Steven Tyler Lawyer Loses First Amendment Battle Over 'American Idol' Negotiations

An appeals court concludes that while the public is enamored with the reality singing competition, there's no evidence of public interest in back-stage talent negotiations for the show.
 Associated Press

On Wednesday, a California appeals court revived claims against Steven Tyler's attorney, Dina LaPolt, connected to the way she handled her client's contract negotiation to return as a judge on American Idol.

The lawsuit was brought by Kovac Media Group, Tyler's former management company, who wanted to take an aggressive posture in 2011 when the Aerosmith frontman's contract was up for renegotiation. LaPolt felt differently and was accused of bad mouthing, disparaging and undercutting Kovac in the negotiation, and ultimately costing Tyler a $6-8 million deal and prompting him to exit Fox's longrunning singing show.

In February 2013, a California judge threw out many of the claims against LaPolt, including those for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of confidence and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.

Today a California appeals court rejects the lower judge's analysis, leaving Tyler himself quite upset. He tells The Hollywood Reporter, "I'm disgusted that my attorney, Dina LaPolt, has to continue to battle in court over these ridiculous accusations. Without Dina, my confidant and trusted counsel, I would not have been able to get out of that toxic management agreement.  Dina has always had my back, and I fully support her in fighting this hateful claim."

In her attempt to defeat Kovac's lawsuit, LaPolt brought an anti-SLAPP motion that contended the lawsuit targeted activity protected by the First Amendment.

First, there was her speech as evidenced by one e-mail referencing a notable bit of Hollywood lore on the dangers of being too aggressive in deal-making.

In June 2011, LaPolt wrote Eric Sherman, who formerly worked with Kovac for Tyler.

"Just saw Suzanne [Somers] in the airport with her husband and I had to giggle," LaPolt wrote. "He was her 'manager' in the 90's — who over negotiated her option on Three's Company and they ended up throwing her off the show even though the show was top 10 at the time. The show then went on without her for 4 more seasons, ratings barely dropped. It's a well[-]known story and what a gift for us. We get to learn from other people's mistakes."

LaPolt contended that the e-mail was "in furtherance of the exercise of ... the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest."

The trial judge agreed, but the appeals court says not so fast.

While LaPolt argued that there was broad public interest in Tyler's return to American Idol, the appeals court responds, "The email does not mention Tyler or American Idol, and it would not have been obvious to anyone other than a small number of people intimately involved with Tyler's American Idol negotiations that the email had anything to do with him or those negotiations."

Another LaPolt e-mail similarly fell short, not only because most of the public wouldn't know she was referring to the Tyler situation, but also because "there is absolutely no evidence of a public interest in either Tyler's negotiating strategy or the methods Tyler's representatives intended to use to persuade him to adopt one strategy and reject another."

LaPolt also argued that her activity was protected by a less well-known aspect of the First Amendment — the right to petition, or her duties as a lawyer.

Around the time of the Idol negotiations, Sherman left for rival management firm XIX Entertainment and took Tyler with him. Kovac blamed LaPolt for facilitating the poaching, and while a dispute between Kovac and Sherman settled, LaPolt argued there was the real possibility at the time that Tyler would have dragged into a lawsuit.

"Although the emails and the subsequent litigation both concerned the disputes among Kovac, Sherman, and LaPolt about how Tyler’s career should be managed, no persuasive argument can be made that the emails concerned the litigation," writes appeals court judge Lee Anne Edmon .

Here's the entire decision, which also addresses LaPolt's unsuccessful cross-appeal on claims that LaPolt disrupted the manager's relationship with the band Motley Crue, as well as a relationship with Sherman. The appeals court finds neither privileged activity under the SLAPP statute.

Although LaPolt is unsuccessful today, meaning the case is back on in full force at Los Angeles Superior Court, she can at least take heart that she still might retain the bettor's edge. Under the anti-SLAPP statute, judges must first analyze whether the lawsuit targets activity protected by the First Amendment before moving onto an analysis of whether the plaintiff is likely to win the case. In the February 2013 decision, the lower court judge didn't think Kovac would ultimately prevail. The appeals court doesn't address who is likely to win because LaPolt fails today on the first prong.

"We respectfully disagree with the Court's ruling, but look forward to actually addressing the baseless claims in this case on their merits," says LaPolt's attorney Christine Lepera. "Plaintiffs now will be forced to prove their case, and we are confident that they will come up empty."

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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