Former manager sues Joan Rivers, claims defamation

Wed Jun 23, 2010 7:20pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joan Rivers' former manager has sued the popular comedian for more than $2 million claiming she failed to pay him commissions and defamed him in a recent documentary film about her life and career.

In the lawsuit, William "Billy" Sammeth said he began working for Rivers in 2002 as a personal manager, guiding her career at a time when it was "dormant" and overseeing Rivers' day-to-day business affairs, among other duties.

Sammeth, who lives in Miami, Florida, said that in 2002, Rivers was making about 12 concert appearances a year and by the time he was fired in 2009, that number had risen to 40.

The ex-manager believes he was instrumental in helping Rivers win TV show contest "Celebrity Apprentice," and he said he worked for Rivers during the filming of the documentary "Joan Rivers -- A Piece of Work" before being fired solely to give the movie "a fictional controversy."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, includes a list of Rivers' work for which Sammeth thinks he is owed a 10 percent commission as manager.

Those commissions and other money due to him, Sammeth claims, add up to some $200,000, and he is seeking at least $2 million more in exemplary and punitive damages.

"This is the claim of a former personal manager, who was properly terminated over one year ago. Billy Sammeth is now making claims for money to which he is not entitled, and I am confident that the judicial system will dispose of Mr. Sammeth's lawsuit in the appropriate manner," Rivers said in a statement.

Of Sammeth's more damaging claims is one in which the ex-manager contends Rivers' defamed him in "A Piece of Work" by saying he "disappeared" on her when, he said, he was terminated by her business manager. The suit goes on to say that in interviews, Rivers said his behavior was "erratic."

Sammeth also said that he pledged and paid $18,000 at a charity auction that was part of "Celebrity Apprentice," and that his payment helped Rivers stave off elimination from the program that she ultimately won.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte and Editing by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles)