Johnny Depp won a major battle last week in his war against his former attorneys Bloom Hergott LLP. The firm alleged that it was entitled to a percentage of Depp’s gross entertainment earnings pursuant to an oral fee agreement. The Court disagreed and found the contract unenforceable.
Bloom represented Depp for nearly twenty years and alleged Depp always directed fee payments to Bloom under their arrangement until July of 2017 when the parties had a falling out. Depp threw the first punch in October of 2017 for breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, unjust enrichment, unfair competition, and violation of California Business & Professions Code § 6147 which requires attorneys representing clients for a contingency fee to memorialize this agreement in writing. Bloom swung back counterclaiming for breach of contract and, in the alternative, quantum meruit in pursuit of its unpaid legal fees.
In granting Depp’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Bloom’s breach of contract claim, Judge Terry Green found no significant difference between a contingency agreement in the personal injury context (where it is most commonly used) and a percentage agreement in the entertainment industry. Both involve some degree of risk and invoke § 6147. That talent attorneys have customarily entered into oral agreements for a percentage of the client’s earnings is irrelevant, held Green. “I am aware that showbiz people sometimes think they live in a special universe, but they don’t,” Green said. “I don’t see an exception here.”
Accordingly, pursuant to § 6147(b), Depp can void the agreement and Bloom’s recovery is limited to only a “reasonable fee” for its work. But Depp does not plan to pay a dime. He contends nothing is owed given Bloom’s alleged breach of its fiduciary duty in sacking Depp with a hard money loan which resulted in Depp losing approximately $32 million in film residuals. The loan was purportedly financed by Tyron Management Services, an affiliate of Grosvenor Park Media of which Jacob Bloom is said to be a member on the advisory board. Depp reports Bloom failed to disclose this alleged conflict of interest and other material information about the loan.
Bloom has yet to comment on the ruling or indicate whether it will appeal. In the meantime, the parties’ remaining causes of action remain on the table as the case enters the discovery phase. Trial is set for May, assuming no settlement is reached.