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Pop star Michael Bolton has sued 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 G. 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 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 their 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 by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000. In a complaint filed Wednesday in Manhattan Supreme 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,” the suit claimed. “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 attorney 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. Capuder did not return a call Friday seeking comment. Weil Gotshal’s lawyer, Michael Feldberg, head of litigation in the New York office of Allen & Overy, said, “The case is, in our opinion, both substantively and procedurally without merit.” He declined further comment. Sugarman successfully represented Bolton in a 1985 copyright action over the song “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” According to his 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 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. Bolton accuses TIG of opposing settlement and deciding its best interests lay in an adverse judgment followed by a recovery action against the singer under the Warner-Chappell indemnification provision. Bolton points to the agreement reached by Goldmark, whose liability was capped at $250,000, as what might have been possible with separate counsel. MULTIPLE PARTIES Bruce Green, a legal ethics professor at Fordham University School of Law, said situations involving multiple parties to a litigation were the most likely to produce conflicts of interest. In such situations, he said, law firms were generally extremely careful to keep clients informed and either obtain conflict waivers or withdraw from problematic representations. Sugarman and Weil Gotshal are presently embroiled in another case in which a conflict of interest has been alleged. In a decision issued earlier this month, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Lowe dismissed legal malpractice claims against the firm but preserved a fiduciary duty claim. In that case, the plaintiffs, owners of a boutique in New Jersey’s Short Hills Mall, had engaged Weil Gotshal partners Helen Jaffe and Sugarman to sue Fendi USA Inc., alleging the fashion company had engaged in a campaign of disparagement against the mall store, which sold Fendi goods in competition with the company’s own stores. Several months before the trial began, Weil Gotshal began handling trademark cases for Prada USA Inc., which had acquired a substantial interest in Fendi. Justice Lowe determined that it was possible the litigation business Weil Gotshal received from Prada could have adversely affected the quality of its representation of the boutique owners.

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