston re-entered the courtroom accompanied by her attorney and Pitt, wearing a sleek, gray designer suit and an open-collared white short and sporting the long, shaggy beard he’s grown over the last several months for an upcoming film. Lew took the stand and announced that both sides had “perfected a settlement that is confidential on the record…The matter will be dismissed and is dismissed at this time.”

A beaming Aniston and clearly pleased Pitt thanked their legal team and were escorted to a private chamber off the courtroom. Minutes later, flanked by security guards, Pitt wrapped an arm over his wife’s shoulders as the couple, who celebrate their second wedding anniversary on July 29, was allowed to leave the federal building.

Outside the courthouse, Lavely met the media but insisted he was unable to provide any specifics of the settlement, as per the confidentiality order. “It’s best for both sides, and it’s an amicable settlement,” he said. He did confirm that both Aniston and Pitt personally took part in the settlement proceedings.

When asked if Aniston planned to continue sunbathing topless in her Beverly Hills backyard, Lavely’s co-counsel Kevin James laughed and said, “You’ll have to ask her.”