Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's longtime manager John Baxter has filed a lawsuit against Halford and other members of the band and its management team, alleging fraud, breach of contract and intentional interference with contractual relations – and asking for around $50 million in damages.
Baxter, who had been Halford's personal manager since 1982 until he was fired in August, claims he discovered in August that frontman Rob Halford owes him millions of dollars for contract breaches, including failure to pay commissions, salary and expenses dating back to 1992. He alleges that Halford actively misled him by saying that he was simply unable to fulfill his financial obligations to his manager, promising that he would pay Baxter when he was able.
On August 9th, Baxter was fired from his job as manager via a letter from a British law firm that reads, in part: "It has become clear over recent weeks that the relationships between our parties has run its course and that you are not acting in our clients' best interests." The letter also claims that Baxter, who lives in Arizona, withdrew his sponsorship of Halford's U.S. visa in order to prevent his entry into the country and that he posted cruel comments on Halford's official website, actions that "placed an intolerable strain upon our clients' ability to maintain constructive and professional relations with the remaining members of Judas Priest and their representatives at this crucial time."
Baxter's attorney, Barry K. Rothman, tells Rolling Stone that the termination was unjust and that the defendants have ulterior motives, referring to the announcement of the Judas Priest farewell tour last December. "It was wrongful termination because there's no basis to have terminated. They have their own agenda," says Rothman. "Baxter has been managing [Halford] for decades. Judas Priest was coming to an end and the Judas Priest people wanted to engage Halford in his solo endeavor and to continue to have a relationship with him which was not possible with Baxter in the middle. There's a whole reason why this all of the sudden abruptly came to an end."
Defendant Andrew Thompson, a British lawyer whose firm sent Baxter the termination letter, tells Rolling Stone via email that he never interfered, intentionally or otherwise, with the Halford and Baxter relationship. In the suit, Baxter claims that Thompson and the suit's other defendants (who include Judas Priest manager Bill Curbishley and Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill) intentionally tried to interfere with the Baxter/Halford contractual relationship because they wanted to be Halford's global managers and to influence Halford's relationship with Judas Priest, his participation in the Judas Priest farewell tour and Halford's post-Judas Priest career.
Neither Thompson nor defendant Jayne Andrews, another Judas Priest manager, has seen the suit yet. But like Thompson, Andrews rejects Baxter's allegations. "We are aware of the false claims he is trying to make – this has been ongoing for a while now. Rob Halford validly terminated his contracts with John Baxter and there's nothing in John Baxter's various claims, all of which will be vigorously resisted."
Entertainment lawyer Doug Mark, who is not involved in the suit, explains that the statute of limitations on written contracts is four years – but that if the plaintiffs allege fraud, the statute does not apply. In Mark's opinion, the lawsuit is "terrible. You've got a guy who was given the opportunity to be a manager for a longtime.
Where are the records to show that [Baxter] was complaining that he wasn't receiving appropriate commissions? Why wasn't there an email saying, 'You owe me this money. When can I get it?' At some point, he got angry with people and their relationship came to an end and now he's mad. It smacks of a very aggressive and unseemly way to get a going away present to which he's not entitled. A judge would likely perceive this very unfavorably. My best guess for a settlement is a hundred or two hundred thousand dollars to get rid of the nuisance lawsuit."
The friction in the band became public in April, when longtime guitarist K.K. Downing quit the rock group after over 40 years. "There has been an ongoing breakdown in working relationship between myself, elements of the band, and the band's management for some time," he said in a public statement. "Therefore I have decided to step down rather than tour with negative sentiments.” Guitarist Richie Faulkner was hired as a replacement.
In August, Judas Priest band members posted a statement on their official website: "There has recently been some nonsense and propaganda posted on the Internet including on Rob's website, regarding the band and management. (Rob currently is not controlling his website and absolutely does not agree with the comments). We refuse to get drawn into any public arguments - it is below us and will be dealt with legally. The band have always jointly made any major decisions and have been with the same management team for over 25 years. Everyone knows and respects them in the music business and we have ultimate faith and trust in the way they have always guided us."