As he seeks to salvage as many millions as possible from his contract with NBC, ousted Today Show host Matt Lauer is being represented by William Zabel, a New York lawyer with a gift for amplifying and defending the wealth of the very rich.
Lauer was fired after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman at work, and other accusers have since come forward. The New York Post first identified Zabel as Lauer’s personal lawyer, and reported that Lauer has also been in contact with another attorney, Sag Harbor, New York-based criminal defense lawyer Edward Burke Jr.
Speaking with ALM, Zabel said he began representing Lauer even before his firing from the network. And he said working out the terms of Lauer’s exit would be no simple matter.
“These are complicated questions and there should be no rush to resolution,” he said.
Based on what’s he’s managed to negotiate in the past, Zabel, the bow tie-sporting founding partner of New York’s Schulte Roth & Zabel, seems like a logical choice for Lauer.
Over his long career, Zabel, who is in his 70s, has represented a parade of well-heeled clients. The New York Times has described him as someone often found ”in the center of many messy upper-class controversies,” noting his past representations of Jane Welch during her divorce from Jack Welch, the chief of General Electric; investor George Soros; golfer Greg Norman, and shock jock Howard Stern.
Zabel represented the estate and widow of investor Jeffrey Picower in a hard-fought battle with the liquidation trustee for Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi-fueled investment company. The Picowers ultimately agreed to hand over $7.2 billion for distribution to Madoff’s victims.
As a young lawyer, Zabel also played a key role in one of the country’s most important civil rights cases when he authored the winning brief for the ACLU in Loving v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed interracial marriage bans in 1967.
In Lauer’s case, the former host’s legal team is seeking a $30 million “golden sexual parachute” (in the Post’s words) after his firing, based on the remaining year-and-a-half of the newsman’s $20 million-a-year contract. Along with Zabel, Lauer is represented by Schulte Roth partner Mark Brossman, a labor and employment specialist.
The unnamed woman whose allegations led to Lauer’s dismissal is represented by Ari Wilkenfeld, a longtime civil rights and employment lawyer in Washington, D.C. Wilkenfeld confirmed to The National Law Journal on Wednesday that he brought the woman’s claims to NBC’s human resources and legal departments. Wilkenfeld co-founded his firm, Wilkenfeld Herendeen & Atkinson, in 2013.