My latest column, Stars Get Caught In Hirsch’s Hornets Nest, is my exclusive account all about the names dropping and allegations flying as showbiz legal eagle Barry Hirsch sits in L.A. Superior Court. Here’s how it begins:
“Even on Oscar night, it’s hard to imagine talent like Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jane Fonda, Bernie Mac, Rob Schneider, Baz Luhrmann, Dick Donner, Francis Ford Coppola, Barry Levinson and Peter Berg together in one place. But that’s happening now, at least figuratively, in nondescript Room 313 of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, where two law firms are slugging it out before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien. The nonjury trial will decide how to divvy up the money from the Hollywood deals they both claim as their own. Though only Penn, Coppola and Levinson have testified so far, some 200 stars and 500 projects are being scrutinized in the proceedings, which began on October 18 and will probably continue through Thanksgiving. So far, it hasn’t generated a single media story because none of the firms involved want publicity about it, fearing their star clientele might pitch fits. Also because, if reporters did get wind of the trial, it would be fodder as much for Entertainment Tonight and US magazine as for the Hollywood trades and legal journals. The lawsuit, first filed on August 13, 2004, by Hollywood super lawyer Barry Hirsch against his former firm, which he founded, Hirsch Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum & Morris (which quickly exorcised Hirsch’s name), was bitter from the get-go. It quickly turned even sourer when his old firm turned around and filed a cross-complaint against Hirsch and his new partners (who were members of the old firm). As if that weren’t enough, Hirsch then sued the wife of his ex-partner, Jim Jackoway. She is an attorney and shareholder in the old firm but was never on its management committee. It seems Hirsch wanted to pressure her so Jackoway and his partners would settle. But she toughed it out, and when Hirsch’s side exhausted its ability to go after her, they dismissed her from their lawsuit.
“Nasty, nasty, nasty.
“By setting this mess in motion, Hirsch opened up a Pandora’s box for many of his clients. Already, the financial terms of some of the most well-known movies ever made have been entered into evidence. Among the films mentioned in court documents and during the trial have been Wedding Crashers, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Pretty Woman, The Godfather and its sequels, Mystic River, The Naked Gun and its sequels, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Polar Express, On Golden Pond, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Shopgirl, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Chicago, Closer, Conspiracy Theory, Dangerous Minds, Disclosure, Rain Man and on and on. Also caught in the crossfire have been Hollywood studios like Sony, New Line, Universal, Disney, Miramax, Warners and Paramount, some of which have tried to quash subpoenas compelling them to turn over deal details.
“So week after week, a herd of expensive blue and gray suits — 15 at any one time, about half of them Hollywood lawyers — filled the court rather than finished their clients’ deals… In some instances, the clients’ names are redacted from evidence, but then bandied about in court…. For instance, in court on Monday, Howard Fishman, a partner in Hirsch’s new firm, Hirsch Wallerstein Matlof & Fishman, took the witness stand and told how he helped with the sale and syndication of Julia Roberts’ photographs of her twin children to the press. Other client names dropped were Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and Rachel Weisz, who needed the firm’s help negotiating a deal with Revlon… Last week, Bob Wallerstein, who followed Hirsch to the new firm, testified that he reduced his fee arrangement with Owen Wilson from 5% to 3% to hang onto the star actor as a client. On Monday, testimony from Fishman focused on client Rachel McAdams, and details from the former firm’s deals on The Notebook and Mean Girls. One interesting footnote had to do with the various ancillary services that the old firm would provide some clients, like estate planning. McAdams wanted that too. But it came out in court that Fishman, when he was with the old firm, had written witheringly that, while McAdams “has a very bright future, she probably has not paid us enough money to date to justify estate-planning services.”
That was nothing compared to Hirsch’s own contention on the stand that any of his clients is free to leave without any obligation to pay him fees on deals concluded while he represented them. Suffice to say that the lawyers on the other side were amused by this notion…” Continued