The families of four special needs children involved in a series of school abuse cases say high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom is preventing them from resolving the lawsuits by falsely claiming they agreed to give her firm a cut of any settlement money.
Bloom’s firm filed liens this month in the four lawsuits arguing that her legal team is entitled to a portion of any settlement or attorney fees paid to the families, who each sued different school districts in California alleging that their children were physically or sexually abused at school.
The families, who have been represented throughout their cases by Oakland-based lawyer Micha Star Liberty, responded Tuesday with federal court filings stating that they never agreed to pay anything to Bloom’s firm. Bloom’s firm, which was brought in by Liberty to help on the cases, “abandoned” the families and withdrew from the cases in March, without ever having a written fee agreement with the families, the filings state.
“The Bloom Firm is fully aware that there is no written fee agreement between the Bloom Firm” and the four families, each said in the separate filings.
The question of a written fee agreement is key because, in California, if lawyers from different firms are going to split attorney fees, the state bar rules require that the client agree to it in writing.
Asked whether it had fee agreements signed by the families, Bloom’s firm cited attorney-client privilege and said it could not provide any additional details. “We reiterate that everything was done in accordance with ethical rules,” the firm said in a statement to NBC News.
Bloom, daughter of famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred, built her own national reputation as a television host and lawyer representing abuse and harassment victims. She also worked for the now-convicted rapist and disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017 as women began to publicly accuse him of sexual assault and harassment. She has called her time representing Weinstein a “colossal mistake.” (Bloom was also a freelance contributor to NBC News from 2013 through 2016.)
The legal battle pits Bloom against the four California families and their lawyer, Liberty, who often represents parents of children with special needs. The families’ cases involve allegations that school employees assaulted students who are autistic and have learning disabilities. With two of the lawsuits already reaching six- and seven-figure settlement agreements, the liens Bloom’s firm filed put tens of thousands of dollars at stake — and families say they have been left unable to bring their cases to a close.
Bloom’s firm argues that it did work on the four cases and hired additional attorneys to help, and that it had a deal with Liberty — which the firms have not released — to get paid at the end if the families collected money. Bloom’s firm said it filed for arbitration against Liberty’s firm over the dispute on June 3. “Now Liberty Law refuses to live up to its written promises, necessitating the arbitration,” the firm said in a statement.
“I have no response to those irrelevant claims,” Liberty said in a statement. “I’m focused on trying to get justice for my special needs clients who were physically abused or sexually assaulted. Lisa Bloom’s only focus seems to be how she can make a profit no matter who gets hurt.”
The families, through Liberty’s firm, are asking federal courts in California to cancel the liens, which they say contain “material falsifications of fact.”
The families all say they have filed ethics complaints with the State Bar of California against Bloom and four other members of her firm. Ethics complaints and investigations are confidential, until and unless an attorney is disciplined, the bar said.
Bellinda B., who is suing the West Contra Costa Unified School District for allegedly failing to protect her autistic son, B.B., from multiple instances of sexual abuse by students and an employee, said she does not want any settlement money going to Bloom.
“I have never signed an agreement giving my consent to any fee-sharing agreement between Ms. Liberty and Lisa Bloom, and I never will,” Bellinda B., whose last name was not included in the documents, said in a court declaration.
The lawsuits were originally filed by Liberty’s firm between December 2018 and August 2019.
Late last summer, Liberty, who is also the president of Consumer Attorneys of California, brought in attorneys from Bloom’s law firm as co-counsel to help with the cases, according to declarations by the families.
Bellinda B. said in her declaration that she was concerned about working with Bloom because of her previous connection to Weinstein.
According to Bellinda B.’s declaration, Bloom had told Liberty that much of the media coverage of her work for Weinstein was “misleading,” but she couldn’t correct the record due to attorney-client privilege. Bellinda B. said she “reluctantly agreed to allow some of the Bloom Firm staff to work on B.B.’s case under Ms. Liberty’s direct supervision and direction.” The other three families say they didn’t know who Bloom was at the time she joined the cases.
Then in the fall, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker published books with further allegations that Bloom had created plans for how to discredit sexual misconduct claims against Weinstein.
“I was appalled to learn about her conduct and aggressive tactics,” a parent identified in court papers as Ron V., whose autistic daughter was allegedly physically assaulted by a Vacaville Unified School District bus driver, said in a declaration. “She was the opposite of what I thought abuse victims’ advocates should be and although I did not want her associated with my daughter’s case, I remained silent.”
In mid-March, before the litigation had wrapped up, Bloom’s firm decided to leave all four cases, court records show.
According to declarations from the families, Liberty said that Braden Pollock, Bloom’s husband and the firm’s business manager, told her in March that “they had a bad first quarter and with that and COVID, they could not afford to continue with their co-counsel relationship.”
Bloom’s firm offered a different account.
“We adamantly disagree with Liberty Law’s position as to the reasons The Bloom Firm had to end the relationship,” the firm said. “The Bloom Firm made the decision in March to dissolve the joint venture due to significant issues with Liberty Law. It had nothing to do with the clients and we wish them all the best.”
As some of the families moved toward settlements with the school districts, Bloom’s firm filed liens on all four of the cases on June 4 and 5.
Bellinda B.’s case had already reached a conditional settlement. But she said in a declaration that the settlement was thrown off track by Bloom’s lien.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District has previously disputed the allegations in Bellinda B.’s suit. Court records show Ron V.’s case against Vacaville Unified School District had reached a conditional seven-figure settlement in May, but it has not yet been finalized. (The Vacaville district has disputed its liability.)
Another parent, who sued the Antioch Unified School District alleging that two employees had slammed his son, who has a learning disability, to the ground resulting in a concussion, reached a settlement for $450,000 in April, according to court records. (The Antioch district previously denied the central allegations.) The three districts did not respond to requests for comment.
The fourth case, in which a family accuses a Merced City School District employee of assaulting an elementary student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is in a pretrial discovery phase. The district has argued it has not committed wrongdoing, and declined to comment.