Frank Rothman Dies; Lawyer Represented NFL

From a Times Staff Writer

Frank Rothman, a renowned sports and entertainment attorney who represented the National Football League and once headed MGM, died Tuesday at 73.

Rothman had handled lawsuits involving the NFL, the National Basketball Assn. and the PGA tour. He also had represented numerous entertainment clients, including Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co., Paramount Pictures, Home Box Office and 20th Century Fox.

The National Law Journal selected him as one of the nation's most influential lawyers, and California Law Business recently named him one of two contenders "for the title of most coveted litigator in California."

Rothman litigated a number of landmark cases, including one involving basketball player Spencer Haywood that led to the "hardship rule," which allows undergraduates to leave college before four years and play in the NBA.

Rothman also represented a number of individual teams during his career, including the Boston Celtics, the Seattle Supersonics, the Portland Trailblazers and the Los Angeles Rams.

"He was one of the top lawyers in the area and one of the ablest and most respected," said Stephen Reinhardt, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge. "For many years, he was the NFL's chief anti-trust attorney."

Rothman's son, Steven, said his father enjoyed every aspect of sports, from watching football games at home on Sundays to litigating high-profile cases involving professional teams.

"'He loved sports," Steven Rothman said. "He loved representing the leagues and owners and living the life with those guys."

Rothman grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Fairfax High School and attended UCLA. He graduated from USC Law School and worked for the city attorney in the early 1950s.

He then joined a few lawyers in a tiny firm that handled insurance defense cases. By the early 1980s, the firm--Wyman, Bautzer, Rothman, Kuchel & Silbert--had about 40 partners, 100 associates and offices in Century City, Orange County and Washington, D.C.

In 1982, Kirk Kerkorian, MGM's principal's stockholder, asked Rothman to take the company's the top job.

"Kirk had been a long-time client of my father," Steven Rothman said. "My father saw the job as a challenge. That was my dad. His attitude was: 'Let's try this.' "

In 1983, Rothman was named entertainment executive of the year.

After four years as MGM chairman and chief executive, Rothman decided to return to law and joined the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as a senior partner.

"He enjoyed his tenure as head of a studio, but law was really his first love," Steven Rothman said. "Law was what defined him and law drew him back."

While at the firm, Rothman was the NFL's lead attorney for more than a decade. He represented the league in number of high-profile lawsuits, including an antitrust claim brought by the United States Football League in which Rothman scored a significant victory for the NFL. A jury decided in the 1986 verdict that although the NFL was a monopoly, the league did not prevent the USFL from obtaining a network television contract. The jury awarded the USFL $1; it had been seeking $1 billion.

During the last decade, Rothman also litigated a number of entertainment cases. He helped settle a battle for the videocassette distribution rights to the movies "Platoon" and "Hoosiers." He negotiated an option agreement for the rights to Muhammad Ali's life story. And he represented Home Box Office in an antitrust lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles pay-television channel.

In 1994, the California State Bar named him antitrust lawyer of the year.

In addition to sports, Rothman had a passion for contemporary art. He traveled around the country attending art auctions and amassed a well-regarded collection.

Rothman died Tuesday as a result of complications following surgery. He is survived by his wife, Mariana Pfaelzer, a U.S. District Court judge; son Steven of Los Angeles; two daughters, Susan Rothman of Los Angeles and Robin Wilson of Georgia; and five grandchildren.

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