Appeals Judge Orders Former Woodstock 50 Financier Place $18.5M in Trust Account While It Weighs Decision

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Michael Lang participates in the Woodstock 50 lineup announcement at Electric Lady Studios on March 19, 2019 in New York.

The festival's founding team is trying to force Japanese advertising conglomerate Dentsu to return the money, while seeking a court's ruling on who controls the event.

A New York appeals judge on Wednesday (May 22) denied Woodstock 50's interim application to force Dentsu to return $18 million to the festival, but it is requiring the Japanese advertising conglomerate to place the money into its attorney's trust account by 5 p.m. Friday as it weighs a challenge to a lower court's ruling. 

Justice David Friedman of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court issued the ruling pending "the decision of a five-judge panel on Woodstock 50's motion to return the funds to the Woodstock 50 Festival account," festival attorney Marc Kasowitz wrote in a press release Wednesday, calling the move "an important step." The total to be put into the trust account is $18.5 million -- the amount Woodstock 50 claims it is owed with an additional buffer included. 

A rep for Dentsu says placing the funds in the attorney account is a normal move in this type of appeals case and is not an indication of how the panel will rule.

In addition to the appeal, Kasowitz filed a motion earlier Wednesday before a different New York Supreme Court justice who was originally assigned the case asking for a new injunction after Dentsu chief commercial officer DJ Martin. That's because Martin allegedly told Woodstock 50 partner Greg Peck that the Japanese conglomerate still controls the festival, even after a ruling last week sought to clarify that exact matter. 

Indeed, Justice Barry Ostrager's ruling last week has done little to stop the fight over the festival. While Ostrager ruled that Dentsu did not have the right to cancel the festival, he also found that the advertising company did have the right to take control of it, according to its contract -- something Dentsu had previously asserted in an April 17 letter to co-founder Michael Lang explaining that Dentsu would be exercising that right on April 29.

But Peck came to a different conclusion and hours after Ostrager issued his ruling emailed Martin asking, "When are you available tomorrow to discuss keeping festival planning on track?" He added, "As the festival is not cancelled, and you did not terminate, we need to move forward with planning, and Dentsu remains obligated under the agreement to fund."

Martin responded telling Peck "the Court’s decision and order ... did not impact Amplifi Live’s April 29 exercise of its Control Option" and warned "W50 and its officers and employees must cease all festival-related activity immediately." 

"Any expenses incurred by Woodstock 50" after April 29 when Dentsu announced it was taking control of the festival and canceling the event "will not be paid," Martin wrote.

Hours later, Peck replied that "Dentsu's control-to-cancel gambit was improper and violated the terms of the agreement, the festival is to proceed, and Dentsu's purported action is null and avoid" and warned against making statements "that suggest in anyway that the festival will not be taking place" on Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, New York.

"Dentsu has done everything in its power to undermine it and try to accomplish the very outcome -- cancellation of the Festival -- that has been enjoined," Kasowitz wrote in an emergency declaration in New York Superior court. "Dentsu has repeatedly stated to W50 and other Festival stakeholders, as well as statements to the media, that Dentsu has sole control over the Festival, and that Dentsu will not be staging the Festival -- essentially, that Dentsu has cancelled the Festival. At the same time that Dentsu has stated that, while it will not do anything to facilitate the staging of the Festival, it also will not permit any other party to do so."

It's unclear if the case will be reassigned to the original judge or go back to Justice Ostrager, who conducted the May 15 hearing and denied the request for the return of the $18 million.

On Tuesday, Kasowitz filed a separate appeal of Ostrager's ruling, kicking the question about the remainder of its $49 million investment sought by co-founder Michael Lang and Peck to a higher appeals court. 

The lack of clarity over who controls the festival could affect Lang's ability to raise money to stage the event. Last week, Oppenheimer and Co. announced it was serving as a financial partner for the anniversary extravaganza. Woodstock 50 officials told Billboard that Oppenheimer was serving as an advisor to the festival and did not indicate the firm was making a financial investment in the concert.


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