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Ice Cube’s Basketball League Says Quinn Emanuel Spied for Qatar

May 28, 2020, 11:11 PM

Ice Cube’s Big3 Basketball league has sued Quinn Emanuel in New York state court alleging the law firm acted as a “spy” for Qatar’s business interests while representing the nascent league in a dispute with a former executive.

Big3 has been in a long-running dispute with Qatari investors, alleging that their interest in the three-on-three basketball league was a political charm offensive aimed at influencing U.S. policy toward Qatar.

The lawsuit filed in New York state court seeks to stop an imminent arbitration proceeding where Quinn Emanuel will seek payment from Big3. The suit says Quinn Emanuel, one of the most prominent U.S. law firms, became involved in the saga by offering to represent the league in an employment dispute with its ex-commissioner, Roger Mason Jr.

However, the firm in actuality sought to represent Big3 in order to “spy” on its executives on behalf of its larger Qatar-based clientele, from which it earns “tens of millions” a year, the suit says.

The suit says Quinn Emanuel ran up $1.3 million in legal fees while bungling an effort to stop Mason from selling his shares in the league. During that dispute, Big3 says the law firm balked at including in its argument the allegation that Mason was acting on behalf of Qatar’s interests.

“Any rational person would question why a law firm would undertake the representation of a fledgling basketball league that might generate a few hundred thousand dollars in fees when the league was adverse to its existing Qatari clients who generate tens of millions of dollars in fees annually,” the suit says. “The only logical answer is that Qatar wanted Quinn to undertake the representation.”

A spokesman for Quinn Emanuel said the suit was “fantasy-laden” and filed as a way to avoid paying legal fees.

“No firm fights harder for its clients than Quinn Emanuel, and we fought hard for Big3,” a firm spokesman said in a statement. “After the firm pursued them to collect fees, Big3 waited until a week before the collection arbitration to file this fantasy-laden lawsuit. Big3 was fully advised about the firm’s other various representations and is simply trying to avoid paying its bills.”

In the past, a spokesperson for the investors called the allegations that their participation was a pretext to influence U.S. policy “pure Hollywood fiction.”

New York courts opened for new case filings on Tuesday.

Causes of Action: Breach of fiduciary duty; fraud; legal malpractice.

Relief: A judicial declaration that there is no binding agreement to arbitrate disputes between Big3 and Quinn; injunctive relief restraining Quinn Emanuel from proceeding with arbitration; damages.

Attorneys: Joshua Liston of Beys Liston & Mobargha, Michael Taitelman of Freedman + Taitleman, and Steven Formaker of Freedman represent the plaintiff

The case is Big3 Basketball LLC v. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, N.Y. Sup. Ct., Case Number Pending, Filed 5/28/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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