Ellen Rakieten Sues Del Shaw Firm for Violating California's "Hot Potato" Rule

Ellen Rakieten Getty 2019 - H
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Producer Ellen Rakieten is suing Hollywood talent firm Del Shaw for allegedly taking advantage of her trust to benefit another client and then dropping her like a "hot potato" — and she wants a refund of all the legal fees she's paid them over the years.

Rakieten, who produced The Oprah Winfrey Show for more than two decades, says her former lawyer Tara Senior committed "one of the most egregious violations of the attorney-client relationship,"

According to her complaint, which was filed Friday in L.A. County Superior Court, Senior failed to get Rakieten's consent before taking on Very Tall Productions as a client. 

VTP was formed in 2018 when Rakieten teamed up with Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman through their Los Angeles Media Fund. The producer says her attorney was "acutely aware of this conflict of interest" because the firm negotiated her agreements with VTP and LAMF, but still solicited the company.

"Once Defendants improperly engaged VTP/LAMF as their new client, they committed underhanded and self-dealing actions to the detriment of Ms. Rakieten," writes attorney Bryan Freedman in the complaint. "Among other things, Defendants negotiated and structured several deals with third parties on terms that were favorable to VTP/LAMF but detrimental to Ms. Rakieten."

The producer says her attorneys admitted a conflict existed after she sought advice on a dispute with the company and "later unceremoniously dropped Ms. Rakieten as a client — a direct violation of California's 'hot potato' rule." 

Rakieten also alleges that Del Shaw never entered into a written fee agreement with her in violation of California law. (See: Johnny Depp's lawsuit against ex-lawyer Jake Bloom.)

She's suing for breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice and unfair business practices and is asking the court for a declaration that her fee arrangement with the firm is void and unenforceable. Rakieten is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as repayment of all the legal fees she has paid the firm. (Read the complaint below.)

Senior did not immediately reply to a request for comment.