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Martin Scorsese Project Triggers New $20 Million Lawsuit (Exclusive)

The attorney who once represented '300' producer Gianni Nunnari is now going after his former client over fraud allegations.

Gianni Nunnari - P 2013
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Gianni Nunnari

An attorney who once represented Italian producer Gianni Nunnari (Se7en, 300, From Dusk to Dawn) in a lawsuit against Martin Scorsese, is suing his former client for $20 million on allegations of being subject to a fraud.

The lawsuit from New York lawyer Aaron Richard Golub is a complicated, decade-spanning one that deals with conflicts, duties and representations made in Hollywood. It also marks the latest twist in an old battle between two Italian cinema giants -- Nunnari and Vittorio Cecchi Gori -- as well as the latest development in an ongoing battle over Silence, which Scorsese agreed to direct but has languished in development for more than two decades.

Who is Gianni Nunnari?

He was the former president of Cecchi Gori Pictures from 1996 until 2008. But he was also the head of Hollywood Gang Productions, a company that loaned out his producing services. In effect, he was what a judge once termed a "dual agent," representing Cecchi Gori's interests on one hand and his own on the other. This brought trouble.

Who is Vittorio Cecchi Gori?

He was the son of a famous Italian film mogul who took the reigns of the family business. In the 1990s, the Cecchi Gori Group was an important player in Hollywood with relationships with Silvio Berlusconi and Rupert Murdoch, often acting as the middle man for Hollywood studios eager to sell foreign distribution rights.

STORY: Martin Scorsese Sued by Producer Cecchi Gori Over Alleged Deal to Direct 'Silence'

Nunnari had a 25-year friendship with the Gori family and headed the company's U.S.-based division, but the relationship deteriorated between 2006 and 2008 when Gori discovered that Nunnari was using the company's offices to operate his own Hollywood Gang Productions and take prized projects away from Cecchi Gori Pictures.

Before the relationship deteriorated -- which set off litigation between Nunnari and Gori -- Hollywood Gang Productions sued Scorsese for failure to live up to an agreement to direct Silence, based on an award-winning Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo.

The lawyer who brought that lawsuit in 2003 was Aaron Richard Golub, who was working on a contingency basis. A settlement in the lawsuit represented a bonanza for Nunnari's Hollywood Gang Productions and presumably Golub. Scorsese agreed to pay $1 million and an "annuity" for substantial future income. Nunnari also got executive producer credit on Scorsese's The Departed and Shutter Island.

But in 2011, a decision from a California judge came in the legal war between Nunnari and Gori. The judge dismissed Nunnari's claims for wrongful termination and in extraordinarily strong language, ruled in favor of Gori's allegations of breach of fiduciary duties, fraud and other claims.

Gori won nearly $14 million in damages for net lost profits on 300, Silence and Everybody's Fine, as well as other things. Most crucially to the latest round of lawsuits, the judge ruled, "The court finds and declares that Nunnari and HGP acquired no intellectual property rights in Silence under the 2001 HGP Option...To ensure that CGUSA reaps all past and future benefits flowing from its ownership rights in Silence, the court will impose a constructive trust on any and all proceeds flowing from Nunnari and/or HGP's exercise of ownership rights..."

PHOTOS: Martin Scorsese On Set

So, Cecchi Gori Pictures was declared the owner of Silence, and in the aftermath of the victory, the company had taken up a new fight with Scorsese over his continued failure to direct the film. In November, Scorsese defended waiting 22 years to direct the picture, and among other things, alluded to the Gori-Nunnari cloud that hung over the film as one of the reasons.

Now that Nunnari has lost to Gori, he must face claims from his contingency-fee lawyer, Golub, who cites "Nunnari's judicially determined persistent pattern of untruthfullness and deception"

Golub alleges that facts were concealed to him by Nunnari when he entered into a retainer agreement and brought the original 2003 lawsuit against Scorsese.

He says that if he had known of "Nunnari's dishonest, unlawful and nefarious business practices, fraud, constructive fraud, concealments, and breaches of fiduciary duties and breaches of employment agreements, then Plaintiffs never would have entered into the retainer agreements with Defendant or continued in the legal representation of Defendant."

Read the full complaint, which includes a copy of the judge's 2011 decision in the Nunnari-Gori war.

He says he has been damaged by the loss of substantial legal contingency fees and is suing for more than $20 million in exemplary damages.

We've reached out to Nunnari and will update with his comment.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner