It’s been a horrible couple of weeks for almost everyone in the world of entertainment, but it has not been without its glimmers of hope. One such glimmer: we might be witnessing the end of the predatory Hollywood producer. Another such glimmer: we might also be witnessing the decline of the all-powerful Hollywood superlawyer.
It’s rare that we find space in our cold, flinty hearts to harbour any sympathy for lawyers (except for, occasionally, our own) – but even we felt a brief flicker of something when it dawned on us: some poor sap is going to have to defend Harvey Weinstein.
We snapped out of it pretty quickly when we remembered that there are thousands upon thousands of amoral attorneys who would happily sucker punch a puppy to land such a rich and obviously fucked client. The sort of pay cheque a gig like that can net you is obscene.
But now that the first actual lawsuit has been filed against the Weinstein Company (a $5 million civil suit, brought by Dominique Huett) we couldn’t help but notice that something very significant has changed in the background of these celebrity sexual assault cases over the last couple of years.
It’s a subtle shift – and it’s by no means the most important part of the stories that are currently unfolding – but it’s something that’s likely to have profound repercussions in the way that all sorts of celebrity stories will be handled in the future.
For in among all the allegations, accusations and excuses, we are seeing some humiliating climb-downs being made by some very high-profile people. Whisper a prayer and cross your fingers, but we might be living through the final days of the all-powerful Hollywood superlawyer.
And the most delicious detail of all? They brought it all on themselves.
Singer’s Swan Song
Once upon a time, the lawyer you would turn to if you had a problem in Hollywood was Marty Singer.
A semi-celebrity in his own right, Marty “Mad Dog” Singer had a fearsome reputation in Tinseltown. A troubleshooter that was second to none, a single letter from Marty’s firm (a missive known in the industry as a ‘Singer Zinger’) was usually enough to fix any troubles you were having – in much the same way that a horse’s head might.
We have written at length about Marty before but to briefly recap some of his highlights, Marty was the lawyer who:
– John Travolta retained when a number of male massage therapists started suing him for sexual battery and indecent exposure
– Arnold Schwarzenegger drafted in to cast doubts on the credibility of the women who came forward to accuse him of assault and adultery while he ran for Governor of California
– Quentin Tarantino roped in to secure a noise abatement order against his neighbour (Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball) after his collection of exotic birds were squawking too loudly for Tarantino to be able to finish a script
– Perhaps most memorably, managed to extract Jeremy Piven from a fairly ironclad Broadway contract two months early by claiming that Piven was suffering from mercury poisoning after eating too much sushi (even though Piven clearly felt robust enough to attend the Golden Globes, Britney Spears’ birthday and an Entourage cast party while this was all under discussion).
We haven’t heard much from Marty in recent months, which is strange given how many major Hollywood stars are currently in the market for some heavy duty legal representation. Could that have anything to do with his last major case?
Well, that depends on whether or not you think it was a savvy career move for Marty to choose to represent Bill Cosby at the precise point he went from being America’s Dad to comprehensively disgraced date-rapist and serial sex offender.
Most would say it wasn’t – and Marty Singer would probably be inclined to agree with you now too. The brutish pitbull routine, for which he’d previously won such great acclaim, fell unexpectedly flat when he unleashed it against Janice Dickinson: Cosby’s most high-profile accuser.
Usually dismissing the accusers as being fame-hungry, money-grabbing chancers is the preferred tactic of the cutthroat attorney (like he did with the women who came for Schwarzenegger, or the masseurs who came for Travolta). However, the critical flaw in rolling out that tried-and-tested plan in this instance was that Janice Dickinson was:
a/ already famous, and
b/ already rich
It backfired. Badly. Dickinson immediately threatened Marty, personally, with defamation. And though the actual lawsuit itself ended up coming to nothing in the courts, it was enough to mortally wound Marty’s reputation. He stepped down from Bill Cosby’s case in October 2015 and has barely been heard from since.
High-stakes litigation hates a vacuum though, so it wasn’t long before somebody else pitched up to take his place as Hollywood’s go-to guy.
Marty’s successor ended up being a lawyer who had previously trained under him at his infamous firm, Lavely & Singer: Charles J Harder.
Before Harder made his bones in the Hulk Hogan sex tape case (the one which ultimately brought down the gossip site, Gawker) he had been making a minor league name for himself in the workaday field of celebrity trademark and IP law.
