By Eriq Gardner and Matthew Belloni
The last thing that any Hollywood agent wants to read is a lawsuit accusing him of making fun of Brad Pitt's penis size.
In 2007, commercial agent Todd Shemarya decided to fight charges detailed in a lurid complaint made by a former assistant who accused him of sexual harassment and wrongful termination. He got absolution this week when a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled in his favor after deliberating for only a half-hour.
Was the lawsuit a failed attempt at old-fashioned Hollywood blackmail?
When Heather Devlin filed the case in November 2008, gossip pages pounced: "Top Hollywood agent" Shemarya, whose clients include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Leo DiCaprio, was being accused of terrorizing the office with racist and sexist behavior, stealing from clients and parading naked at work. He allegedly fired Devlin because she was a woman.
Shemarya isn't exactly Ari Emanuel (he and his company, TSA Inc., broker endorsements, not movie deals). Nevertheless, he does know A-listers, and Devlin's lawsuit threatened his business.
But his clients, who also include Jennifer Aniston and fashionista Rachel Zoe, stuck with him. Devlin's original claims of sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress were dropped before the case went to the jury, which then fully absolved Shemarya on other claims, including breach of contract, gender discrimination and retaliation.
Adam Levin, Shemarya's lead lawyer, says the case was about trying to humiliate his client and ruin business relationships. He singles out Devlin lawyer Keith Fink as someone who "targets high-profile personalities (and those connected with them) who won't be comfortable with accusations."
True, Fink's firm has battled Ellen DeGeneres
over the adoption of a dog, Marilyn Manson for allegedly using the band's money to purchase Nazi skeletons, Perez Hilton
over the PerezRevenge website -- and against the poor woman
who dared accuse Courtney Love of Twitter defamation.
But Fink has a different story.
He says he's never lost a trial and says it was a colleague, Sarah Hernandez, who handled the Shemarya case. He says a $20,000 settlement offer was made and that Devlin is brave for pursuing the allegations in the face of motions for sanctions.
"We only file lawsuits that we believe have merit," he says.
UPDATE: Shemarya has given us the following statement:
As you are aware, a year and a half ago, a former TSA employee named Heather Devlin filed a lawsuit against me containing many false accusations, including the absurd claim that I had sexually harassed
her. Her attorneys are Keith Fink and Sarah Hernandez of Keith A. Fink & Associates, a law firm who I believe often targets high profile individuals and those who associate with or represent them (like TSA). It appears to me that Fink and his law firm have on more than one occasion attempted to use the press to propagate false allegations and humiliate and scare their targets into paying large settlements. (Parenthetically, it is my understanding that this is the same law firm who went after Ellen DeGeneres over the dog adoption some time ago.)
It is my belief that these lawyers tried for a year and a half to pressure me to settle by disseminating false accusations in the press, including page six and other tabloids, about me and some of my celebrity clients. It appears that the lawyers' objective was to embarrass me enough, and damage my integrity, so that I was forced to settle. They even went as low as to issue subpoenas to my adoption agency and business contacts to try to break me.
About one week before trial was scheduled to begin, they dropped the frivolous sexual harassment claim. They subsequently dropped several other claims, such that all that was left to be tried to the jury were
their claims relating to Ms. Devlin's termination (which they alleged was because of her gender and in breach of contract). In 30 minutes, the jury disposed of those unfounded allegations.
This experience has cost a lot of money and time, not just for me but for the jurors and court as well. I hope that by talking about my experience I can be an impetus for change. It is unfortunate that attorneys like Keith Fink use our legal system contrary to the interests of justice. However, the only way to end such abuses is by taking a stand and not giving in. Ever. We have all worked too hard to get where we are and the more we let people like this break us the more it will continue.
My sincere apologies to anyone that was pulled into this along with me, and my sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout this very difficult and emotionally challenging time. We all have gone through tough experiences in our lives and that unfortunately will never change, but although we don't have a choice of these experiences coming to us, we do have a choice on how we deal with them.