July 13, 2011 11:55pm PT by Eriq Gardner
George Clinton's Legal Troubles Are A Mystery Wrapped In A Pandora's Box
George Clinton is taking some revenge on the law firm that sought to garnish his wages over unpaid legal bills. On Monday, the funk pioneer filed a $10 million lawsuit against Hendricks & Lewis for legal malpractice, fraudulent inducement, and breach of contract.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that Clinton's name has been connected to a number of aggressive -- sometimes trailblazing -- legal actions, including lawsuits over samples and trademarked phrases like "Bow wow wow yippe yo yippie yay."
In February, Hendricks & Lewis looked to garnish Clinton wages for $1.7 million owed and described its arbitration battles with the musician over legal fees. At the time, it appeared that Clinton's heavy litigation appetite had proven too costly, but in truth, determining who's responsible for the historically bullish litigation is extremely complicated.
Throughout the years, Clinton maintained that his signature has been forged on various agreements and that he has lost a great deal of control over both his song rights and the ability to sue over them.
In the introduction of his lawsuit filed Monday in Washington federal court, Clinton says his "musical legacy [has] been usurped and/or misdirected by former managers, attorneys, record labels, etc. through questionable and sometimes fraudulent means, which has resulted in multiple prior legal actions before...federal courts throughout the United States."
Here's the story.
About a half decade ago, Clinton says he discovered that ownership rights to certain of his Funkadelic master recordings had been misappropriated and commercially exploited. He hired Oscar Yale Lewis, Jr. at the defendant law firm to pursue RICO actions and other claims against those responsible, including a former business manager, a former attorney, and various record labels.
In one lawsuit, Clinton sued Universal Music Group over royalties owed under a 1980 agreement.
Clinton now says that his lawyers drafted the wrong kind of lawsuit. The statute of limitations had run out on such a claim, and besides, his signature on the 1980 agreement was a forgery. Despite having forensic evidence that his signature had been cut and pasted, Lewis didn't file a lawsuit against UMG for fraud, but instead pursued a breach of contract case that was mostly dismissed at the summary judgement phase.
The allegation of legal malpractice here is just one example of how Clinton's legal wranglings have turned into a Möbius strip of epic proportions.
Again and again, a pattern emerges.
First, Clinton alleges he's been ripped off. Next, those who have ripped him off allegedly pursue their own legal agenda. For example, Lewis is said to have convinced Clinton "to pursue other lawsuits to generate the funds necessary to maintain a civil RICO action."
Finally, having been ripped off and having become victim to legal actions without his full support, Clinton sues for redress.
In sum, Clinton either has an insatiable appetite for suing or he's the victim of never-ending legal fraud -- and frankly, we have no idea which assessment is correct.