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When pop singer Michael Bolton feels betrayed, he does more than croon a sad song. He also goes to court. At the moment, he’s suing Weil, Gotshal & Manges for $30 million in damages, alleging the law firm was conflicted when it represented him and other parties in copyright infringement litigation over one of the singer’s biggest hits. Bolton claims in a suit for breach of fiduciary duty that Weil, Gotshal and partner Robert Sugarman “intentionally abused their positions of trust and confidence, failed to provide Bolton with their undivided loyalty and acted with gross indifference to Bolton’s welfare.” The dispute arose from a 1994 lawsuit against Bolton, his co-writer Andrew Goldmark, music publisher Warner-Chappell Music Ltd. and Sony Music Entertainment Inc. The suit brought by the Isley Brothers, a 1960s R&B act, alleged that Bolton’s 1991 hit, “Love Is a Wonderful Thing,” infringed on the copyright of its 1964 song of the same name. Sugarman led the defense, and in 1994 a jury in federal court in Los Angeles awarded the Isley Brothers $5.4 million, a verdict upheld six years later by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In his suit filed in December in New York state court, Bolton alleges that Sugarman and Weil, Gotshal cooperated in the “secret agenda” of TIG Insurance Co., Warner-Chappell’s insurer, which sought to push the matter to a final verdict rather than settle, thereby triggering an indemnification provision in Bolton’s contract with Warner-Chappell. Bolton also had an indemnification agreement with Sony. “The conflicts of interest that were present from the first moment of representation were such that no litigator in Sugarman’s position could or should have ignored them,” claims the suit. “But Sugarman did ignore them and failed to reveal the nature or scope of the potential and actual conflicts to Bolton.” According to the suit, TIG is presently suing Bolton in England and Connecticut, seeking to collect about $14 million, the full amount of the judgment plus interest and attorneys fees. Bolton is seeking $15 million in compensatory damages from Weil, Gotshal and $15 million in punitive damages. He is also suing TIG in California, alleging the insurer acted in bad faith during settlement talks. Bolton is represented by Douglas Capuder of Capuder Fazio Giacoia. Weil, Gotshal’s lawyer, Michael Feldberg, head of litigation in the New York office of Allen & Overy, says, “The case is, in our opinion, both substantively and procedurally without merit.” Sugarman successfully represented Bolton in a 1985 copyright action over the song “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” According to the pending suit, Bolton requested Sugarman as his lawyer in the Isley Brothers case because of the earlier success. Sugarman also became the lawyer for Warner-Chappell and Sony. Bolton claims Sugarman took direction from TIG, which paid Weil, Gotshal’s bills. Bolton also claims Sugarman did not discuss the disadvantages of joint representation and told Bolton the copyright defendants were a “team.” The singer also alleges that Sugarman failed to discuss with him the Isley Brothers’ offer to settle for around $700,000, an amount later lowered to $600,000. Bolton claims he was eager to settle the dispute, but Sugarman only communicated a $2 million offer to him, which the lawyer also allegedly advised the singer not to accept. Anthony Lin is a reporter at the New York Law Journal, an American Lawyer Media publication affiliated with IP magazine.

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