Leon Black's law firm fights disqualification bid in Russian model's case

Leon Black, Chairman, CEO and Director, Apollo Global Management, LLC. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) - A law firm defending billionaire investor Leon Black in a defamation and sexual misconduct lawsuit is fighting to keep its role in the case, after Black's accuser said the firm should be disqualified for hiring a New York prosecutor who once investigated him.

The former prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, said in court papers Tuesday that she has nothing to do with the case.

Black, represented by law firm Perry Guha, is battling claims by Russian model Guzel Ganieva in New York state court that he abused her sexually and then lied and falsely accused her of extortion when she spoke out. He has denied the allegations.

Last month Ganieva said Perry Guha should be thrown off the case because the law firm had recently hired Illuzzi-Orbon from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, where she led the trial division.

Illuzzi-Orbon received confidential information about Black, the former head of private equity firm Apollo Global Management Inc, when Ganieva reported his alleged sexual misconduct to Manhattan prosecutors last year, Ganieva alleged. Allowing Perry Guha to stay on as Black's counsel would be a flagrant ethical violation, she argued.

But in an affidavit filed Tuesday in New York County Supreme Court, Illuzzi-Orbon said she is "completely walled off" from Perry Guha's work on Black's case.

Perry Guha separately called Ganieva's move to disqualify it "shameful," saying it was not based on any actual conflict. Samidh Guha, a partner at Perry Guha, said in a statement the disqualification motion is "a cynical litigation tactic that has no basis in law or fact."

Illuzzi-Orbon told the court she could not publicly confirm or deny any investigation of Black by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She added that her former office "had no concerns about the propriety of my work with Perry Guha or my conduct."

Illuzzi-Orbon said she is an "independent contractor" with Perry Guha and typically works less than 10 hours a week at the firm.

Lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor representing Ganieva, said Perry Guha's filings this week indicate that they did not "give notice" about Illuzzi-Orbon's hire "or implement any screening formally in their office for months."

Last month, Black filed a separate lawsuit against Ganieva and her law firm Wigdor, alleging Ganieva broke a confidentiality agreement she had with him. That case is also pending in New York County Supreme Court.

Christensen said Black's latest lawsuit is "total nonsense."

Black is also appealing the dismissal of his federal lawsuit against Ganieva and Wigdor. He accused them of engaging in a "criminal enterprise," including by falsely linking Black to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. A judge dismissed the suit in June, calling it "dubiously pled," "legally tenuous" and "threadbare."

A spokesperson for Black did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Ganieva v. Black, New York County Supreme Court, Index No. 155262/2021

For Guzel Ganieva: Jeanne Christensen, Michael Willemin and Renan Varghese of Wigdor

For Leon Black: Dayna Perry, Peter Gwynne and Alexander Parachini of Perry Guha; and Michael Carlinsky and Jennifer Barrett of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

Read more:

Russian model wants Leon Black's lawyers kicked off N.Y. lawsuit

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.