Murdered L.A. Attorney Was Counsel in Acrimonious Billboard Company Lawsuits

Jeffrey Tidus, left, represented Regency and other billboard companies.

Jeffrey Tidus, left, represented Regency Outdoor and other billboard companies.

Jeffrey Tidus, the prominent attorney whose execution-style murder outside his home three years ago is still unsolved, represented billboard companies in several past and current lawsuits, including one in which the presiding judge noted from the bench the “emotional bitterness and, frankly, hatred” among the parties and their attorneys.

That case, Virtual Media Group v. Regency Outdoor Advertising, involved a dispute with a former employee of Regency, a West Hollywood company best known for its out-sized billboard displays on the Sunset Strip. The employee, J. Keith Stephens, also sued Tidus and his law firm, claiming that the attorney made slanderous and malicious statements in an effort to ruin him financially and put a billboard company he established after leaving Regency out of business.

Police have labeled the Dec. 9 shooting of Tidus in front of his home in Rolling Hills Estates a homicide, but haven’t identified a motive or suspect. At the time of his death, Tidus was also representing Regency in another lawsuit, this one brought by a Long Beach billboard company claiming that Regency and an L.A. lobbying firm bribed the mayor of the city of Lynwood and committed acts of extortion in an effort to get billboards permitted along the 105 freeway.

As reported by the L.A. Times, most recently in a Dec. 29 article, the only “person of interest”named by investigators is former L.A. attorney Christopher Gruys, who allegedly threatened Tidus during a deposition. That case involved the proceeds from the 2003 sale of a billboard company, Outdoor Media Group, which is now owned by Lamar Advertising.

The courtroom remark about “emotional bitterness” and “hatred” came from Judge Terry Green in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2007. The occasion was a hearing in a legal dispute between Regency Outdoor Advertising and billboard companies owned by J. Keith Stephens. According to the hearing transcript, the judge said the following:

“There is a lot of real intense emotion with the parties in this case, sadly with the attorneys in this case, where not only are the parties suing one another, they also sue their lawyers or the other person’s lawyers. There’s a lot of intentional emotional bitterness, and frankly, hatred. And I’m very concerned that, at the end of the day, on the new case, that Mr. Stephens will have found a way not to pay any judgment.”

The last was an apparent reference to an award of attorney’s fees that Tidus had won for Regency from Stephens’s companies. Earlier, Stephens had sued Tidus over an award of attorneys fees in yet another case, this one involving the aforementioned Outdoor Media Group and once-prominent billboard company attorney Paul Fisher, who was disbarred after being convicted in 2009 of having non-consensual sex with an inebriated 15 year-old girl.

Stephens alleged in court documents that even though he was selling his house to raise the money for the fees owed Tidus, the attorney caused a judgment to be placed against the house, making it impossible to close escrow. This and other actions were designed to drive him out of business, Stephens alleged.

Stephens also alleged that Tidus had submitted false reports to a credit rating firm about non-payment of the fees, and had made false statements in court regarding another case involving one of Stephens’s billboard companies.

Stephens is currently facing criminal charges for having erected unpermitted billboards alongside the 110 freeway in downtown L.A.

In the case involving Christopher Gruys, the former owner of Outdoor Media Group, Jon Gunderson, alleged that Gruys had defrauded him out of proceeds from the sale of the company, which had a number of billboards in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Gunderson, who was represented by Tidus, won an $11.2 million judgement in 2007. That same year, Gruys was suspended by the State Bar of California after being convicted of illegal possession of an assault weapon.

Again represented by Tidus, Gunderson filed a second suit against Gruys and another marketing company in connection with the proceeds from the sale of Outdoor Media Group. A jury found that Gruys should pay Gunderson $2.4 million in punitive damages for his actions.

In Nov. 2009, just three weeks before Tidus’s murder, that verdict was overturned by the California Court of Appeals and a new trial ordered on the punitive damages claim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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by Dennis Hathaway

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