The Work

November 5, 2008 3:29 PM

Lloyd Constantine Puts Politics Aside to Focus on 'Real Sports' Facts

Posted by Brian Baxter


UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from HBO.

While the rest of the country was consumed with election news and outcomes yesterday, Lloyd Constantine was a bit distracted with other matters.

A noted antitrust specialist with several large litigation victories under his belt--take the $100 million antitrust settlement he negotiated with Time Warner in 2001 or the infamous $3.4 billion antitrust settlement he secured from Visa and MasterCard in 2004--Constantine left private practice in January 2007 to become a senior adviser to former New York State Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

But Spitzer's governorship imploded spectacularly in March due to a well-publicized dalliance with a high-priced call girl. Instead of butting heads with state assemblymen, Constantine now is back to butting heads with corporate adversaries.

One new case has Constantine up against old foe Time Warner, owner of HBO. The premium cable channel produces the Emmy Award-winning monthly sports newsmagazine Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. According to a libel suit filed by Constantine on behalf of Mitre Sports International on October 23 in U.S. district court in Manhattan, Real Sports needs to get its facts straight.

A sporting goods manufacturer that specializes in high-end soccer balls, Mitre is owned by the Pentland Group, a private London-based conglomerate that also owns such brands as Speedo and outdoor apparel maker Berghaus. Pentland also once owned Reebok.

Real Sports aired a heavily-publicized expose titled "Childhood Lost" on September 16 that portrayed Mitre as benefiting from child labor practices in India. Real Sports reporter Bernard Goldberg interviewed several children--some as young as 10--who claimed that they stitched together soccer balls for minimal pay. The equipment was then sold in overseas markets.

Constantine says Mitre now has video evidence of the featured children and their parents admitting that they were never employed by the company and that they were paid--in some instances as little as $2--to appear in the HBO report.

According to the 20-page complaint, the effects of the report on the company were immediate. Constantine says Modell's Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart have pulled Mitre soccer balls from their shelves. And the company has been bombarded with negative press and feedback from customers who insist they will no longer purchase Mitre products. Constantine doesn't have a damages figure in his head yet, but says the amount is "accruing" and will be "significant" because of repeat viewings of the Real Sports segment.

"There is no merit to this case and we intend to defend it vigorously," said HBO spokesman Raymond Stallone in a statement to The Am Law Daily.

Constantine says that to his knowledge HBO has not yet retained outside counsel. The name of the network's senior counsel for litigation, Stephanie Abrutyn, has appeared in court documents. Cravath, Swaine & Moore is a longtime client of Time Warner's, albeit usually in antitrust matters, but Constantine says it wouldn't surprise him to see the firm retained.

His battles with Cravath are one of the reasons Constantine thinks Mitre reached out to him.

"I think they did some research and realized that our law firm had some experience litigating against Time Warner in the past," he says, recalling one case against the company in which he represented News Corporation in its attempts to put Fox News on the Time Warner cable network.

Assisted by associates Jean Kim and Jason Enzler, Constantine says he's working with in-house counsel at Mitre and Pentland and interviewing local counsel in India for the case.

As for the main event on Tuesday, Constantine shared some anecdotes and thoughts about the Democratic candidate--well before any results were known--over whom he once broke with his former boss.

"When I maxed out [donating] to Obama real early, I thought it was somewhat quixotic but also an investment in the future," Constantine says. "I thought that Obama and Eliot were the future of the Democratic Party. I'm glad to see that one of them is still standing."

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