Saturday, July 16, 2011

Judge Orders Depositions In Proskauer Malpractice Suit - Ascent Media Group LLC - Proskauer Rose LLP, William Frazee, Judge Robert L. Hess - Janel Ablon of Littler Mendelson PC

"Judge Orders Depositions In Proskauer Malpractice Suit

Law360, Los Angeles (July 13, 2011) -- A California state judge ruled Wednesday that in-house attorneys for Ascent Media Group LLC must provide depositions as part of a former executive's malpractice suit against Proskauer Rose LLP over the firm's alleged conflict of interest during two sexual harassment investigations.

William Frazee claims Proskauer had a conflict of interest in representing both him and Ascent in the investigations, both of which were resolved in mediation but later led to a dispute between Frazee and his employer over fees stemming from the proceedings.

While Judge Robert L. Hess granted Frazee's request for depositions, he refused to compel Ascent attorneys William Niles and Niloofar Shepherd to produce documents related to the investigations.

He also denied a motion to depose Jackie Lee, a vice president at Ascent. Frazee's attorney, Samuel J. Smith of SJS Counsel APC, argued that Lee — who allegedly declined to have Frazee investigated for a third sexual harassment claim — could show that Proskauer did not do a thorough job defending Frazee against the allegations. But Judge Hess said Lee's alleged decisions not to have a claim against Frazee investigated had nothing to do with the legal malpractice accusation.

“This argument you're making has no logical force, frankly,” Judge Hess told Smith before delivering his ruling. “I'm thoroughly unimpressed.”

The mixed ruling could shed more light on Proskauer's alleged conflict of interest and comes almost seven months after Frazee sued the firm.

Frazee claims Proskauer failed to inform him of attorneys' fees liabilities during the two sexual harassment arbitration hearings and other legal matters. In doing so, Proskauer put the interests of Ascent ahead of Frazee, the lawsuit alleges.

Former Ascent employee Carrie Zuzenak sued the company and Frazee for sexual harassment in 2006, and that case, which was handled by Proskauer, was settled in mediation and Frazee was given a reprimand by the company, according to the complaint.

Then in March 2010, another employee, Addie Hall, sued Ascent and Frazee for sexual harassment, according to the suit. Both sides in Hall's case agreed to mediation in July 2010, and Frazee was given another reprimand, according to the complaint.

In November, Ascent filed its own arbitration claim against Frazee, claiming the lawsuits and arbitration proceedings were outside the scope of his employment and that he must reimburse the company for $500,000 in attorneys' fees, expenses and settlement payments.

Frazee alleges in his lawsuit against Ascent that Proskauer failed to advise him to seek independent legal counsel and that attorneys failed to obtain a release from Ascent for legal fees. Frazee also claims Proskauer improperly settled two proceedings without his consent.

Proskauer's attorney, Janel Ablon of Littler Mendelson PC, argued that discovery in the malpractice lawsuit should be stayed until after arbitration proceedings between Frazee and Ascent were done, but Judge Hess said he wanted to make sure the lawsuit was not stalled.

Ablon told the judge Niles and Shepherd would be ready for depositions in August.

Frazee is represented Samuel J. Smith of SJS Counsel APC.

Proskauer is represented by Janel Ablon of Littler Mendelson PC.

The case is Frazee v. Proskauer Rose LLP et al., case number BC452417, in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles. "

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