Make that former lawyers, at least in a crucial case over the origins of the venture. Last Wednesday a Los Angeles state court judge granted a motion by the plaintiff in a trade secrets and breach of contract suit against StarGreetz to disqualify Orrick from representing the company. The plaintiff, another start-up called StarClipz with its own industry backers, had sought the disqualification on the grounds that Orrick represented one of StarClipz’s principals before he allegedly defected to launch StarGreetz. (Yes, we know that’s a lot of Zs packed into one sentence.)
StarClipz, which is headed by Mark Lieber, a former CBS executive, and Adam Newman, a former TV producer, sued StarGreetz in state court in L.A. in February 2011, also naming as defendants Warner Brothers president Eric Frankel and executive Linda Abrams and former 20th Century Fox executive Lucy Hood. (StarGreetz removed the suit to federal court but it was remanded back to L.A. Superior court in May.) The plaintiffs claimed that they’d pitched their idea for a personalized celebrity messaging service to Frankel, who then stole the idea, teamed up with Abrams and Hood, and launched StarGreetz.
StarClipz’s lawyers at L.A. boutique Salisan Lee moved to disqualify Orrick in November, claiming that the firm was conflicted because Orrick corporate partner Daniel Friedland and IP associate Daniel Weinberg had represented Frankel, Abrams, Newman, and Lieber together in the formation of StarClipz in 2008. “Many of the confidential matters that Orrick became privy to in the course of providing legal services to StarClipz directly concern the subject matters of this lawsuit,” the motion claimed.
StarGreetz countered that Orrick had been hired solely by Frankel for the very purpose “to assist Abrams and him in pursuing a business that would be entirely separate from Newman and Lieber, and to assist them in separating their interests from Newman and Lieber.” Orrick claimed that the disqualification motion was nothing more than “a purely tactical maneuver, filed in bad faith nine months into the litigation.”
Orrick’s arguments apparently didn’t persuade Los Angeles Superior Court judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis, who granted StarClipz’s disqualification motion from the bench on Dec. 7. She has yet to issue a written ruling explaining her decision.
StarClipz lawyer Neal Salisian of Salisian Lee told the Litigation Daily that he and his co-counsel, Richard Lee, had been able to use Orrick’s own statements against the firm. Pointing to documents from Orrick attorneys identifying their representation of Frankel and the entity that became StarGreetz, Salisian said he was able to show that Orrick had an attorney-client relationship with StarClipz. “Orrick was trying to skirt around the issue and play semantics over who their client was,” Salisan said. “Typically when firms help set up a business, the start-up is the client, not the person who came to the firm.”
Orrick partner Karen Johnson-McKewan, who represented StarGreetz, did not respond to a request for comment.