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Court declines to seal Charlie Walk’s $1.7 million settlement with Universal in ongoing attorney malpractice litigation

By | Published on Tuesday 11 May 2021

Charlie Walk

A judge in New York last week declined to keep confidential the settlement agreement reached between Charlie Walk and Universal Music back in 2018 as part of the former’s litigation against the law firm that advised him ahead of his departure from the major.

Universal announced that Walk was stepping down as President of its Republic label in the US in March 2018, after various allegations of sexual harassment were made against him as the #MeToo movement gained momentum. He has always denied all of those allegations, but after an investigation by the major he nevertheless signed a settlement agreement that saw him leave the music company.

While negotiating that settlement agreement Walk was advised by the lawyer Marc Kasowitz. In March this year he sued his former attorney alleging that Kasowitz had “botched” those negotiations.

In the lawsuit he accused Universal of exploiting “a fifteen year old canard” and “a facially incredible story” in order to push him out of the business while ensuring he wouldn’t be snapped up by a rival record company.

Referencing other events happening in the entertainment industry at the time, Walk’s lawsuits then stated: “[Universal’s aim] was for the public to associate Mr Walk with Harvey Weinstein. Yet, the only reason this worked is because Kasowitz – who was hired to be Mr Walk’s heroic defender – passively cooperated with UMG, leaving Mr Walk defenceless”.

Kasowitz and his law firm have strongly denied Walk’s claims.

In a recent letter to Walk’s current legal team, they wrote: “The premise of your complaint – that Kasowitz failed to inform Walk ‘that he had a strong alternative to signing the settlement agreement’ and ‘falsely told [Walk] that he had no choice [but to settle]’ – is ludicrously false. Kasowitz fully informed Walk of his options to settle or to litigate at all times during the representation. Walk knows this full well – as do the three independent outside attorneys whom Walk consulted and who advised Walk during the entire period Kasowitz represented him”.

As Walk’s lawsuit starts to work its way through the legal system, both he and Universal sought to have the specifics of that 2018 settlement deal sealed and therefore kept confidential. However, the judge overseeing the case, Andrew Borrok, declined that request last week.

The judge stated: “Charlie Walk has placed directly at issue the settlement agreement dated 27 Mar 2018, between UMG Recordings Inc and Mr Walk pursuant to which he was paid approximately $1.7 million in connection with the termination of his employment from UMG. To wit, Mr Walk alleges that the defendants committed malpractice in advising him and negotiating the settlement agreement with UMG when he was accused by a number of women of sexual harassment”.

“Neither UMG nor Mr Walk has a compelling interest in keeping the settlement agreement confidential”, he added. “The interest of the victims of Mr Walk’s alleged conduct and the public interest in how UMG addresses these types of allegations substantially outweighs any private agreement to the contrary”.

According to Law360, the now public settlement agreement states that the $1.7 million received by Walk was basically his 2017 bonus. It also adds that Walk had “voluntarily entered into this settlement agreement”, which is obviously important to Kasowitz, given the allegations he pressured his client into doing the deal.

A representative for Kasowitz told Law360 yesterday: “We are pleased that the court denied Charlie Walk’s motion to keep evidence hidden from the public in his lawsuit against us. Today we are filing a motion to dismiss that frivolous lawsuit, and we intend to seek sanctions against him and his lawyers for bringing it”.