(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for a former Russian model who claims Leon Black sexually assaulted her asked a judge to let them quit the case, dealing a blow to her defamation suit against the Apollo Global Management co-founder.
An attorney with Wigdor LLP filed the request in New York state court late Wednesday, saying Guzel Ganieva wished to represent herself in the litigation and citing an “irrevocable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.” The lawyer didn’t provide specifics in the filing, invoking the relationship’s confidentiality.
Ganieva sued Black in 2021 over his denial of her assault accusation. Black has called their relationship a “consensual affair” and claimed she tried to extort money from him over it.
Wednesday’s disruptive turn of events comes at a critical time in the high-profile dispute, in which both sides are waiting for a ruling on Black’s request to have the case dismissed. Wigdor’s withdrawal and Ganieva’s bid to go it alone, if the court approves, would almost certainly make it harder for Ganieva to continue litigating the intense back-and-forth in which she and Black have been locked over the past two years.
Ganieva’s initial allegations of sexual assault, first revealed in Twitter posts she wrote in 2021, followed reports of Black’s payments of $158 million to Jeffrey Epstein for tax advice and financial services. Black stepped down from Apollo shortly after the tweets, following months of controversy over his ties to Epstein. Epstein died in jail in 2019 facing sex trafficking charges, his death ruled a suicide.
Black has since focused on his personal investments through his family office, Elysium Management LLC.
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Black argues he and Ganieva had a consensual affair for six years and that an agreement she signed in October 2015 clears him of all her allegations. Ganieva was promised $21 million under the agreement and received $9.5 million, according to Black.
Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Black, said the suit never should have been brought.
“As we have said all along, Ms. Ganieva’s allegations against Mr. Black are demonstrably false,” Estrich said in a statement, adding, “We have no comment on Wigdor’s decision to withdraw.”
Jeanne Christensen, a Wigdor lawyer who represents Ganieva, said in the court filing that no depositions have been taken in the case yet and that any trial is at least a year away. She told the judge the firm could provide additional information, if necessary, in a hearing closed to the public.
She had no comment on the filing.
Read More: Leon Black Accused of 2002 Rape in Epstein Mansion
In a separate case, Black in 2021 sued Ganieva, Apollo co-founder Josh Harris and public relations professional Steven Rubenstein, claiming they conspired to destroy him personally and professionally, in violation of US racketeering laws. The federal appeals court in Manhattan this month upheld a lower-court ruling in June that found the claims by Black “glaringly deficient.”
The case is Ganieva v. Black, 155262/2021, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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--With assistance from Heather Perlberg.
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