Power Lawyers: Litigation Specialists
These hired guns can go all the way to trial to right a wrong in an industry where rules are not always black, white or even fair.
THE LEGEND: For 20 years, Hollywood's most iconic lawyer has adhered to a unique daily routine. Around 6 a.m., driver Jim Posterino picks Fields up at his beachfront Malibu home to make the 30-minute trek to Century City in his Bentley. After a full morning of work, Posterino drives Fields back to Malibu so he can eat lunch on his ocean-view deck before returning to the office to finish the day. If it seems like a lot of travel, Fields doesn't waste the time. "I sit in the back with a yellow legal pad, drafting documents and making phone calls," he says. At 82, Fields is as active as ever, handling the Weinstein Co.'s disputes and deals for A-listers Tom Cruise, James Cameron and Warren Beatty. A rare full-service consigliere, he manages lawsuits as well as contract negotiations. "I'm the last man standing who does both."
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
Edelman has become a reliable gun in network and studio holsters. NBC deployed him during the Conan O'Brien Tonight Show fiasco, and this year CBS asked him to defend the multimillion-dollar profit participation suit brought by fired NCIS showrunner Don Bellisario over NCIS: Los Angeles. FX has him fighting a stolen-idea suit brought by biker Chuck Zito over Sons of Anarchy, and he's defending Warner Bros. in a profits case brought by the creators of Smallville. The father of three daughters (wife Susan was once a lawyer at his firm), Edelman has been awash in Hollywood disputes since winning several big-ticket cases a few years ago, including the infamous battle over Elie Samaha's Franchise Pictures. The firm's track record "has given the studios and networks confidence that we know how to defend these cases," he notes.
OFF-DUTY The tennis nut recently won a men's doubles tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. "To top it off, I took my family to Wimbledon this year, which has always been a dream."
Her latest battle places Eskenazi in the center of the fight over royalties from digital recordings, downloads, ringtones and more as she represents the family of the late Bob Marley in a closely watched case against Universal Music Group. "They're playing hardball," says Eskenazi, who is preparing for a December trial. "It isn't a huge amount of money, but on a future basis it is critical." A year ago, Eskenazi was celebrating a big settlement with Warner Bros. on behalf of the estate of Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien over the mega-grossing films, but even that drags on with a new dispute over whether the studio can license slot machines and online gambling. She also successfully repped special effects company Hydraulx in an arbitration against Sony over alleged copying of visual effects.
GIVING BACK A musical theater fan, Eskenazi does pro bono work for an organization that helps expose new artists to kids in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and she represents the Festival of the American Musical.
Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp
Now in his 41st year working at the same firm, the copyright litigator recently repped record labels in suits against user-generated content site Vimeo and music streaming site BlueBeat, and he submitted a key brief backing Viacom in its appeal of the $1 billion YouTube case. "It's important at this stage of my career to work on cutting-edge matters," he says of being picky about what he takes on.
WEEKEND ESCAPE "I go to baseball games as much as I can," says the Brooklyn native, who fondly recalls the day he bumped into Joe DiMaggio at a restaurant. "I'll try to make it a Yankees game, Dodgers if I have to."
Freedman & Taitelman
Freedman has lately found himself on the front lines of wars over what can be said on the Internet. He represents notorious Web personality Perez Hilton and litigious blogger Nikki Finke's employer Penske Media Corp., and he litigated a first-of-its-kind Twitter defamation case against Courtney Love on behalf of a fashion designer. Eventually, Love settled for $430,000, a big win for Freedman's client. Ever since, his phone has been ringing off the hook from hundreds of folks believing they, too, have been defamed on Twitter. He compares social media to the Wild West. "One day, we'll look back in disbelief and say, 'I can't believe they could actually say that.' "
Gatti is one of the few Hollywood litigators who represent talent in profits claims against studios while also consulting for some of those same companies. This year, he settled the long-running case involving producer Alan Ladd Jr. (also Gatti's father-in-law), whose $3.2 million judgment against Warner Bros. over profits on Blade Runner and other movies was upheld by a California appeals court. The avid San Francisco Giants fan also represents National Lampoon in a dispute with Warners over the Vacation movies, and he helped Jon Peters negotiate an executive producer credit on the next Superman movie. Meanwhile, he is defending CBS in claims made by the John Wayne estate over use of the actor's likeness, and he defended Fox and Sony in stolen-idea cases.
