[UPDATED with Artist's "Proof":] Todd White, SpongeBob Squarepants Animator-Turned-Painter, Blamed in Suit for Surf City Ninja "Attack"
UPDATE, AUG. 31, 2:42 P.M.: Former SpongeBob Squarepants animator Todd White's legal team has gone public with the hard proof they say clears their client and damns the woman suing him for allegedly sending ninjas to take over her Huntington Beach gallery.
This evidence consists of side-by-side photos of an original White drawing and a fake Margaret Howell's accusers allege she sold along with others for several thousand dollars at The Gallery HB at the Hyatt Regency.
TMZ posted the photos today:
Todd White's evidence
White also claims to have an agreement Howell signed to turn over his artworks and copyrights, but the gallerist had previously claimed the artist's martial-arts thugs forced her to ink the pact.
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UPDATE, AUG. 30, 1:54 P.M.: Former SpongeBob Squarepants animator Todd White is counter-suing in federal court the gallerist suing the artist in Orange County Superior Court for allegedly sending ninjas to take over her Huntington Beach commercial art space.
White accuses Margaret Howell in federal district court in Los Angeles of fraud for supposedly making unauthorized copies of his internationally known work and selling them at The Gallery HB at the Hyatt Regency.
White claimed to an art publication two weeks ago that Howell had admitted to selling unauthorized copies of work by him and other artists and that she voluntarily turned over the pieces to settle their dispute. The artist also said he informed the Hyatt before his representatives went to The Gallery HB to retrieve his work and the phonies.
Now, in the face of Howell's suit--which accuses him of sending martial-arts thugs to The Gallery HB on Aug. 2 to force her to turn over his artwork as well as operation of the art space--he's going to court to press the issue.
Jonathan M. Jenkins, Howell's Marina del Rey attorney who filed the original lawsuit, reportedly said his client did nothing wrong and that he will move to dismiss White's federal suit.
"If they thought they had evidence" of fraud, Jenkins tells the New York Times, it's "curious that they waited until Ms. Howell filed the lawsuit that she did."
UPDATE, AUG. 17, 1:39 P.M.: Calling allegations that he hired ninjas to attack, silence and force out a Huntington Beach gallerist "totally absurd" (not to mention the accompanying $5.5 million lawsuit), Hollywood artist Todd White unveiled a much different version of the Aug. 2 events at Surf City's Hyatt Regency.
Indeed, White leveled accusations of his own, accusing Margaret Howell, the woman suing him in Orange County Superior Court, of engaging in widespread fraud and forgery out of the tony resort's The Gallery HB.
Speaking with Leigh Kamping-Carder of The Art Newspaper, the artist who parlayed lead animation work on SpongeBob Squarepants into international renown for original works in oil paint and glicees says that his studio discovered The Gallery HB was hawking copied pieces with forged Todd White signatures.
Alarm bells rang when Howell accidentally brought a fake to White's studio, according to Bryce Eddy, the studio's managing director who as a defendant in the gallery operator's suit is identified as the artist's "agent and martial arts sparring partner."
Eddy reportedly said The Gallery HB was investigated for 2 1/2 months before four bogus White works and dozens of forgeries bearing the signatures of other artists were ultimately identified. White contends in the piece that the Hyatt was informed of the forgeries and that his representatives only went to the resort that fateful evening to resolve the matter confidentially.
Under the terms of an agreement the artist claims Howell signed voluntarily, she would relinquish the artworks in exchange for White dropping fraud and copyright infringement claims, said Eddy, adding that Howell willingly gave up the pieces and even recorded a confession.
"Obviously, the allegations she's thrown out are just totally absurd," White reportedly told Kamping-Carder. "For her to say what she said is so outrageous, I mean it's amazing."
However, Howell's attorney Jonathan Jenkins counters in the same piece that his client never copied White's work and wonders why the artist did not go to the authorities if he believed she did.
"Why didn't they do something other than show up in force in the middle of the night and assault, harass, threaten and emotionally demolish a 62-year-old woman there all by herself?" Jenkins reportedly said.
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 16, 2 P.M.: Todd White, formerly of the lead animation team that developed SpongeBob Squarepants, hired thugs to attack and rob a gallery operator selling his works before forcibly taking over her space at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, claims the woman's $5.5 million lawsuit against the artist.
