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Music producer Phil Spector, who is facing murder charges, has sued his former attorney Robert Shapiro over a $1.5 million retainer agreement. The suit for alleged breach of fiduciary duty and fraud was filed on July 1 in Los Angeles Superior Court, and names Shapiro and the Century City, Calif., law firm where he is a partner and heads the white-collar criminal defense section, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, as well as the separate law offices that Shapiro maintains. The suit alleges Shapiro and his colleagues took advantage of his friendship with Spector “and used his legal plight as an opportunity to unabashedly line their own pockets.” Spector v. Shapiro, No. BC 317958. The suit helps explain Spector’s decision last February to hire a new defense team headed by Leslie Abramson. At the time, Abramson said the parting was “amicable,” but appeared related to the prosecution’s decision a few days earlier to file formal criminal charges against Spector in the shooting death of actress and nightclub hostess Lana Clarkson on Feb. 3, 2003. Spector faces arraignment on Oct. 20. As part of its contending that Shapiro gave Spector inadequate representation, the suit states “it is likely that the ‘services’ provided by Shapiro actually led prosecutors to file the formal criminal charges.” Shapiro, who became a household name a decade ago when he was part of a team that successfully defended O.J. Simpson on double murder charges, initially declined comment on the ground of attorney-client privilege. However, the attorney who is defending Shapiro, partner Louis “Skip” Miller, called the suit “a ridiculous claim,” and said the amount of the retainer was “very standard” and “not remotely unusual for an attorney of Bob’s caliber and experience.” Besides, Miller said, Spector signed it. The suit alleges that Shapiro coerced Spector into accepting a nonrefundable retainer when he was under the care of a mental health professional for an unspecified illness, and that the signing came upon Spector’s release from jail, where he had been unable to take medicine to “stabilize” his mental state. Retainer fees in California are governed by the Business and Professions Code, and among the factors considered is the work received and the going rate for similar work, said Dominique Snyder, a former State Bar of California attorney who is now a legal ethics consultant. Spector’s suit seeks an unspecified portion of the $1 million he has already paid on the retainer fee, a finding that he does not owe the remaining $500,000 and punitive damages. He is represented by Raymond P. Boucher of Los Angeles’ Kiesel, Boucher & Larson.

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