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Failure to Depose Rick Ross Could Cost Reed Smith in 50 Cent Malpractice Case

Curtis James Jackson "50 cent" Photo: Shutterstock.com

Just a lil' bit—more work. That's all Reed Smith's lawyers would have had to do in order to completely escape a malpractice claim brought by rap star and former client 50 Cent, according to a ruling from a Connecticut bankruptcy judge.

Namely, Reed Smith's lawyers needed to depose another rap star: Rick Ross.  

Reed Smith remains entangled in a case stemming from a long-simmering feud between the two famous rappers. But under last week's ruling, the window for 50 Cent to succeed in his malpractice claim against the Am Law 100 firm was significantly narrowed.

The dispute dates back to 2009, when 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson III, leaked a sex tape of a woman who has a child with Rick Ross, real name William A. Robert II, during a public feud between the two.

50 Cent’s actions ultimately cost him $7 million, which a 2015 New York state court jury awarded the woman in the tape. That verdict led to a bankruptcy filing for Jackson.

Reed Smith had represented 50 Cent in that sex-tape case in New York until the eve of the 2015 trial, when the rapper dismissed the firm from the case citing “lack of effective representation and inadequate pre-trial preparation.”

After filing for bankruptcy, the "Just a Lil Bit" singer sued Reed Smith in 2017, asking for $32 million in total damages. Among his claims were that Rick Ross had posted the sex tape online before 50 Cent did and that Reed Smith had failed to depose the rival rapper as a way to enter that evidence into his defense.

That fact could have mitigated the damages 50 Cent paid in the New York case, said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ann Nevins in Connecticut, ruling on Reed Smith's motion to dismiss.

But 50 Cent shouldn't read the opinion as if it's an excuse to sip Bacardi like it's his birthday quite yet.

Nevins, in her opinion last week, said 50 Cent has a long road in front of him to win a malpractice claim against Reed Smith. For one thing, Nevins said Ross’ testimony that he first uploaded the video would not have had an effect on 50 Cent’s liability under New York law.

“Mr. Jackson must, nonetheless, prove that the defendants’ conduct was negligent and that but for the defendants’ negligent conduct, Mr. Jackson would not have suffered some amount of actual and ascertainable damages,” Nevins wrote. “Failure or inability to do so may result in summary judgment entering in favor of the defendants.”

While Nevins dismissed the vast majority of 50 Cent’s claims against Reed Smith, the judge also allowed the rapper to pursue an objection to a bankruptcy claim Reed Smith made against the rapper for more than $600,000 in unpaid legal bills. The rapper will be allowed to argue that those bills were excessive, the judge ruled.

“We are pleased the Court eliminated almost all of Jackson’s claims at the pleading stage, and look forward to addressing what remains through additional motion practice,” Reed Smith said in a statement.

"While our hope is that this matter can be resolved through settlement, Mr. Jackson is confident he will prevail," 50 Cent's lawyers, Imran Ansari and Arthur L. Aidala, said in a statement.

Drew A. Hillier, who represents Reed Smith and is an associate at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

50 Cent is no stranger to suing law firms. The rapper, businessman and actor in late 2016 secured a $14.5 million settlement from Seattle-based law firm Garvey Schubert Barer. He had sued Garvey Schubert for $75 million, accusing the firm of malpractice by not adequately representing him in business negotiations and in an arbitration proceeding with earphone manufacturer Sleek Audio LLC. That money helped the artist pay more than $22 million to have his bankruptcy case discharged in 2017.