On Wednesday, painter Robert Sundholm filed suit against his personal attorney for tricking him into signing away the film rights to his life story. Sundholm’s unique biography has been the subject of features for People Magazine, CBS and BBC. The artist was abandoned by his parents as a child, never graduated from high school, learned to read when he was 32, and worked as a street hustler to get by. At the age of 60, while working as a janitor at North Bergen town hall in New Jersey, Sundholm began making art as a hobby and giving it away.
Attorney Daniel Belardinelli discovered Sundholm’s paintings when they were hung on the walls of North Bergen town hall by appreciators of Sundholm’s work. The attorney signed Sundholm as a client and helped him successfully break into the New York art world, but also induced Sundholm to give him the rights to the artist’s incredible story for just $10. Sundholm also signed a will stating that all of his paintings and personal possessions would go to Belardinelli upon the artist’s death. In order to convince Sundholm to sign, Belardinelli allegedly promised to pay him royalties that were never actually stipulated in the contract.
The complaint states that “Belardinelli abused his confidential relationship as Sundholm’s attorney to induce Sundholm to execute the [life story rights agreement].” It also implicates another attorney, Marianne McGlone, who allegedly conspired with Belardinelli to carry out the scheme. According to the complaint, the attorneys’ actions constitute negligence, fraud, and breach of contract.
Alex Van Dyke is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).