HIS OBSESSION One of his two daughters plays soccer at UC Davis. "We've spent a lot of time on the soccer field," he says.
Glaser Weil Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro
With her faint West Virginia accent and authoritative demeanor, Glaser long has been one of Hollywood's smoothest courtroom lawyers. But recently she's been equally adept settling matters out of the public eye. Keith Olbermann hired her to navigate his thorny transition from MSNBC to Current TV after reading about how Glaser had handled Conan O'Brien's exit from NBC. "His politics and mine are diametrically opposed," she says of Olbermann. But they share the same ambition and a love of the Yankees. "He's a smart guy, very engaging, and we handled the situation appropriately." A married mother of two boys, Glaser is repping WME in what is expected to be a heated arbitration with former agent John Ferriter. She's also been hired by reality powerhouse Endemol for a potentially precedent-setting case involving alleged copyright infringement on ABC's Wipeout.
LAST GREAT BOOK I READ Jane Leavy's biography of Mickey Mantle.
Kirkland & Ellis
The former federal prosecutor jolted Hollywood last summer by winning a $51 million judgment in favor of actor Don Johnson, who sued Mark Cuban and Rysher Entertainment for 50 percent of profits from the TV series Nash Bridges (it's on appeal). He also repped IMG Worldwide in trade-secret litigation after one of its employees left and went to work for CAA. Holscher, father to four kids under 9 (with a fifth on the way), was able to show that the employee copied and took computer files with him that IMG considered confidential.
The one-time Wall Street lawyer went Hollywood in the mid-'70s after representing George Harrison in a famous song theft case. He's now the rare dealmaker who also tackles litigation, like his recent cases representing Courtney Love in her Twitter defamation lawsuit and Dick Clark Productions and 19 Entertainment against charges they stole the idea behind So You Think You Can Dance. He's also repping a consortium of investors who claim they were misled by Paramount. "When the clients were looking for a lawyer to represent them [in the Paramount case], I was the only litigator who had actually done these deals and was in a position to analyze them."
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson is particularly nostalgic for Old Hollywood -- contracts from that era are ripe for litigation. After winning a settlement for Quincy M.E. actor Jack Klugman from Universal over net profits from the show, the aggressive litigator in May filed suit for Mannix star Mike Connors against CBS and Paramount, and he helped the estate of Charles Bronson sue Warner Bros. and MGM for unjust enrichment and fraud regarding two '70s movies. He also settled a heated stolen-idea case against A&E over the reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman.
AFTER HOURS Johnson plans to release his third album soon under the nom de plume Trevor McShane, singing and playing rhythm guitar.
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
It's a safe bet that Katz probably won't be invited to next year's Golden Globe Awards. The hyper-savvy litigator is repping Dick Clark Productions in the high-profile suit filed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association over long-term rights to the lucrative telecast. A trial is set for September, with the future of the Globes on the line. He also continues to rep Disney in the appeal of last summer's $320 million jury award to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire producer Celador as well as mogul Haim Saban in his dispute with a tax lawyer (which was resolved in June).
OFF-DUTY Katz swims four days a week and whenever he can, he gets away to his favorite resort on Bora Bora.
