Harbottle locked in Hollywood fees feud
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Harbottle & Lewis managing partner Lawrence Abramson took the stand in the High Court this week to defend the firm's client handling processes.
The media boutique is suing Creative Design Art and its backer Israel Baron for breach of contract.
Harbottle claims Baron had instructed the firm to defend a copyright claim brought against filmmakers AIM Entertainment over the film Chopin, and that Baron had agreed that CDA would pay the legal fees. Harbottle understood this to be CDA Entertainment.
However, when it came to collecting payment from CDA Entertainment it emerged that no such company existed and that it was in fact a trading name for Creative Design Art.
Baron's counsel, Jonathan Bellamy QC of 39 Essex Street Chambers, argued that no such agreement had ever existed.
In cross examination Bellamy said of Abramson: "You assumed there was a company called CDA Entertainment in the US, you never checked whether it was just a trading name and you also knew of Creative Design Art."
It emerged during cross-examination that on 1 December 2003 Harbottle & Lewis attempted to clarify who would pay the outstanding legal bills. It received no reply yet continued to work on the copyright case until a meeting with Baron on 10th December.
It is suggested that during the two-and-a-half hour meeting between Baron and Abramson set up to discuss a settlement of the copyright case, there was a three-minute conversation about fees.
Abramson claims that this was when he was specifically told that CDA Entertainment would settle the bill. However, no letter confirming payment was sent by the firm.
"It was just overlooked, best practice would have been to do it," said Abramson.
Baron claims that Harbottle was satisfied to leave the bill outstanding until the film had gone into production. A claim which the firm flatly denies.
Harbottle alleges that Baron owned a series of companies and he had deliberately used a series of similar sounding trading names in an attempt to defraud the firm.
Baron took the stand to be cross-examined by Sean O'Sullivan of 4 Pump Court. The barrister attempted to establish what role Baron had in each of his companies and whether he was authorised to instruct Harbottle in the copyright suit on behalf of the AIM Entertainment. He also looked to clarify Baron's financial stake in the film production.
Baron said in 2003 when the firm was instructed, AIM Entertainment was not a fully functioning company and he was overseeing it on behalf of a team of producers. After the film had received financing, shares would be issued to the producers.
Baron claimed that although no letter ever stated it, Harbottle had agreed to delay payment until the film had received funding.
Judge Thomas Morrison, presiding over the case, said Baron should have raised this point in his first witness statement.
"You are accused of fraud," he said. "It is a worry. That is the time you wrack your brains and try to think of anything relevant. And then you say the firm would bill you later. If that was the case why didn't you say so before?"
O'Sullivan suggested it was because the allegation was false. Baron denied this.
It also emerged that Baron had claimed his financial stake in the film had been minimal. In fact it had run to hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments. Baron replied that it was an immaterial financial risk he was willing to take.
The case continues.
Harbottle & Lewis was unavailable for comment.