HFPA Countersues Former Golden Globes Publicist

Facing allegations of payola, awards group says it was the former PR guru Michael Russell who did illegal deals

Last Updated: February 8, 2011 @ 9:39 AM

The bad break-up between the Golden Globe Awards and its former publicist just got worse. 

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is hitting back at the Michael Russell Group, suing the publicist for breach of contract, trading on the organization's name and accepting payola. 

If that sounds familiar, that's because Michael Russell charged HFPA members with accepting kickbacks in exchange for Golden Globes nominations in a lawsuit filed last January. Russell is seeking $2 million in damages.

But the HFPA says that Russell's suit, arriving as it did on the eve of the ceremony, was nothing more than "…a campaign to hold the HFPA and [its president Phil Berk] up to ridicule." 

In a countersuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, the HFPA is seeking unspecified damages. 

"Without a shred of evidence, [Michael Russell Group] manufactured a fanciful tale of Hollywood intrigue that harkens back to the early days of rock 'n roll radio, with its colorful reference to 'payola,'" the suit reads. 

The lawsuit goes on to say that Russell has never offered an "iota" of evidence that the HFPA membership accepts perks for Globes nods. 

In addition to Russell and his eponymous company, the publicist's business partner Steve LoCascio is named in the latest suit. 

An HFPA spokesperson declined to comment and a lawyer for Russell did not immediately respond to requests. 

In its suit, the HFPA alleges that Russell tried to personally profit from his association with the highly-rated awards show. Among other instances of payola, the HFPA charges that Russell attempted to get InStyle to pay $10,000 for a client that loaned furniture for the Presenter's Lounge. 

Russell's tenure as spin-master for the controversial awards show was also purportedly tainted by his business relationship with Stars for a Cause, an organization the HFPA says is guilty of fraudulent behavior. In particular, Russell's client George Braunstein, a co-founder of Stars, allegedly tried to get Chrysler to pay $200,000 to get celebrities at the Globes to sign a car for Haitian Earthquake relief.

The negotiations between Stars, Chrysler and NBC are the subject of a different lawsuit against the HFPA. In that action, Stars is seeking $1 million in damages and charging the HFPA with muddying the waters while it tried to negotiate the auction to benefit the relief efforts in Haiti. 

Russell has separately charged Globes President Berk with trying to line his own pockets from the Chrysler promotion; an allegation that the HFPA attempted to shoot down in Monday's filing. 

"Contrary to Russell's claim, Berk never intended to receive any funds earmarked for Haiti for himself. Any such suggestion is contrary to the truth and calculated solely to embarrass Berk and the HFPA," the HFPA's suit reads. 

Indeed, it was Russell's relationship with Stars that led the HFPA to end its contract with the publicist, according to the suit. Hard to believe given the latest wave of vitriol, but many months and more than a few lawsuits ago, the dissolution of that relationship was seen as a shock. 

Beyond kickbacks and questionable business ties, the HFPA claims that Russell traded on his association with the organization without its permission. In attempting to secure a contract with an educational entertainment company, the HFPA claims that the Michael Russell Group  stated that it had developed the awards show. 

News of the lawsuit first appeared on TMZ.