Why Mel Gibson's Hollywood lawyers haven't dropped him

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Why Mel Gibson's Hollywood lawyers haven't dropped him

Wed Jul 28, 2010 @ 03:43PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Mel-Gibson_4It's been nearly three weeks since Mel Gibson's racist, misogynistic rant cost him his agents at William Morris Endeavor. But at least for now, his showbiz lawyers are standing by their man.  

Tom Hansen, Gibson's longtime Hollywood attorney and the founding partner of Hansen Jacobson, one of the town's most prestigious talent boutiques, has so far stuck with Gibson in the wake of the enfolding scandal.  

Some might be surprised by that, given how toxic the embattled actor/filmmaker is these days. Hansen's firm isn't exactly hurting for clients; they represent the top tier of actors, filmmakers and TV producers, including A-list African American clients like Denzel Washington and Beyonce, both of whom probably aren't thrilled to share legal representation with someone who screamed the N-word during a recorded tirade.

But the fact that Hansen is steadfastly, albeit quietly (he declined to comment) sticking with Gibson says something interesting about different roles played by attorneys and agents in Hollywood, as well as the value judgments inherent in representing difficult and potentially explosive talents.  

Hansen_tomUnlike agents and managers, who often pound the pavement to find clients the right jobs, lawyers often become involved only if a potential deal is on the table. No deals, no lawyer needed, so a client who doesn't work is typically a client without a lawyer. 

Given the maelstrom surrounding Gibson, he likely won't need his deal attorneys for awhile (criminal and family lawyers, on the other hand, are certainly working overtime). This will allow Hansen to stay loyal to a longtime client without actually doing much for the controversial figure -- unless he stages a comeback. 

Plus, many lawyers we've spoken with believe that attorneys are different from agents and shouldn't be making personal value judgments about which clients to represent. Everyone needs a lawyer, they say, even in challenging times (or especially in challenging times). If attorneys started dropping clients based on bad behavior, the slope would very quickly become slippery. 

That's a convincing argument. After all, Hansen stuck with client Robert Downey Jr., who once had terrible personal problems and went to jail on drug-related charges before returning to work and becoming one of Hansen's most high-flying earners. Sure, drug problems are different from racism and seemingly anti-women behavior. But Jake Bloom and his law firm still close deals for Charlie Sheen, whose off-camera troubles have done little to slow his career. Lindsay Lohan, on the other hand, was dropped by Jason Sloane, another A-list talent lawyer, as her life spun out of control (although CAA confirms that it still reps her).

Hansen and Gibson go back many years. Gibson's agent, the late Ed Limato, was close friends with Hansen, who orchestrated Limato's move from ICM to then-Endeavor a few years back. Both made a lot of money representing Gibson in good times. So it makes sense that they repaid that loyalty by sticking with Gibson during the last round of anti-Semitic comments, and now that Limato is gone, Hansen continues to stay loyal.

Still, the question then begs, are there any circumstances in which Gibson would be dropped by his lawyer?

"I couldn't represent someone who I didn't personally believe in," says another talent attorney. "I think a lawyer should be judged by who he chooses to get into business with -- and who he stays in business with."

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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