George Clinton Sues His Lawyers

SEATTLE (CN) – Parliament-Funkadelic front-man George Clinton says his lawyers failed to pursue a copyright infringement claim against a record company, botched another case against Universal Music Group, from which it withdrew the day before trial, but charged him more than $3.5 million in legal fees.

     Clinton demands $10 million, plus punitive damages, from Hendricks & Lewis and Oscar Yale Lewis Jr., in a malpractice claim in Federal Court.
     Clinton says he hired Hendricks & Lewis to file a RICO complaint to recover his ownership rights to certain Funkadelic master recordings. He says he chose the firm because of its experience representing similar claims by the Jimi Hendrix estate.
     But according to the complaint: “Attorney Lewis never intended to file a civil RICO action on behalf of Mr. Clinton.”
     Clinton adds: “Defendant attorney Lewis convinced Mr. Clinton to pursue other lawsuits to generate the funds necessary to maintain a civil RICO action, yet defendants charged, billed, and invoiced Mr. Clinton in excess of $3.5 million dollars in legal fees, the amount of which could have easily covered the cost of pursuing the contemplated civil RICO action for Mr. Clinton.”
     Instead of filing a RICO complaint, Clinton says, the attorneys filed a breach of contract claim against UMG for unpaid royalties.
     “The defendants did not review the UMG contracts which formed the bases for the action nor did they review the complaint with Mr. Clinton prior to its filing on January 29, 2007. Instead, the defendants relied on Clinton’s estranged wife, Stephanie Clinton, for information and purported authorization to file the complaint,” the complaint states.
     Lewis’s own document expert had concluded that the contract in question had been altered and could not be validated, according to the complaint. The firm also erred by failing to name Clinton’s production company, Thang, Inc. and by failing to toll the statute of limitations for breach of contract, according to the complaint.
     “After Mr. Clinton’s April 24, 2008 deposition, UMG filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Mr. Clinton’s claims based on the following arguments: 1) Mr. Clinton’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the 2005 letter tolling agreement negotiated by the defendants did not toll the necessary statute of limitations; 2) Mr. Clinton lacked standing to bring the claims individually and Thang, Inc. was the real party in interest as signatory to the operative agreements; and 3) Mr. Clinton had repudiated the October 17, 1980 Settlement Agreement which formed the basis of his complaint against UMG based on his deposition testimony that he had not signed the document,” the complaint states.
     “UMG also filed a Rule 11 Motion against attorney Lewis for filing a complaint attaching the October, 1980 Settlement Agreement as a document executed by Mr. Clinton, when he knew that Mr. Clinton would truthfully deny signing it,” the complaint adds.
     With only one claim left for trial, Lewis attempted to withdraw as counsel, but Clinton objected. The day before trial, “Lewis filed a surprise emergency motion to withdraw, prejudicing Mr. Clinton’s case,” according to the complaint.
     Clinton also claims that Lewis failed to pursue a copyright infringement claim against Charley Records.
     “Despite Charly Records’ acknowledgement of its ongoing unauthorized sale of certain Funkadelic master recordings and its July 7, 2007 opening offer to negotiate to acquire the rights those masters (which included paying Mr. Clinton a $200,000 advance), and further despite the defendants billing Mr. Clinton $30,000 in legal fees to address this issue with Charly Records, the defendants took no further action to advance a licensing arrangement with Charly Records or to enforce Mr. Clinton’s legal rights against Charly Records,” the complaint states.
     Clinton says he’s already paid $1 million in legal fees, but Hendricks & Lewis have tried to garnish his royalties and personal and company bank accounts and have filed liens in two pending federal litigation actions, including the UMG complaint.
     Clinton wants more than $10 million in damages for legal malpractice and fraudulent inducement, and punitive damages. He is represented by Katherine Felton with Lybeck Murphy, of Mercer Island, Wash.

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