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Financier Leon Black Loses ‘Unavailing’ Sanctions Motion Against Lawyers for Woman Who Accused Him of Rape

Leon Black speaks at MoMA

Leon Black speaks onstage at a MoMA tribute to Martin Scorsese on Nov. 19, 2018 in New York City.

Financier Leon Black lost his attempt to sanction the attorneys for a woman who accused him of raping her — and then silencing her over the course of a decade with a six-figure hush money payout.

The former CEO of the multi-billion dollar hedge fund Apollo Global Management, Black has been under increasing pressure since he stepped down from that position in March 2021, amid scrutiny over former ties to deceased predator Jeffrey Epstein. Two women accused him of sexual abuse since that time: Guzel Ganieva and Cheri Pierson.

In his motion for sanctions against Ganieva, Black’s lawyers referred to the complaint as “extortion.”

“This was not a ‘MeToo’ case,” Black’s attorney Michael B. Carlinsky wrote in a blistering memo in December. “That movement was never intended as a vehicle for the sort of blackmail that is at the heart of Ganieva’s case, a holdup by another name, conducted with the assistance of counsel.”

Rather than finding accuser Ganieva’s lawsuit sanctionable, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David B. Cohen noted that he allowed her to amend her complaint.

“Moreover, having found that plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint was neither palpably insufficient nor patently devoid of merit and that plaintiff did not improperly include the other woman’s allegations against defendant in the complaint, defendant’s argument that plaintiff and Wigdor advanced meritless claims against him is unavailing,” Cohen wrote in a three-page ruling on Friday.

Ganieva’s lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor, characterized the sanctions motion as attempted payback.

“We are pleased that the Court quickly disposed of Leon Black’s frivolous motion that was filed without any legal basis and as part of Black’s ongoing campaign to retaliate against Ms. Ganieva our law firm for speaking up about the harm Black caused her,” Christensen wrote in a statement. “The legal system does not allow even men as rich as Black to punish women brave enough to speak out about their abhorrent conduct.”

The judge also rejected a cross-motion to sanction Black’s legal team, though he said he could revisit the matter later — as to either party.

“In any event, the court retains the discretion to decide whether to impose costs and/or sanctions on a party or attorney,” Judge Cohen wrote. “In the exercise of that discretion, I decline to impose sanctions on either party or their attorneys, as neither side has, at this point.”

Black’s attorney, Susan Estrich of Estrich Goldin, signaled plans to revisit the issue.

“The allegations in these lawsuits are complete works of fiction and riddled with falsehoods. The fact that the plaintiff’s lawyers have not been sanctioned doesn’t change that,” Estrich wrote in a statement. “We will continue to fight these false claims, and will ultimately seek costs and fees when we prevail.”

In a separate lawsuit filed on Nov. 28, 2022, Pierson claimed that Black raped her in Epstein’s New York townhouse in 2002. Pierson sued Black, Epstein’s estate and its executors.

Pierson’s lawsuit represented one of the floods of complaints unleashed by the enactment of New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily suspended the statute of limitations in cases of alleged sexual abuse.

Both lawsuits remain active and have hearings scheduled in February.

Read the ruling below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."