Vet biz lawyer faces suit

Veteran entertainment lawyer and former MGM/UA chief Frank Rothman is appearing in court this week — as a defendant in a malpractice lawsuit.

The case, which goes to trial today in L.A. Superior Court, relates to a 10-year-old will contest over a multimillion-dollar estate. The plaintiff, William Weinberg, hired Rothman and his megafirm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, to pursue his claim that his wife was mentally incompetent when she executed a will leaving her entire estate to charity.

Skadden hired psychiatric experts for the case, but during discovery a Skadden lawyer working under Rothman allowed one of the experts to destroy and withhold notes that should have been produced. As a penalty, in 1987, the judge barred two expert witnesses from testifying. Shortly afterward, Weinberg settled the case by giving $35 million to the charities.

Weinberg now contends he was never told about the destruction of documents and that Rothman urged him to settle to cover up the discovery violation. Rothman’s lawyers say Weinberg knew that the experts were barred and that he settled because he had a weak case.

In his more customary role as star litigator, Rothman has represented a host of entertainment entities including the Walt Disney Co., HBO, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. He is also the chief lawyer for the NFL in its long-running antitrust battles. Before heading MGM/UA from 1982-86, he was a partner at the now-defunct law firm Wyman, Bautzer, Kuchel & Silbert, a legendary breeding ground for entertainment lawyers.

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