Be Very Wary of Fiduciaries
Conrad Rippy represented both me and the Go-Go’s. I knew this, and signed a waiver. But to round out his control, he deceptively brought the show’s producers into the firm, representing their interests under the euphemistic title of “production counsel.” This essentially gave my law firm total control over my work. While lawyers are essential, they are not equipped to make the decisions of artists and producers.
When a law firm represents all sides of a contract, the lawyers, not their clients, are in control. The lawyers can play their clients like chess pieces, sowing division among them to retain primacy. After the most successful opening night of my career I found myself a lonely pawn holding ownership of gold I made myself – the solitary target of an army of wealthy, deceptive businesspeople organized to seize my art no matter the damage to the artist.
I do not specifically recall the dinner I had with Rippy where he got my “waiver” for LPMNY to serve as “production counsel.” Whatever document I may have signed I surely read hastily, if at all. I had no suspicion of Rippy’s neglect of the New York State Bar's Standards and Practices and so no reason to question his motives.
When a lawyer brings potential conflicts within a firm, they are supposed to clearly outline the potential dangers of such conflicts. From The New York Rules of Professional Conduct, Section 1.7 “CONFLICT OF INTEREST: CURRENT CLIENTS”, Comment 20:
For example, if the client is unsophisticated about legal matters generally or about the particular type of matter at hand, the lawyer should provide more detailed information about both the nature of the anticipated conflict and the adverse consequences to the client that may ensue should the potential conflict become an actual one.
In the following email, Conrad Rippy offers no such disclosures, but a smooth, manipulative sales pitch instead:
From: Conrad Rippy
Subject: FW: Production counsel
Date: October 17, 2013
To: Jeff Whitty As promised, here’s the email I sent to the Go Go’s. Thanks for waiving the conflict! See you in November!
Love Conrad xo
[FORWARDED MESSAGES BELOW, INCLUDED IN MR. RIPPY’S EMAIL]
From: Charlotte Caffey (Go-Go’s band member)
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013
To: Conrad Rippy
Cc: Belinda; Gina Schock; Jane Wiedlin (Go-Go’s band members)
Subject: Re: Production counsel
I am fine with waiving the conflict!! Thanks Conrad, for going through this point-by-point!!!!
On Oct 17, 2013, at 11:34 AM, Conrad Rippy wrote:
Hi to you all,
So, it looks like Donovan, Rick, Gwyneth and [commercial producer] would like to hire my partner Susan Mindell as production counsel for Head Over Heels. To this point, since they have basically stopped working with their prior production counsel, they’ve been largely relying upon Donovan’s personal attorney (who’s lovely and a good lawyer but who doesn’t really know much about theater) and, of course, my off-the-record advice.
In order for them to hire Susan, however, you would need to waive the conflict which arises with my representing you, while my partner represents the production.
There are a couple of factors I’d like for you to consider as you weigh this decision.
First of all, you should know that Susan and I have worked opposite one another on several musical theater projects over the past couple of years. I have found that when she’s on the other side, it actually helps things move faster and more smoothly, as there’s no ego involved (we know each other too well to have anything to prove to one another). I find that she’s a very aggressive advocate of her client’s cause, but she is inevitably reasonable and, like me, her goal is to get the deal done in a way that’s fair – not to throw up roadblocks and derail things. My other clients who have waived this conflict have felt that it was beneficial to the process to have Susan and me negotiating with one another, not detrimental, and I agree.
Secondly, the conflict in this case is not actually very severe. You have already signed your agreement with the producers, so the one agreement where we would be truly adverse is long completed. There may be things like extensions which might have to be negotiated down the road, but the master agreement is done.
Third, I would much, much rather deal with Susan than a number of other attorneys who are out there representing producers, who might be more inclined to get into the signed agreements and try to renegotiate elements of them to demonstrate that attorney’s value. Susan isn’t going to try to rework an agreement I’ve already negotiated; there are other lawyers (including the production’s prior attorney) who would love to do so.
Finally, the producer team is all fine with waiving the conflict.
I’m happy to discuss this with any of you individually or collectively. If you’re not comfortable with it for any reason, that is absolutely fine; Donovan will just have to find another lawyer for the show. But if you’re OK with it, let me know and we’ll proceed with Susan.
If you’re curious: http://www.lpmny.com/category/attorneys/
Back then, I didn't understand the ethical obligations of the legal profession. I did not know the meaning of “fiduciary” and at no point was I ever made to understand the dangers of such conflicts. I was an artist. My trust in Conrad was total.
Instead of behaving as “production counsel,” the law firm of Levine, Plotkin and Menin would behave as producers’ counsel, employing puppet lawyers in the early stages of exploitation, and by the end giving up any pretense.
ANOTHER VICTIM OF THE CONFLICTS THAT LPMNY ALLOWS
As I would learn in the ensuing years, I am not Mr. Rippy’s only client to suffer from his dishonest lack of transparency. My good friend [name redacted] is also a client of Rippy’s. (He introduced Conrad to me in 1997, for which he has since apologized profusely.) [Friend] is the author and illustrator of [redacted], a wildly successful, award-winning children’s book series.
When it came time to expand his property into the worlds of TV, film and merchandising, Conrad strongly recommended a specific pair of producers. Trusting Conrad, [Friend] signed with the producers – only to later learn that they were also Conrad’s clients.
Unfortunately, Mr. Rippy’s clients weren’t any good. And as with Head Over Heels, the result of Rippy’s conflicts was incompetence leading to a watered-down product that dumbed down a prestige property once of broad appeal.
[Friend], deeply unhappy from years of missed financial opportunities, indicated a willingness to speak on the record about Conrad’s violations of fiduciary obligation. LPMNY still represents him - for he is trapped, having agreed to work with the firm on a contingency basis.