Debevoise & Plimpton
In the recent telefilm Who Is Clark Rockefeller, Sony TV and A&E Networks included a photo of Rockefeller and his daughter similar to one taken by Boston photographer Donald Harney. Harney sued and Keller repped the producers, winning a closely watched case in May when a judge ruled the photos were not similar enough to establish copyright infringement. The New York-based litigator, whose media practice includes doing some work for THR, says his career highlight was repping the NFL in a case over whether a manufacturer infringed the copyright on the Vince Lombardi trophy by making replicas. Keller won the case in February. The NFL invited him and his 14-year old son, Reed, to attend the Super Bowl. That revealed a career benefit. "I can talk to my son about what I do for a living and he doesn't get bored," Keller jokes.
King Holmes Paterno & Berliner
"Every piece of litigation feels like bare-knuckle fighting," says King, who this year repped Dr. Dre in a nasty dispute with his former label Death Row and Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff in his fight against Axl Rose. Those cases settled, but King is headed to trial on claims that Fox News violated his journalist client's copyrighted interview with Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe. "I'm fighting this one on principle," he says.
Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert
The affable litigator is defending Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal in a case brought by an Army soldier who claims his life story was stolen to make the film, which Kinsella calls a "direct assault on the ability of filmmakers to draw upon real-life events as inspiration for characters in fictional works." He settled actress Mariska Hargitay's lawsuit with WME over Law & Order: SVU commissions. And he just took Warner Bros. Television topper Peter Roth's deposition in a major profits case he brought on behalf of the creators of Smallville, who claim the studio owes them millions in profits.
OFF-DUTY Kinsella is a little worried about his upcoming vacation to a Bolivian jungle to fly-fish with buddies Tom Hansen and Skip Brittenham because the country has been overrun with swarms of dangerous sand fleas and bees. "It'll be an interesting trip," he says.
Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp
It sounds like a plot from the show: Levin is representing ABC and Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry in a lawsuit brought by fired actress Nicolette Sheridan over an alleged slap on the set. The case, which includes claims of wrongful termination, battery and unlawful retaliation, is headed to trial in mid-October. Levin, a Seattle native with three children, came to prominence in Hollywood by successfully defending Warner Bros. in a well-known case alleging that dirty language in the Friends writers room amounted to harassment in the workplace. This year, he successfully defended endorsement agent Todd Shemarya in another harassment case. "That was a two-week trial where I got a verdict in less than 30 minutes," he boasts.
OFF-DUTY Yoga Hop in Santa Monica, where Levin practices power yoga set to hip-hop.
Irell & Manella
The top intellectual property expert is repping Universal Music Group in a high-profile copyright infringement case against Veoh Networks. In May, he argued in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the user-generated content on Veoh's site is not immune from liability under safe-harbor laws, an issue being monitored by social media websites around the world. He is also lead counsel for UMG in a long-running dispute with Bing Crosby's heirs, and he continues to represent the owners of Alvin and the Chipmunks in a massive dispute with 20th Century Fox over the second Chipmunks movie, The Squeakquel. And he's the litigator for Activision in a complex case against rival Electronic Arts over, among other things, profits from video game franchise Call of Duty.
OFF-DUTY Marenberg is a soccer fan who blows off steam by skiing in winter and playing tennis in summer.
Miller has a track record as enviable as his sports car collection, which includes a racing Porsche GT3 and a Ferrari 360 Spider. (He sold his Lamborghini because, he says, "It's not nearly as good a car as the other two. And how many toys can you have?") This year, he's handled disputes for music figures including Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, Motley Crue and the estate of Tupac Shakur, not to mention regular clients Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Elton John and Bob Dylan. Miller's upcoming trial between Rose and Activision over former GnR member Slash's involvement in video game Guitar Hero III should lead to courtroom fireworks. "I like the plaintiff cases better than the defense cases because there's more upside," Miller says. "Your client usually is the one that's been harmed, and I like getting up in front of a jury and explaining why we're entitled to a lot of money."
O'Melveny & Myers
Warner Bros. lately has been keeping Petrocelli on speed dial, with thorny matters like the long-running battle with the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and a recent case brought by two writers who say their idea was stolen and used for The Last Samurai. The impeccably dressed litigator also handled the appeal of Alan Ladd Jr.'s profit participation lawsuit, which set the stage for a settlement. And he's advising the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in its suit against Dick Clark Productions over the future of the Golden Globes.
