The extent to which the testimony of high-priced expert witnesses factored into the mistrial last week of music producer Phil Spector is unclear, but one thing is not.
Expert testimony at times costing more than $1,000 per hour has become an integral part of major criminal and civil cases, creating a cottage industry so lucrative that even respected attorneys are cashing in.
During his 26-year career, entertainment lawyer Schuyler Moore has worked on scores of film financing deals. He recently helped structure a $1 billion financing arrangement for Summit Entertainment LLC.
But deal memos aren't the only focus for the transactional attorney. He's routinely asked to serve as an expert witness in entertainment industry-related litigation. And it provides him with an entirely different perspective.
"You are putting yourself in a situation where lawyers get to go to town on you and try to rip you to shreds," said Moore who is a partner in the Century City office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. "But being an expert witness in front of a jury is a fascinating experience."
Moore is one of many local lawyers who double as expert witnesses. Some of Los Angeles' most prominent attorneys in the areas of real estate, entertainment and corporate transactions have supplemented their regular practices with work as expert witnesses.
The money derived from expert witness work can be a lucrative addition to the attorneys' normal practice, commanding hourly rates in line with or above that charged for traditional legal work. But for Moore, who is also an adjunct professor at UCLA Law School, the attraction to the work stems from a desire to teach.
"Sometimes I pull out a drawing board when I am on the stand to make sure I engage the jury. You have to keep it simple," Moore said.
Keeping it simple was no small feat two years ago, when Moore was an expert witness for Walt Disney Studios in a complex trial that pitted the media company against the creator of the "Roger Rabbit" character.
The suit involved a number of claims, but hinged upon the manner in which gross receipts from a film are calculated.
The plaintiff, who was entitled to a percentage of the gross receipts generated by characters he created, argued that Disney's calculation of gross receipts should include cross-promotional advertising, which was valued at about $100 million. According to Moore, the plaintiff wanted a payment of 5 percent of that estimate.
"No one reports gross that way. During the trial I went through calculations done for accounting, tax, residual for the guilds and participation for talent to show that cross promotional advertising is not picked up as part of gross in any matter that I have heard of or participated in," said Moore, whose testimony likely helped Disney prevail in that matter.
Martin Katz, a partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP and Disney's lead attorney in the case said, "The advantage in someone like (Schuyler) Moore is that he has a broad-based knowledge because in doing the business he does every day of the week, he is representing studios, production companies and talent."
Besides decades of experience, top-notch lawyers bring unique knowledge of the most current customs and practices in a particular industry.
"Because we are still out there, still practicing, we are more attractive than professional experts," said Dale Short, a corporate partner at Troy & Gould PC who has been an expert witness in corporate governance matters.
A long and varied track record in the real estate industry has made attorney Michael Meyer, a partner at DLA Piper, a go-to expert witness for lease disputes.
"Usually what happens is somebody will call and say flattering things about me and then ask about my availability to serve as an expert witness," said Meyer who has practiced over 40 years and represents clients such as Bank of America Corp. and the Capital Group Co.
Meyer said before he agrees to provide expert testimony, he confirms there are no client-conflicts and that the litigation position of those hiring him is in line with his own stance on the matter.
While he might make his potential clients go through some hoops, Meyer can add value to a party's position.
"In one matter we were looking at the language that was incorporated into a lease and trying to figure out what the original drafter intended," he said, "I pointed out to them that the language came from an article I wrote 30 years ago."
Several other attorneys who are expert witnesses have written extensively about their area of expertise. Moore wrote the nearly 400-page tome, "The Biz," about financial and legal aspects of the film industry.
Partners at the Century City-based law firm Troy & Gould wrote the desk reference, "Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers." As a result, Short and fellow partner William Gould are routinely called to be expert witnesses in cases in which the fiduciary duty of corporate directors is at issue.
"It is one the few books on that topic out there, so we often get calls from attorneys who have referenced the book and want us to serve as expert witnesses," Short said.
Meyer said much like his writings, he views his work as an expert witness as a public service, but admitted, "I charge, so I guess it is not really a public service."
For cases that go to trial, expert witnesses can rack up billable hours in excess of 200 hours preparing for their testimony and then testifying during depositions and at trial.
Much like their normal legal practice, most of lawyers charge by the hour for work as an expert witness. While usually not able to command the $1,000 plus an hour rates often charged by highly sought science and technology experts, some lawyers charge a premium above their normal rates. Lawyers can command $500 an hour for work on cases where the stakes are high. For long engagements that make it all the way to trial, an expert witness can rack up a bill totaling $100,000.
And while those fees can include time spent researching, preparing reports and testifying, it can also include much less taxing activity."
"If they call me to be at a courtroom by 9 a.m. and I have to wait to 11 a.m. to testify," Meyer said, "I charge for those two hours."
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