Burns finds voice: Lawyers file motion to dismiss Saatchi suit

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In a motion to dismiss charges against ex- Saatchi & Saatchi Vice Chairman Mike Burns, attorneys for the one-time account executive take several sarcastic gibes at the Publicis Groupe-owned company, making wordplays on the agency's own taglines, "Nothing is impossible" and "The ideas company."

The document, filed May 6 in State Supreme Court of New York, said while Saatchi operates with the motto "Nothing is impossible," its complaint against Mr. Burns "proves otherwise, that it is not possible to maintain a case against Mr. Burns," and that while the agency is known as "the ideas company" in the advertising industry, the idea to sue Mr. Burns was misguided.

The motion also calls Saatchi's suit against Mr. Burns "an effort to besmirch the employee's good name in an attempt to ensure that he never works again."

Saatchi & Saatchi on March 11 charged Mr. Burns, the former worldwide group account director on General Mills who resigned from the agency Feb. 11 after 25 years, with breach of fiduciary duty and loyalty and interfering with his contractual obligations. Saatchi claimed, among other things, that Mr. Burns bad-mouthed the agency to colleagues and plotted to steal the $500 million-plus General Mills account from the agency. The suit seeks not less than at least $3 million in damages.

NO BREACH

"I'm happy to finally have a voice in the matter of Saatchi & Saatchi's baseless and ill-founded lawsuit against me," said Mr. Burns in a statement. "My sentiments concerning this case are best captured by the motion-to-dismiss memorandum filed by my attorneys today in the New York State Supreme Court: e.g., a plaintiff's anger, embarrassment and fear are no basis for legal action."

In court documents, Mr. Burns' attorneys argue that the 48-year-old account executive did not breach any agreement with or obligation to his employer and that Saatchi has not suffered any harm as a result of his departure. "Plaintiff does not, and cannot, allege that [General Mills], nor any other client has transferred, or even threatened to transfer, its business away." Since Mr. Burns' departure, General Mills has repeatedly said it is continuing to work with Saatchi.

next step

The next step in the ongoing legal process is for Saatchi's attorneys to respond to the motion to dismiss. After that, the judge overseeing the case will set a date to hear oral arguments.

Mr. Burns is not employed currently, according to people familiar with his situation. Three days after he resigned, 17 employees who worked for him on General Mills resigned en masse from Saatchi. That group, which includes Mr. Burns' longtime No. 2 on the General Mills account, Annette Adriance, as well as senior account, planning and creative staff, are now employed by Interpublic Group of Cos.

The group is working out of offices leased by Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, although several executives familiar with the situation claim that they are not affiliated with the agency network. An Interpublic spokesman did not return a call for comment at press time.

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