Back in the mid-2000s it was Harder you’d call if a Canadian fireplace designer was using your unlicensed face to promote their product (like Jude Law did). Or if a furniture maker had named a model of reclining armchair after you without any permission (like Clint Eastwood did).
He also had a very nice line in getting restitution for some of Hollywood’s most beautiful starlets, who frequently found their names and faces plastered on all manner of counterfeit crap.
It wasn’t the most glamorous work, no – but it made for interesting enough party talk and it got him moving in the sorts of circles that would ultimately net him the Hulk Hogan case.
And once he won that, he would become the most in-demand lawyer in America.
A mere six months after his former mentor had retreated from the limelight to lick his stupidly self-inflicted wounds, Charles Harder was the toast of the town. He had won record damages for Hulk Hogan, he had bankrupted Gawker and was being bankrolled by one of Silicon Valley’s richest sociopaths.
He seemed, to all the world, to be invincible. But Harder stopped learning his lessons from Marty Singer a little too early.
One of Harder’s first moves after taking down Gawker was to sign up to represent the monstrous sex pest and Fox News co-founder, Roger Ailes. Ailes had been fired from Fox News after a number of sexual harassment complaints had come to light from some of Fox’s better known employees – among them Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly.
Having apparently developed a taste for discrediting women journalists, Harder then decided to fire off a letter to People Magazine claiming that one of their reporters was making a false claim of sexual assault against self-confessed pussy-grabber Donald Trump.
But even that wasn’t enough for him. So, against every sensible and rational human instinct, Harder decided to go one further. As soon as the allegations started to break about Harvey Weinstein, Charles J Harder went out to bat for him too.
Ailes. Trump. Weinstein. An unholy trinity if ever there was one – united in representation by Charles J Harder.
And, like Singer before him, he flew too close to the sun. After having spent a couple of weeks at the front and centre of the Weinstein case, just as it was breaking, Charles Harder has had to announce that he too is stepping down.
It’s been mooted a lot these last few weeks that we are standing on a cracked dam. What has been trickling out as rumour for twenty, thirty, forty years is now fit to burst. Story after story is coming out, across all sorts of industries, as women take a stand.
One reason that women haven’t been able to do this sooner is precisely because of the legal pressure exerted by industry beasts like Marty Singer and Charles Harder; lawyers who lay in waiting, ready to shut them down the second they speak out of turn.
Things feel different this time around though. These bulldog litigators appear to have had their teeth blunted.
In part that’s because their regular lines of attack – the ones that have proved to be so effective on so many unknown, civilian women – fail to work when the accusers are rich and famous themselves. Marty Singer found that out to his detriment when he called Janice Dickinson a liar.
But it’s also because of something much, much simpler. Something that people as (supposedly) smart and savvy as Singer and Harder should have seen from the start.
These lawyers are being asked to go up against their former clients. The same celebrities who helped to make their names. The stars who helped them hone their reputations. The people who have put bread on their tables for forty years – and these dumbshit lawyers are now signing on with their attackers.
To get a sense of how utterly idiotic this is, imagine you’re a solicitor. Imagine you’ve spent your whole career specialising in wills. Your entire client list is made up of old men and women whose custom pays your bills, whose trust you have worked diligently to obtain, whose testimonials keep you in ongoing business. It’s been this way for two generations now and your firm’s reputation is stellar.
Now imagine that the opportunity to represent Dr Harold Shipman comes across your desk.
Imagine taking that. Imagine thinking it was in any way sensible to represent the one person who, more than anyone else, has specifically targeted your exact client base for years – the fucking posterboy for old lady murder – and thinking you could turn up to work the next week and pick up where you left off with your regulars.
People would drop you in a heartbeat. You’d be left having to hoover up whatever hopeless, deadbeat leads you could just to make ends meet. You’d be representing the absolute dregs of your industry.
Obviously everyone is entitled to legal representation. Harold Shipman. Harvey Weinstein. Even Piers Morgan. They all deserve a lawyer. That’s one of the tenets of a just and fair society.
But in every career, choices have to get made – and it seems that Hollywood’s swinging dick superlawyers just can’t keep from making the wrong ones.
Can’t say we’re sad to see them go.