Benedict Arnold or William Kunstler? The Real Story of the Lawyer Behind the Micky’s Nine

Matthew Krupnick
Lawyer Matthew Krupnick, 34, is representing the lead plaintiff in a suit by nine former Micky’s employees for a number of alleged labor code violations and for creating a sexually hostile environment. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ttorney Matthew Krupnick’s lawyer friends laughed when he first told them that he was filing suit against Micky’s, the gay bar in West Hollywood known for its go-go dancers and male strippers, for creating a sexually hostile work environment.

“A lot of us litigators, trial lawyers like to bounce new cases off each other to get another perspective and basically see if we are missing something or to see if anyone can offer some advice or knowledge we may not have thought about yet,” explained 34-year-old Krupnick. “One colleague poo poo’ed the case so bad and told me I was crazy to think anyone would care about this stuff, and that I would be wasting my time and money if I went forward with the case.”

But despite several motions to dismiss, the case is going forward, set for trial in October. The suit, filed by nine former Micky’s employees, alleges violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, labor code violations, that Micky’s tolerated lewd conduct and that its management engaged in racial discrimination and discriminated against heterosexual employees.

matthew krupnick
Matthew Krupnick, the youngest of three siblings, describes himself as a “proud Mama’s boy.” His mother, Vivian Krupnick, came out of retirement to help her son launch Krupnick & Krupnick in 2009. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Since Krupnick went public last month with the details of the lawsuit, West Hollywood residents and gay men across the country have argued its merits. Some point out that Micky’s must obey labor laws. Others charge that Krupnick is a Benedict Arnold, a gay man suing a gay bar in a case that could potentially change a way of life in the West Hollywood bar scene.

The criticism of Krupnick has been particularly fierce online, with most of the 60 comments on critical of him or the plaintiffs. One commenter called for a demonstration in front of Krupnick’s office.

That criticism doesn’t faze Krupnick.

“Anyone who would make such a criticism either does not know me or is coming from a place of ignorance,” said Krupnick, an employment and personal injury lawyer with a degree from Pepperdine University. “First of all, why would my sexual orientation have anything to do with whether or not I would pursue a case where there are willful and repeated labor code violations going on even though the owners, Michael and Lann Niemeyer, and the various corporate entities they have created to shield themselves with have been sued for these very same violations in the past, which makes it impossible for them to plead ignorance of the laws.”

“What kind of person would I be, if I ignored the illegal and reprehensible conduct going on there that has devastated the lives of so many innocent and hard working employees just because this place is owned and operated by gay men and I happen to be a gay man as well?” he continued. “If they were a bunch of white people who were discriminating against blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities (oh wait, they did do that and that IS part of this lawsuit), would I be expected to turn my head and pretend I didn’t know or care as person after person came to me asking me to represent them to fight for justice and to help prevent these types of things from happening to more people in the future? Of course not.”

Krupnick’s mother Vivian, who is his law partner, also dismisses the Benedict Arnold charges.

“I’m a straight woman. Would anyone think badly of me if I sued a straight bar?” she said. “Matthew’s strong sense of right and wrong is at the center of this particular lawsuit, not the fact that he is gay or the fact that the owners of this bar are gay. There should be no mention of the word gay in this case as the facts of the case should stand alone showing the wrongdoing of the club. The fact of the matter is that an attorney is suing a bar on behalf of clients who have been wronged. It’s not a frivolous case.”

Vivian Krupnick, who was pregnant with Matthew during her first year of law school, jokes that her son picked up the law by “osmosis.” Even as a child, he’d hear her on the phone while he was playing and inquire about what she was doing.

“He’d ask questions about why I was doing things certain ways or what this meant or what someone did,” she said. “Matthew was interested in many things that were beyond his years. He was exceptionally bright, curious and enthusiastic. Matthew could discuss adult topics by the time he started school. His range of topics and interests were noticed by everyone who knew him.”

