Randy Quaid, Lloyd Braun and the lingering duties to former clientsTue Apr 27, 2010 @ 04:09PM PST
By Eriq Gardner
The question popped into our head when reading that actor Randy Quaid and wife Evi have filed a lawsuit against one-time attorney and current BermanBraun exec Lloyd Braun, claiming that he breached a fiduciary duty by spilling the actor’s secrets on the entertainment website Wonderwall, which Braun's company runs.
Braun repped Quaid back in his talent lawyer days, negotiating more than 25 professional contracts, home purchases and other personal and business deals, according to the lawsuit. Thus, he certainly has some lingering attorney-client obligations to Quaid. But in responding to a TMZ story on the lawsuit, Braun’s lawyer Patty Glaser said Braun washed his hands of the Quaids when he quit the legal profession.
“Lloyd Braun hasn’t represented these people for more than a decade, and the files were turned over to other entertainment lawyers when Lloyd left the practice of law,” said Glazer.
Considering that Quaid and wife were sent to jail Monday in their criminal case over allegedly skipping out on a hotel bill, it would be easy to dismiss the lawsuit as a desperation move. But let’s take a closer look at the complaint…
“From the early 1990s to the present, Braun continues to have access to the Quaids’ most confidential information, and he continues to receive money from them for his services. Among other services, Braun was to provide the Quaids with advice, negotiate contracts, and otherwise represent the Quaids. At all times, Braun was to protect the Quaids’ interests. Braun received payments on behalf of Randy Quaid in connection with profit participation for prior work performed by Randy Quaid.”
True, Braun once was an entertainment lawyer. Among other clients, he represented Larry David and was the inspiration behind the "Seinfeld" character Lloyd Braun, the go-getter who George Costanza’s mom loved even though he eventually ended up in the nuthouse. Later, Braun served as chairman of ABC Entertainment Group from 2002-04 and was forced out after developing hit shows from “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Lost.” (Viewers still hear Braun’s voice each week on the show, intoning, “Previously on 'Lost'…")
For the past few years, Braun has had his hands in various projects, from creating entertainment portals for Yahoo to partnering with Gail Berman in a production studio that’s created shows like “Mercy” and “Accidentally on Purpose" to creating hit gossip websites like Wonderwall.
But most talent lawyers work on commission, so it makes sense that Braun and/or his former firm would still get money from residual payments to Quaid. So, should Braun be considered his lawyer? A business partner? Neither?
In making the case that Braun breached a fiduciary duty under the California statute, Quaid will likely have to show that he committed legal malpractice. The ABA outlines duties of confidentiality, which many states have adopted, but according to one ethics specialist we spoke to, the mere fact that one has a law degree doesn't make one a lawyer. The jury may look at evidence like whether Braun gave up his law license or billed Quaid using legal stationary.
As for the ongoing commissions, Michael Rubin of McGlinchey Stafford says, "It's primarily the relationship that matters, rather than the mechanism by which you are paid."
Given his career trajectory, we figure Braun doesn’t see himself as a lawyer these days. Nevertheless, the nature of his work for the Quaids will be of question in the coming case.