M. Kenneth Suddleson, a former top-ranking executive at Paramount Pictures, has been hired to head up a beefed-up entertainment law division at Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler — the firm that sued Paramount over “Coming to America.”
This move marks Suddleson’s first foray back into private practice since he left a 20-year law practice in 1987 to become part of Frank Mancuso’s power pack at Paramount. He left the studio in 1991, shortly after Mancuso’s ouster.
“Like any number of international law firms, Kaye, Scholer has come to recognize that the entertainment industry is one of the main industries in southern California,” Suddleson said Thursday.
Toward that end, the firm is inthe process of recruiting several entertainment lawyers–from other firms and from within the studio system–to build a full-service entertainment practice.
“Over the next six to 12 months, I believe there will be a significant enough presence to be felt in the industry,” Suddleson said, noting that future hires will begin happening within the next month.
To date, Kaye, Scholer is probably best known within industry circles as the firm that represented humorist Art Buchwald and producer Alain Bernheim in their historic breach-of-contract suit against Paramount over the genesis of “Coming to America.”
That case, which took four years to litigate, resulted in a $ 900,000 judgment for Buchwald and Bernheim and a ruling that portions of Paramount’s boilerplate contract were unfair and “unconscionable.”
Paramount has since appealed the judgment. “I’ve not heard anything from Paramount since coming here,” Suddleson said, “but then again, I had absolutely nothing to do withthe Buchwald case.” He did admit that the bitterness of the Buchwald suit may initially hinder some studios from seeking legal help from Kaye, Scholer.
“Initially I think that people who have claims will consider the firm,” Suddleson said. “But the strength of our litigators will certainly be appreciated by the corporate side as well.”
Suddleson said that while a large part of the firm’s entertainment practice will center on representing talent, the big push will be to bring on studios as clients.
“Part of the strength I bring to this firm is the experience of working inside a studio and seeing how it operates,” Suddleson said. “And the more information you have, the more effective you are.”
One of the current corporate clients is Miramax.
“We are in serious discussions with an entertainment transactional lawyer to ensure an entertainment presence in our New York office,” Suddleson noted. Kaye, Scholer also has offices in Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, Brussels and Beijing.