SBJ/November 4 - 10, 2002/Labor Agents

Steinberg painted as a wild man

Former Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn employees testified last week that agent Leigh Steinberg was a boss who screamed and yelled, acted inappropriately toward women, had racist tendencies and, after getting drunk at a party, told an employee, "I want to eat your leg."

Witnesses testifying in defense of Steinberg's former partner, David Dunn, said they fled Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn for Dunn's new firm, Athletes First, because of a dysfunctional work environment.

Steinberg is suing Dunn and Athletes First for more than $40 million, alleging breach of contract and unfair competition, among other things. Steinberg's lawyers contend that Brian Murphy, the chief operating officer of Athletes First, threatened to go public with negative information about Steinberg if Steinberg filed a lawsuit.

Dunn has denied wrongdoing and is countersuing, claiming false advertising and invasion of privacy. Dunn left Steinberg in February 2001, taking with him 50 clients and a half-dozen employees.

Dunn's attorneys began their defense by calling former Steinberg and current Dunn employees who testified that they were not solicited by Dunn but left Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn because of intolerable working conditions, including bizarre behavior by Steinberg.

Joby Branion, the first witness in Dunn's defense, testified that he saw Steinberg grab a female assistant and shake her until she started crying. Branion also testified that Steinberg yelled at him and embarrassed him in front of other people.

Branion, who is black, told the jury that he felt "devalued" because Steinberg and partner Jeff Moorad treated Branion as a token minority agent.

But on cross-examination, Branion, who is now a top executive at Athletes First, testified that he wasn't sure whether Dunn also thought of him as a token minority.

Carmen Wallace, another former Steinberg employee, testified that he saw Steinberg lick the faces of two women at separate social occasions about a year apart. Wallace, who is also black, said he complained to Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn general counsel David Cornwell about what he thought was racist behavior.

Both Branion and Wallace testified that Cornwell, who is also black, told them he agreed that Steinberg had "racist issues," but there was nothing that could be done about it.

Erin Bohrnstedt, Dunn's assistant who followed him from Steinberg's firm to Athletes First, testified that Steinberg and Moorad did not treat her with respect and that she wanted to work solely for Dunn.

Steinberg lawyers questioned Branion and Bohrnstedt about differences in their testimony at the trial and in previous sworn testimony.

Branion acknowledged that he stated in a previous sworn declaration that he deleted his personal e-mails from his computer when actually he deleted both personal and business e-mails. Branion also acknowledged that he testified previously that he had resigned from Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn and then went to Dunn's house, when in fact he went to Dunn's house before he resigned.

Dunn's attorneys also called to the stand Kris Farris and Jamir Miller, two players who testified they fired Steinberg and hired Dunn as their agent on their own accord. Both players testified that they had a much closer relationship with Dunn than with Steinberg.

In addition to the lawsuit against Dunn, Steinberg filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association against 40 players — including Farris and Miller — who Steinberg claims owe him a total of about $3 million in fees.

Under cross-examination by Steinberg lawyers, Farris testified that he paid Athletes First a fee for a contract Dunn negotiated for him in April 2001, but that he did not officially fire Steinberg as his agent until May 2001. Farris said he was aware of the fee dispute.

But Miller said he was not aware of the grievance against him or that Dunn's lawyers answered it on his behalf, denying that Miller owed fees to Steinberg. Miller testified that he recently paid Steinberg the fees owed on the contract in dispute.

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Related Topics:

Athletes First, Labor and Agents

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