Star lawyer David Boies fended off concerns of Weinstein Co. directors about Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual harassment and assault without alerting them he was in business with Weinstein Co., according to two board members.
Weinstein Co. independent directors Tarak Ben Ammar, an international movie producer, and Lance Maerov, executive vice president at ad-agency giant WPP, said in interviews they didn't know Mr. Boies had a film-business relationship with the company while he was negotiating a contract on Mr. Weinstein's behalf in 2015. Mr. Boies has invested in at least three films with Weinstein Co., according to people familiar with the matter, one of which was distributed by the company last year after the film ran into financial troubles.
In a statement, Mr. Boies said “the board was aware of the investments.” A person familiar with the matter said Mr. Boies's investment in the film that was distributed last year amid contract talks was listed in materials given to the board, and was reported in the trade press.
Mr. Ben Ammar said the board was presented the names, directors and budgets of the films Mr. Weinstein was working on during the contract negotiations, but “I have no recollection that they listed David Boies as the producer, especially when you have 50 movies.” “Had we known, we would have immediately said to David Boies, 'You can't negotiate Harvey's contract,'” Mr. Ben Ammar said, calling it a conflict of interest. Mr. Boies in his statement said it wasn't a conflict.
Legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers of New York University School of Law agrees with Mr. Boies. “I don't think he had a duty to tell the board that he had this investment, because I don't see that the board, as the other side of the negotiation and not a client, had any right to know that,” Mr. Gillers said.
Some of the movie dealings were happening as Mr. Boies fought to keep the company's board from accessing the executive's personnel file while Weinstein directors were growing concerned about allegations of sexual assault that appeared in the media in the spring of 2015, and other alleged bad be- havior, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The board fired Harvey Weinstein Oct. 8 after media reports included on-the-record claims that Mr. Weinstein harassed or assaulted actresses or employees. Through his spokeswoman, Mr. Weinstein has denied allegations of nonconsensual sex.
The dual roles Mr. Boies played with Mr. Weinstein have triggered questions from the two directors about why the lawyer fought so hard to keep Mr. Weinstein's personnel file from them, as shown in the documents.
After the scandal concerning Mr. Weinstein surfaced, several board members resigned, leaving Messrs. Ben Ammar and Maerov, the two independent directors, and Mr. Weinstein's brother, Bob Weinstein, on the board. Bob Weinstein didn't respond to a request for comment.
In 2015, as Mr. Boies was negotiating Mr. Weinstein's contract with directors, the company's five independent board members were receiving “numerous credible reports from company insiders that employees had previously lodged complaints against Mr. Weinstein, including for sexual harassment, intimidation and physical assault,” according to an Aug. 6, 2015, letter to Mr. Boies from Philip Richter, a lawyer hired by the independent directors, that was reviewed by the Journal. The company's independent board members began a review of Mr. Weinstein's dealings in November 2014, after a number of his expenses raised questions, according to the documents.
Mr. Weinstein's spokeswoman had no comment on the questions about his expenses. The inquiry intensified in the spring of 2015 after Mr. Weinstein's photo began appearing in New York tabloids in connection with allegations that he groped an Italian model, according to the documents.
The directors pressed to review Mr. Weinstein's personnel file, according to the documents the Journal reviewed.
Mr. Boies argued they shouldn't be allowed to see the file because they had been leaked to the media in the past, a claim the independent directors deny. Mr. Boies said in his statement that he had been articulating Mr. Weinstein's position about the alleged leaks.
Mr. Boies pushed to have a third party, Rodgin Cohen of law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, review the personnel file and write a report to the board. The directors agreed reluctantly after failing to obtain the file themselves, the people familiar with the matter say.
Mr. Cohen wrote on Sept. 4, 2015, in a letter reviewed by the Journal, that based on his review of the file “there are no unresolved claims that could result in liability to TWC or its directors” and “no pending or threatened litigation.” The board voted to renew Mr. Weinstein's contract as cochairman in the fall of 2015.
Mr. Boies, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential- election recount and argued for marriage equality before the Supreme Court, invests in films through the Boies/Schiller Film Group, which he co-founded with his law partner's son, Zack Schiller.
The most notable investment by Boies/Schiller was a $20- million share in the Natalie Portman Western “Jane Got a Gun,” which Weinstein Co. and Relativity Media agreed in 2013 to distribute. After the much delayed project cycled through talent and racked up costs, Relativity went bankrupt in the summer of 2015.
Weinstein Co. agreed to give the film a so-called service deal in theaters in January 2016, according to people familiar with the deal. With a service deal, a film's producers give the distributor a percentage of the box-office returns to get a film onto movie screens, allowing the producers to reap greater revenues from selling the film to foreign markets.
Weinstein released “Jane” without much marketing, and the film made just $1.5 million in its opening weekend and $3 million overall—a poor performance for a film that cost $25 million to produce.
Weinstein Co.'s decision to release “Jane” this way came shortly after Mr. Boies in 2015 secured a new contract for Mr. Weinstein, the documents the Journal reviewed show. In a statement, Mr. Boies said the Boies/Schiller Film Group is still waiting to be paid by The Weinstein Co. for the theatrical run of “Jane.”
—Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed to this article.
High-profile litigator David Boies
Boies/Schiller had a $20-million share in the Western 'Jane Got a Gun' starring Natalie Portman.
BY KEACH HAGEY