Leonard Leibowitz, a Manhattan lawyer, was a hardball labor negotiator in the world of high art. More than ever he needs to make legal defense – his own – into high art. Leibowitz, now 72, was indicted on March 15 in Manhattan federal court on charges of withdrawing more than $350,000 in unauthorized funds from a union representing several dozen dancers and stagehands at the American Ballet Theater (ABT), housed at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. He’s also accused of falsifying union financial reports. The labor organization, known as Independent Artists of America (IAA), no longer exists, its members having re-affiliated with their former union, the American Guild of Musical Artists.
National Legal and Policy Center reported on this case back in July 2009, shortly after Leibowitz’s arrest and arraignment. To recap: In 1994, Leibowitz, along with ABT dancers and stagehands, founded the IAA. He would represent them through 2007. The union collected about $80,000 a year in member dues, depositing the money into a bank account that he controlled. In 1997, about three years into his tenure, Leibowitz admitted to a union official that he was having financial problems. He asked for and got permission for advances on his annual retainer, which at the time was $24,000, later raised to $42,000. The official loaned him the money on the belief that the cumulative loans would not exceed $100,000. Unfortunately, they did. And they weren’t exactly loans either. During 1997-2005, Leibowitz wrote more than $350,000 in checks to himself, his law firm and his former wife. This sum well exceeded the $200,000 in retainer fees he collected over this period.
The house of cards began to fall when the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, in its review of the union’s annual reports, discovered that advances weren’t being paid back. Moreover, a number of the signatures likely had been forged by union officers at Leibowitz’s request. The IAA, now with new leadership, had a few questions for its attorney. Leibowitz, realizing he was had, admitted he could not repay his loans. He needed the extra money, he stated, to pay back taxes and private school tuition for his children, among other things. Leibowitz’s arrest on July 14, 2009 was almost inevitable. For the American Ballet Theater, at least, the show goes on. The company is set to begin its annual spring season at the Met in May. First on the program: “Don Quixote.”