50 Cent (Photo: Jamie Lamor Thompson/Shutterstock.com)
In a 25-page lawsuit, 50 Cent blasts Reed Smith and one of its attorneys, Peter Raymond, for mishandling a sex tape lawsuit that ultimately forced the rapper to file for bankruptcy. The rapper is seeking $35 million in damages.
Controversy has follow 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis James Jackson III, ever since he burst onto the music scene in 2003 with his album “Get Rich or Die Tryin.’ ” The mega-popular star was recently awarded $14.5 million in a malpractice settlement with Garvey Schubert Barer tied to an intellectual property rights fight over the development of headphones.
Jackson is also known as the artist behind the infamous “homemade sex tape” involving Lastonia Leviston, the Pembroke Pines mother of rival rapper Rick Ross’ children. It is regarding his representation, or alleged lack of representation, in the sex tape case that resulted in the latest filing.
Represented by Philip Freidin, Randy Rosenblum and Jonathan Freidin of Freidin Brown in Miami, Leviston sued Jackson in New York for violating her privacy by posting a sex tape of her and her then-boyfriend Maurice Murray on his website in 2009. His face was blurred, Leviston’s wasn’t, and Jackson inserted himself on the video dressed as a pimp. A jury awarded Leviston damages of $7 million in July 2015.
Jackson filed for Chapter 11 protection later that year in New Haven, Connecticut.
His new suit filed Jan. 27 claims Reed Smith, which represented him for a dozen years, should be on the hook for the $7 million verdict plus an additional $25 million in damages.
Jackson accuses Reed Smith of a dereliction of duty on several fronts by not calling witnesses who could have swayed the jury or mitigated damages, by no adequately preparing for trial and by charging excessive legal fees. The case was so mishandled that Jackson was forced to hire new counsel, Bickel & Brewer, on the eve of trial, according to the suit.
Reed Smith “failed and refused to cooperate with new trial counsel, which caused Jackson to be subject to an unfavorable jury verdict,” the suit adds.
One key allegation against Reed Smith, according to the lawsuit, is that the firm should have had two main players in the case ready to testify. Those witnesses were Murray and William Ross, who first published the sex video on his music website.
“Reed Smith and Raymond attempted to hide their negligence by misrepresenting that they made a good faith effort to locate Murray … when, in fact, Murray was easily locatable and available to be interviewed and called as a pretrial and trial witness,” according to the suit. “Ross and the internet provider should also have been deposed to establish Jackson’s defenses [that he did not initially post the video] and, at the very least, would have severely mitigated both the actual and punitive damages against Jackson as found by the jury.”
The video was given to 50 Cent by Murray who, the lawsuit states, claims he had the “authority and right” to share and publish the video, according to the suit. More than 3 million people viewed the video on 50 Cent’s website.
At the core of the case, the lawsuit states, was “Reed Smith and Raymond, without consulting Jackson and without his consent, stipulated with attorneys for Leviston … on behalf of Jackson, that Reed Smith would not examine the aforementioned witnesses [Murray and Ross] in pre-trial discovery proceedings and that no witness would be called at trial unless the identity of the witness was disclosed pursuant to the [binding, pretrial] stipulation.”
With regard to the alleged hike in legal fees, the lawsuit contends Reed Smith and Raymond did not notify Jackson of an increase in the hourly billing rate under the 2004 California retainer agreement. Jackson paid $1.5 million in legal fees and expenses during Reed Smith’s representation on the sex tape case, which started in 2011.
Raymond was not available for comment Thursday.
In addition, neither James Berman or John L. Cesaroni, attorneys who filed the case on Jackson’s behalf in bankruptcy court, were available for comment. Both attorneys work for Bridgeport-based Zeisler & Zeisler.
Originally published on the Connecticut Law Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.