Finally, there’s been a tentative decision by L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien today in that nasty and interminable lawsuit filed by Hollywood superlawyer Barry Hirsch’s new firm, Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof & Fishman, against his former firm, Hirsch Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum & Morris and its cross-complaint. (That partnership quickly exorcised Hirsch’s name after charging Barry and his brood skipped out during a “nocturnal escapade” at 11:15 p.m. on August 11, 2004.) Drumroll, please. The judge ruled that both sides get no damages money-wise. That’s right — nothing! This, after the warring law firms spent millions suing each other, not to mention the lost billable hours by having these high-priced showbiz sharks sitting in court day after day, week after week. (If you thought entertainment legal work in L.A. had ground to a halt, you were right.) I’ve covered this story from start to finish, and I put the blame on Hirsch for pursuing this nonsensical legal wrangling in the first place. For crissakes, this guy is a licensed marriage, family and child counselor: why the hell couldn’t this run-of-the-mill business dispute involving money and ego have been mediated? The judge’s 27-page tentative decision in essense “splits the baby,” as one source termed it. Needless to say, both sides are bummed. However, there is a small window of opportunity for the Jackoway firm in that its cross-complaint’s four causes of action (including aspects of trespass, and breach of confidentiality) are not included in this non-jury phase and their viability will be decided at a subsequent court hearing. In terms of making law here, the judge didn’t — except to further refine the issue of whether those 5% contracts tethered attorneys and their clients partners “in perpetuity” and obligated them even if they leave the attorney-client relationship. He ruled that was unconscionable, unreasonable, and therefore unenforceable, and affirmed the right of anyone to choose and be represented by counsel of their choice.
As I reported previously, 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, Jane Fonda, Bernie Mac, Baz Luhrmann, Dick Donner, Francis Ford Coppola and Barry Levinson together in one place. But that happened, at least figuratively, in nondescript Room 313 of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, where the two law firms were slugging it out. At issue was how to divvy up the money from the Hollywood deals they both claim as their own. The deals behind some 200 stars and 500 projects were scrutinized in the proceedings, which began on October 18, for the bitter lawsuits dating back to 2004. Neither of the firms involved wanted publicity, fearing their star clientele might pitch fits. By setting this mess in motion, Hirsch opened up a Pandora’s box for many of his clients. The financial terms of some of the most well-known movies ever made mentioned in court documents and during the trial were 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 tried to quash subpoenas compelling them to turn over deal details. In any case, 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. Well, one bit of good news: now the talent will be able to get their lawyers on the phone again.