The curious case of the Quinn Emanuel partner and the alleged conspiracy against Leon Black

6 minute read

Leon Black, Chairman and CEO Apollo Global Management, in Beverly Hills, California April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

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  • Quinn withdrawal
  • Amended complaint

(Reuters) - Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan withdrew this week as counsel to Apollo Global Management Inc founder Leon Black in a lawsuit claiming that an ex-model who has accused Black of rape conspired with his business rival in a smear campaign to bring down the billionaire financier.

Quinn’s withdrawal letter to U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan federal court cited a potential conflict of interest. The letter provided no additional details about the conflict.

But Black’s amended complaint, filed at the same time as Quinn’s withdrawal request, contains some intriguing assertions about contacts between purported participants in the alleged anti-Black conspiracy and Quinn litigation partner Alex Spiro.

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I can't say for sure that the Spiro allegations in Black’s amended complaint, which was filed by Susan Estrich of Estrich Golden, are related to Quinn’s withdrawal. I reached out to Spiro and Quinn partners John Quinn and Michael Carlinsky to ask that question, among others. The firm sent an email response: “We are not at liberty to disclose the nature of our conflict.”

There is a one big clue that the conflict is linked to Black's conspiracy allegations: Quinn has not asked to withdraw as Black’s defense counsel in the New York state court sexual assault and defamation case brought by the ex-model, Guzel Ganieva. The firm’s email statement confirmed that Quinn continues to serve as Black’s counsel in the state case.

And regardless of the reasons for Quinn's withdrawal from the federal case, it's notable that Black’s own complaint asserts unusual incidents involving Quinn partner Spiro – or, at least, people wielding his name – and purported participants in a vast conspiracy to defame and extort Black, who remains a client of Spiro's firm.

You need some background to understand those incidents. The lawsuit asserts that Black’s onetime protégé, Josh Harris, was incensed that Black spurned him as a successor to lead Apollo. The complaint claims that Harris orchestrated a retaliatory legal and media blitz against Black, conspiring with Ganieva and a public relations expert to ruin Black’s reputation with false claims of rape and kidnapping.

I should note here that the alleged conspirators have vehemently denied any ties between Harris and Ganieva. Black’s initial complaint alleged that Ganieva’s lawyers at Wigdor were also part of the alleged racketeering conspiracy. Wigdor responded with motion for Rule 11 sanctions that argued Black's lawsuit was improper and an "outrageously scandalous" attempt to retaliate against the firm for its representation of Ganieva. Black's amended complaint dropped racketeering claims against Wigdor but still alleges the firm is liable for defamation.

Black's amended complaint claims that Harris convened a “war council” of lawyers and public relations advisors to transform Ganieva’s sexual relationship with Black into ammunition against the Apollo billionaire. (Black, who is married, contends that he and Ganieva had a consensual affair and that he paid her millions of dollars to keep it secret.) Harris' “war council,” according to the amended complaint, assembled a short list of aggressive New York litigators as candidates for litigation against Black.

Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel was on the list, according to Black’s amended complaint. In early 2021, Black's complaint alleged, “confederates” of Harris called Spiro to find out if Quinn Emanuel was interested in taking a case against Black. The amended complaint does not specify the identity of these purported confederates, except to describe them as “an unidentified shadowy internal faction at Apollo that was involved in ‘cagey business’ there."

The complaint is also hazy about the specific pitch to Spiro: “A woman was mentioned,” it asserts. “Eventually, the woman was identified as Guzel Ganieva.”

Two months after that alleged contact between Spiro and Harris allies, Ganieva posted accusations on Twitter that Black was a sexual predator, the lawsuit asserts. Soon thereafter, according to Black’s complaint, two private investigators were admitted into Ganieva’s apartment building after allegedly displaying law enforcement badges.

Once inside Ganieva's apartment, Black’s complaint alleges, the investigators urged her to file a lawsuit against Black – and to hire Spiro as her counsel. The complaint freights the alleged incident with conspiratorial implications, noting that Spiro was "the very same lawyer who had been contacted by an emissary of Mr. Harris at the behest of an Apollo faction previously to be adverse to Leon Black.”

Spiro has denied that he had anything whatsoever to do with this bizarre alleged incident, according to Black’s complaint. Quinn Emanuel, obviously, did not accept any assignment to represent Ganieva or Harris, instead signing on as Black’s counsel in the latter half of 2021. (Spiro is not involved in Black’s cases.) And it frankly strains credulity to imagine that Spiro would resort to drumming up business by hiring fake law enforcement officers to tout his credentials to prospective clients.

But that’s why it’s so noteworthy that Black’s own complaint recounts the alleged incident, along with the alleged pitch to Spiro from Harris’s “confederates.” Black is Quinn Emanuel’s client – yet he is the one dragging Spiro into the fringes of the alleged conspiracy.

Wigdor said it was aware of the incident involving the purported investigators before it was described in Black's amended complaint. In fact, according to Ganieva counsel Jeanne Christensen of Wigdor, her firm told Quinn Emanuel when Quinn first entered the Black litigation about Ganieva’s alleged encounter with the private investigators who urged her to retain Spiro. Christensen also said that Ganieva sent a contemporaneous text about the incident to a friend, including the phone number that the investigators urged her to call. According to Christensen, the phone number in the text belonged to Spiro.

Black counsel Susan Estrich told me that she regards allegations involving Spiro as important evidence. The initial outreach to Spiro by Harris allies, she said, shows that Harris was contemplating litigation against Black. And Wigdor's account of Ganieva's encounter with the investigators, Estrich said, showed that someone very much wanted Ganieva to hire Spiro to sue Black.

"Clearly, the connection between Josh Harris and his team and Guzel Ganieva and her lawsuit is critical to the case," Estrich said.

Harris spokesman Jonathan Rosen said that connection simply does not exist. In an email statement, Rosen said that Black's new filing is “baseless, untrue and unsupportable." Harris, he said, has never met or spoken to Ganieva or anyone who represents her. Nor does Harris have any financial dealing with Ganieva, according to Rosen.

Ganieva counsel Christensen told me Quinn’s withdrawal from the federal case will not end Wigdor’s bid for Rule 11 sanctions. “Quinn Emanuel slinks away from the case, hoping that the court will let them go quietly,” she said in a statement.

Read more:

Leon Black drops racketeering claims against law firm Wigdor; Quinn Emanuel exits

Leon Black's rape accuser seeks to dismiss billionaire' s lawsuit

Billionaire Leon Black sues rape accuser and law firm, alleging defamation and racketeering

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Alison Frankel has covered high-stakes commercial litigation as a columnist for Reuters since 2011. A Dartmouth college graduate, she has worked as a journalist in New York covering the legal industry and the law for more than three decades. Before joining Reuters, she was a writer and editor at The American Lawyer. Frankel is the author of Double Eagle: The Epic Story of the World’s Most Valuable Coin.