The clock is ticking for a court to approve a settlement that will pay blogger Nikki Finke $80,000 and Hollywood lawyer Neville Johnson $1.8 million for the lucky mistake of having a telephone conversation between Finke and an E-Trade employee recorded without telling her.
The pain to the online stock trading company is far worse than that: $7.5 million to get rid of the class-action lawsuit, filed by Johnson with Finke as lead plaintiff, which seems to define the term frivolous. (Read the settlement here; the class closes at the end of September.)
Oddly, the lawsuit has gone unnoticed in Hollywood, which reveals a web of relationships that may affect coverage on Finke’s widely read blog. Johnson gets rosy coverage, as has been pointed out before, for his work on behalf of plaintiffs like Jack Klugman suing for residuals.
And what now? Presuming the settlement is approved in October, Johnson will owe Finke a great deal for the chance to have made a large pile of hassle-free cash.
Still, it’s no wonder neither side wants to talk about this. E-Trade is clearly embarrassed that it was caught in, at best, a rookie mistake: recording phone conversations without the simple notification that goes with just about any service-oriented company (“This call may be recorded …” etc.).
And Finke and Johnson have little to crow about, since the "injustice" being corrected in no way required a lawsuit, nor does the complaint detail any actual injury. (The surreptitious recording “was highly offensive to plaintiff Greenberg and would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” reads the complaint with no further detail. Greenberg is Finke’s former name, which she uses in lawsuits.)
Here’s where it’s worth paying attention: Johnson has filed civil suits for wiretapping against convicted Hollywood private investigator Antony Pellicano and others related to that mess, including Chris Rock, Kirk Kerkorian and Terry Christensen. That’s a topic Finke has written a great deal about.
She was dinged last year by the New York Observer for failing to disclose her relationship with Johnson.
But there’s more.
Johnson and his associate Paul Kiesel — who also signed the E-Trade settlement papers — lead a class-action lawsuit against the Writers Guild for unclaimed foreign levy payments. Finke has written almost nothing about this.
So here’s the irony: The lead plaintiff in Johnson’s class-action lawsuit against the WGA, Bill Richert, is being investigated by the Los Angeles police for having recorded a central witness in the case, Teri Mial, without her knowledge.
This may sound so twisted as to be true, and it is! Richert, a loose cannon if ever there was one, sent an email on June 11, 2008, in which he writes, after a discussion of the content of his conversation with Mial: “First I gotta figure out the technology to send it since the recorder is a PC and I have a Mac.”
Then he adds, clearly aware that he recorded her without her consent: “(Writing this it occurs to me that Teri would be extremely upset if she not only found her lawyer’s gossip on the Internet, but heard her own voice as well; I have told her nothing is confidential with me — until the new lawyers take over the case.)”
Mial subsequently filed a police complaint, which led to an investigation over illegal taping.
I asked Johnson about this, but didn’t get a response by my deadline.
In a recent New York Times profile Finke called the E-Trade lawsuit a "private matter," which is a funny — nay, hilarious — way to talk about a class action. (The settlement was mentioned in the New York Times but got Finke’s compensation wrong.)
It’s of a piece with Finke’s penchant for suing and threatening to sue companies large and small, mostly when she was out of work and out of money.
There’s a lawsuit dating back to 1988 against Santa Monica Import Motors, a settlement with her condo company for $36,000 and a much larger but undisclosed award from News Corp and the Walt Disney Company over losing a freelance contract with the New York Post during the Eisner-Ovitz wars.
Once I remember she squeezed some money out of a hotel where she got food poisoning.
But she isn’t out of work or out of money anymore.
Memo to Jay Penske, Finke/Greenberg’s new owner: keep your finger off the Record button.