HFPA Hit With Another Lawsuit
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. sent a letter Tuesday to Timothy McGonigle -- an attorney representing the Michael Russell Group, the organization's former publicist, who is suing the group for breach of contract -- threatening a countersuit.
Meanwhile, McGonigle was busy filing yet another suit against the nonprofit group behind the Golden Globes over a related matter.
McGonigle filed the latest suit in L.A. Superior Court on behalf of Stars for a Cause, a charitable group run by L.A. attorney George Braunstein. The new suit alleges, in part, that the HFPA and its president, Philip Berk, made false claims about Stars for a Cause, interfered in a contract with Chrysler and NBC, defamed it and hurt its ability to do business. They want $1 million in damages.
The suit charges, among other things, that Berk and another HFPA board member made calls about Stars and Braunstein that were defamatory and hurt their business prospects.
Meanwhile, the HFPA in a letter sent to McGonigle by its attorney, Joe Campo, demanded the original suit by Russell be dropped because of contrary assertions of corruption, a lack of evidence that the HFPA did anything wrong, false claims about why the HFPA did not renew Russell's contact as its publicist after 17 years and a lack of candor by Russell and his partner, Steve LoCascio, about their conflicted business affairs.
One of the central issues relates to how Stars for a Cause came to be represented by Russell and be involved in charitable activities involving the HFPA. Prior to the 2010 Golden Globes, Chrysler got involved in the Globes, and then with Stars for a Cause. At the January 2010 show, many stars signed a Chrysler that was auctioned off for charity.
The HFPA letter also alleges that the Russell Group sought to use their connection with the group behind the Globes to profit by promising a client access to then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a friend of an HFPA member.
Russell and Braunstein argue that they were acting at the request of the HFPA, while the HFPA says it was initially unaware of allegations by others against Stars when Russell got them involved with the group and did not know that Russell was being paid by Stars at the same time. The HFPA says it told Russell its members did not want to work with Stars for a Cause anymore, and at that time Russell did not raise any of the allegations of HFPA corruption later alleged up in their suit.
The HFPA says Russell was not an employee, so his claims for lost wages lacks merit. They also say that the $2 million suit brought by Russell, which was made public just before the recent Globes show, lacks specifics to back up corruption charges. The letter also says allegations that Berk personally profited from the NBC deal with Chrysler are false and that payments were made to the HFPA, not to Berk as an individual.
The HFPA has not yet filed a suit or countersuit against Russell but says it will if the original suit isn't dropped.
This is all separate from a suit brought late last year by the HFPA against Dick Clark Prods. for breach of contract and other matters. Dick Clark Prods. is not a party to the suit involving Russell or Stars for a Cause.