- Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
West Palm Beach lawyer Patrick Cousins never made any secret about the legal work he did for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician Prince.
But the 53-year-old who devotes the bulk of his practice to pursuing Lemon Law cases on behalf of distraught car-buyers never thought he would be punished for his decade-long link to The Purple One.
Hoping to rehabilitate his reputation that he claims was sullied by articles that appeared on the websites of the Daily Beast and City Pages in Minneapolis months after Prince’s 2016 death, Cousins last week filed a libel suit against both publications in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.
While his attorney, Michael Pike, said he would be seeking more than $500,000 in damages, Cousins said he isn’t focused on money.
“For me, the whole spin on this case is to clear my name,” Cousins said. “I want to pass it on to my kids. That’s all I’ve got.”
In the articles, written by Geoff Ziezulewicz, Cousins is branded as both a “shady lawyer” and “a con artist.” Ziezulewicz uses lawsuits Cousins filed in connection with Prince’s far-flung business empire to back up his portrayal of the lawyer as a sleazy opportunist.
However, both Pike and Cousins claim, Ziezulewicz misinterpreted most of the lawsuits. For instance, describing a 2015 lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, he wrote that Cousins dropped it rather than be forced to answer questions under oath about his relationship with Prince. Instead, court records show, Cousins won a $550,000 default judgment. With interest, Cousins said the judgment has ballooned to $600,000.
Ziezulewicz also focused on Cousins’ representation of a Colorado inmate, who falsely claimed he was Prince’s son. Pike insisted there was nothing untoward about Cousin’s work. The felon, an aspiring rapper, might have had a legitimate claim to Prince’s fortune. When the DNA tests came back negative, the long-simmering issue was laid to rest, he said.
“There’s no substance to any of his descriptions of the lawsuits,” Cousins said. “The only thing that’s true is that they were filed. But that’s it. The rest of it is twisted sister.”
The Daily Beast, which claims it reaches 1 million readers a day, declined comment on Cousins’ lawsuit. Neither Ziezulewicz nor the Star Tribune Media Co., which publishes City Pages, responded to emails seeking comment. However, Pike said, the Star Tribune in September rejected his request for a retraction, claiming the article was “well-sourced.”
News outlets typically are protected from libel lawsuits if they quote court documents, but Pike said both publications went beyond court records, slapping derogatory labels on Cousins and suggesting that the lawyer and Prince had an ugly falling out.
Cousins said he was introduced to Prince in 2004 after he did work for one of the artist’s friends. For six years, he said he travelled the globe, representing the Minneapolis superstar in various disputes, ranging from copyright infringement to his divorce with his second wife. Realizing he was missing the chance to watch his three children grow up, Cousins in 2010 said he told Prince he wanted to scale back.
Cousins said he continued to represent Prince until the star’s April 2016 death from a drug overdose. But, he said, by his own choice, the work was sporadic. Still, he said, they remained close. Prince regularly made anonymous donations to West Palm Beach organizations, such as the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, where Cousins’ daughter goes to school, and Educational Gallery Group, a West Palm Beach nonprofit that Cousins helped set up.
“It’s hard to represent an individual like that — someone as private as he was. I’d say there was a friendship there,” Cousins said. “We spoke several times a week; sometimes several times a day.”
Contacted by Ziezulewicz after Prince’s death, he said he was blindsided by the attack. Cousins claimed he received roughly 50 interview requests from various media companies and rejected most of them, including ones from Ziezulewicz.
Cousins said he didn’t learn about the articles until months after they were published. “I was blown away,” he said. Family and friends questioned him. Clients unexpectedly disappeared. He said he realized he had to do something to set the record straight.
“The whole reason I practice law is to help people,” Cousins said. “The opportunity to represent Prince was an opportunity of a lifetime for me.”
However, he insisted, it shouldn’t be his undoing.