The skirmish between high-powered attorney Barry Hirsch and his former partners escalated Tuesday, with word that Hirsch filed a lawsuit against his old firm on Friday — the day before he and his new partners cleaned out their offices.
The lawsuit maintains that trouble has been brewing between Hirsch and the since-renamed Jackoway, Tyerman, Wertheimer, Austin, Mandelbaum & Morris since well before the firm’s preemptive announcement Sunday that Hirsch was setting up his own entertainment practice.
In essence, the L.A. Superior Court complaint by Hirsch and those who followed him to the new firm — Robert Wallerstein, Howard Fishman and David Matlof — alleges plans were put in motion for a firm coup that was to become final Sept. 1.
For the exiting partners, the lawsuit’s main purpose seems to be protecting their interest in client billings payable to the old firm as well as other assets. In their suit, they contend the reason the firm is being converted rather than dissolved is to divert revenues.
According to the suit, a majority of the firm’s board members agreed in an Aug. 6 term sheet to reorganize the firm into a limited-liability partnership that concentrated power in the hands of board members James Jackoway, Alan Wertheimer, Barry Tyerman and Geoffry Oblath.
In its announcement, Jackoway Tyerman maintained Hirsch was leaving his firm of 24 years after negotiations to work out a retirement package had failed (Daily Variety, Aug. 16).
After reviewing the lawsuit, Jackoway disputed its claims, saying, “It is completely without merit, inaccurate, and it will be vigorously defended.”
He also took issue with the contention that Hirsch had been pushed out, maintaining his former partner had asked to be presented with a possible retirement package. In light of that, Jackoway said, the suggestion Hirsch was being forced out is “perplexing.”
Asked to respond, Hirsch and his partners issued a statement saying only that the lawsuit was filed “for the benefit of all shareholders to ensure that they would equally share in the company’s assets since it was dissolved.”
Revenues at issue
The lawsuit further allege the new structure deprived partners who did not join the new firm of any value for their partnership share and undervalued assets in the old firm.
As a remedy, Hirsch and his new partners are seeking dissolution instead of conversion of the old firm, and judicial oversight of the distribution of assets. No money damages are sought.
Hirsch, 70, who has historically been notoriously press-shy, found himself the subject of a Monday story stating he had left his firm of 24 years.
The next day, Hirsch and his new partners — who emptied their offices Saturday and began contacting existing clients — announced the formation of the separate firm, which will keep such signature clients as Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Coppola and Julia Roberts.
Over the years, Hirsch has enjoyed strong loyalty from a core group of talent. The attorney also was closely associated with Michael Ovitz during his tenure at CAA, profiting from a relationship in which he shared a number of marquee clients with the former agent.