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If Weil, Gotshal & Manges is found liable in a breach of fiduciary duty suit brought by pop singer Michael Bolton, the firm may seek contribution from Bolton’s personal lawyers, a Manhattan judge has ruled. The singer sued Weil Gotshal for $30 million in December 2003, alleging the law firm was conflicted when it represented him jointly with the record label and music publisher in a copyright infringement suit over one of Bolton’s biggest hits. But Weil Gotshal claims that Bolton’s personal lawyers at New York entertainment firm Epstein, Levinsohn, Bodine, Hurwitz & Weinstein would also be liable for any damages because they advised the singer on the terms by which Weil Gotshal would represent him and the other defendants in the case. In a recent decision, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden agreed with Weil Gotshal, denying Epstein Levinsohn’s motion to have itself dismissed as a third-party defendant in Bolton v. Weil Gotshal, 602341/03. The judge said Weil Gotshal had “clearly alleged” that if it were found liable, Epstein Levinsohn would be liable for contribution “because their own actions or inactions caused or contributed to those damages.” The underlying 1994 suit was brought by the Isley Brothers, a popular R&B group, who claimed Bolton’s 1991 hit “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” infringed on the copyright of their 1964 song of the same name. Weil Gotshal partner Robert Sugarman defended Bolton, co-writer Andy Goldmark, music publisher Warner Chappell Music and Sony Music Entertainment Inc. in the suit, which ended with a jury award to the Isley Brothers of $5.4 million. Under contracts with both Warner Chappell and Sony, Bolton agreed to indemnify them for copyright liability. In his legal malpractice suit, Bolton argues these indemnification clauses created a conflict for Weil Gotshal in representing all the parties. The singer claims the firm cooperated in the “secret agenda” of TIG Insurance Co., Warner Chappell’s insurer, which he says sought to push the Isley Brothers suit to a trial and final verdict, thereby triggering the indemnification provision, rather than settling the suit for a more reasonable sum. But the judge said Weil Gotshal had advanced reasonable arguments that Epstein Levinsohn failed to explain to Bolton his indemnity obligations. Weil Gotshal had argued that Epstein Levinsohn partner Robert Epstein negotiated the arrangement by which Weil Gotshal represented Bolton and was aware of the provisions of the singer’s contracts with Sony and Warner Chappell. Justice Madden rejected Epstein Levinsohn’s argument that it should be dismissed from the case on the grounds that Weil Gotshal’s duty to Bolton was non-delegable. “This argument, however, completely misses the mark,” the judge wrote, adding that the relevant question was whether Epstein Levinsohn had a part in “causing or augmenting the injury for which contribution is sought.” She said Weil Gotshal’s allegations that Epstein Levinsohn failed to explain Bolton’s indemnity obligations or clarify the ramifications of having Weil Gotshal conduct a joint defense clearly stated a cause of action for contribution. Epstein Levinsohn also had argued that it should be dismissed because its lawyers were not involved in the abortive settlement discussions that form the basis for Bolton’s damages claim. But Madden said Bolton’s theories of recovery were “irrelevant” because contribution was available even if the liable parties were found so under the same or different theories. Bolton is represented in the case by Douglas Capuder of Capuder Fazio Giacoia. Weil Gotshal is represented by Michael Feldberg of Allen & Overy. Epstein Levinsohn is represented by Thomas Hyland of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker.

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