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Steinberg Partner Testifies in Trial

Jeffrey Moorad, a baseball agent at the firm, testifies that the departure of David Dunn hurt the agency.

October 24, 2002|Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writer

Fighting back tears on the witness stand, the longtime partner of Newport Beach sports agent Leigh Steinberg testified Wednesday that their firm suffered a "devastating" hit when a group of disgruntled agents and employees abruptly quit last year and took 50 marquee football clients with them.

Jeffrey S. Moorad, who represents baseball stars such as Mo Vaughn and Luis Gonzalez and has been Steinberg's partner for more than a decade, said the departure of David Dunn and five others "carved the heart" out of the firm's football practice, then considered the best in the sports representation industry.

When asked how valuable Dunn had been at "maintenance" -- keeping football players happy between contract negotiations -- Moorad's eyes welled as he tried to compose himself. "David was extremely good at taking care of the players and was a star in that area in the practice," said Moorad, now president and chief operating officer of Assante Sports Management Group. Assante Corp. bought the Steinberg firm in 1999 for $74 million.

The firm, then known as Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn, sued Dunn and his firm, Athletes First, in Los Angeles federal court for $40 million, claiming interference with contracts, fraud and false advertising. Dunn has countersued for invasion of privacy and false advertising. Steinberg's attorneys are completing their case. Dunn's attorneys are expected to call several pro football players as witnesses.

The trial took an unexpected turn Wednesday when one juror sent a note to U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew saying he had attended high school in Chicago with the father of Dunn's associate John M. "Joby" Branion. The juror volunteered the information after jurors watched Branion's videotaped deposition.

Later in the day, Lew was informed by Dunn's attorneys that the same juror had approached a Steinberg lawyer during lunch and said: "I wish we could talk sometime." Lew allowed the trial to proceed but ordered the juror not to talk to the litigants.

In his videotaped remarks, Branion described how Dunn and others expressed happiness and "relief" when players such as Drew Bledsoe terminated their relationship with the Steinberg firm after the agents walked out in February 2001. In the weeks that followed, Steinberg's firm tried to negotiate a joint venture with the disaffected agents but, by May, the talks had failed.

Dunn's attorneys say that all the players who followed Dunn did so willingly. The attorneys contend that the employees and players left because of Steinberg's alleged unprofessional behavior.

Moorad acknowledged that numerous employees had complained about Steinberg, whom he described as moody and undisciplined. Moorad admitted that he has referred to his partner as "unbalanced."

"Leigh's like a mad genius," Moorad said. "He's probably the smartest person I've ever met.... Along with that comes a quirky personality. It comes with the package."

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