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The high-dollar litigation. The big retainers. The divorces. What’s better for a law firm than a billionaire client? Not having one, if you judge by what’s going on in L.A. these days. In the months since celebrity private eye Anthony Pellicano was indicted on charges of illegal wiretapping, L.A. billionaires are looking like trouble for lawyers. The newest name � borderline billionaire No. 4, by an informal count � is equity fund manager Alec Gores. Sources familiar with the Pellicano investigation said this week that Gores has provided information to the FBI related to the Pellicano case � and that he’s a figure in the ongoing turmoil at a top L.A. law firm already shaken by criminal allegations related to another billionaire client. Gores is a top client of Louis “Skip” Miller, the L.A. litigator who’s leaving the firm he founded, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, under Pellicano’s sizeable cloud. Miller’s partner, Terry Christensen, is the only lawyer indicted so far in the Pellicano probe; he’s accused of paying Pellicano for illegal wiretaps in the divorce case of his billionaire client Kirk Kerkorian. But sources inside and outside the firm say Miller’s departure, though precipitated by years of growing tension in the firm due to public censures of Miller’s courtroom conduct, came after he was put in a tense position by the investigation of Pellicano and Christensen.
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Through a spokesman, Miller told The Recorder, “As I have said previously, my decision to leave CM is a private matter, and I will not publicly discuss my reasons for the decision.” Miller also said he is not cooperating with investigators in the Pellicano case. Over the course of investigating materials confiscated from the detective’s office, prosecutors found that Gores’ then-wife, Lisa, was the subject of a Pellicano wiretap. “On or about Jan. 8, 2001,” the Pellicano indictment alleges, the detective and two co-defendants “intercepted, endeavored to intercept, and procured another person to intercept and endeavor to intercept, wire communications of Lisa Gores.” That was shortly before Lisa and Alec Gores began divorce proceedings. Court records show that in the divorce, Alec Gores was represented by top family lawyer Dennis Wasser, whose name has frequently come up in the Pellicano probe, although he hasn’t been indicted. It’s been known for years that Wasser was a frequent Pellicano client, and he was Kirk Kerkorian’s lawyer in that divorce around the time Pellicano entered the case and allegedly approached Christensen with a wiretap offer. Wasser’s lawyer � Terry Bird, also representing Gores in the Pellicano probe � wouldn’t comment on Wasser’s role in the case Thursday. But sources in and outside the firm said that when the Christensen investigation got under way, it raised big questions for Miller. First off, Gores meant serious money. “There have been some extremely revenue-producing cases from Gores,” said an ex-Christensen, Miller partner. “It’s pretty significant work for them.” And then there was the conflict issue: With a top client serving as a witness in a case against his partner, Miller was faced with a particularly awkward potential conflict. But shortly after the Christensen indictment, said a source familiar with the communication, Miller sent an e-mail to lawyers in the firm explaining that he needed to construct an “ethical wall” to insulate himself from any communication relating to the Pellicano investigation. That stoked speculation of Miller leaving, complicating the long-running animosity between the lawyer and his partners over a string of embarrassing reprimands resulting from Miller’s conduct in litigation. In one case, Miller was reproved by the State Bar for contacting an excused juror during deliberations. And last year, a federal judge in Nevada sanctioned Miller and the firm for repeated discovery violations in a case involving Rod Stewart. Miller is widely expected to land at Goodwin Procter, the Boston firm opening a Los Angeles office. In the meantime, lawyers around L.A. are continuing to follow the complicated machinations of billionaires in the Pellicano case. Along with Kerkorian and Gores, it was recently reported that supermarket magnate Ron Burkle was hooked up with Pellicano by his friend, the producer Steve Bing, who, if he’s not a billionaire, is close. And then there’s Gores’ brother, Tom, a billionaire who runs a private equity firm that competes with Alec’s: According to the Pellicano indictment, the detective ran an illegal background check on Tom Gores within days of the Lisa Gores wiretap.

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