Burns’ Attorney to File Counterclaim

NEW YORK The attorney representing Mike Burns, the former account chief on General Mills at Saatchi & Saatchi, said on Wednesday that he will file a counterclaim against the agency, which last year filed a lawsuit that accused Burns of orchestrating the walkout of 17 staffers in February 2005.

All but one of the staffers worked on General Mills, putting the Publicis Groupe agency in the position of having to re-staff on the fly.

Since the exodus, however, no General Mills business has left Saatchi’s New York office. Based mainly on that fact, Burns last May filed a motion to have the suit dismissed, asserting that the shop had failed to demonstrate damages.

But last week, state Supreme Court Judge Herman Cahn largely rejected that motion, though he narrowed the scope of Saatchi’s claims against Burns. For example, the judge dismissed the claim that Burns had violated the non-compete clauses in his contract after leaving.

Cahn also rejected Saatchi’s request for an injunction that sought to bar Burns from “directly or indirectly launching any company or taking employment with any advertising, marketing or communications company which services” General Mills. It also would have prohibited him from soliciting former Saatchi colleagues or “utilizing the trade secrets and confidential and proprietary business information of Saatchi.” The judge found the request “overbroad” since Saatchi “failed to specify either a time or geographical limitation to the restrictions requested.” That said, Burns still faces claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of loyalty and breach of contract related to his actions before he left Saatchi.

Once Burns’ lawyer, Dan Kornstein, receives a “notice of entry” for Cahn’s Jan. 5 ruling, Kornstein will have 10 days to respond to Saatchi’s original lawsuit in a counterclaim. When asked Wednesday if he would file such a claim, Kornstein said “yes,” but did not elaborate. He did not say what the claim would be based on.

Kornstein further asserted that Cahn’s ruling was a “victory,” since Saatchi’s quest for an injunction to keep Burns from plying his trade had been dismissed.

“Looking at the essence of what things are, they are trying to stop him from working. That’s gone. It’s a major victory,” Kornstein said.

Reached for a response, Tom Marino, a lawyer for Saatchi said: “This case is far from over. As the court said, the substance of the charges—he still has to deal with those.”

This story updates an item posted on Jan. 10 with the news that Burns’ attorney intends to file a counterclaim.