Margaret Howellfiled the suit in Orange County Superior Court that claims the violence by martial arts experts occurred the evening of Aug. 2 at the gallery through the early morning hours of Aug. 3 at her home.
"On August 3, 2011, this incident was reported to the Huntington Beach Police Department and we are conducting an investigation," confirms Lt. Russell Reinhart, the department's spokesman.
Howell claims she sought treatment for physical injuries caused by the alleged SpongeGoons and that she was hospitalized for emotional wounds. Specifically, her court complaint accuses White--"in a thankless fit of greed"--of hiring at least four men to attack her so the artist could take control of the gallery featuring his work.
"Despite White's string of professional successes . . . his true nature was revealed on the night of August 2, 2011, when he orchestrated a malicious and brutal assault and robbery against the very woman who helped him launch his career in studio art," Howell says in her court complaint filed by Marina del Rey attorney Jonathan Jenkins.
Scene of a crime?
The Gallery HB
Howell claims the men came into her The Gallery HB, which is at the resort at PCH and Beach Boulevard, around 6 p.m. pretending to be interested in buying White's art. But they were really "martial arts experts" who were accompanied by White's attorney, Keith Davidson, and White's "agent and martial arts sparring partner" Bryce Eddy, reads the complaint, which includes Davidson and Eddy as defendants. The identities of the other men will eventually be revealed via the security cameras, alleges the complaint, which goes on to state:
"[T]hese defendants, acting on White's behalf, entered the Gallery while Ms. Howell was alone. They forcibly shut down the Gallery, physically assaulted Ms. Howell, emotionally traumatized her, and wrongfully and unlawfully imprisoned her in her office for long hours by force. They threatened her with severe physical harm if she did not comply with their demands."
More White-hired intruders arrived to steal more than $1 million worth of White art that belonged to Howell's gallery and Fine Art Consulting Services, which she also owns, claim the court documents, which accuse Eddy, Davidson and others of stealing certificates of authenticity, customer lists and sales and inventory records.
The goal of the fiendish plot, according to Howell: to bypass her while taking over the business.
But the mayhem did not end at the gallery, according to her complaint, which claims she was taken by physical force and threats of more harm to her home, where the thugs removed more artwork belong to her gallery and the consulting service. She says that she was given until today, Aug. 16 to vacate the gallery, and that if she reported anything to police, members of her family would be the next to suffer beatings.
According to a Courthouse News Service report on the lawsuit, Howell also hints at a possible insider for the White gang in the form of an employee she let go two weeks before the alleged attack. And she claims White's attorney, Davidson, is "presently on three years of post-suspension disciplinary probation with the State Bar of California."
A Keith M. Davidson of Beverly Hills was suspended by the bar in August 2010 for two years, stayed, and placed on three years of probation with a 90-day actual suspicion. This was for failing to appear at a case management conference in a medical malpractice case, failing to inform his potential client about significant developments, depositing a $750 check from the client into a general account rather than a client trust account and writing a refund for the check from an account with insufficient funds.
Looking a bit like tough guy actor Michael Madsen, White is a self-described "observational artist" whose style has been dubbed "Rat Pack meets Picasso." He was named the official artist for the 2007 Grammy Awards, and some of his work was included in an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz that toured Miami, Los Angeles, Dubai, Japan, London, Toronto and Vienna
"In light of defendants' vicious, brutal and outrageous conduct, Ms. Howell lives in profound fear of her personal safety and that of her family," reads her court complaint. "She has suffered physical injuries and massive emotional distress, her business relationships have been severely disrupted, and more than $1.5 million in artwork has been stolen from her two companies."
Heartaches Are Free by Todd White
The $5.5 million Howell's lawsuit seeks is for compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction prohibiting White from using the customer list.
The Galley HB website does not list White among the featured artists there, but Peter Max, Corinne Hartley and Dean Torrence (of Jan & Dean fame) are listed. White does appear on the ArtistsForU page that mentions his originals and glicees, his previous work for Warner Bros. Studios and the fact that The Gallery HB "has acquired the largest selection of his artwork in the world."
Attempts to reach White and Davidson have proven to be unsuccessful so far.
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