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Orange County Digest

Costa Mesa : Entertainers, Belli Firm Targets of New Lawsuit

September 17, 1986|John Needham

An attorney in the firm of famed lawyer Melvin Belli said Tuesday that he advised a Costa Mesa businesswoman to drop a civil lawsuit against singer Michael Jackson and his brothers because it could not be won.

Instead, the lawyer, Haskell J. Shapiro, and the law firm of Belli & Sabih have been accused of professional negligence and the businesswoman, Sandra Simone, is continuing her case against the Jacksons.

Shapiro, who works in the Los Angeles office of the San Francisco-based Belli firm, said he had not been told of the new court papers filed Sept. 8 by Simone's new attorney, James Banks of Santa Ana.

The amended version of the complaint--filed originally on Nov. 27, 1984--seeks $500 million in punitive damages from the Jacksons and their firm, Jackson Entertainment Corp., on the grounds that the brothers used ideas, seven specially designed guitars, and "light-up boots" designed by Simone's company for their Victory tour and record album in 1984.

Shapiro originally sought $50 million in punitive damages when the suit was filed on behalf of Simone and the company she owns, Cinema City Studios. The suit charged the Jacksons with failure to pay and give credit for her firm's designs.

In answer to the original suit, an attorney for the Jacksons had termed it "frivolous." The suit filed by Banks contends that Shapiro and the Belli firm filed the suit "exclusively for the publicity and notoriety" involved and never intended to press the action.

Shapiro denied that, calling it "a pretty wild conjecture."

"I can't think of anything we did wrong," Shapiro said. "Eventually we decided that (Simone) did not have a winnable lawsuit." He said he and his firm "never asked for, or received, any fees whatsoever. It was strictly on a contingency basis, but one-third of nothing is nothing."

Shapiro said there was no reason to name him as a defendant because even if he were guilty of "a mistake in judgment," Simone was not harmed. In fact, he said he hoped that Simone "does well" with the revised version of her lawsuit.

"Not against us, though," he added.

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