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A Vicious Rag War’s Bizarre Conclusion : Retailing: The creators of Guess jeans won’t pay a $10-million bounty to their superstar lawyer, who in turn files a $17-million lien. Is the fight really over?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was, perhaps, the only way that this lawsuit could have ended.

After a 6 1/2-year legal free-for-all, the Marciano brothers, creators of Guess jeans, won back full control Wednesday of that garment industry gold mine from their archenemies, the Nakash brothers, founders of Jordache.

But rather than giving rise to unvarnished celebration, the settlement of the rag war only opened the door to more contention--this time between the mercurial Marcianos and their superstar attorney, Marshall B. Grossman.

The Marcianos, who cast off at least three high-priced law firms before settling on Grossman to mastermind their case through five years of legal wrangling and two protracted Superior Court trials, turned to other powerhouse lawyers at the 11th hour to negotiate a settlement with the Nakashes.

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And not only did the Marcianos charge, in the aftermath, that Grossman tried to block the settlement, they declared that they would not pay the $10-million bounty they’d promised him if he restored their control of Guess.

So, hours after the Marcianos sauntered into court singing the praises of Howard L. Weitzman, the Nakashes’ attorney, and wearing lapel buttons emblazoned with his name, sources said Grossman filed a $17-million lien against the Marcianos’ proceeds from the settlement.

It was the kind of day, in other words, that Los Angeles trial lawyers, who had watched the case intently, could only term “bizarre” and “incredible.”

“As one of the lawyers described it at one point, being a lawyer in this case was like riding a bucking bronco,” said Daniel J. Woods, one of the succession of lawyers who represented the Nakashes in the Guess-Jordache imbroglio. “Sooner or later all the lawyers were going to get thrown out of the saddle.”

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Grossman, it seems, landed with quite a thump.

One of the most feared trial lawyers in Los Angeles, he was the victor in celebrated cases against Playboy Enterprises, movie mogul Marvin Davis and sports agent Mike Trope. Last year, Grossman convinced a Los Angeles jury that the Nakashes had defrauded the Marcianos when they first became partners in Guess. That verdict set the stage for the trial that ended abruptly Wednesday, in which a jury was already deliberating how much the Nakashes owed the Marcianos for their misconduct.

Those successes seemed forgotten by the Marcianos, who had no good words for the lawyer they till lately could not stop praising.

“He did everything possible to derail the settlement,” said Paul Marciano, the family spokesman and the force behind Guess’ riveting ad campaigns. “My opinion is that he wanted the verdict badly, and didn’t get it.”

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Grossman calmly denied the accusation, insisting that he had worked for five years to settle the dispute--a battle waged not only in courts in Los Angeles, New York, Delaware and Hong Kong, but in criminal grand juries and the committee rooms of congressional investigators.

But there was no denying that it was two other lawyers, Richard M. Coleman and Pierce O’Donnell--the latter fresh from winning columnist Art Buchwald’s case against Paramount Pictures over the origins of “Coming to America"--who struck a deal with Weitzman. Their pact returned control of Guess to the Marcianos and made a still-secret division of the $106 million in company profits that piled up during the legal warfare.

Trial lawyers say it is not unheard of for one set of lawyers to pursue settlement on a client’s behalf while others are pushing for victory at trial. But it is unusual.

“The lawyers involved are obviously among the most high-profile . . . people in town,” said Los Angeles attorney Alan I. Rothenberg, president of the State Bar of California. “It’s an incredible twist to end it.”

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What happened?

Stories differ. One lawyer familiar with the case said pressure from insurance companies--which have raised objections to paying for the defense of the Nakashes and Marcianos--pushed the two sides toward settlement. But Grossman, other attorneys said, was so intent on winning a jury verdict that he could not stand back and negotiate a compromise.

Paul Marciano said Grossman wanted both the glory of a legal victory as well as an undisputed claim to the $10-million bonus. Marciano said that he offered Grossman a small bonus, but that Grossman declined it.

Weitzman, whose clients have included sports car maker John Z. DeLorean and former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, said simply that O’Donnell and Coleman “brought a different perspective to the table than Marshall did.”

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Grossman, meanwhile, pointed cryptically to differences between the four Marciano brothers to explain the new lawyers. O’Donnell and Paul Marciano denied that the brothers had been at odds; Coleman could not be reached for comment.

Grossman declined to discuss his fee arrangements, the $10-million bonus, or the filing of a lien against the Marcianos. Instead, he claimed “a very substantial victory,” one nothing short of “a miracle,” in regaining control of Guess for the Marcianos seven years after they sold a half-interest to the Nakashes--a half-interest sold for $4.8 million that now is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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