Vivian Krupnick came out of retirement to help her son launch Krupnick & Krupnick in 2009. Matthew Krupnick, the youngest of three siblings, describes himself as a “proud Mama’s boy,” calling his mother his best friend.

“She’s my hero,” he said. “She’s the most beautiful, intelligent attorney I’ve ever met. I talk to her daily. We talk about cases and everything else. She talks me off the ledge.”

Born and raised in Ventura County, Krupnick didn’t come out as a gay man until he started law school. While Pepperdine University is known for being conservative, he says the law school was an accepting environment for him and quips he “started law school and gay school at the same time.”

Throughout law school, he was living near Melrose and Fairfax Avenues, attracted to the West Hollywood live-and-let-live attitude. He still calls West Hollywood home and just last week officially moved his law practice from downtown Los Angeles to Sunset Boulevard.

In each of the past five years, he’s received a Rising Star award from Super Lawyers magazine because he’s won such a large percentage of his cases. Despite that track record, he hasn’t hit it rich yet. Krupnick takes cases on spec. He gets paid if he wins the case.

“I basically gamble for a living,” he said, noting that the Micky’s case could change his fortunes. He thinks a $15-$20 million judgment is possible.

Land use/real estate attorney Todd Elliot of the Truman & Elliot law firm met Krupnick when they were on opposite sides of the courtroom. Although they dispute the outcome of the case – Krupnick says he won the case, Elliot says they settled – the two have been friends ever since.

“Matthew is a very talented trial lawyer,” said Elliot, who, like Krupnick, is one of the select 2.5 percent of California’s lawyers to receive the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star award. “I do respect Mr. Krupnick. I don’t believe he will take a case that doesn’t have merit. He’s a very adept trial lawyer.”

Elliot, who specializes in alcoholic beverage law, notes that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is also investigating Micky’s on 14 counts of lewd conduct. He believes that separate ABC investigation could add credence to the charges in Krupnick’s lawsuit.

Reed Fraga, one of the plaintiffs in the Micky’s suit, approached Krupnick on the recommendation of a friend in the Navy who used Krupnick to quietly settle an injury case that could have outed him as a gay man when that would have meant his dismissal from the service.

When Krupnick agreed to take his case, Fraga recommended him to the other eight former Micky’s employees who make up the lawsuit. Public records indicate those other plaintiffs are Theodore Breaux, Michael Burlefinger, Ross Byer, Brett Davis, Jaysen Johnstein, Andrew Santiago, Andreus Shahbaznia and Ty Sparviero.

“I wholeheartedly trust him,” said Fraga. “We’ve been working on the Micky’s case for four years now, and we’ve become friends. He won’t take a case unless he actually feels there’s been an injustice for you. But if he takes you on, he’s always there for you. You can call him at nine o’clock at night, and he’ll take your call. Not just about this case, but any legal question you have.”

Vivian Krupnick says such loyalty and generosity is common for her son. She notes that while an undergraduate at Cal State Northridge, Matthew, who has a black belt in karate, taught a karate class at his older brother’s nearby karate school.

“[His brother] would write a check for teaching the class, but Matthew always tore it up,” she said. “He refused to take his money.”

While he has won a large percentage of his cases, not everyone is enthusiastic about him. One client wrote a bad review on Yelp, saying, among other things, that he didn’t keep her in the loop on all aspects of the case.

Krupnick acknowledges that review has likely cost him some clients, but also points out he got a huge settlement. “I won a lot of money for her,” he said.

When WEHOville attempted to contact the Yelp reviewer for further comment, she did not respond.

As for his laughing lawyer friends, Krupnick thinks they’ll be changing their attitude soon enough.

“My clients are ready to allow a jury of their peers to decide if this kind of behavior is acceptable,” said Krupnick. “And something tells me, when the verdict comes in, I am going to have those same lawyers that laughed at the idea of the case in the beginning calling me to help them litigate their similar cases that they might now start taking. I have all the confidence in the world that justice will prevail here.”

