EXCLUSIVE: With the Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird adjourned indefinitely, a real-life court battle between its producer in exile and original advertising agency is heating up.
Scott Rudin, who’s kept a low profile following reports about his volcanic temper and bullying of employees, must answer questions under oath by Aug. 31 about his financial relationship with the theater ad agency SpotCo, according to filings in New York Supreme Court. The video deposition would be made public only if it’s introduced as evidence in SpotCo’s lawsuit against Rudin and entities he controlled.
Meanwhile, Scott Rudin Productions — along with Rudin’s theatrical production company No Ice and limited liability companies that financed his recent Broadway shows — have turned over to the ad agency’s lawyers internal emails related to SpotCo, as well as production budgets and other documents.
In its Aug. 5, 2020 complaint, SpotCo claimed that it’s owed $6.3 million for advertising services to nine Rudin theatrical LLCs. The sum represents about a third of the agency’s 2020 revenue, according to a filing in the U.K. by its corporate parent, Miroma SET Ltd. SpotCo argued that Rudin and Scott Rudin Productions had agreed to be responsible for any unpaid bills and that the producer dominated decision-making at the LLCs to the extent that they were his “alter egos.”
In a recent status conference about the pre-trial information exchange — discovery — SpotCo lawyer Lazar Sterling-Jackson of Michelman & Robinson called the Rudin-led LLCs a “corporate shell game” and challenged the notion that their finances were separate from each other. “We’re happy to submit additional evidence and documents to show this commingling and inappropriate behavior by the entities,” Sterling-Jackson told a court clerk.
The claim of inappropriate behavior may be an integral part of SpotCo’s case. Courts have generally shown a predisposition toward insulating individuals from a corporation’s liabilities, unless there’s evidence of serious misconduct, according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.
“There is no shell game,” Rudin lawyer Frank D’Angelo of Loeb & Loeb responded during the case conference. “I’m not quite sure what Mr. Sterling-Jackson is referring to.”
In a countersuit filed days after the original complaint, 11 Rudin-led production companies accused SpotCo of failing to disburse funds paid by the Rudin LLCs for advertising, repeatedly overcharging and billing for advertising that wasn’t authorized.
“Our client said, ‘we’re not paying you anymore SpotCo,’” Rudin lawyer Wook Hwang said in another court conference, “‘until you give us the backup to substantiate [the billings].”
A trial might provide a fuller picture of Rudin’s autocratic management style and how he used advertising, particularly full page ads in the New York Times, to keep his shows front and center in the public eye. Despite the contentious rhetoric, a settlement is possible in the case, which was referred to the court’s mediation program. “Lawyers always posture for their adversary and the press,” said Richard Roth of the Roth Law Firm, a litigator and Broadway co-producer. “When they get in a room with a good mediator, there is always a chance it settles.”
In its original complaint, SpotCo asserted that eight of the Rudin LLCs incurred debt of $6.9 million, offset by $562,000 that the Mockingbird production company paid SpotCo “in excess for services rendered…and is credited against the total amount owed.” The Rudin LLCs called the $562,000 “overpayments made to SpotCo as a result of SpotCo’s erroneous invoices.”
Lawyers involved in the litigation didn’t respond to calls and emails. Rudin’s deposition was to be held on June 14. But after Judge Andrea Masley instructed the Rudin entities to turn over additional documents to SpotCo, the two sides “have been working cooperatively to schedule depositions to commence in July,” Hwang wrote to the court on June 21, without being specific.
Also to be deposed in the case is John Johnson, who’d been a general manager and executive producer on some of the shows in question. While not a party here, he’s involved in Rudin-adjacent litigation.
Last September, Johnson and colleague Sue Wagner were sued by their former employer. Producer and general manager Joey Parnes alleged that they sabotaged his relationship with Rudin and failed to share revenue from Rudin’s shows, as promised, after they set up their own producing and general management shop. Wagner and Johnson countersued for breach of contract, claiming that Parnes violated a prior agreement and failed to share profits from previous shows they worked on.
Mockingbird was taken over by Orin Wolf after Rudin withdrew as lead producer. It closed in January, at a time when most of the industry was in an Omicron-related funk, with the announced intention of returning on June 1. The Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel was to move from the roughly 1,450-seat Shubert Theatre to the 1,000-seat Belasco. Greg Kinnear briefly replaced original star Jeff Daniels in the role of Southern lawyer Atticus Finch before it closed.
Should Mockingbird announce a fall reopening, it has a shrinking window to accumulate an advance sale.
Rudin turns 64 today. It’s been 15 months since he pledged to “step back” from the industry. Apparently, he hasn’t been idle. SpotCo lawyer Todd Stitt spoke in a May court conference about the difficulty of scheduling his deposition. “Understandably, finding dates that work for Mr. Rudin, not the easiest thing.”