Actors’ Equity has hired a lawyer to conduct its own investigation into claims of harassment at “Chicago,” while raising questions about the lawyer hired by the show’s producers to look into the matter.
The union has retained J. Bruce Maffeo, a lawyer at New York firm Cozen O’Connor, to look into claims that arose after the death of Jeff Loeffelholz, who had been a “Chicago” cast member. The hiring of Maffeo has created tensions with a parallel investigation being conducted by Judd Burstein, a lawyer who was retained by “Chicago” producers Barry and Fran Weissler, who says the union is blocking his efforts.
“Our thoughts are with Jeffrey’s family and the entire cast of Chicago. Equity is monitoring the situation and we have retained outside legal counsel to help engage with the cast and examine the facts as quickly as possible. The relevant stakeholders will be updated on the outcome when that work is complete,” Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity said in a statement to Broadway News.
The investigations come after Loeffelholz, the standby for Mary Sunshine who had been in the cast for 22 years, took his own life at the end of June. Friends of Loeffelholz, citing his own reported rehearsal notes, said the actor was verbally harassed in a June 22 rehearsal with director Walter Bobbie and music director Leslie Stifelman. The pair are being questioned as part of the investigations.
Maffeo began his investigation at least one week ago.
That investigation is butting heads with the work of Burstein. He has represented the Weisslers’ company, NAMCO, on business matters in the past, but is acting as an independent investigator in this case. Burstein initially met with the cast on July 6 to begin setting up interviews and had reached out to the general public who may have information.
However, Burstein said cast and crew and affiliated unions had been reluctant to speak with him.
“I regret to say that I have been utterly stymied in my investigation by Actors Equity, Local 82, AFM and those in a position to provide me information about the events which transpired during the week between Jeff [Loeffelholz’s] last rehearsal and his suicide,” Burstein wrote in a statement to members of the press.
Burstein took particular aim at Equity and Maffeo’s work with them. According to emails shared with press by Burstein, Maffeo wrote in a July 13 email that he would not agree to Burstein “interviewing any of the union members pending the conclusion of the union’s internal investigation of the matter.”
Burstein said he had also not received a response from Maffeo as to whether Loeffelholz had made a complaint to Equity immediately following the rehearsal, as had been alleged by a source, and as to whether the producers had been notified about it.
“I’m outraged at this point,” Burstein said in an interview with Broadway News.
In response to Burstein’s statements, McColl wrote in a statement that Equity has “taken appropriate action” in hiring a former federal prosecutor for its own investigation, while also questioning Burstein’s background.
“NAMCO’s investigation is being conducted by an attorney who previously has represented it in other matters, which raises serious concerns with the independence of his investigation. Once Equity’s investigation is concluded, Equity will decide what steps to take with NAMCO,” McColl said in the statement to Broadway News.
Several sources said that cast members and others involved in the situation have been independently skeptical of Burstein due to his prior affiliations with the Weisslers.
A spokesperson for Local 802 said the union had told members of the Broadway musician community “that speaking with investigators is voluntary and we support their right to do so.”
In his statement, Burstein said he offered to let Maffeo sit in on all of his interviews and sign an affidavit confirming that he had kept the interviews confidential.
The Weisslers did not immediately respond to requests for comment through their spokespeople.
Maffeo has represented and conducted internal investigations for several unions including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He has served as the Ethical Practices Officer for AFSCME District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union, where he is charged with looking into allegations of corruption.