When it's time for the gloves to come
Marty Singer is the all-around bad cop for stars from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jim Carrey and Celine Dion.
They're in the Rolodex of every good white-shoe lawyer in town. Somewhere between the numbers for the Jaguar dealer, Pacific Dining Car and Two Bunch Palms are the names--and it is a short list--of attorneys who are called only in certain situations. Because life is sometimes an easy little 9-iron at Hillcrest--and at other times, it's a David Mamet play.
When things go bad for a client--and we're talking off the cliff--the respectable barrister known for his or her brilliant transactional mind, hail-fellow connections and Ivy League charm may have to bring in a different type of attorney. One whose job is to dive into the gutter of a litigious, capitalistic society and win at all costs. In other words, a specialist: one of the pit bulls of L.A. law.
The ladies and gentlemen on the pages that follow are just such specialists. But do not think of them as ogres. Or dishonest. (Nevertheless, they are often called when the opposition lawyer turns out to be one of the 40,000 attorneys in Los Angeles County who is a dishonest ogre.) None of them started out as a favorite-son associate at a big firm. They do not hang out with their clients at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or Laker games or the Cannes Film Festival. They are instead a function, and reminder, of something that might go terribly wrong in a client's life. They have the utmost respect within their profession--albeit respect laced with a good dollop of fear.
What these lawyers possess is the proven ability to go all the way, to a jury trial if necessary, and play by whatever rules are laid down to save their client's freedom or fortune in a civil or criminal matter. On the other hand, when one of them makes a phone call or sends a demand letter, arguments are often settled quickly ... and quietly.
"Marty Singer is a very nice man who loves his family," says Priscilla Presley of her own personal pit bull. "But if he thinks someone has done me harm, he is a stealth rottweiler."
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For years, MARTIN D. "MAD DOG" SINGER of Lavely & Singer has been the all-around bad cop for stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Celine Dion, Roseanne and Jim Carrey. "I'll make one call to a publicist to check out a tip," growls New York Post Page Six editor Richard Johnson, "and pretty soon I get a hand-delivered letter from Singer threatening all sorts of disasters and financial damages."
Singer covers the waterfront when it comes to celebrity litigation. If a contractor is too slow to finish the star's Malibu pad, Singer will rip him a new you know what. When basketballer Dennis Rodman was sued recently for allegedly manhandling a cocktail waitress, Singer took up the Worm's defense. (The case was dismissed.) When Stallone's household help in Miami banded together against him in a lawsuit, it was Singer who caught the case--and quickly spun this to the press: The plaintiffs were "hired for six days through a temp agency" and one of them "showed up in high heels to clean the house."
Singer, 48, has impeccable credentials for pit-bull lawyering. His father died when he was 19, and he had to run the family's silk-screen printing factory in Manhattan while attending City College of New York. Graduating from Brooklyn Law School in 1977, his goal was to move to California and practice tax law. But he quickly discovered that L.A. transactional lawyers loved a tough litigator who had no desire to buddy up to clients.
Singer can hold his own in a courtroom--he recently won jury verdicts for Jean Claude Van Damme in a contract dispute and Priscilla Presley when she sued a television producer and publicist who lied about her supposed involvement in a deal they were pitching. But it is Singer's ability to make prying journalists back off that's made him so valuable--he charges $... an hour--to folks who are sensitive about their private lives.
In February, he took on the National Enquirer after it published a false story that Celine Dion as pregnant. (Singer demanded a page-one retraction. When the Enquirer refused, he threw down a $20 million invasion-of-privacy suit.) Last January, the Globe apologized to Singer client Schwarzenegger after publishing a bogus tale about his so-called defective heart valve. When Willis wanted to stop the Independent Film Channel last year from showing a documentary critical of him, Singer got the IFC to quickly abandon the idea, much to the public consternation of those at the channel unaccustomed to Hollywood-lawyer hardball. And a big reason the public heard so little about Eddie Murphy being stopped with a transvestite hooker in his car by West Hollywood sheriffs was that Singer bulldogged the tabs on the actor's behalf.
Enquirer editor Steve Coz, who shared a dais with Singer when they debated at Harvard's JFK School of Government, deals with him on a weekly basis. "Marty is a heavy hitter, but he's reasonable," claims Coz in a careful tone. "He's one of the few that 'gets it'--his clients need the press every bit as much as the press needs his clients."
Don't tell that to journalist John Connolly. An August 1996 Buzz magazine article dissected Singer's rabid attempts to discredit Connolly, who had written a damning piece on actor Steven Seagal for Spy. Singer not only slapped a libel suit on Connolly but also hit him with a slander suit for allegedly making derogatory statements about Seagal while reporting the Spy article. (Both suits were quietly withdrawn a few months after the story ran.)
In his Century City office festooned with photos of his three children, Singer manages a wan smile when reminded of the flap. "That story really made me out to be this mean, ruthless lawyer;" he recalls. "I was surprised how much work I ended up getting from it."
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