GIVING BACK Active in kids' charities, Petrocelli is on the board of the Alliance for Children's Rights.
Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi
Six years after the movie was made, an arbitration is finally set to take place in September over the final cut of Margaret, the Kenneth Lonergan film starring Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon. Plonsker has stuck with the case through lawsuits and countersuits on behalf of producer Gary Gilbert. The talent-side litigator also is repping Hawaii Five-0 producers against CBS an Damages producers Todd and Glenn Kessler in a WGA arbitration against Fox.
MOST MEMORABLE CASE Repping John Ritter's family in their suit against the hospital where he died (the case settled).
Glenn D. Pomerantz
Munger Tolles & Olson
With Hollywood under siege from pirates, the studios and record labels often find themselves filing joint lawsuits -- and when they do, they often call Pomerantz. He represented all four major labels against peer-to-peer service Limewire and in May secured an injunction and a hefty $105 million settlement. He also filed a six-studio lawsuit against RealNetworks' DVD ripping product and represented studio clients against Redbox and Blockbuster. What's next? "We've recently had discussions about what cloud services can [legally] do," he says.
O'Melveny & Myers
Putnam's practice includes a little celebrity glitz (defending AEG in a wrongful death action filed by Michael Jackson's mother and children), some reality TV (American Idol producer FremantleMedia is a client), plus the occasional trip to Las Vegas to see clients Siegfried & Roy. Putnam represents Spyglass in a suit filed by its lender and also reps the Kaplan Stahler talent agency in litigation to recover allegedly diverted commissions. All this, and Putnam counseled MGM on its five-year deal with Sony and Univision on its joint venture with Grupo Televisa.
Davis Wright Tremaine
Hollywood loves the First Amendment -- and so does Sager. She's perhaps the preeminent Los Angeles-based media law specialist, dating to her work securing cameras in the courtroom during the criminal O.J. Simpson trial. Clients include CBS, E!, A&E and Electronic Arts, not to mention the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Phil, Tyler Perry and a host of others.
ODDEST MOMENT After arguing in court for media access to the Winona Ryder shoplifting trial, a major magazine published a photo misidentifying Sager as Ryder's mother. She couldn't exactly sue -- the mag was her firm's client.
Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi
Silberfeld is the soft-spoken man behind one of the largest jury verdicts in Hollywood history, a $320 million win on behalf of U.K. production company Celador International against the Walt Disney Co. over profits from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. As lead trial counsel, last summer he proved that Disney and its subsidiaries used "shell game" accounting and "sweetheart" deals to cheat Celador (the case is on appeal). Perhaps surprisingly, it was the first entertainment trial for the German-born attorney with four children and four grandchildren. "I've had a very eclectic, mixed-bag sort of career," he says, noting that he's tried cases involving everything from financial fraud to toxic substances.
FAVORITE WEEKEND Silberfeld and his wife escape to their home on Big Bear Lake. "We go hiking, bike riding and take the boat out, drop the anchor in the middle of the lake and sit there drinking wine," he says.
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
The New York litigator has represented such Fortune 500 companies as NBCUniversal, Cablevision and Warner Music Group. But his list of individual clients is not too shabby either, with recording artists Bob Dylan, Jennifer Lopez, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen joining Jerry Seinfeld, LeBron James, Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace. His case load might have changed since the days when he was Manhattan's chief federal narcotics prosecutor, but to Snyder, the work is not so different. Hollywood clients, he says, want "a warrior who thinks outside the box."
CAREER HIGHLIGHT In one of his first entertainment cases, he won a trial establishing that the late Rent creator Jonathan Larson was the play's sole author.
Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor
Long one of Hollywood's go-to talent-side litigators, Stein is tough enough to challenge Harvey Weinstein on behalf of client Michael Moore, who claims he's owed millions in profits from Fahrenheit 911. He's also knee-deep in client Tokyo Broadcasting System's potentially precedent-setting lawsuit against ABC claiming that the hit obstacle-course competition Wipeout was stolen from several Japanese shows. "Reality formats, if they are sufficiently developed, are protectable," Stein says. That theory will be tested in a key summary judgment hearing this summer.
OFF-DUTY A volleyball player, the intense family man also plays tennis with his grown son once a week.
Katten Muchin Rosenman
Title is still glowing from what she calls the highlight of her legal career: representing NBCUniversal and Pilgrim Films, producer of SyFy's Ghost Hunters, in a recent copyright case brought by a parapsychologist who claimed he had an implied contract to make the show based on pitching a similar idea. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Title's clients, ruling that such claims are preempted by federal law, which will benefit studios in future stolen-idea cases. "It was remarkably fun," she recalls. "To argue at the appellate level, that's one of the things that you go to law school to have the opportunity to do." The mother of four has represented Universal for years, seeing the company through several high-profile wins, including a recent case brought by a graphic novel writer against the NBC hit Heroes.
FAVORITE LUNCH SPOT West L.A. Italian eatery Sotto, where Title's 27-year-old son is an owner and co-chef.
Toberoff & Associates
WHY I SUE STUDIOS: Because they give me no choice. I stand up for the rights of the very artists on whose talent their fortunes are built. At a time when studios must vigilantly prosecute piracy of their own intellectual property, there needs to be greater compunction about trampling on creators' rights.
Unfortunately, some corporations have succeeded by waging an economic war of attrition: The cost of protracted litigation against a deep-pocketed studio, coupled with its ability to blacklist an opponent, very effectively deters talent from pursuing legal claims. Many law partners charge $700 to $800 an hour (some top names get $1,000 an hour). Few attorneys are willing to handle Hollywood cases on a success-driven basis because of the expense and risks involved.
Many attorneys also have clear client conflicts or just fear tangling with the studios. That is understandable, as some studios personalize any challenge to their bread and butter. This is not a criticism of those who work at studios, many of whom are wonderful people with deep respect for artists and a sense of fairness; if they controlled the core legal decisions, I would be able to spend a lot more time with my kids.
I enjoy making money like everyone else, but I also take on cases where I believe an injustice has occurred and something must be done about it. At the end of very long days (or years), that is what refuels me, and it's the only edge I've got.
Toberoff is representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster against Warner Bros.
Kelley Drye & Warren
From seventh grade English teacher to top trial lawyer might not be a typical career progression, but it has served White well. "It's fun educating the judge and jury," he jokes. This year, the father of five merged his namesake Los Angeles-based firm with national outfit Kelley Drye, becoming chair of its entertainment and media practice. And he won a key victory for Steven Spielberg and Paramount in a case alleging similarities between 2007's Disturbia and the short story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
Davis Wright Tremaine
Wickers is the First Amendment specialist on call 24/7 to tell TV networks like Comedy Central and HBO what they can and can't broadcast. That means it's his job to OK all the raunchy jokes and celebrity skewering on South Park, which this year includes defending a copyright lawsuit filed by the creators of the absurd Internet video "What What in the Butt," which was parodied on the show. He's also repping the trade association that works to afford video games the same free-speech rights as movies and music. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent rejection of a California law will certainly help his cause.
Loeb & Loeb
Handling disputes for studio clients MGM, Fox, CBS, DreamWorks Animation and others requires the New York-based Zavin to zip back and forth to Los Angeles. There have been longer jaunts too, such as trips at U.S. government request to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Greece and South Africa to meet with government and industry groups regarding protection of intellectual property. But his preferred trip is to his house on the North Fork of Long Island, where he goes fishing on his small boat.
FAVORITE LUNCH SPOT Depends on whether he's in New York (Japanese restaurant Seo) or L.A. (Hamasaku).