Johnny Depp is asking a California judge to throw out Jake Bloom's breach of contract claim against him on the grounds that it is barred by state law, according to a motion filed Wednesday.
Depp sued Bloom in October, asserting, among other claims, that his former attorney collected more than $30 million in contingent fees without a proper contract. Bloom countersued in December, asking the court for a declaration that their 1999 oral agreement is valid and claiming Depp breached their deal by failing to pay for legal services.
The actor has retained Stanford Law professor Nora Engstrom, an expert on legal ethics, who on Wednesday sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement about the matter. "In December 2017, Bloom Hergott filed a cross-complaint against Johnny Depp seeking payment pursuant to what they concede was an 'oral' contingency fee contract," she says. "But an oral contingency fee contract, in California, is no contract at all. It's a legal nullity."
Depp's motion for judgment on the pleadings reflects that sentiment.
"Throughout the entire period relevant to this case, Section 6147 has governed contingency fee agreements between lawyers and clients in California," states the motion. "Section 6147(a) requires all lawyers to put every contingency fee agreement in writing signed by the client, provide to the client a duplicate copy of the agreement, and include in the agreement certain express, statutorily mandated disclosures. ... Failure to comply with any of Section 6147's requirements renders the agreement voidable at the client's election."
Essentially, Depp's legal team is arguing that Bloom's request for a declaration is an admission that he didn't have the written contract required under state law and therefore he can't countersue the actor for breach of contract.
Depp's lawyer Adam Waldman sent THR a comment on the filling, urging those in Hollywood to focus on an issue that could have wide-ranging impacts: whether decades of similar handshake agreements between lawyers and clients could be void.
“We look forward to the Judge’s ruling on our simple and straightforward motion: Whether a California law designed to protect clients from lawyer overreach protects Johnny Depp, who was Bloom Hergott's client for nearly two decades," says Waldman. "This motion is not about the litany of other bad acts Mr. Depp has alleged Mr. Bloom committed, while working as Mr. Depp's lawyer.”
While the statute provides for "a reasonable fee" if the contract is voided, Depp is seeking disgorgement of all fees paid because of the alleged misconduct. He's pursuing a similar argument in his legal fight with his ex-business managers Joel and Robert Mandel, who are both also licensed attorneys.
Bloom's attorneys have not yet commented on the filing.