Sun. May 26th, 2024

NEW YORK — Robert De Niro testified Monday in New York City at a trial resulting from a former personal assistant’s lawsuit accusing the actor of being an abusive boss. De Niro, who at times appeared grouchy, restrained himself from erupting at the dissection of his interactions with her before finally blurting out: “This is all nonsense!”

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The two-time Oscar-winning actor known for his performances in blockbuster movies like “The Deer Hunter” and “Raging Bull” was the first witness in a trial resulting from lawsuits over the employment of Graham Chase Robinson. Robinson, who worked for De Niro between 2008 and 2019, was paid $300,000 annually before she quit as his vice president of production and finance.

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The woman, tasked for years with everything from decorating De Niro’s Christmas tree to taking him to the hospital when he fell down stairs, has sued him for $12 million in damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm. Robinson said he refused to give her a reference to find another job when she quit in 2019 after repeated clashes with his girlfriend.

De Niro, 80, testified through most of the afternoon, agreeing that he had listed Robinson as his emergency contact at one point and had relied on her to help with greeting cards for his children.

But when a lawyer for Robinson asked him if he considered her a conscientious employee, he scoffed.

“Not after everything I’m going through now,” he said.

De Niro twice raised his voice almost to a shout during his testimony. Once, it occurred as he defended the interactions his girlfriend had with Robinson, saying, “We make decisions together.”

The second time occurred when Robinson’s lawyer tried to suggest that De Niro bothered his client early in the morning to take him to the hospital in 2017.

“That was one time when I cracked my back falling down the stairs!” De Niro angrily snapped. Even in that instance, he added, he delayed calling Robinson, making it to his bed after the accident at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., but then later summoning her at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.

Repeatedly, Judge Lewis J. Liman explained the rules of testimony to De Niro and that there were limits to what he could say.

“Can I ask a question?” De Niro asked in one exchange with Robinson’s lawyer. The request was denied.

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He insisted that he treated Robinson well even after he bought a five-bedroom Manhattan townhouse and let Robinson oversee some of the preparations so he could move there with his girlfriend, Tiffany Chen.

“It is not like I’m asking for her to go out there and scrape floors and mop the floor,” he said. “So this is all nonsense!”

Correspondence between De Niro and Chen that was shown to jurors demonstrated that Chen became increasingly suspicious of Robinson’s motives, saying she thought Robinson acted like she was De Niro’s wife and believed that she had “imaginary intimacy” with De Niro.

“She felt there was something there and she may have been right,” De Niro said in defense of his girlfriend’s suspicions.

In opening statements that preceded De Niro’s testimony, attorney Andrew Macurdy said Robinson has been unable to get a job and has been afraid to leave her home since leaving the job with De Niro.

He said De Niro would sometimes yell at her and call her nasty names in behavior consistent with sexist remarks he made about women generally.

Macurdy said the trouble between them arose when Chen became jealous that De Niro relied on Robinson for so many tasks and that they communicated so well.

He said his client never had a romantic interest in De Niro.

“None,” he said. “There was never anything romantic between the two of them.”

De Niro’s attorney, Richard Schoenstein, said Robinson was treated very well by De Niro “but always thought she deserved more.”

He described De Niro as “kind, reasonable, generous” and told jurors they would realize that when they hear the testimony of others employed by De Niro’s company, Canal Productions, which has countersued Robinson.

Schoenstein described Robinson as “condescending, demeaning, controlling, abusive” and said “she always played the victim.”

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