Nearly 30 years after The National Law Journal examined Donald Trump’s sometimes tortured relationship with lawyers, the reality television-star-turned-polarizing-politician is now keeping plenty busy in Big Law.
A pair of high-profile entertainment industry litigators emerged this week to represent clients caught up in the traveling circus that has become Trump’s presidential campaign.
Billy Bush, a television personality and nephew of former President George H.W. Bush, has hired Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Marshall Grossman to work out a potential separation agreement with NBCUniversal Media LLC over his role as host of the “Today” show.
Grossman, who joined Orrick in January 2014 from now-defunct Bingham McCutchen, told trade publication The Hollywood Reporter that Bush would have been fired if he pushed back against Trump in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” video from 2005, a leak that the media giant’s in-house lawyers may have been working to try and contain.
“If Billy had been passive or responded, ‘Shut the f—k up,’ to Trump, Billy would have been out of a job the next day,” Grossman said to THR. NBC suspended Bush from appearing on the network after the tape of Trump making lewd comments about women was released.
In a late Friday interview with The American Lawyer, Grossman said that he was referred to Bush by the TV host’s longtime lawyer Robert Lange, a founding partner of Los Angeles-based Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo.
“I’ve known Bob for decades—he’s one of the go-to guys in entertainment,” Grossman said. “A lot of times when things go wrong, the lawyers like Bob who do all these big deals like to call in a trial lawyer. And that’s why he referred Billy to me.”
Grossman, who spoke with The American Lawyer earlier this year about his work representing sportscaster Erin Andrews in another matter that made mainstream media headlines, said that Bush has a three-year contract with NBC that he’s trying to help his client negotiate an end to without resorting to litigation. The dispute should be resolved in a few days, Grossman said.
James “Jamie” Lichtman, a former First Amendment litigator at Ropes & Gray who since 2012 has served as general counsel for NBCUniversal Television Entertainment, is handling matters in-house for the network. He did not immediately return a request for comment.
Also grabbing a key role in the increasingly wide orbit of lawyers surrounding Trump is Latham & Watkins litigation partner Marvin Putnam in Los Angeles. Putnam, another top Hollywood trial lawyer, joined Latham in mid-2015 after leaving O’Melveny & Myers.
Putnam is currently counseling movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., which owns the rights to “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show hosted by Trump from 2004 to 2015. The runner-up on the show’s inaugural season was former Cooley partner Jennifer Massey. (Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been tapped to replace Trump when the show’s next season starts in January.)
Mark Burnett, the English TV executive who produces “The Apprentice,” has publicly denounced Trump but resisted calls to release unaired footage of the real estate mogul. The Associated Press recently interviewed more than 20 former crew members, editors and contestants from the show, who said Trump made lewd and sexist remarks on set. Burnett claims that he has no legal right to release any tapes because under the show’s contract with Trump any archived materials remain confidential. Putnam supports Burnett’s position.
“MGM, not Mark Burnett, owns ‘The Apprentice,’” the Latham litigator told THR. “MGM has agreements with artists across a wide spectrum of creative properties, including ‘The Apprentice.’ These agreements typically contain provisions related to confidentiality and artists’ rights. MGM has every intention of complying with its agreements with artists and honoring their rights, including with respect to ‘The Apprentice.’”
Putnam, who was caught up in conference calls Friday, confirmed in an email to The American Lawyer that he and a team of lawyers that left O’Melveny in November 2014 brought MGM with them to Latham as a client. While the group was still at O’Melveny in September 2014, they advised MGM on its purchase of a 55 percent stake in Burnett’s TV production company.
The involvement of Putnam and Grossman capped another busy week of legal activity surrounding the Trump campaign. The New York Law Journal, a sibling publication, reported on Trump once again tapping Marc Kasowitz of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman—a firm with longtime ties to Trump—to handle a potential libel suit against The New York Times.
Kasowitz, who is also handling litigation for Trump related to Trump University, was the recipient of a letter this week from former Clifford Chance associate and current Times assistant general counsel David McCraw defending the newspaper’s decision to publish a story about Trump’s alleged sexual indiscretions with two women.
Several other women have since come forward with similar stories, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher litigation co-chair Theodore Boutrous Jr. in Los Angeles called Trump’s threat against the Times a “stunt.” Boutrous offered on Twitter to represent the Palm Beach Post pro bono if Trump followed through with a threat to sue that newspaper for publishing a story about a woman who claimed to have been assaulted by Trump in 2003.
Trump’s wife Melania also enlisted the services of her lawyer, Charles Harder of Beverly Hills-based boutique Harder Mirell & Abrams, to threaten People magazine with litigation unless it removed certain details from a story posted online by one of its writers about being assaulted by Trump a decade ago.
Whether or not Trump follows through with his various litigation threats remains to be seen. The Washington Post recently reported on a 2007 deposition of Trump—represented at the time by Kasowitz Benson—in a suit against a book publisher in which two former Debevoise & Plimpton partners separated Trump from the truth. Reuters reported Friday that despite his litigious boasts, Trump hasn’t sued a newspaper for libel in decades. Nonetheless, he’s still managed to keep many of his lawyers busy.
Last week Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor who joined Greenberg Traurig in January, took a leave of absence from the firm as a result of his role campaigning for Trump. According to Trump’s most recent campaign finance filings, his presidential campaign has also been busy churning out big legal bills for some of his lawyers.
Jones Day received $224,245.12 in September for its consulting role to Trump’s campaign, while LaRocca Hornik Rosen Greenberg & Blaha, a firm based in The Trump Building at 40 Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange, took in another $6,948. Kentucky’s Landrum & Shouse and New York’s Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, which is working with Kasowitz Benson on the Trump University litigation, also received smaller payments for services rendered. The Trump campaign is due to make another financial filing in a week.