Lawyers apologize to Hollywood execs wrongly accused of sexual abuse
The allegations unsettled Hollywood: teenage boys invited to pool parties at an Encino mansion where they were offered drugs and drink, with the tacit understanding that they would be expected to have sex with older men in attendance, most working in the entertainment industry.
The claims by former child actor and model Michael Egan spawned a flurry of headlines last year, but within a few months his lawyers dropped him as a client.
Now they’ve gone further — paying a settlement of at least $1 million and taking the unusual step of issuing formal apologies to two of the accused, television producer Garth Ancier and former Walt Disney Co. executive David Neuman.
“Based on what I know now, I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations against you,” Florida-based attorney Jeffrey Herman wrote in a letter to Ancier and Neuman, copies of which the pair’s representatives provided Sunday. “Had I known what I learned after filing the lawsuits, I would never have filed these claims against you.”
FOR THE RECORD
9:11 a.m.: An earlier version of this article quoted a letter from attorney Jeffrey Herman to Garth Ancier and David Neuman as saying: “Based on what I know now, I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and probably false allegations against you.” The letter’s wording was: “Based on what I know now, I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations against you.”
Herman said he dropped Egan as a client two months after filing the complaints and that he had “resolved this matter with compensation.”
In a separate apology, attorney Mark Gallagher of Hawaii wrote: “Unfortunately, I now do not believe that the allegations in the lawsuit were true and accurate. I deeply regret the unjustified pain, suffering and significant damage the lawsuit and publicity has caused Mr. Ancier, and his family, friends and colleagues.”
The attorneys’ settlement was “in the seven figures,” making it at least $1 million, Ancier’s representatives said.
“I guess the moral for lawyers is, don’t always believe your clients,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. “This is definitely a cautionary tale that I will share with my students.”
Egan dropped the suits against Ancier and Neuman in June 2014. He had also filed — and later dropped — suits against producer Gary Goddard and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer.
Ancier and Neuman filed their own suits accusing Egan, Herman and Gallagher of malicious prosecution. The apologies to the men were issued as a settlement condition. Goddard and Singer did not receive similar apologies because they had not pursued suits against Egan and the attorneys.
Egan, 33, could not be reached for comment. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to fraud in an unrelated federal case in North Carolina. He was accused of using false information to entice people to invest in various projects, and then taking their money for his personal use.
Egan’s civil suits against the four Hollywood figures were filed in Hawaii federal court in April 2014. He claimed he was forced into a sex ring with older men as a teenage boy in the late 1990s, alleging some of the abuse occurred on a private estate on Oahu.
In filing the lawsuits, his attorneys took advantage of a 2012 Hawaii law that opened a two-year window for alleged victims of child sex abuse to file civil charges even if the statute of limitations had expired.
At the time, advocates for children in the entertainment industry said a Hollywood party culture exploiting children does exists.
But questions almost immediately arose about Egan’s motives. Legal analysts questioned why he waited so long to sue Ancier, Neuman, Goddard and Singer for events that allegedly happened about 15 years ago.
There was further skepticism: In 2000, Egan and two other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against three men who they alleged had abused them at the same Encino estate, but that case didn’t mention Singer, Ancier, Neuman or Goddard. The plaintiffs won a $4.5-million judgment in the case.
Egan said the long gap between the alleged abuse and his 2014 lawsuits was a result of being traumatized, and only after years of therapy did he decide to file suit.
The defendants said it was a shakedown, a view that also found some support in Hollywood.
Producer Gavin Polone, whose credits include HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was one of those who were skeptical of Egan’s claims, at the time calling it “persecution against rich gay people.” Reached Sunday, Polone said the accused were “smeared” because they were gay.
“If the fact pattern had been the same but the accused were straight, nobody would ever have heard anything about this,” Polone said. “The whole thing is shameful, and I commend Garth and David for not relenting and demanding that these unscrupulous plaintiff’s lawyers take responsibility for their actions.”
John Nockleby, director of Loyola’s Civil Justice Program, noted that it is rare for attorneys to issue formal apologies.
“Letters like these are unusual; a lawyer doesn’t want to have public acknowledgment that he or she brought a lawsuit that was trumped-up from the very beginning, and he or she bought into it,” he said. “It is professionally embarrassing.”
Ancier said in a statement that the apologies offer final proof “that a convicted scam artist’s claims about me were entirely made up.”
“I said on day one this was all absolutely false and I’m certainly pleased that’s now been admitted by the lawyers responsible for transforming absurd fabrications into a real-life nightmare for me,” he wrote.
Neuman said in a separate statement that the lawsuit against him “was completely fraudulent and filled with whole-cloth lies.”
Nockleby and Levenson weren’t surprised that the settlement was for at least $1 million.
“Some lies are very costly, especially when you’re destroying people’s reputations,” Levenson said.
Herman and Gallagher could not be reached for comment. Legal experts said it is possible that the settlement would be paid from the attorneys’ legal malpractice insurance policies.
Egan’s rocky relationship with his attorneys echoes an experience he had with another lawyer in Las Vegas a decade ago.
In the early 2000s, Egan teamed up with his brother, Jason Egan, to start a Las Vegas production company that would stage haunted-house attractions. But in a 2006 lawsuit filed by Michael Egan in U.S. District Court in Nevada, Egan alleged that his brother ultimately excluded him from the business, took over his interest in the company and declined to share profits.
One of Michael Egan’s attorneys in the matter, Scott Cantor, told The Times last year that his former client initially came off as a “very intelligent, gregarious individual.”
But as the case proceeded, “his communications to us about his perceptions just didn’t seem to match what I understood the reality to be,” Cantor said. “I was dubious as to where he was coming from at that time.”
The case was dismissed in 2008. Jason Egan and Cantor did not respond to requests for comment.
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