|"This attorney I found, I picked the nastiest son of a bitch I could find," Chandler said in the recorded conversation with Schwartz. "All he wants to do is get this out in the public as fast as he can, as big as he can, and humiliate as many people as he can. He's nasty, he's mean, he's very smart, and he's hungry for the publicity." (Through his attorney, Wylie Aitken, Rothman declined to be interviewed for this article. Aitken agreed to answer general questions limited to the Jackson case, and then only about aspects that did not involve Chandler or the boy.)|
To know Rothman, says a former colleague who worked with him during the Jackson case, and who kept a diary of what Rothman and Chandler said and did in Rothman's office, is to believe that Barry could have "devised this whole plan, period. This [making allegations against Michael Jackson] is within the boundary of his character, to do something like this." Information supplied by Rothman's former clients, associates and employees reveals a pattern of manipulation and deceit.
Rothman has a general-law practice in Century City. At one time, he negotiated music and concert deals for Little Richard, the Rolling Stones, the Who, ELO and Ozzy Osbourne. Gold and platinum records commemorating those days still hang on the walls of his office. With his grayish-white beard and perpetual tan -- which he maintains in a tanning bed at his house -- Rothman reminds a former client of "a leprechaun." To a former employee, Rothman is "a demon" with "a terrible temper." His most cherished possession, acquaintances say, is his 1977 Rolls-Royce Corniche, which carries the license plate "BKR 1."
Over the years, Rothman has made so many enemies that his ex-wife once expressed, to her attorney, surprise that someone "hadn't done him in." He has a reputation for stiffing people. "He appears to be a professional deadbeat... He pays almost no one," investigator Ed Marcus concluded (in a report filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, as part of a lawsuit against Rothman), after reviewing the attorney's credit profile, which listed more than thirty creditors and judgment holders who were chasing him. In addition, more than twenty civil lawsuits involving Rothman have been filed in Superior Court, several complaints have been made to the Labor Commission and disciplinary actions for three incidents have been taken against him by the state bar of California. In 1992, he was suspended for a year, though that suspension was stayed and he was instead placed on probation for the term.
In 1987, Rothman was $16,800 behind in alimony and child-support payments. Through her attorney, his ex-wife, Joanne Ward, threatened to attach Rothman's assets, but he agreed to make good on the debt. A year later, after Rothman still hadn't made the payments, Ward's attorney tried to put a lien on Rothman's expensive Sherman Oaks home. To their surprise, Rothman said he no longer owned the house; three years earlier, he'd deeded the property to Tinoa Operations, Inc., a Panamanian shell corporation. According to Ward's lawyer, Rothman claimed that he'd had $200,000 of Tinoa's money, in cash, at his house one night when he was robbed at gunpoint. The only way he could make good on the loss was to deed his home to Tinoa, he told them. Ward and her attorney suspected the whole scenario was a ruse, but they could never prove it. It was only after sheriff's deputies had towed away Rothman's Rolls Royce that he began paying what he owed.
Documents filed with Los Angeles Superior Court seem to confirm the suspicions of Ward and her attorney. These show that Rothman created an elaborate network of foreign bank accounts and shell companies, seemingly to conceal some of his assets -- in particular, his home and much of the $531,000 proceeds from its eventual sale, in 1989. The companies, including Tinoa, can be traced to Rothman. He bought a Panamanian shelf company (an existing but nonoperating firm) and arranged matters so that though his name would not appear on the list of its officers, he would have unconditional power of attorney, in effect leaving him in control of moving money in and out.
Meanwhile, Rothman's employees didn't fare much better than his ex-wife. Former employees say they sometimes had to beg for their paychecks. And sometimes the checks that they did get would bounce. He couldn't keep legal secretaries. "He'd demean and humiliate them," says one. Temporary workers fared the worst. "He would work them for two weeks," adds the legal secretary, "then run them off by yelling at them and saying they were stupid. Then he'd tell the agency he was dissatisfied with the temp and wouldn't pay." Some agencies finally got wise and made Rothman pay cash up front before they'd do business with him.
The state bar's 1992 disciplining of Rothman grew out of a conflict-of-interest matter. A year earlier, Rothman had been kicked off a case by a client, Muriel Metcalf, whom he'd been representing in child-support and custody proceedings; Metcalf later accused him of padding her bill. Four months after Metcalf fired him, Rothman, without notifying her, began representing the company of her estranged companion, Bob Brutzman.
The case is revealing for another reason: It shows that Rothman had some experience dealing with child-molestation allegations before the Jackson scandal. Metcalf, while Rothman was still representing her, had accused Brutzman of molesting their child (which Brutzman denied). Rothman's knowledge of Metcalf's charges didn't prevent him from going to work for Brutzman's company -- a move for which he was disciplined.
By 1992, Rothman was running from numerous creditors. Folb Management, a corporate real-estate agency, was one. Rothman owed the company $53,000 in back rent and interest for an office on Sunset Boulevard. Folb sued. Rothman then countersued, claiming that the building's security was so inadequate that burglars were able to steal more than $6,900 worth of equipment from his office one night. In the course of the proceedings, Folb's lawyer told the court, "Mr. Rothman is not the kind of person whose word can be taken at face value."
In November 1992, Rothman had his law firm file for bankruptcy, listing thirteen creditors -- including Folb Management -- with debts totaling $880,000 and no acknowledged assets. After reviewing the bankruptcy papers, an ex-client whom Rothman was suing for $400,000 in legal fees noticed that Rothman had failed to list a $133,000 asset. The former client threatened to expose Rothman for "defrauding his creditors" -- a felony -- if he didn't drop the lawsuit. Cornered, Rothman had the suit dismissed in a matter of hours.
Six months before filing for bankruptcy, Rothman had transferred title on his Rolls-Royce to Majo, a fictitious company he controlled. Three years earlier, Rothman had claimed a different corporate owner for the car -- Longridge Estates, a subsidiary of Tinoa Operations, the company that held the deed to his home. On corporation papers filed by Rothman, the addresses listed for Longridge and Tinoa were the same, 1554 Cahuenga Boulevard -- which, as it turns out, is that of a Chinese restaurant in Hollywood.