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Super Lawyer at Center of Grammys Turmoil Also Wins Big With Other Award Shows

Joel Katz
Courtesy of Greenberg Traurig

Joel Katz

The Recording Academy has been under intense scrutiny since chief executive Deborah Dugan was put on leave earlier in January, and she has since alleged, among other things, that the nonprofit paid “exorbitant” legal fees to law firms including Greenberg Traurig, where the entertainment practice is led by power broker Joel Katz.

But the academy isn’t the only music organization that puts on an awards show that Katz is involved in. The Atlanta-based lawyer has served as counsel to the Country Music Association and represents the Latin Recording Academy, which in 2018 he helped negotiate a 10-year TV contract with the Univision network valued at more than $250 million, according to Greenberg Traurig’s website. (Neither the CMA nor the Recording Academy has a general counsel on staff.) Katz also serves on the board of directors of the Grammy Museum Foundation. (A spokesperson for Katz did not provide a comment to Billboard).

Katz’s connection to the Recordng Academy, the Latin Grammys and the museum shows how much overlap there is among the three boards. The turmoil at the Recording Academy is likely to “affect the Latin academy,” says one top producer. “There are things that both academies should look at, though they’re independent from each other.”

In her Dec. 22 letter to the Recording Academy’s head of human resources, Dugan claimed she was asked to leave the room as members of the executive committee “voted to raise legal fees” paid to Greenberg Traurig as well as the law firm Proskauer Rose, where partner Charles B. Ortner does work for the academy. “The counsel receiving these unwarranted pay increases also privately represent those who are approving those increases,” indicating “serious fiduciary irresponsibility,” wrote Dugan.

Ortner -- whose firm charged the Recording Academy $900,000 for legal services in 2017, according to tax records -- also serves on the board of directors for the Grammy Museum with Katz. Records show that the museum carries at least $2 million in unspecified liabilities on its books from both the Recording Academy and AEG, which owns the property where the museum is located, and an additional $2.9 million in “deferred rent liability.”

The Recording Academy says its business affairs department handles legal issues under the CFO and the managing director of contract administration. “On a daily basis, those positions work with members of our legal teams at both Greenberg Traurig and Proskauer Rose to make sure the issues coming before the academy and its affiliates are properly staffed with the most qualified attorney at the most suitable hourly billing rate,” says an academy representative.

But one music-nonprofit board member says that the Recording Academy, the Academy of Country Music and the CMA all engage in “over-the-top spending -- it’s just what everybody does.” 

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 1, 2020, issue of Billboard.


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