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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Circus Giant’s Insurance Fight Takes Another Hit

WASHINGTON (CN) - An insurer has won access to documents that could help it avoid paying legal fees that a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey heir racked up in a drawn out battle with his sister.

Karen Feld sued her brother Kenneth in 2008 for $110 million, claiming that he had his lackeys beat up her and her service dog while their family was sitting shiva at an aunt's memorial service in 2007. She claimed Kenneth had "large, aggressive men" grab her and her dog, tossing them out of the service.

The law firm Fullbright Jaworski helped Kenneth beat the lawsuit, but Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. covered just under half of the nearly $4.5 million tab that the circus heir racked up in fees.

Feld sued Fireman's Fund last year for the rest, but his case took a hit in discovery when U.S. District Judge John Bates ordered Feld to produce all nonprivileged materials relating to any discussion of hourly rates and the reasonableness of fees and expenses. Feld also had to produce draft invoices, fee agreements and documents reflecting evaluations of coverage under the Fireman's policy.

Fireman's Fund filed its second motion to compel documents withheld by Feld, and the judge granted the motion in part Monday, nearly a year after discovery in the case began.

Bates expressed puzzlement at the insurance company's motion to have Feld produce a more detailed version of an already adequate log of materials protected by attorney-client privilege, but ultimately ruled that some of the document Feld refused to disclose in discovery contained communications between he and his attorneys during his case with his sister, and the not the underlying dispute.

The judge ordered those documents to be released as part of discovery to Fireman's.

"By filing a lawsuit seeking indemnification for attorney's fees, Feld necessarily placed the work of his attorneys directly at issue," Bates wrote.

In the complaint against her brother, Karen Feld claimed that "the two, large, aggressive men violently twisted the arms and legs of plaintiff, Karen Feld, pushed her in to a corner of the floor of the elevator, ripped her right ear lobe until it bled, and repeatedly violently banged her head against the elevator rail."

Kenneth Feld had countersued his sister, claiming she desecrated their aunt's memorial and committed trespassing.

According to Karen Feld's complaint, her brother runs Disney on Ice, Disney Life!, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the Greatest Show on Earth among many other family-oriented shows, taking over for their father, Irvin, who died in 1984. She said Kenneth's company, Feld Entertainment, pulls in $1 billion annually.

The siblings' relationship reportedly became unsalvageable after freelance journalist Jan Pottker ran an expose on the Fields that quoted Karen Feld discussing her father's affairs with men and other family scandals.

Eight years later, Pottker learned that Kenneth had hired Clair George, the former deputy director of operations for the CIA and head of covert operations, to keep tabs on her as part of a plot to ensure she stopped writing about the Felds and shelved her plans for a book deal.

Pottker said she obtained proof about the scheme through an affidavit from Clair on file with a court where Kenneth Feld faced an employment dispute.

Bates' ruling means Feld will have to turn over more documents that could let Fireman's Fund off the hook for the nearly $2.5 million in additional legal fees Feld wants. Bates asked Feld to adhere to the ruling in good faith.

"Based on a review of Feld's privilege log, the court expects that a large number of documents that have been withheld will need to be produced, including (but not necessarily limited to) virtually all of the documents that are marked as work product in anticipation of the underlying litigation," the ruling states (parentheses in original).

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