Ice Cube's Big3 Basketball sues powerhouse law firm Quinn Emanuel

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"Ride Along" star Ice Cube
Ice Cube's Big3 Basketball league has sued a high-powered law firm. (Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)

Ice Cube's Big3 Basketball league is lobbing new allegations in a long-running dispute over whether Qatari officials tried to sabotage the rapper/actor's nascent sports operation.

On Thursday, Big3 Basketball, which was founded by O'Shea Jackson Sr., known professionally as Ice Cube, and his business partner Jeff Kwatinetz, sued the law firm Quinn Emanuel, alleging that its lawyers inserted themselves into Big3's legal affairs, gaining information that was helpful to Big3's adversaries — representatives of Qatar's royal family.

Big3 is a struggling three-on-three league featuring teams made up of former NBA players. The suit, filed in New York state court, alleges the high-powered law firm based in Los Angeles engaged in fraud, legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty by looking out for the interests of its oil-rich clients at the expense of the fledgling basketball organization.

After nearly five months of legal work in 2018, Quinn Emanuel presented Big3 with a $1.3-million bill, according to the lawsuit. It included one month when 17 firm employees — including nine attorneys — handled various duties and the firm's fees spiraled to nearly $778,000, the suit said.

Quinn Emanuel denied the allegations. It maintained that Big3 was aware of its clients in the Middle East, and dismissed the matter as nothing more than a dispute over an unpaid bill.

"Unfortunately, Big3 doesn’t want to pay us for the work we did," Quinn Emanuel said in a statement. "After the firm pursued them to collect fees, Big3 waited until a week before the collection arbitration to file this fantasy-laden lawsuit. Big3 was fully advised about the firm’s other various representations and is simply trying to avoid paying its bills.”

Big3, in the lawsuit, acknowledges that it did not pay what it called "Quinn's bloated charges."

The fee dispute is expected to go to arbitration next week.

The reason Big3 didn't pay, according to the lawsuit, was that Quinn Emanuel didn't have its authorization to handle its affairs and the firm devised questionable legal strategies that Big3 said hurt its case.

"This action concerns an egregious betrayal by a law firm that pretended to act on behalf of Big3, its nominal client, when in reality it was serving the interests of a far more lucrative client — the State of Qatar, its royal family and its numerous state-owned enterprises — whose interests were directly adverse to Big3," the basketball league alleged in the lawsuit.

The matter began more than three years ago when Big3's original commissioner, former NBA player Roger Mason, introduced Ice Cube and Kwatinetz to Qatari men who agreed to invest in the basketball league, giving the upstart a major boost.

"The funds for the investments were supposed to be from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, which is headed by Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family," the lawsuit said.

But most of the money never materialized, and Big3's relationship with the Qatari representatives soured.

The Qataris allegedly considered starting their own league to compete with Big3.

By March 2018, Ice Cube and Kwatinetz suspected Mason had been duped. After seeing images on social media of Mason partying with the Qataris, they fired Mason "on account of his disloyalty," the suit said.

Mason challenged his firing, the lawsuit said. The law firm Geragos & Geragos of Los Angeles handled the dispute on behalf of Big3, which also sued the Qataris that spring in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

A Quinn Emanuel attorney in New York called the Geragos firm a few days after Mason was fired and volunteered to help Big3 mount its defense. Quinn Emanuel presented an engagement letter to a lawyer in the Geragos firm, but neither Ice Cube nor Kwatinetz — the co-chief executives of the league — signed the engagement letter, according to the lawsuit.

The suit contends Quinn Emanuel then spent the next few months "effectively acting as a spy for Qatar."

"Qatar and the al-Thanis pay Quinn tens of millions of dollars in legal fees every year," the lawsuit said. "Its Qatari business is so important to Quinn that it maintains an office in Doha, the capital of Qatar."

Quinn Emanuel withdrew as Big3’s counsel.

Big3 was left to pursue its strategy against Mason, eventually securing an acknowledgement that he had been “unwittingly used” by the Qataris all along, the lawsuit said.

But now, because of COVID-19, the league's summer season is in shambles and it is tussling with Quinn Emanuel over the bill.

Ice Cube, in a statement, said: "Injustice takes on many forms and I’m willing to fight it on all fronts."

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