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Power Lawyers 2011

Case of the Year
Joe Pugliese

The quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) forces behind every deal, dispute and decision in Hollywood are honored in The Hollywood Reporter's fifth annual list.

In early 2007 when the idea first surfaced here to do a power list of the top Hollywood lawyers, I called up one of the town's most respected talent attorneys to see what he thought. "Great idea," he said. "But no one will talk to you." After all, the inner circle of entertainment lawyers had always been an impenetrable cabal that -- unlike studio executives, agents and managers -- hated seeing their names in print. It took hundreds of phone calls (and, yes, some begging), but nearly everyone in that first Power Lawyers issue agreed to be interviewed, and most showed up (some from New York and Nashville) for our breakfast, now an annual tradition. Five years later, with the franchise fully formed and a true resource for the top names in litigation, corporate and talent dealmaking, I called up that same attorney to spitball ideas for this issue. Perhaps, I wondered, we could get the three feuding lawyers on the Charlie Sheen case to pose for a photo together. "Great idea," he said. "But they'll never do it." See right. Even amid an unresolved and often rancorous arbitration, they all said yes. Case closed.

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CASE OF THE YEAR: Charlie Sheen vs. Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre

Martin Singer (Lavely & Singer)
Howard Weitzman (Kinsella Weitzman)
John Spiegel (Munger Tolles & Olson)

"Surreal" doesn't begin to describe the $100 million legal battle between fired Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen, showrunner Chuck Lorre and studio Warner Bros. For a few months, as the self-described warlock declared war on his former bosses, it felt like litigation over TV's No. 1 sitcom would play out exclusively through the media. The demands of the case have fallen hard on the seasoned Hollywood attorneys handling it, all of whom have known one another for years. "To me, there's no real difference, except for the publicity," says Spiegel, a former federal prosecutor who wrote the infamous letters countering Sheen's tirades. "I'm approaching it like I approach every trial: Tell the truth." Lorre attorney Weitzman is used to odd cases, having represented Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. "It's been interesting to read what's been written about this case, which, at times, is its own sitcom," he says. "Fiction becomes fact, outrageous behavior is glorified, and in some circles, losing is 'winning.' " As the case heads to private arbitration to determine whether Sheen breached his Men contract or Lorre and Warners conspired to improperly boot him from the show, Singer has become Sheen's de facto publicist. "There are so many crazy things my office gets," he says. "People wanting to sue over ridiculous claims or wanting to make business dealings with Charlie. People say, 'I met him 20 years ago, and he wanted to put me on his show.' "