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In Andrew Brietbart’s 2011 book “Righteous Indignation,” which is part biography, part screed against a liberal media elite, the late entrepreneur and political commentator recalled taking tennis lessons in Los Angeles with his childhood friend Laurence Solov.
Breitbart described taking cover with Solov as Arnold Schwarzenegger—the future Republican governor of California who shared a tennis coach with the pair—took delight in “literally terrorizing me and my best friend … by hitting ball after ball as hard as he could at us, to the point where we wailed in the corner and he cackled aloud.”
After Breitbart’s death in 2012, Solov, a former litigation partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, became president and CEO of his friend’s company, Breitbart News Network, where he had been general counsel since 2007. Katten still handles work for the company.
Breitbart, of course, is in the news these days thanks to its executive chairman, Stephen Bannon, a former U.S. Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker who left the company earlier this year to advise on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon has now been tapped to serve as chief strategist in the next administration.
Bannon’s bonafides for the White House role have been questioned by some concerned about content that has appeared on Breitbart’s website, a politically conservative home for the so-called alt-right movement. Critics have accused Breitbart of peddling anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist and white nationalist themes, something that the company has vigorously denied. The Hill reported earlier this week that Breitbart was planning to sue a major media company.
“Breitbart News Network, a pro-America, conservative website, is preparing a multimillion dollar lawsuit against a major media company for its baseless and defamatory claim that Breitbart News is a ‘white nationalist website,’” the company said in a statement. “Breitbart News cannot allow such vicious racial lies to go unchallenged, especially by cynical, politically-motivated competitors seeking to diminish its 42 million monthly readers and its number one in the world political Facebook page. Breitbart News rejects racism in all its varied and ugly forms. Always has, always will.”
Solov did not respond to a request to discuss his work leading Breitbart, but has spoken out to defend Bannon, calling allegations of anti-Semitism absurd. In a Breitbart post written by Solov last November, the former Katten partner described a trip to Israel with Andrew Breitbart in 2007 that led to the site’s creation.
“One night in Jerusalem, when we were getting ready for dinner, Andrew turned to me and asked if I would de-partner from the 800-person law firm where I was practicing and become business partners with him,” Solov wrote. “He said he needed my help to create a media company. He needed my help to ‘change the world.’ Perhaps it was because we were in such a historic place, or because I was energized by the courage of the Jewish people in the Holy Land, or maybe it was the alcohol at cocktail hour, but I said ‘yes.’”
According to his profile on professional networking website LinkedIn, Solov left Katten in 2008. Court records show that in 2006, Katten and Solov advised Breitbart in a dispute in federal court in Seattle with an advertising company backed by a pair of fellow conservative entrepreneurs. The suit ended with a settlement. Solov’s Katten connections would come in handy a few years later after Breitbart himself and the editor in chief of Breitbart.tv were sued for defamation by Shirley Sherrod, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who claimed she was falsely portrayed as a racist in a video posted on Breitbart’s website.
Katten represented Breitbart in the litigation, which saw the firm come under fire from a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for being unable to adequately answer questions about its client’s estate following Breitbart’s death in 2012. In October 2015, Sherrod, advised by Kirkland & Ellis, settled the long-running defamation case with both defendants for an undisclosed sum. Court filings show that both sides were responsible for their own legal bills.
Breitbart has continued to rely on Katten for counsel, with the firm handling trademark work for the company related to its media operations and sales of hats, polo shirts and other merchandise. A Katten spokeswoman confirmed that Breitbart has been a client, but said the firm was not advising Breitbart on any potential litigation with another media company. Whether or not Breitbart will bring such a suit remains to be seen, but in its statement on the matter, Breitbart vowed to use the courts to preserve its integrity.
“The diversity of the company’s news coverage and its staff continue to embody Andrew Breitbart’s colorblind, distinctly American commitment to ‘E pluribus unum’—out of many, one,” the company said.
It’s not clear how much of a stake Solov owns in Breitbart. The former Katten partner declined to discuss the matter in a story last year by Bloomberg Businessweek about Breitbart’s rise. (Bloomberg called Bannon the “most dangerous political operative in America.”) But Breitbart himself credited Solov with making the company a success in his 2011 book.
“You have made so many quiet sacrifices to join this business turned cultural, political and media war,” Breitbart wrote of his close friend and adviser. “I hope one day you can look back and realize how much of this fight is inspired by you and your moral compass and decency.”