After Pyrrhic Victory, Worldview Ex-CEO Christopher Woodrow's Lawyer Unleashes Fury

A judge made an infuriating ruling on advancement of legal fees. Here's what happened next.
AP Images
Christopher Woodrow

It almost sounds like a joke, but it's not.

In April, in the ongoing litigation surrounding the implosion of Worldview Entertainment, financier of Oscar-winning Birdman, a judge ordered that the company advance legal fees to its former chief executive Christopher Woodrow. The problem? The judge required that Woodrow post a $500,000 bond as a precondition on being advanced legal expenses less than $500,000.

Since the ruling, Woodrow's attorney Michael Pinnisi has been trying to unwind this. He's now brought a third motion aimed at having Woodrow's legal expenses taken care of so he can, according to court papers, "level the playing field" with his adversary — namely, Worldview co-founder Maria Cestone.

Legal fees can be important. Just ask Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who got the company to indemnify him in the fight with the Redstones. But they can make lawyers go absolutely bonkers.

Back in March 2015, Woodrow (accused of embezzlement and improper compensation, claiming being the victim of conversion, fiduciary duties and defamation) first sought an order requiring Worldview to advance his defense expenses based on company bylaws and other contracts he had. The judge denied the motion by finding Woodrow had failed to plead the predicate allegations for such relief.

Thereafter, Woodrow amended his cross-complaint and moved the court for an order compelling fee advancement, and the judge treated it like a motion for a preliminary injunction — giving him a victory but requiring a bond during the pendency of the lawsuit.

So Woodrow is now on attempt No. 3, this time looking for a summary judgment victory on the sole issue of whether his defense expenses should be advanced. According to the other side, Woodrow can't simply "re-style" his arguments to avoid the bonding requirement and he should be barred from re-litigating this issue. 

"Woodrow is not now entitled to a judgment as to his ultimate right to retain any defense expense advancement funds, as such a final determination necessarily depends upon resolution of the open question of his alleged right to indemnification," argues the Cestone side.

That brought forth an instantly classic reply from Pinnisi.

"Plaintiffs’ argument is so contorted that it sounds both Orwellian and like Alice Through the Looking Glass at the same time," he wrote on Tuesday. "Motions for summary judgment are motions for interim relief. Permanent injunctions are temporary injunctions. Whether expenses must be advanced before entry of judgment on all merits cannot be decided until after judgment is entered on all merits. Expense advancement rights triggered by allegations of officer misconduct are negated by allegations of officer misconduct. Law of the case compels a later victory for a party that lost a prior motion on the same facts. Companies obliged to provide all expense advancement rights permitted by law meet those obligations by providing none of that protection. Companies that waived security for undertakings get court-ordered security for those undertakings. War is peace."

And it goes on.

"In addition to being illogical and unsupported by law, Plaintiffs’ position is utterly hypocritical," adds Pinnisi. "According to facts developed in a related-case motion to attach assets, Queen Cestone has spent millions of dollars in Plaintiff-controlled money to pay legal fees and settlements that advance her interests. Plaintiffs spend their money on current officers’ defense expenses while withholding defense expenses from Woodrow, on the same contracts and facts in the same dispute. Indeed, it is no small irony that such money presumably is being used to pay the fees required to oppose this motion."

Later in this same brief comes something one will almost never ever see emanate from an attorney's keyboard. (At least, not so explicitly in a brief filed with the court!) According to Pinnisi, final determination in the case is unlikely to occur because "the most likely outcome of this dispute is some form of settlement, as >90% of cases of this kind are resolved," and "in the unlikely event (i.e., <10% chance) that this case ever reaches a jury, advanced expenses would only be subject to recall if Woodrow loses. He expects to win."

comments powered by Disqus