A Connecticut lawyer who represents gospel artists claims record companies and a label executive have interfered in his attorney-client relationships.

A Connecticut lawyer who represents gospel artists claims record companies and a label executive have interfered in his attorney-client relationships.

James L. Walker Jr. and his J. Walker and Associates law firm filed suit April 1 against Verity Records and its president Max Siegel, Verity parent companies Zomba Enterprises and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and Provident Distribution.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., claims that Verity/Zomba in 2001 "set out to deprive gospel artists of effective representation in their contract negotiations" in order to "slash" the artists' compensation. It says the defendants used "trickery and deceit to convince gospel artists" not to work with Walker, especially in connection with the "WOW" compilation series.

"WOW Gospel 2005" is currently No. 2 on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums chart; the 2004 edition is No. 21 in its 61st week on the chart.

The suit claims that Walker insisted that his clients receive the "full statutory rate" for mechanical licenses, rather than agreeing to receive 75% of the statutory rate under controlled compositions clauses in the recording contracts. Walker alleges that the defendants repeatedly threatened his clients that they would be barred from future participation in the WOW projects for as long as they continued to be represented by Walker.

Walker tells Billboard.biz that in addition to providing legal services, he handles publishing administration for his clients' compositions. In the suit, he claims breach of contract for the defendants' failure to include credit on a 2003 "Hooked on Hits" album for Walker's company, which administered six of the songs. The suit says this omission creates hardship for artists "because future deals are more difficult to broker" and strips Walker of a "vital advertising tool."

Walker also alleges that Siegel, an attorney, continued to practice law while acting as Verity president. The suit claims that Siegel pressured artists to replace Walker with him, his outside law firm or "any other lawyer aligned with BMG's interests."

The suit alleges claims for interference with business relationships and with prospective economic advantage, trade libel, defamation, breach of contract, bad faith, unjust enrichment and violation of Connecticut's unfair trade practices law.

The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages. Walker says that he wants to stop label executives from representing artists and from paying reduced rates for mechanical royalties.

Siegel was unavailable for comment. The labels declined to comment on pending litigation.