If there’s one thing yesterday’s proceedings in Judge Peter Leisure‘s courtroom demonstrated, it’s the extreme disconnect between legal relevance and true-blue drama. From a legal standpoint, all the preliminary injunction hearing (which wrapped up by 4 PM yesterday) accomplished was to show whether there was enough standing to hold Richard Abate to the terms of his ICM contract until the last day of 2007, or whether ICM’s contract, forbidding Abate to even discuss options with Endeavor, was anticompetitive according to New York law. That will be decided fairly quickly – likely within the week – as Leisure, testier and more impatient than he’d been on Thursday, remarked once more that he’d “never seen such a delay on proceedings for a preliminary injunction” as well as the scuttled TRO. From a contractual standpoint, either Abate left – thus violating his existing contract – or he was fired in passive-aggressive fashion because turning down a new offer imperiled his future and so he needed backup in case that happened.
But you’re not reading this lengthy account for legal wranglings (even though there were plenty, especially when Abate’s father-in-law, Harold Moore, could only testify in limited fashion thanks to attorney-client privilege, a point vigorously debated between ICM counsel A. Michael Weber and Abate’s lawyer Brian Kaplan.) You want the drama. And boy, was there drama, never more evident than when a steely-eyed Esther Newberg, pursing her lips and visibly unhappy to have spent most of the day cooling her heels in the jury room under sequestering until she was called to the stand around 2:30 PM, testified that she felt “betrayed” by Abate’s surprise exit on February 9, someone whom she characterized as being a close friend – though not anymore. Add Sloan Harris‘s testimony as well as Abate’s completion of his to the mix and the real story of this hearing is not so much about money, but about how seemingly close relationships deteriorated so suddenly, so badly – which might explain why the arbitration demand slapped upon Abate late last week is to the tune of $10 million dollars.
But first, let’s backtrack to the very beginning of the day’s events, when Judge Leisure reminded the court that the hearing ought to have wrapped up in a single day and he felt much of it was a waste of time. “I hope we can make some headway here,” he said, and while the court may not quite have got its wishes, the reporters in attendance – yours truly, the LA Times‘ Josh Getlin and a late-arriving Michael Fleming from Variety – certainly did.