4:58pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Mark Burnett's Ex-Partner Slams 'Survivor' Advisor with Countersuit (Exclusive)
CBS reality competition Survivor endures, and so do the fights over the substantial money the show has generated for TV executives over the years.
In November, Layne Leslie Britton, who once served as a business affairs VP at NBC and CBS before acting as an advisor on the television project that ultimately became Survivor, sued Conrad Riggs, the former partner of Survivor creator Mark Burnett.
Britton alleged that he was turned to for "business and industry advice" and that after helping create the innovative financial structure that ended up making Burnett and Riggs very rich, he was cheated out of at least $14 million.
Now, Riggs and his Cloudbreak Entertainment have hit back forcefully with counterclaims that present Britton as working in the scope of duties as a lawyer. Britton is now being sued for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duties.
According to papers filed this week in LA Superior Court, "Rather than discharge his fiduciary and other duties to put a client's interests above and before his own interests, Britton manipulatively sought to gain personally from his representation of Riggs and Cloudbreak."
Riggs admits retaining Britton in 2000.
At the time, he says, Survivor had premiered to record ratings and, almost immediately, CBS sought to renegotiate its agreement with Burnett. Riggs says he needed an experienced entertainment lawyer to assist him with protracted negotiations.
Riggs said that he offered to pay Britton an hourly fee for his "legal advice," and that Britton allegedly responded that Riggs should not worry about their financial arrangement and that an agreement would be worked out later. (Britton says in his own lawsuit that he agreed to receive 35 percent of what Riggs received from Burnett for Survivor and 40 percent of other monies, and that an agreement was memorialized in writing in October, 2000.)
The dispute with CBS went to arbitration, and the suit states that Britton "provided legal services to Riggs, including formulating and implementing an arbitration strategy, preparing for the arbitration, gathering evidence, revising legal documents, interpreting contracts and identifying and retaining expert witnesses."
But then, says Riggs, Britton wanted a percentage of Riggs' earnings from Survivor. The counterclaims say he was offered five percent but demanded 35 percent, threatening to stop working on the Survivor dispute and to "undermine Riggs' relationship with Burnett," and if that didn't work, "Britton stated he would switch sides and advise CBS on how to win the pending arbitration against Burnett."
As a result of the possible Survivor-type gamesmanship, Riggs says he signed a deal with Britton that is now being called a "contingency fee agreement."
The dispute between Burnett and CBS was settled in 2001.
Riggs says that over the next six years, he paid Britton $1.877 million.
Then, in 2008, Riggs sued Burnett for $70 million of Survivor profits after his ex-partner allegedly wouldn't properly reward him for his work helping Burnett sell Survivor to CBS and The Apprentice to NBC.
That case was settled last March.
But now, Riggs makes clear that the settlement wasn't to his satisfaction.
"Perhaps more damaging to Riggs than Britton's misconduct with respect to the contingency fee agreement that he insisted Riggs sign, Britton failed to competently and properly advise Riggs and Cloudbreak in connection with their agreement with Burnett," says the counterclaim. "That failure by Britton caused Riggs and Cloudbreak to settle a subsequent lawsuit with Burnett for less than its worth."
Riggs is being represented by Eric George and Sylvia Lardiere at Browne George Ross. He's demanding compensatory damages, restitution for Britton's alleged unjust enrichment and a judgment that cuts off Britton from further payments from Riggs.
Britton is being represented by Lathrop & Gage's John Shaeffer, who couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @eriqgardner