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Jimi Hendrix's Father Files Fraud Suit Against Lawyer

April 20, 1993|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jimi Hendrix's father has filed a multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit in Seattle against his former attorney and several corporations in an effort to recover the rights to the famed '60s psychedelic guitarist's music.

The suit accuses Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Leo Branton Jr. of selling the rights to the late rock star's catalogue without the knowledge or consent of the father, James (Al) Hendrix.

Branton, who filed a libel countersuit Monday against Hendrix and his attorneys in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, denied the allegations.

"Mr. Hendrix signed away all of his rights to the so-called Hendrix legacy 20 years ago for a very valuable consideration," Branton said Monday. "He signed the papers himself and he understood them. Now that these things have increased in value, he's just trying to blackmail the owners into giving him some money based upon the claim that he didn't know what he was doing."

But O. Yale Lewis Jr., the Seattle lawyer representing the rock icon's 73-year-old father, disagreed.

"Mr. Hendrix was shocked to learn recently that his trust had been misplaced," Lewis said. "It never occurred to him that he might not own the rights to his son's legacy. When he realized that the legacy was up for sale, he immediately set out to reclaim it."

Also named as defendants in the suit were international companies that have operated Hendrix's catalogue since 1974 under contracts negotiated by Branton: New York-based Bella Godiva Music Inc.; Presentaciones Musicales SA (PMSA), a Panamanian corporation; Bureau Voor Muziekrechten Elber B.V., based in the Netherlands; and Interlit, based in the British Virgin Islands. Representatives for the companies could not be reached Monday for comment.

The surprise legal move could jeopardize MCA Music Entertainment Group's pending $30-million-plus purchase of Hendrix's recording and publishing copyrights from Elber and Interlit. That deal was put on hold April 4 after objections were raised in a letter to the Universal City-based firm by the late rock star's father.

Branton, a prominent civil rights attorney, negotiated two contracts in early 1974 signed by Al Hendrix that relinquished all rights to his son's "unmastered" tapes for $50,000 to PMSA and transferred all his stock in Bella Godiva, his son's music publishing company, for $500,000. According to Hendrix's suit, Branton misrepresented the terms of the contract to Hendrix and never informed him that he also represented PMSA in the deal.

Another agreement for additional rights was negotiated by Branton in 1983 between PMSA, ARM, Interlit and Elber that extended Hendrix's $50,000-a-year stipend for life--a deal that the suit maintains Hendrix never approved nor signed. According to the suit, Branton also represented Interlit and ARM in the deal.

The 1983 contract also provided that a six-figure sum should accrue annually for Hendrix until 1993 in the account of an unknown foreign corporation--with payments to Hendrix scheduled to begin next year. But his suit maintains that Hendrix has no evidence that the alleged account exists.

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