  1. this is just werid to me…having lived there for over 16 yrs even before Micky’s fire and eleven was built…. I used to think what were the owners thinking with dancers in the front windows as kids are walking home from school. But I maybe missing something here on this law suit is it do to the employees doing something they should not have or a patrion doing something and them telling to stop…. hell I remember seeing both…. So if this suit is about some one dancing on a stage as a gogo boy or girl and a patrion has touched them without their wanting… then the bar needs to deal woth the patrion…and I have seen that…… maybe since I am no longer there and in some reason greatful I do not get this working in poor conditions…. and if the guy is striaght he knows whats going on when he works at a gay bar dancing in his undies…. hell this is more the reason to drink at home

  2. I have seen plenty of people walking around nude, and people touching, and pulling thier junk in public (as in “on the street”). Have you not heard of Mardi Gras? As for working under poor conditions, it’s called ‘Duress” and lot of people work under duress. I have been to Micky’s and I have seen what goes on, and The dancers have told patrons “no touching”. WOW! reverse gay discrimination, now that is news. If the owners have allowed any discrimination or other law to be broken then they should be fined absolutely but, $15,000,000.00 worth, I don’t see the value. I would say $50,000.00 each and be done with it. They could have left after finding another job, people do it everyday. So, they need to stop crying poor me and get on with thier lives.

    As for the Lawyer, He is just looking for publicity and a big payday for himself that’s all.
    Weho will not be Weho for much longer.

  3. This is a money grab plain and simple in my opinion. Past all the spin about whats right or wrong. This lawyer wants to shake down this business. That he is gay does means something to me personally. Because this is one of the few gay bars left in WEHO. And to go after a gay business for $15 million is a sad story on where our law system has gone to and what lawyers really do these days. This case is a buck shot approach at all kinds of lawyer games. Hostile work place, no break, racism and so on. . That alone should shine the light on this lawyers agenda. I don’t see any honor in what he is doing. If he really cared about the work conditions of the former staff there are ways to get that addressed. Greed looks like this now in 2013. And a Gay Lawyer is ready to shake a gay bar down for all he can get at I would assume 33% of the take.

  4. The only thing that matters is if rules were broken or not. If Mickey’s broke the rules, then they must suffer the consequences. This isn’t about being gay or the social implications of gogo boys. If opposing counsel thinks Krupnick’s sexual orientation or affinity for gogo boys is relevant, they should introduce that during the trial and and allow the judge/jury to decide.

  5. I can’t address the merits of the instant case, but as a very long-time WeHo resident I can say the owners of the West End bars don’t deserve our thanks or respect. They’ve turned their businesses into carnival side shows that make the formerly “Creative City” just another tacky, tawdry tourist venue. These owners don’t care about the quality of life for neighborhood residents. They only want to turn a buck. The addition of go-go boys has not been a positive development for the city.

  6. You choose to work at a gay bar that employs gogo dancers and get offended when somebody gets naked…
    Meh, I’m afraid you only have yourself to blame for applying there in the first place.

  7. 90069, please read our Comments guidelines: We publish all sorts of opinions, but unsubstantiated allegations of illegal activity, profanity and ad hominem attacks don’t advance the discussion of civic issues, which is one of WEHOville’s main goals. Your allegation that the lawyer profiled has admitted he wants to leverage homophobia to make money is not substantiated by our story. The best debates are those based on facts. So let’s stick to them.

  8. Wehoville censored my original post. I guess it was too intense, however it was a needed rebute to this puff piece. It is a dishonest move to overlook the fact that this kid went to Pepperdine Unviersity a right-wing school where the Dean of the Law School publically supported Prop 8. Now we have a graduate swooping into West Hollywood targeting gay bars, which are frisky and sexy but hardly a red light district and certainly not scarring children in strollers or leaving parents victimized by the sights and sounds of men in g-strings gyrating to the music.

    This is simply a money grab that the young lawyer admits to, a “gamble” to see if he can leverage homophobia to make a cool $20 Million. Let’s please focus on the TRUTH and not this sideshow from a well-to-do trust fund baby.

