Film financier David Bergstein won a $50 million judgment against his former attorney Susan Tregub in August, but his efforts to use that victory as leverage in other lawsuits isn’t working out so far.
Bergstein has filed a series of legal actions seeking to blame a 2010 involuntary bankruptcy case on the improper actions of his former attorney after she left to join Aramid Entertainment.
One of the most prominent suits is Bontempo v. Aramid, which has proceeded in Los Angeles Superior Court for more than two years and has led to cross-complaints and numerous motions. On Friday, Superior Court Judge Michael Paul Linfield agreed with Aramid’s contention that Bergstein’s claims are pre-empted by federal law and are barred by the “litigation privilege,” which allows Aramid and its lawyers confidentiality.
The judge ruled that while Bergstein can sue his former attorney for malpractice, he can't sue others who employed her for the same reasons.
“The fact that it is alleged that defendants aided and abetted Tregub does not change this into an action by a client against its attorney,” wrote the judge in the ruling.
Linfield gave Bergstein permission to file a third amended lawsuit within the next 30 days.
Bontempo, the plaintiff in the suit, was one of several related movie companies that Bergstein controlled with his sometime business partner Ronald Tutor, a construction industry executive who also is a major investor in Miramax.
Among the movies Bontempo backed are Love Ranch, $5 a Day, Bad Meat and Nailed, a film directed by David O. Russell that has never been finished or released. Russell has long ago abandoned the project, which now belongs to a company controlled by Tutor.
In late September, the same judge dismissed a $100 million suit by Bergstein against two law firms that represent Aramid, its leader David Molner and others in suits brought by Bergstein and Tutor.
The logic in the cases dismissed was similar to aspects of the ruling in Bontempo: It is one thing to sue a former attorney for malpractice but another to sue attorneys representing people and companies on the other side of the suit. The judge did not agree that Bergstein was the victim of a conspiracy that included the filing of the involuntary bankruptcy suit. The judge said Aramid’s law firms were simply doing their jobs for their client.
At the time of the Sept. 25 ruling, an attorney for Bergstein said they planned to file an appeal in the case against the two law firms.
While Bergstein and his affiliated entities won about $50 million in the suit against Tregub in late August, there is no indication he has collected any of that or will be able to do so. Tregub’s attorney during the penalty phase of that trial said she has no assets or money.
The main benefit appeared to be that the ruling would help Bergstein in these other cases. He and Tutor have other suits still outstanding on related matters as well as the ongoing bankruptcy case.
Bergstein and his attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.