Joel Katz, Among Music's Most Influential Lawyers, Exits Greenberg Traurig

Joel Katz
Noam Galai/Getty Images  for The T.J. Martell Foundation

T.J. Martell Foundation Board Chairman & Greenberg Traurig Chair Joel Katz accepts an award onstage during The T.J. Martell Foundation 44th Annual New York Honors Gala on Oct. 15, 2019 in New York City. 

Attorney Joel Katz, founding chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s global entertainment and media practice and the founding shareholder of the powerful law firm's Atlanta office, has resigned "by mutual understanding" from the firm.

A source says that Katz is opening his own firm and many of his label executive and artist clients are expected to follow him.

Greenberg Traurig executive chairman, Richard A. Rosenbaum, issued the following statement: "Joel Katz has, by mutual understanding, resigned from the firm as of December 31, 2020. Our global entertainment practice remains strong, diverse and among the largest, most dynamic and highest rated in the world."

Rosenbaum added, "We thank Mr. Katz for his contributions over the years and have no further comment at this time."

Meanwhile, Greenberg Traurig has quickly begun excising Katz from its website. Katz’s bio page has been removed, as have internal news articles and press releases associated with him. In one of the highest-profile deals of the past year, Katz negotiated the sale of Big Machine Label Group to Ithaca Holdings and The Carlyle Group. He also negotiated The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences a new 10-year television contract with the Univision network, valued at over $250 million; the partnership between Ithaca Holdings, the media holding company led by SB Projects founder Scooter Braun and Jason Owen’s Sandbox Entertainment; the sale of 50% interest of the Messina Touring Group to AEG; and the sale of a 50% stake on behalf of Frontier Touring, Australia’s leading concert promotion company, to AEG Presents.

In addition, he negotiated employment agreements for many of the industry’s heavy hitters including chairman and CEO of Warner Music Nashville John Esposito, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Nashville Randy Goodman, and co-chairman and COO of Warner Bros. Records Tom Corson.

Katz has also worked as the Recording Academy’s general counsel since 2002. There, he clashed with incoming CEO Deborah Dugan in what became a public matter when Dugan accused him of sexual harassment in a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was placed on administrative leave in January 2020. In her EEOC complaint, Dugan alleged that she has been subjected to sexual harassment by Katz, then the academy’s outside general counsel and a former member and chair (1995-97) of the Academy’s board of trustees. Katz denied the claims.

Dugan also said she complained during her tenure about the "exorbitant amount of money" paid by the academy to Katz and his firm. She alleged that Katz was personally paid $250,000 per year "simply to be on call in the event the Board needs any legal advice." Shortly before she was put on administrative leave, Dugan had been exploring employing an in-house counsel for the academy as a way to bring down costs. The EEOC is still continuing its investigation of Dugan's complaint. The academy's arbitration complaint against her that alleges that she breached her employment contract is still in the discovery phase.