  9. BlueEyedBoy, you don’t know the facts of the case. You simply ramble on with your opinion as if you have some insight into what is going on at Micky’s. You call out Sebastian for his opinion and possible vested interest, but what is yours? You want Micky’s to continue their ridiculous policies? First and foremost the case is about Labor code violations, but you are probably one of the pathetic patrons that have sucked, fingered, and prodded go-go boys because you can’t get laid yourself. Don’t bother trying to say “if” these things have happened because I’ve seen them happen with my own two eyes, so don’t try to tell me or anyone else it doesn’t. You don’t care that Micky’s has discriminated against ethnic and straight employees and have mistreated all employees. In the end, I guess the jury will decide, and hopefully they decide on what’s right.

  10. Lawyers are. Micky’s may be. True that if you don’t like the heat – don’t cook. Ifyou are even semi-smart you should know if the employee/proprietor climate is bad very fast. If not – maybe you should ask yourself why did you stay? Or not. If you find the open air view of the events at Micky’s TMI (as I do) a request to cover it up IS a logical solution. Don’t blame the lawyer. Grandstanding is a lawyer trait – they teach self-promotion in law school. Is he a crook or a crusader – I agree – some of both. Is the lawsuit frivolous – the court will decide. I most agree with Marco on this

    And FYI folks – there is no Nobel Prize for Lawyers so consider that when you talk lawyers. I have one in my family. Am I proud? Sure – But sort of a embarassed at the same time.

  11. Sebastian, IF it is true that certain behaviors can be seen from the street, that can be easily fixed. I believe in a free market, and clearly there is a market for what Mickey’s has to offer. If you see it as pornographic, and therefore unacceptable for yourself, then don’t go there! The patrons who enjoy the entertainment at Mickey’s and the dancers who work there seem to be pleased with things as they are. The market disciplines itself. If enough people feel as you do, Mickey’s will change or close. You said you are an employee of a nearby business; might you have a vested interest in negatively affecting Mickey’s business?

  12. As usual, Wehoville finds an interesting approach towards reporting on a story. Articles that profile attorneys in controversial lawsuits are standard operating procedure and Mills is on target with this one, especially since Krupnick’s integrity has already been questioned in the press. The lawsuit against Micky’s, may be frivolous, but does affect our community and directly impacts the way business is conducted in Boystown. Krupnick’s comments prove he is a typical shyster looking for press and an easy payday so as for Arnold and Kunstler; he is a little bit of both.

  13. As an employee of a restaurant/bar in WeHo, I can attest to what had been going on (and not just at Micky’s). The things I’ve seen are nothing short of pornographic. Micky’s is not the only establishment with dancers, but from amongst them it is definitely the worse. There has been times where dancers wore thing but a baseball cap or a hand towel hanging from their half-erect penises.

    Not only is this inappropriate, but also creates an environment offensive to those consumers not wishing to partake in such indecency. Often, dancers are positioned within the establishment so they are visible from the outside, on the sidewalk. Exposing families with children, tourists on double-decker buses and shoppers of the few stores which remain open.

    This is not a way of life. This contributes to the fears and stereotypes of those against the gay community. This is something that has been long in the coming and glad to see someone finally stood up. Krupnick’s sexual orientation does play a role. Should he had been straight, it would’ve been viewed as an attack against the gay community. This is not the case. In fact, he is clearing the path of debris for a faster and wider acceptance of the gay way of life as simply just another way of life.

  14. A celebrity may have an advantage in the court of public opinion (i.e., Johnnie Cochran on the OJ Simpson case). A jury may become somewhat enamored by the image that has been created for this guy, and be deferential towards him. In this case, just because he is willing to stand up for others, doesn’t mean those “others” are right. Looks like you are already seeing them as victims who need a rescuer, when the truth may be that they are opportunists who went into their jobs with full knowledge of the type of business it was and chose to stay long enough to build a case with a big pay-out at the end. Mickey’s may have been played by people who started out with an agenda.

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