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Company Town : Sluggers in the Game of Legal Hardball

March 29, 1994|ALAN CITRON

When companies tied to the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon did battle over the Nostalgia Network last year, neither got what they wanted. Robertson's International Family Entertainment lost its $40-million bid to expand its media empire, while Moon's Concept Communications subsequently saw Nostalgia dropped by a key New York cable provider.

The fates were kinder to Tiger Communications Co., a small investor group led by Los Angeles lawyer Terry Christensen. Eighteen months after purchasing 27% of Nostalgia's shares, Tiger pulled out in time to make a tidy $4.5-million profit on its $7-million investment.

"We bought a stake in Nostalgia to take it into strategic alliances," says Christensen, whose group initially backed Robertson in the battle. "By the time it was over we said, 'To hell with it' and sold it to the surviving bickerer."

That kind of unfettered aggressiveness has won Christensen's law firm clients ranging from MGM Grand owner Kirk Kerkorian and Capital Cities/ABC to the city of Los Angeles, which is using Christensen, White, Miller, Fink & Jacobs as co-counsel in the Rodney King case.

Litigation is the group's forte. It was Christensen, White partner Patricia L. Glaser who won a staggering $8.9-million court judgment--later reduced to $7.4 million--against actress Kim Basinger last year for backing out of "Boxing Helena."

Christensen and Glaser have since turned their attention to the legal free-for-all that pits former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer owner Kerkorian against its current owner, Credit Lyonnais.

The French bank claims Kerkorian misrepresented the studio's financial well-being when Giancarlo Parretti bought it for $1.3 billion in 1990. Credit Lyonnais subsequently seized the studio, which it must sell by 1997, when Parretti defaulted on his loan. Kerkorian has countersued, claiming an array of illegal activities by the bank. The case, set for a June trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, is something of a personal crusade for Christensen and Glaser, who feel personally indebted to Kerkorian for launching their careers.

Christensen, 53, has served as Kerkorian's personal attorney for two decades and ran his Tracinda Corp. from 1986 to 1988. Christensen, White was formed out of a feud that developed when Christensen tried to return from Tracinda to his old firm, Wyman, Bautzer.

From a base of 12 lawyers, the firm now numbers 70 and brought in $30 million gross revenue last year. Entertainment accounts for only 25% of its business but tends to generate the most heat. Christensen, White helped secure a lucrative CBS deal for "Murphy Brown" producers Diane English and Joel Shukovsky. Other entertainment clients include Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. Records, Island World, Richard Pryor and David Permut Productions.

"They're very good at what they do in all areas of law, though obviously litigation is one of their strengths," says Permut. "There's not a lawyer in town who's as tenacious as Patty (Glaser)."

Christensen, White doesn't always come out on top. It represented Kerkorian and his Tracinda Corp. in 1990, when they paid a $30-million settlement to MGM shareholders who claimed they were shortchanged on the value of their stock. In typical Christensen, White fashion, however, the firm went with a vengeance after insurers who balked at paying the claim.

"All of the money that our client advanced, shall we say, we got back," Christensen says.

Christensen, White also represented producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber in their legally protracted move from Warner Bros. to Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1989. Peters says he was so impressed with Christensen that he lobbied to have him named chief operating officer at Sony, a job that went to Alan J. Levine. "He's a very, very, very smart guy," Peters says.

Smart and ruthless, say critics who decry Christensen, White's viperish devotion to victory. They've been called greedy and mean-spirited. Basinger, in particular, became so flustered during cross-examination by Glaser that she repeatedly referred to her as "Ms. Glacier."

But Christensen says popularity within the legal community is not a concern.

"I've heard it all before," he says. "We are tough and we can be, I guess, ruthless. But it's always within the bounds of honesty, and I think that's why courts respect us."

Christensen, White also benefits from close ties to city government. The firm was a major supporter of Mayor Richard Riordan's campaign. After his victory, Christensen was asked to head a task force on automating and upgrading procedures at the city attorney's office. The group's report, which includes cost-cutting recommendations, will be made soon.

Meanwhile, Christensen continues to seek out more lucrative opportunities for himself and his investment partners.

"You can say we're very entrepreneurial," he says with a smile.


Ticket fever: Barbra Streisand's upcoming concert tour is already a success for Los Angeles-based Ticketmaster. The company reports that it sold more than $30 million worth of tickets to the shows in less than two hours on Sunday, which breaks all previous records.

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