Their names have graced the tabloids: Armie Hammer. Chris Noth. Danny Masterson. Bryan Singer. Prince Andrew.
What kind of lawyer does it take to represent controversial public figures who have already been tried and pilloried in the court of public opinion? And how does that lawyer feel about taking on such controversial clients?
Meet Andrew Brettler, partner at Los Angeles boutique litigation firm Lavely & Singer. Although he may be formidable in a courtroom or sitting across from you at a negotiating table, the lawyer’s phone manner is calm and soothing as he explains how he approaches his work.
You represent many clients whose names are in the headlines. Do they find you or do you seek them out?
Generally the former. They find me through their other representatives. I have good relationships with entertainment lawyers, publicists, crisis communications specialists — so they come through referrals and word-of-mouth. I still do get the occasional phone call from a new client who says, “I saw your name and I’d like to talk.”
What attracts them to you?
I hope it’s from success — not because I’ve taken on controversial people or taken on difficult cases but because I get good results for my clients. I have a good bedside manner, if you will.
Many of your clients have already been tried in the court of public opinion and there’s a lot of prejudice out there against them. How do you cut through that negativity?
It’s very difficult. I believe strongly in the right to due process in our country, I believe in everyone’s right to representation. I don’t think people should be judged by the Twitter mob.
How do you think the public views your role?
I think if you do a poll of Americans and ask them whether everyone is entitled to good legal representation, 95% would say yes. Yet, despite that, they voraciously read all the rumors and all the gossip they see in papers and online, so you’re facing a wall of public perception that can be very negative.
How do you combat that? It seems like an insurmountable mountain you have to climb.
The process is always the same: it starts with the facts, listening to the client, reading whatever information the client can provide and whatever I’m able to find from other sources. But you’re right, it’s not easy.
Do you seek out-of-court settlements from the outset?
Not necessarily, but it’s pretty well understood that most cases settle. Most disputes never wind up in court. I would estimate that 98% of cases are settled before trial.
How much do your friends and acquaintances know about your work?
I have an obligation to maintain attorney-client privilege. Now, I think I’m in a unique position in that a lot of my matters are written about publicly so people ask questions. But I stick to what’s out there and I won’t get into discussions about my clients.
Has the #MeToo movement changed your work?
Yes, to a great degree. It has certainly made me busier in the sense that more people are being called out for alleged bad behavior and need representation more than they did in the past. But it has also fundamentally changed the way the media cover these matters. A story the press would not necessarily have run five years ago is much more likely to get published these days.
Do you see the #MeToo movement in a positive light?
It’s a powerful movement and was long overdue. It’s done a lot of good things. It also comes with new challenges.
Is it fair to say that it’s done some bad things as well?
I think so. With every social movement there are pros and cons. But it’s never a bad thing to shine a light on injustice, to hold people accountable, but we don’t want to do so recklessly or based on anonymous allegations. I think in some ways it leads to the idea that if you’re accused of wrongdoing you’re automatically guilty of that alleged behavior. That is fundamentally the opposite of what our country’s founding principles are — innocent until proven guilty.
Do you think legal cases have emerged as a result of the #MeToo movement that would otherwise not have come to light?
For sure. Lobbying efforts have increased at state legislatures. They’ve extended or removed statutes of limitation, or revived claims that used to be time-barred — and that certainly makes more work for attorneys. So yes, it has created cases, but I don’t think it has created instances of wrongdoing.
Are you able to discuss specific clients?
I can discuss anything that’s public.
OK, let’s start with David Portnoy.
The most recent lawsuit that I filed that received press attention was on behalf of David Portnoy [of Barstool Sports] against Insider. Insider wrote two articles about him based on anonymous sourcing accusing him of sexual misconduct in his personal life. We filed a defamation action against Insider and its staff [for] failing to accurately report and set the record straight when David presented evidence to the world that these claims couldn’t be substantiated.
What can you say about Prince Andrew, Duke of York, whom you repped in a lawsuit filed by Virginia Giuffre?
That case has been resolved — dismissed by the court pursuant to a settlement that the parties reached. It’s over.
There was never a case. A lot of people think that there was. There was never a lawsuit, never a criminal proceeding. The media are obsessed with that matter. It never turned into litigation or into a criminal charge against anyone. That was a misconception.
Then what made the story so big?
It was early days of the pandemic, everybody was home, reading all these tweets. You have a well-known handsome actor being accused of salacious, kinky interactions with women. It captured the public’s attention but was completely blown out of proportion — to the extent that there was never anything in court. There wasn’t a matter for me to handle other than to help him manage his image in the press.
So how did you do that?
It was mostly dealing with the media and making sure that what was going to be published about Armie was going to be truthful and not based on speculation. But these days if you put salacious allegations online, people run with that.
Do you ever feel like you’re playing a game of Whac-a-Mole?
Yes. A big part of my practice is privacy rights of celebrities, and I monitor and help them remove hacked or leaked photographs and videos. That is truly a game of Whac-a-Mole. I’m able to get a sex tape removed from one website and it pops up on another.
What the status with Danny Masterson, whom you rep in a civil harassment lawsuit filed by some of his former partners?
I’m not involved in his criminal trial, and because there’s a criminal trial, the civil case is stayed right now. I’m his attorney in the civil case.
And Chris Noth, whom you rep in connection with misconduct allegations leveled against him?
That’s another media story. I helped him in the press, but there was never a criminal charge, never been a lawsuit filed. It was right when the “Sex and the City” reboot was being promoted, and he had just done a Peleton ad. It’s almost akin to what happened with Armie: a popular actor and salacious allegations. It captures the public’s attention.
And Bryan Singer. Variety was peripherally involved because we published a story penned by Blake Stuerman, his former partner, who said he was assaulted by Singer.
We provided our points to refute Blake’s allegations. Variety included those in the story and nothing has come of it since.
You certainly have your hands full.
It’s a lot. It’s fun though. This is a fun way to practice law. I feel very fortunate. I work very hard. But I also feel very lucky and supported by great attorneys I work with.
(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)