Prominent Los Angeles trial lawyer Daniel Petrocelli sent an electronic letter late last Wednesday to lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Astroworld Festival tragedy announcing that he now represents rapper Travis Scott and offering to pay the funeral costs of those who died at the Nov. 5 concert in Houston.
“Your client’s offer is declined,” Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard, who represents the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, who died at the concert, said in an email response to Petrocelli.
The Thanksgiving Eve email exchange answered the question of who Scott, who was born Jacques Bermon Webster II, would select as his lead lawyer to defend him against more than 120 civil wrongful death, personal injury and premises liability lawsuits filed in the three weeks since the Astroworld event.
Petrocelli, who is head of litigation for the global corporate law firm O’Melveny & Myers, is known for representing high-profile clients.
In 2002, Dallas rocker Don Henley hired Petrocelli to successfully fend off wrongful firing charges levied by Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder. Two years later, Petrocelli defended Enron CFO Jeff Skilling against criminal fraud and insider trading charges. Skilling was convicted. And in 2018, Petrocelli served as the lead trial lawyer for Dallas-based AT&T and Time Warner in the federal government’s antitrust lawsuit seeking stop their merger. AT&T won.
Petrocelli burst into the national spotlight in 1997 when he represented the father of Ron Goldman suing O.J. Simpson for his son’s wrongful death. A jury awarded his client $8.5 million.
“Dan is an absolutely superb, elite trial lawyer,” said Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Rob Walters, who was co-counsel with Petrocelli in the AT&T litigation. “Dan has an uncanny ability of establishing the moral high ground, which resonates well with factfinders.”
“Dan and Neal will be a formidable team in court in this litigation,” said Walters, referring to Susman Godfrey partner Neal Manne, who has been hired by Astroworld festival promotor Live Nation.
Petrocelli did not respond to The Texas Lawbook’s request for an interview.
More than 120 lawsuits identifying about 600 plaintiffs have been filed in the Harris County district courts. The total damages sought exceed $3 billion.
The complaints accuse Scott, Live Nation and more than a dozen other defendants of gross negligence by creating an environment that incited the crowd of thousands to surge forward toward the stage essentially squeezing the breath from concertgoers in front of them, allegedly causing 10 of them to die and a couple of hundred others to be injured.
Scott also has hired Houston criminal defense attorney Kent Schaffer. ASM Global, which manages the NRG Stadium venue for the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, has hired Norton Rose Fulbright.
Other defendants include Valle Security Services, which provided security at the Astroworld Festival event, and Apple, which livestreamed the show around the world. Valle Security and Apple did not respond to Texas Lawbook inquiries about their hiring of outside counsel.
Petrocelli’s involvement in the Astroworld litigation surfaced Wednesday, Nov. 24, when he electronically emailed letters to lawyers for the plaintiffs, including Hilliard.
“Travis asked me to reach out on his behalf to extend his deepest sympathies and condolences to Mr. Blount for the loss of his beloved son Ezra,” Petrocelli wrote. “Travis very much would like to reach out personally, but does not wish to intrude on Mr. Blount’s privacy during his time of grieving.”
The letter states that Scott “is devastated by the tragedy” and grieves for the loved ones.
“Travis is committed to doing his part to help the families who have suffered and begin the long process of healing in the Houston community,” Petrocelli wrote. “Toward that end, Travis would like to pay for the funeral expenses for Mr. Blount’s son.”
Hilliard replied to Petrocelli’s email rejecting the offer.
“I don’t know if you’re a father. I don’t know if your client is a father,” Hilliard responded to Petrocelli. “If you are, then all you have to do is put your child at 9-years-old in Ezra’s place and you both know what happens to your gut, at the most basic and instinctive level.
In the email, Hilliard wrote that doesn’t doubt that Scott is remorseful but that the rapper’s “journey ahead will be painful.”
“He must face and hopefully see that he bears some of the responsibility for this tragedy,” Hilliard wrote. “There may be, and I hope there is, redemption and growth for him on the other side of what this painful process will be – and perhaps one day, once time allows some healing for the victims and acceptance of responsibility by Mr. Scott and others, Treston and Mr. Scott might meet – as there is also healing in that.”