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After decades in a courtroom, Judge Judy Sheindlin is no stranger to an ugly legal fight — but now she’s on the offensive instead of behind the bench.
In 2016 Richard Lawrence, through his company Rebel Entertainment Partners, sued claiming he’s owed a share of the profits under a 1995 agreement and had been shorted because Sheindlin’s $47 million salary was being deducted as an expense. That fight settled, but earlier this month he filed another suit, this time suing the judge personally, claiming he’s entitled to a share of a Judge Judy library sale (that may or may not have technically happened).
Sheindlin came out swinging in a complaint against Lawrence filed Wednesday in L.A. County Superior Court. It begins by calling him “an unethical and self-dealing talent agent, and one of the luckiest men in the world.”
Lawrence (and his agency at the time Abrams Rubaloff & Lawrence) didn’t package Judge Judy, Sheindlin argues, because he didn’t rep the key talent: her. He did rep two non-writing producers, Kaye Switzer and Sandi Spreckman, who originally suggested the idea of a TV career to Sheindlin. The judge alleges that Lawrence “sold out his clients in order to gain a lucrative advantage for himself” in an illegal and unenforceable deal with syndicator Big Ticket Television — and that he and his company have received more than 10 times the money paid to his clients. (Switzer and Spreckman are currently suing Big Ticket themselves and Sheindlin’s complaint says the women also sued Lawrence and they quietly settled.)
“In what is the most absurd, unconscionable and unlawful purported packaging fee arrangement in the history of television, Lawrence and his agency have been paid in excess of [$22 million] in fees — effectively stealing from the Series’ bona fide profit participants, including Sheindlin,” writes attorney Martin D. Singer in the complaint. “Sheindlin demands that Lawrence return his ill-gotten gains.”
Singer argues it is “preposterous” that Lawrence and his agency are paid packaging fees.
“Lawrence tried to get Sheindlin — the most critical talent necessary for the Series to exist — to sign with his agency so that Lawrence could ‘package’ the Series and Sheindlin refused,” writes Singer. “Lawrence knew that he could not package the Series without Sheindlin and that is why he tried to get her to sign with his agency. These facts render the ARL Agreement unconscionable, unlawful, void and of no force or effect.”
She’s suing for unfair business practices and unjust enrichment, and is asking the court for a declaration that the ARL Agreement between Rebel and Big Ticket is illegal and unenforceable plus a return of at least $4 million in fees. The family law judge turned TV icon says she intends to donate her share of any restitution awarded to Stand Up To Cancer.
Sheindlin on Wednesday sent The Hollywood Reporter this statement: “A trial is supposed to be a search for the truth and produce a just and fair result. Richard Lawrence never represented me. I challenge you, Mr. Lawrence, to convince any jury that it was lawful, fair and conscionable for you to have made $22 million dollars from a fantasy package and continue to rake it in 25 years later while the clients that you swore to faithfully represent got fired within a year of your stellar representation. That was some loaded ‘package’ indeed!”
Lawrence’s lawyer Bryan Freedman also sent THR a statement on Wednesday. “This lawsuit is one of the most legally deficient cases that could possible exist,” he said. “Unfortunately, the code of judicial conduct does not apply to TV ‘judges.’ If it did, Judge Judy would be sanctioned for failing to understand the basic concept of who is a proper plaintiff. Her transparent attempt to be altruistic is a clear publicity stunt. Instead of filing a frivolous lawsuit to try to take my client’s contractually obligated income, she should use some of her $50 million a year salary, or her gifted $99 million library, on a charitable cause.”
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