Johnny Depp Wins In Oral Contract Battle With Ex-Lawyer; Hollywood Jolted

Johnny Depp

Lawyers for Johnny Depp and his former attorneys may be talking about a settlement in their $30 million malpractice suit, but today in court the two sides locked horns and Hollywood got a potential legal mauling.

“I appreciate that there are good people in show business,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Green said this morning, as he granted a motion by Depp to declare invalid the oral deal the Pirates of the Caribbean star had with Jacob Bloom and his firm for almost 20 years.

Perhaps more important, Green looks to have thrown a spanner of sorts into the Tinseltown works, where many a client and legal rep have made such contingency agreements that have never been put in writing.

“A lot of people are going to be on the phone today setting a sit-down and a signing,” one prominent Hollywood attorney told Deadline today of the implications of the ruling.

“I don’t think there is special rules for show business,” Green added Tuesday before lawyers for both sides debated whether or not the agreement was a contingency fee deal. “I’m aware that showbiz people sometimes think they live in a special universe, but they don’t.”

“I don’t see an exception here,” the sometimes crusty and sometimes reminiscing Green noted, calling the arrangement between Depp and Bloom clearly “a contingency fee agreement.”

”At some point we have to comply with the law,” the judge declared, telling the lawyers that if they wanted things to be different they needed to talk to the legislators in Sacramento about changing the state law requiring such contracts be written down.

Needless to say, while still permitting elements of their cross-complaint filed in December 2017 to move forward, it was not what Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette Feldman Schenkman & Goodman LLP or their Reed Smith representatives wanted to hear.

Having had their say in court to varying degrees, both lead Reed Smith lawyer Ray Cardozo and his team and Depp’s attorneys including Fredrick Levin and his Buckley Sandler colleagues exited the courtroom quickly and without comment. Just before moving on to other cases, Green said he would issue a formal written ruling on the mater at some point, probably later this week.

Washington D.C.-based lawyer Adam Waldman curtly told Deadline he thought “the judge’s ruling speaks for itself.”

However, with a trial still penciled in for next spring in this case, and Depp still facing a lawsuit from some former bodyguards over owed pay and assault allegations by the location manager of the now-stymied City of Lies, today’s ruling is a win for the actor.

First filed last fall, Depp’s $30 million malpractice barrage against his longtime lawyers argued there had never been a “statutorily prescribed written contract” between the parties. The Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald actor also claimed Bloom Hergott had been working with The Management Group against his best interests and expressed economic desires.

“Cross-Defendants completely fail to discuss ratification in their motion. Indeed, the word ‘ratification’ is nowhere to be found in their memorandum,” said Smith for the Bloom participants in an August 2 opposition response to Depp’s efforts to halt their breach of contract countersuit. “Cross-Defendants have therefore waived this issue and Bloom Hergott’s pleading should be accepted as true and the contract claim allowed to proceed,” the filing added. “Furthermore, if an amended pleading is required, Bloom Hergott can provide additional allegations about Cross-Defendants’ ratification of the agreement.”

Last month, Depp and TMG came to a confidential settlement on their $25 million dustup.

As for the rest of this case, Deadline hears it is likely Bloom’s lawyers will fight the motion and perhaps take it to a higher court. Otherwise, the parties continue to talk settlement on the side, as Deadline reported last week, and are headed for mediation with a retired judge.

“I know who the plaintiff is,” Green told the court of Depp today. “I can’t tell you a whole lot about him, except he’s had ups and downs in life,” he added almost ironically of the actor who of late has seen his personal life and apparent financial excesses laid out for all to see. “Who would have known, 18-years ago, how high the highs are and how low the lows.”

So, the ground has shaken, but the pillars of the arena in which this legal battle is being waged are still standing – for now.

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