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Entertainment and Sports Law

Players On the Move

A look at moves among attorneys, law firms, companies and other players in entertainment law.

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Christa D’Alimonte has stepped down as general counsel of New York-based Paramount Global after more than a decade with the media conglomerate. D’Alimonte’s exit comes on the heel of the unraveling of plans to merge the more than century-old Paramount, which has fallen behind its Hollywood peers in recent years, with Skydance Media, an upstart founded in 2006 by David Ellison, son of Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison. Now that Paramount is keeping its independence, the company’s board is under pressure to chop expenses. Paramount is weighed down by more than $14 billion in debt and lost $500 million in the first quarter. Deadline reported that D’Alimonte will be succeeded by 15-year Paramount veteran Caryn Groce, who’s been deputy general counsel for four years. D’Alimonte did not immediately respond to a LinkedIn message from Law.com inquiring about her reasons for departing Paramount. But Paramount stated in a June 21 securities regulatory filing that D’Alimonte’s departure was “involuntary” and “without cause” and as a result she is slated to receive an estimated $6.5 million in severance. The filing said that under D’Alimonte’s March 2022 employment agreement, her involuntary termination entitled her to receive “post-employment payments and benefits,” without being specific. However, the company’s latest proxy statement, filed in April, estimated the payout to D’Alimonte for an involuntary termination without cause at $6.5 million, including salary and bonuses totaling $4.6 million, $1.9 million from accelerated vesting of past stock grants, continuation of medical coverage and outplacement assistance. D’Alimonte started her legal career at Shearman & Sterling, where she began as an associate in 1993 and rose to partner in 2001. During her Shearman & Sterling tenure, she began doing work for Viacom, which she left the law firm to join in 2012. She initially was deputy general counsel of Viacom but had risen to general counsel by 2019, when Viacom combined with Paramount’s CBS in a $12 billion merger. Meanwhile, Skydance tapped attorney Jean Chi, most recently Spotify’s global head of business affairs for content, as president of global business and legal affairs. Chi, who started her career as an associate at Latham & Watkins in 2002, has straddled the business and legal realms in many of her jobs since she first went in-house by joining Disney in 2004. She went on to positions at Paramount, Lionsgate and A24 before returning to Paramount as executive vice president of business affairs in 2017, a post she held until joining Spotify three year later. Chi has joined Santa Monica, CA-based Skydance at the critical juncture for the company that would have given Skydance and its private equity backers two-thirds of Paramount. Chi’s arrival coincides with General Counsel Stephanie Kyoko McKinnon taking on the additional title of co-president of business operations.   Music and entertainment lawyer Denise Stevens has left Loeb & Loeb, where she was a partner, to join Pierson Ferdinand as partner and Co-Chair of the latter firm’s Global Media, Entertainment & Sports Practice. In a statement, Pierson Ferdinand noted Stevens’ “transactional practice focuses on talent, creative properties and entertainment tech throughout the fields of music, publishing, touring, literary, television, film, and branded entertainment, adding Stevens has “a depth of over 30 years of experience reflective of her top-tier high-profile clients, including superstar recording and touring artists across the genres of Country, Christian, Rock, Pop & R&B, and multi-hyphenate film and television personalities and executives …” Weinstein Senior, a Los Angeles entertainment law firm founded in 2022 by Todd Weinstein and Tara Senior, announced its expansion with the addition of two lawyers from McKuin Frankel Whitehead’s entertainment practice. Partner Rebecca Brakeman and senior associate Matt Cuzzocrea will be joining Weinstein Senior. Brakeman has focused her practice on representing emerging and established production companies in the unscripted, documentary television and digital media industries where she handled all legal and business affairs matters in connection with the development, sale and production of such programming. In Cuzzocrea’s tenure at McKuin Frankel Whitehead, he represented premiere unscripted television production companies and studios such as Entertainment One, IPC, and Will Smith’s studio Westbrook Media. DLA Piper announced it has hired two partners from Reed Smith in its trademark, media and copyright practice by adding Stacy Marcus and Michael Isselin in New York. Both Marcus and Isselin cover talent and influencer agreements, issues tied to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and advertising and media companies. In particular, “There was this additional level of sophistication and uniqueness in Marcus and Isselin’s SAG-AFTRA practice. We didn’t have that specific expertise at DLA,” said Tamar Duvdevani, the U.S. chair of trademark, copyright and media at DLA Piper. Marcus is the first woman to serve as the chief negotiator of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), the bargaining representative for the advertising industry in negotiating contracts with SAG-AFTRA and the American Federation of Musicians. Isselin also serves as an attorney on the JPC. The pair have already begun work in preparation for the 2025 commercial contract negotiations. Isselin also works in sports advertising. In Texas, Foley & Lardner has added a pair of litigators from Jackson Walker. Trey McDonald of Houston and James McFall both joined Foley &Lardner as partners. They were each elected to the partnership at Jackson Walker in 2019, but most recently were of counsel, as they stepped back from the partnership to help found Lockerverse, a software company for sports organizations and athletes. McDonald works in media, sports, entertainment, trademark and complex commercial litigation, with a particular focus on areas including First Amendment, and the emerging practice of name, image and likeness (NIL) law. He has represented Savannah and Bronny James, the wife and son of Los Angeles Laker LeBron James; global supermodel Jasmine Tookes; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons; NFL agent David Mulugheta; Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Sony Pictures Television. McFall’s practice includes media, sports, entertainment, and complex commercial litigation in fraud, tortious interference, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and trade secrets theft lawsuits. He also does First Amendment and entertainment litigation, along with representing professional athletes and sports franchises in commercial disputes. ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, hired veteran communications attorney John Rogovin as general counsel as the popular social media app battles a new federal law that could force it to shut down in the United States. Rogovin, who served as general counsel of Warner Bros. from 2008 to 2022, will serve as GC of the Beijing-based ByteDance and oversee the legal affairs of TikTok. Rogovin was among a throng of high-level executives at Warner Bros. who bowed out in the weeks following the April 2022 completion of the $43 billion merger of Discovery with AT&T’s Warner Bros., HBO and Turner Broadcasting units. Before joining Warner Bros., Rogovin held a variety of roles, including as general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission and deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice. Rogovin succeeds Erich Andersen, who stepped down in April. The company said Andersen, who now has the title of special counsel, gave up the legal reins to focus on fighting the new law that would ban the app in the United States if ByteDance doesn’t sell its stake within a year. In April, Congress passed the TikTok legislation and President Joe Biden signed it, arguing that the unusual intervention was justified because of the risks of having Chinese ownership of an app used by 170 million Americans. In May, ByteDance and TikTok filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legislation. The suit claims the restrictions constitute an unprecedented attack on free speech.

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