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SBJ/October 28 - November 3, 2002/Labor Agents
Agents trial marked by tears, contradictions
Published October 28, 2002
Emotions ran high last week during testimony in the trial of agent Leigh Steinberg's lawsuit against his former partner, with one witness breaking down into tears and others forced to try to explain why one version of their testimony differed from another.
David Cornwell, general counsel for Steinberg's firm, Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn, wept while describing the effects of Dunn's departure on the employees of the firm who remained behind. He testified that the financial effect was devastating and that the employees "depend on us for their livelihood."
Steinberg is suing David Dunn, his former protégé, and Dunn's new agency, Athletes First, for more than $40 million, alleging breach of contract and unfair competition, among other things.
Dunn has denied any wrongdoing and is countersuing for false advertising and invasion of privacy, seeking unspecified damages. Dunn left Steinberg in February 2001, taking five employees and 50 clients with him.
Steinberg's longtime partner Jeff Moorad wiped away a tear on the witness stand while testifying about Dunn's role at the company before Dunn resigned in February 2001.
Brock Gowdy, Steinberg's lead litigator, said the emotion Moorad and Cornwell displayed on the witness stand "says that people from the Steinberg firm genuinely feel a sense of betrayal from somebody they formerly trusted."
But Mark Humenik, general counsel from Athletes First, had a different view.
"If you have been around a courtroom at all you will see that witnesses often cry — sometimes for the drama of it and sometimes because the tears are real," Humenik said. "I am sure this jury can tell the difference."
David Hunnewell, father-in-law of Athletes First executive Brian Murphy, testified that he agreed to take the stand as part of a settlement deal he cut with Steinberg's attorneys to drop him as a defendant in the case. Hunnewell signed a sworn declaration as part of the deal, but while on the stand he disavowed several statements in the declaration. Some of the sworn statements he disavowed contradicted testimony of Dunn and Murphy regarding when they decided to leave Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn.
Hunnewell also rejected a statement he made in his declaration that Murphy told him that Murphy and Dunn would, before they resigned, seek commitments from Steinberg's players to fire Steinberg and hire Dunn.
Hunnewell did testify that he ran a software program that destroyed information on his computer on the morning that Steinberg's computer experts were coming to his home to inspect it. Hunnewell said he destroyed the information because he did not want Steinberg's attorneys to discover that he visited adult Web sites.
But Peter Garza, a computer expert hired by Steinberg's firm, testified that Hunnewell used the wrong program to destroy evidence of Internet use and that his excuse did not make sense. "It's much like if you have a Playboy magazine on your bookcase," he testified. "You would not burn down the whole case."
Agent Joby Branion testified that he contacted more than a dozen players or their family members the weekend he resigned from Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn in 2001, even though he stated in a previously sworn declaration that the players and their relatives had sought him out.
Branion, testifying by videotaped deposition, said he called the mother of Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn client Akili Smith, an NFL quarterback, about 8:45 a.m. on Feb. 18, after he had resigned the previous night.
In his sworn declaration, Branion testified that Smith's mother had contacted him on or around Feb. 19 and told him she heard he had left Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn and asked him to call her son.