The Hollywood Reporter Esquire

Cussler trial rare view of Fields in action

Visitors to the drab downtown Los Angeles courtroom of Judge John Shook this week will be forgiven for becoming starstruck. Sure, the case of Cussler v. Crusader Entertainment pits a well-known author, Clive Cussler, against billionaire "Sahara" producer Philip Anschutz with $100 million in damages potentially at stake.

But in a trial whose witness list includes actor Matthew McConaughey and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing, the biggest name in the room might still be the plaintiff's 77-year-old attorney. Bert Fields is the Clint Eastwood of entertainment lawyers, a multihyphenate who is seemingly becoming more productive after a half-century of practicing law.

The rules of the profession don't seem to apply to Fields. Nearly all entertainment lawyers specialize in dealmaking or litigation; Fields does both. Most litigators avoid conflicts by representing either talent or studios; Fields straddles both worlds, having represented A-listers like Tom Cruise and nearly every studio except the Walt Disney Co., which he famously coaxed into a $250 million settlement with its former chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. It's no secret among attorneys that most rainmakers delegate the bulk of their work, but Fields' partners at the Greenberg Glusker firm insist he's still first in the office each morning, personally drafting most documents. Despite daily sojourns home to Malibu for lunch and a quick nap, he again finished the year as the firm's top biller in both hours and revenue (he charges $900 an hour).

Colleagues say this is Fields' first jury trial since 2002, when he represented Brillstein-Grey Entertainment against producer Bo Zenga over profits from "Scary Movie," one of several cases that got Fields embroiled in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping scandal. Fields has been under investigation since 2003, but most insiders now believe he will not suffer the same fate as indicted attorney Terry Christensen. Still, Fields' firm has seen high-profile partners depart, including Howard Weitzman and Dale Kinsella.

But during Friday's opening statements in the Cussler trial, Fields' only sign of fatigue was a slightly cracked voice, which didn't prevent him from ripping into opposing counsel Alan Rader's arguments before Rader even made them. The Cussler matter concerns allegations that Crusader, which produced "Sahara," denied Cussler promised creative control and that Cussler lied about the number of books he sold to get a better movie deal. The high stakes are a far cry from the issues in Fields' first trial in 1955. "My client was accused of groping a vice squad officer in a downtown skid row movie," he recalls. "He was acquitted."

Fields often boasts that he has never lost a case, which lawyers know is misleading because some matters settle on unfavorable terms. In fact, Fields has spent the past few months merely threatening lawsuits, first against Sumner Redstone after Redstone criticized Cruise's behavior and then against News Corp. after publisher Judith Regan was fired by the company's HarperCollins unit. Neither of those cases has resulted in litigation, which only makes the Cussler case more special ? a chance to see one of Hollywood's pure legal animals in his natural habitat.
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