By Eric Hornbeck
The publicist for the troubled Broadway musical "Rebecca," which was torpedoed by a financier's fraud, can't yet escape its producers' lawsuit, a New York state judge ruled Monday, but the judge also said public relations professionals don't owe fiduciary duties to their clients.
During a hearing, Justice Jeffrey K. Oing allowed breach of contract and defamation claims to continue against Marc Thibodeau, who was supposed to promote the show that fell apart when the producers were conned by former stockbroker Mark Christopher Hotton's false claims that he'd help raise money for the show.
But the judge said that the producers' contract with Thibodeau clearly prohibited a fiduciary relationship between them — the judge pointed to the "buzzwords" of partner, joint venture and principal — and that he was reluctant to create a new standard for public relations professionals akin to the one investment advisers are held to.
"The public relations industry would gasp" if he created that rule, Judge Oing said during the hearing in his downtown Manhattan courtroom.
The contract and defamation claims, however, were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, since they were backed by allegations in the complaint that painted a picture of a nefarious vendetta against the production, the judge said.
"They got the evil eye from someone," Judge Oing said. "It read like a Tom Clancy spy novel."
Hotton, who is also a defendant in the producers' lawsuit, pled guilty in July to federal prosecutors' charges that he'd defrauded the producer by promising to raise money for the production based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel "Rebecca" but instead made up fake investors.
The producers, Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza, launched their state court lawsuit against Hotton last fall, and later Thibodeau, too, seeking $100 million in damages.
They've accused Thibodeau of sabotaging the show by sending fictitious emails to another potential investor, who was contemplating a $2.25 million investment, that warned that Hotton's fraud threatened the show's viability.
Thibodeau's attorney, Marco A. Santori of Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, said during the hearing Monday that the allegations were "preposterous" and had nothing to do with Thibodeau's role as the musical's public relations agent, anyway.
But Erik S. Groothuis of Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP, who represents the show's producers, argued that the complaint clearly showed that Thibodeau had allegedly violated his contract to promote the show by using assumed names and stealing confidential information that he mixed with lies to hurt the show.
The show's producers are represented by Erik S. Groothuis of Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP.
Thibodeau is represented by Marco A. Santori of Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP.