Thursday, February 26, 2015
Manager’s Suit Against Entertainment Lawyer Held No SLAPP
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A suit by Steven Tyler’s former manager against the West Hollywood entertainment lawyer he accuses of interfering with his efforts to extend the singer’s tenure on American Idol is not a strategic lawsuit against public participation, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three, in an unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Lee S. Edmon, reinstated three causes of action that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin had stricken from Kovac Media Group’s suit against Dina LaPolt and LaPolt Law, P.C.
The lawsuit is not a SLAPP, the presiding justice explained, because it does not concern a judicial proceeding or “a public issue or an issue of public interest” as Code of Civil Procedure §425.16 requires.
“Although there was evidence of public interest in Tyler and his appearance on American Idol, there was no evidence of any public interest in the specific communications at issue in this case,” Edmon wrote. She added that while Kovac has filed lawsuits regarding Tyler’s management, as well as that of LaPolt clients Motley Crue, “the claims at issue here were not made ‘in connection with’ those suits within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute.”
The complaint alleges that Allen Kovac referred Tyler to LaPolt, who then represented the singer and Kovac’s company during Idol negotiations in 2011. During the negotiations, however, LaPolt “bad-mouthed, disparaged and undermined Kovac (her client) and his negotiation strategy and tactics” to the detriment of both Kovac and Tyler.
Kovac cited two e-mails that LaPolt sent in June 2011 to Jeff Frasco and Eric Sherman. Frasco is an agent who was representing either American Idol producer Simon Fuller or Tyler—the parties disputed the point—and Sherman was working for Kovac at the time but left two months later and took over Tyler’s management.
One of the emails referenced actress Suzanne Somers, and said that Kovac had represented her in the 1990s when a dispute with the producers of Three’s Company led to Somers leaving the show, which went on for four more seasons. It suggested Kovac “did not understand the TV business and over played his hand with his aggressive behavior and ignorance” and that he was doing the same with Tyler.
The second email read:
“If [Kovac] gets to [Tyler] somehow on all of this then [it’s] [Somers’] story we tell him. THEN we all send [Tyler] letters telling him, as professionals, we do not agree with [Kovac’s] proposed suggestions and that if he decides to follow his advice then we do not take any responsibility for the result.”
The actual references to Kovac and Tyler used initials, or Kovac’s first name.
Kovac blamed LaPolt for Sherman’s leaving the firm and taking Tyler with him. A separate suit against Sherman over that issue was settled.
In moving to strike Kovac’s claims against her, LaPolt argued that the emails were litigation-related because they were trying to protect Tyler’s interests, since he might otherwise have been sued along with Sherman.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin, sitting on assignment, struck Kovac’s claims for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of confidence, and interference with prospective economic advantage under the anti-SLAPP statute. He also sustained demurrers to three claims unrelated to the June 2011 emails—intentional interference with a contract between Sherman and Kovac, and intentional interference with contract and breach of fiduciary duty as a result of an alleged conspiracy to set up a competing company to manage Motley Crue.
The demurrers were not at issue in the appeal.
Edmon, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there was no public interest in the emails, the first of which did not reference Tyler or American Idol at all, and the second of which referred to Tyler only by his initials.
Even if the public would have understood the emails to be referring to Tyler’s dispute with the show, that would not have made them matters of public interest, Edmon said.
“As we have said, a statement is entitled to anti-SLAPP protection only if there is a degree of closeness between the challenged statements and the asserted public interest,” the presiding justice said. “As relevant here, there is absolutely no evidence of a public interest in either Tyler’s negotiating strategy or the methods Tyler’s representatives intended to use to persuade him to adopt one strategy and reject another.”
Attorneys on appeal were Louis “Skip” Miller, Alexander Sasha Frid and Mira Hashmall Miller of Miler Barondess for Kovac and Valentine A. Shalamitski, Christine Lepera and Bradley J. Mullins of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, along with Patricia L. Glaser and Craig H. Marcus of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro for LaPolt.
The case is Kovac Media Group Inc. v. LaPolt, B247579.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company