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  • Henrik Nilsson

Fighting on Multiple Battlefields

Daily Journal September 14, 2020

With 3 attorneys, Allan Law Group PC has the experience and the ability to litigate for clients in high-profile cases in the U.S. and internationally.

When Robert J. Allan moved from Canada to develop real estate in Malibu in the 1980s, he said he quickly got a taste of how litigious it can be to conduct business in the United States.

"With everybody attacking you left, right and center when developing real property, I decided I should become a lawyer," Allan said. "And in 1985, I became a lawyer in California."

When he started out, Allan said he had the opportunity to represent the Singer family, Canadian real estate developers, in purchasing a studio lot in Hollywood from film director Francis Ford Coppola. But Allan said he turned down the offer.

"My big challenge was I couldn't take on that particular matter, which I always regretted that I couldn't do that because I just didn't have the experience at the time," Allan said.

But decades later, the three-attorney Allan Law Group PC has both the experience and the ability to litigate high-profile cases in the U.S. and internationally. And the Singer family continued to rely on Allan.

After trying a 2007 case to a verdict on liability for them, Allan negotiated a high seven-figure settlement. Studio Management Services Inc. v. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, BC325855 (Los Angeles County Super. Ct., filed Dec. 15, 2004).

The Singer family owned Studio Management Services Inc., which had leased an office building from Benhar Co. that caught fire. The two entities and many tenants in the building brought an inverse condemnation action against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, saying oil from a transformer had caused the fire. After Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. held the department liable for damages, it settled.

"There were a lot of lawyers in that case. We filled the courtroom when we came in," Allan recalled.

Since then, the firm has continued to be involved in big cases, and its small size works in Allan Law Group's favor, he said.

Throughout the years, the number of attorneys working at the firm has varied. At one point, there were 10. But with today's technology, Allan said it's easier to be smaller, even when faced with complicated cases.

"After all, a law firm is a small business, so you want to try and keep it lean and mean, which is what we're trying to do now," he explained.

Shareholder Stella W. Yap and senior associate Brian R. Tinkham joined the firm to pursue their entertainment law interest. Rod Rummelsburg is the firm's of counsel.

Yap joined Allan Law Group from Greene Broillet & Wheeler LLP. Working at a smaller firm allowed her to assume more responsibility and be involved in every step of the process when the firm takes on a case, Yap said.

The firm is entrusted with complicated cases because of its dedication to the clients, Yap said.

"They see that you're in their corner, that you're willing to do everything you can to help them, and they come back, and some of our clients have been with us for 20, 30 or 40 years."

Yap said Allan's dedication is why the firm has continued to fight for the artist Sylvester Stewart, also known as Sly Stone from the band Sly and the Family Stone, in a case that started in 2010 and is ongoing.

Stewart sued his former manager, Jerry Goldstein, and a company of which Stewart was co-owner, Even St. Productions Inc., in 2010, claiming fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion for diversion, misappropriation of royalties and assets for over 20 years.

The firm obtained a $5 million verdict after a Los Angeles Superior Court jury unanimously decided in favor of the artist and pre-judgment interest of over $350,000. Stewart et al. v. Goldstein et al., BC 430809 (Los Angeles County Super. Ct., filed Jan. 28, 2010).

After the defense filed post-trial motions, the case settled with Stewart receiving proceeds in excess of the jury verdict, as well as the rights to his intellectual property and master sound recordings, Yap said.

The company also filed for bankruptcy in 2014, a case that is unresolved.

"Those are the kind of challenges we face and why litigation right now is so difficult and so complicated," Yap said.

"People are willing to do anything to prolong the case and that's bad for the client because they know that they can stretch it out. You're going to hit your client in the pocketbook, and a lot of them can't afford to keep litigating."

For Tinkham, who joined the firm in 2014, the Stewart case has been especially challenging.

"Just because it went in so many different directions," Tinkham said. "The breach of contract aspect of it: There's a declaratory relief action that was tried separately and then the whole bankruptcy court issue and the issues that happen in bankruptcy court even after it's settled. So it went on for some time and still is ongoing."

Anthony R. Bisconti, partner at Bienert Katzman, worked with Allan on the Stewart case and said part of the firm's success comes from its willingness to press on for its clients, regardless of where the case takes them.

"My firm and I do a lot of bankruptcy work. Because the bankruptcy arena tends to see a lot of repeat players, it can be difficult for someone who doesn't regularly work in that world to be successful," Bisconti said. "But through Robert's tenacity and relentlessness and common sense approach, he has been able to achieve some great results for Mr. Stewart in the case, and was never deterred by some of the peculiarities that can arise in a bankruptcy case that don't exist in other types of cases."

Allan's experience representing clients in international matters also contributes to the firm's success, said Steven J. Katzman of Bienert Katzman.

"Given Robert's many decades of extensive experience in international matters, he is able to provide a perspective that most others cannot," Katzman said.

"Coupled with his experience as president and CEO of public and private corporations, he possesses a unique background to address business issues and challenges in a global context."

The Allan Law attorneys' willingness to go the extra mile to protect their clients' interests makes them a challenging adversary in the courtroom, said David L. Neale of Levene, Neale, Bender, Yoo & Brill LLP.

Neale's firm represented Even St. Productions as debtor in the bankruptcy case that followed Stewart's initial lawsuit.

"They were extremely active and aggressive in pursuing their client's interests, and definitely kept us on our toes responding to the many positions they took in the case," Neale said in an email. "Ultimately, we were able to reach a settlement and I think they did very well for their client."

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