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Allred Firm Looks To Arbitrate Claim It Bungled CBS Suit
BY Bonnie ESLINGER
Law360, Los Angeles (August 24, 2017, 8:02 PM EDT) -- Counsel for celebrity attorney Gloria Allred urged a California judgeon Thursday to force a television weatherman to arbitrate claims her firm bungled his age and gender discrimination suit against CBS, saying an arbitration clause he signed covers the entire representation, not just presuit negotiations.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Sotelo did not rule on Allred’s motion to compel arbitration but said Thursday after hearing oral arguments that he would give the matter additional consideration before issuing a decision. In his June suit, plaintiff Kyle Hunter claims Allred and her firm, Allred Maroko & Goldberg, put self-promotion above his interests, sunk his suit, hurt his reputation and left him with a nearly seven-figure legal bill.
An attorney representing Allred and the other defendants, Andrew Waxler of Kaufman Dolowich Voluck LLP, argued to the court that the parties' retainer agreement states that any claims arising out of the law firm’s services for Hunter are to be resolved in binding arbitration.
“It’s a very broad agreement,” Waxler said. “Clearly the complaint alleges that it's related to the representation.”
While Hunter argued in his written opposition to the motion to compel arbitration that the signed agreement only covered Allred Maroko's prelitigation representation, the lawsuit itself confirms that it also covered the subsequent lawsuit filed on Hunter’s behalf.
“They admit there’s an executed retainer agreement that applies to these claims,” Waxler said.
Hunter’s attorney for his malpractice claims against Allred, Robert Barnes of Barnes Law LLP, told the court that there is no agreement to arbitrate the claims at issue because his client only signed a contract for the firm to handle negotiations for a possible presuit settlement, and Hunter never executed an amended, supplemental or second-retainer agreement.
“The only contract that ever existed was for them to go into prelawsuit negotiations,” Barnes said. “The facts of this case did not arise until after the termination of that agreement.”
In his written opposition to the motion to compel arbitration, Hunter also states that he felt he had “little to no bargaining power” at the time he signed the agreement with Allred, so even if the court finds that the retainer contract applied to the claims at issue, it should refuse to enforce it as “unconscionable.”
Hunter’s underlying litigation focused on his unsuccessful attempts to land on-air positions at Los Angeles TV station KCBS in 2010 and at another CBS station; both jobs went to younger, female candidates.
Represented by Allred Maroko, Hunter sued CBS in 2012 under the California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, alleging the network had an unstated policy of using female weather reporters to entice male viewers. Hunter also later successfully opposed a CBS motion arguing that a free-speech law protects its selection of who acts as a public face of its brand.
But the next year a California appeals court ruled that the CBS motion had been improperly denied and that Hunter’s claims sprang from First Amendment-protected activity, sending the case back to the trial court, which ruled in August 2014 that the weatherman showed a probability of prevailing on his discrimination claims.
When CBS brought the case back before the appeals court last year, the court threw out the suit, saying Hunter hadn’t come up with enough evidence that CBS had discriminated against him.
Rather than filing a motion seeking discovery, Hunter “relied solely on his own declaration [and] provided no evidence” from witnesses he alleged were aware of discriminatory practices at CBS, the appeals court said.
Hunter’s malpractice suit against Allred and others at Allred Maroko describes himself as unemployed and financially strapped after the lost litigation.
Around the time of that decision, Hunter “contacted a lawyer regarding personal bankruptcy due to the CBS judgment,” the suit says. “After reviewing his case, the bankruptcy attorney informed Hunter that defendants had botched his case and that he should not be held responsible for their malpractice.”
The suit alleges Allred Maroko made a series of mistakes and negligent omissions, including in not lining up other witnesses. Hunter also alleges he was the victim of fraud when the firm got him to waive a conflict stemming from Allred’s talks to produce a legal drama TV show, a deal the network announced in 2015.
Referring to a 2012 press conference in which Allred announced his suit against CBS, Hunter said he was “dragged onto the national stage, and then abandoned there” before Allred negotiated a “sweet deal” for a TV show based on her life, which he said created a conflict with his case.
“Allred sandbagged her client to serve her personal pecuniary interests, her penchant for public fame, and to protect the malfeasance of her media allies,” Hunter’s suit says. “Allred needs to spend less time in front of a TV camera, and more time in an ethics library.”
Kyle Hunter is represented by Robert Barnes of Barnes Law LLP.
The defendants are represented by Andrew Waxler of Kaufman Dolowich Voluck LLP.
The case is Kyle Hunter vs. Gloria Allred et al., case number BC 663840, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.
--Additional reporting by Andrew Strickler. Editing by Adam LoBelia.