Michael Kassan’s $125M Defamation Suit Against UTA Lawyer Bryan Freedman Is Dead; Ex-MediaLink CEO’s Contract Dispute With Agency Moves To Arbitration – Update

UPDATE, MAY 21, 4:58 PM: It’s official and it’s over, at least for now

LA Superior Court Judge Daniel S. Murphy made his tentative ruling final in Michael Kassan’s $125 million defamation case. Leaning on California’a anti-SLAPP statutes, Judge Murphy tossed out the ex-MediaLink CEO’s legal action against UTA outside counsel Bryan Freedman for calling Kassan a “pathological liar” to Deadline in March.

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“No reasonable trier of fact could interpret Freedman’s statement about Kassan as anything other than a nonactionable statement of opinion,” the judge stated in his final ruling, which was unchanged from his tentative of the morning of May 20. “Therefore, Kassan’s defamation claims fail as a matter of law and have no probability of success.”

None of this today was much of a surprise. It was pretty clear at the end of yesterday’s hearing in DTLA that a dismissal was exactly what the Judge was planning on doing, and now he has.

PREVIOUSLY, MAY 20, 9:02 PM: Ex-MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan has had one of those weeks where you lose one and you win one, kinda.

Coming off LA Superior Court Judge Kerry Bensinger’s May 16 ruling to grant Kassan’s desire to see the fallout from his abrupt and messy March exit from UTA and the vitial noncompete clause moved behind closed doors to arbitration, things were looking good for the exec heading into a publicly stated return to his comfort zone of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June. Yeah, the agency can still pursue some claims later once the arbitration progresses and the stay is removed, but that won’t be until at least November 15 under the court’s schedule.

Things were looking good for smooth operator Kassan until another LASC Judge today decided to tentatively shut down the ex-CEO’s $125 million defamation case against sharp elbowed Hollywood litigator Bryan Freedman.

Back on March 25, UTA outside counsel Freedman told Deadline (actually me to be specific) that Kassan was a “pathological liar.” Mirroring the exact dollar amount UTA purchased strategic advisory firm MediaLink for in late 2021, Kassan went after Freedman for the quip four days later with his pointed suit. Kassan’s own Michelman & Robinson, LLP legal team painted the remark by the Freedman Taitelman + Cooley partner as “sharp-shooting character assassination.”

While no final ruling has been issued yet, Judge Daniel S. Murphy made it pretty clear in a tentative released this morning that he thinks Freedman was well within his legal tights under California’s anti-SLAPP law to say what he so bluntly said in the spring.

Noting the days of legal and public salvos between the once partners, Judge Murphy noted that Freedman’s “pathological liar” description of Kassan “was made in the context of a highly publicized, contentious dispute between Kassan and UTA involving allegations in both directions.” He added that the “context is critical to the totality of the circumstances test because it shows that the statement was made in an adversarial setting and heated dispute wherein the participants were expected to use epithets and hyperbole which an average reader would not take as fact.”

In fact, with a nod to that Deadline piece of March 25, the judge notes: “the article shows that Kassan himself accuses UTA of lying” too and that “courts have found that accusations similar to calling someone a ‘liar’ were nonactionable.”

At Monday’s hearing on the matter and the tentative, Kassan attorney Mona Hanna told Judge Murphy that she could not “imagine any scenario in which an attorney can defame a party to an active litigation that would be more egregious than this example.” Asking the judge to reconsider his tentative, she went on to argue: “This would be basically giving absolute immunity to an attorney representing a party to say anything they want about an opposing party.”

Neither reps for UTA or Kassan had any comment on today’s hearing or Judge Murphy’s tentative. If and when they do, this post will be updated.

Los Angeles Superior Courthouse
Los Angeles Superior Courthouse

However, when it came to last week’s arbitration ruling by Judge Bensinger, both sides waved a victory flag.

“Our focus is on supporting the great work MediaLink continues to do on behalf of its clients, and to unlocking new opportunities together,” a UTA spokesperson told Deadline today. “We continue to pursue this matter through legal channels and are confident that the facts will prevail,” the Jeremey Zimmer-led agency added.

“UTA broke its own arbitration agreement, just like it broke Michael Kassan’s contract,”Kassan lead lawyer Sanford Michelman said in the aftermath of Judge  Bensinger’s decision. “Kassan waived his severance which gives him the right to compete and UTA’s attempt at trying to damage him in public with these frivolous charges has failed.”

Whether or not Kassan unveils a new banner in the south of France or not, UTA named a new MediaLink leadership team in mid-April. Donna Sharp, Andrea Kerr Redniss and Lena Petersen ae running the company’s Marketing Consulting unit, while Media & Tech Strategy Consulting is under the control of Christopher Vollmer, Devrie DeMarco and Mark Wagman.

A number of the new-ish MediaLink chiefs were named as UTA partners last week.

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