August 21, 2013 5:00am PT by Eriq Gardner
Julianna Margulies Threatened With Malicious Prosecution Lawsuit in Ex-Manager Fight
Now that an appeals court has denied Julianna Margulies' emergency appeal, her legal dispute with the management firm of Steve Dontanville over commissions is headed towards trial.
The judge in the case recently pushed the trial date from October to January after Margulies' attorneys cited her busy schedule shooting CBS' The Good Wife. She wanted six extra months, and after D/F Management's lawyers angrily objected to her "seeking delay at every turn," she got half that time.
As a result, in less than four months, Margulies is scheduled to appear in court in a case with a lot of money on the line. When the lawsuit was first filed in July of 2012, Margulies' former manager alleged that $420,000 was due in ongoing commissions after he negotiated a deal with L'Oreal cosmetics and her star turn on The Good Wife. But after the hit CBS drama was sold into syndication in March, D/F's lawyers revised the claim to target millions of dollars for D/F's 10 percent cut of her earnings. Margulies fired D/F on April 29, 2011.
With all the money at stake, the litigation has become quite heated -- so much so that an attorney for D/F tells THR that he might seek to file a civil malicious prosecution claim against the actress, alleging that she acted in bad faith when she filed counterclaims against her old management firm. Her attorney dismisses the threat.
The two sides are scheduled to meet on Monday for a mediation session; if they can't settle the claims, they'll face off at trial.
Earlier this month, after Margulies requested a trial delay, the other side accused her of malfeasance.
Mathew Rosengart, D/F's lead attorney and a former prosecutor, told the judge that Margulies had attempted to "obstruct justice." The basis for that accusation involves a deposition given by Margulies' talent agent in the case.
"Disturbingly," the plaintiff's lawyer wrote in a brief, "on the very morning of her talent agent's deposition (i.e. approximately one hour before the deposition commenced), Defendant Margulies sent her agent an email falsely stating that one of D/F's two principals 'never did any work on my behalf.' Defendant Margulies later admitted that this assertion -- which related to a material issue in this case -- was simply not true. Indeed, whether it was sent as a result of avarice, a sense of entitlement or in an effort to influence the agent's testimony, the email was highly improper."
Sheldon Eisenberg, Margulies' attorney, responds that the allegation "is totally false" and that "there's no basis" to accuse his client of attempting to obstruct justice. "There's absolutely no factual basis for it, and if he had uttered those words outside of a courtroom context he would be sued for defamation," Eisenberg says, noting that Rosengart hasn't even questioned Margulies' agent to know if she was influenced by the email.
Rosengart has not filed a motion seeking to have his accusation taken up by the judge and there is no indication that the actress is facing any formal charge of obstruction.
Not to be outdone, Margulies' attorneys at Drinker Biddle & Reath are attempting to make things uncomfortable for Dontanville's company.
In response to D/F's original lawsuit, Margulies brought counterclaims, alleging that Dontanville -- who represented the actress first as an agent at ICM, then at William Morris, before leaving and starting up a management firm -- had demonstrated a general lack of initiative, attention, focus and commitment and that his firm had failed to provide the level and quality of services that she expected.
Now, Eisenberg wants to investigate whether the same goes for D/F's other former clients. Originally, he and co-counsel Ryan Fife attempted to question D/F principal Frank Frattaroli about his relationship with other clients during a deposition. Frattaroli was instructed not to answer those queries.
Last week, Margulies' team brought a motion to compel answers, citing two reasons:
First, Margulies' team wants to look into whether former clients paid ongoing commissions after they were terminated. According to the motion to compel that was filed last week, "The information is highly relevant because situations where [D/F] was not paid post-termination commissions by its very own clients would obviously support the Defendants' position that no such custom and practice exists in the industry."
Second, and more salaciously, Margulies' attorneys are hoping to challenge D/F's credibility as a management firm.
"Defendants contend that Plaintiff failed to adequately perform talent management services on behalf of Defendants," says the motion. "Moreover, Defendants intend to show at trial that Plaintiff's failure was part of a wider pattern and practice of rendering sub-standard services."
Margulies' team hasn't yet identified other Hollywood talent who might be mentioned at the January trial. Over the years, D/F has reportedly represented clients including Willem Dafoe, Michelle Monaghan, Sarah Polley, Frances McDormand and Benjamin Bratt, among others.
Rosengart is outraged at Margulies' gambit.
"In contrast to the tactics employed by Ms. Margulies’ team, my clients will not litigate this matter in the press," he tells THR. "Suffice to say, defendants’ motion represents their latest in a series of desperate, ill-advised, and completely meritless motions and misguided efforts to avoid a trial. My clients look forward to the trial of this matter, after which, as a result of defendants’ frivolous cross-complaint and tactics, my clients intend to seek damages for malicious prosecution, including recovery of their costs and attorneys’ fees in this matter."
A malicious prosecution claim would come only in the event that Margulies loses. It also would need to be shown that she had no basis for bringing her counterclaims. Says Eisenberg, "That's not going to happen."