'This Is Going To Be The Craziest Thing You've Ever Heard'
Clients often say that to Jeff Nusinov; they’re often wrong
Published in 2020 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine
on December 17, 2019
Updated on December 31, 2019
For someone who focuses on estate, trust, and fiduciary litigation, Jeff Nusinov, managing partner of Nusinov Smith in Baltimore, has had some pretty high-profile cases come his way.
In March, he filed a lawsuit for radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem against Clem’s former employers, Cox Media Group, who Clem says plotted to ruin his career. The lawsuit alleges Cox Media executives leaked a stolen sex tape that involved wrestling legend Hulk Hogan and Clem’s then-wife in his Pinellas County home.
Now Nusinov’s embroiled in a literary custody battle over Tom Clancy’s most famous character: super-spy Jack Ryan. Representing the late Baltimore author’s widow, Alexandra Clancy, Nusinov aims to prove that the estate is the true owner of some of Clancy’s best-known characters and bestselling books. The dispute, which pits Alexandra Clancy against Tom Clancy’s first wife, Wanda King, could impact the distribution of the novelist’s vast and growing estate. Nusinov estimates it could be worth nine figures.
It’s not the first time he’s repped Alexandra Clancy. Not long after her husband’s death in 2013, he helped her avoid millions of dollars in taxes on her late husband’s $86 million estate, which included a minority share of the Baltimore Orioles and a rare World War II-era tank.
“When you’re dealing with the estate and trust world, you’re often trying to recreate what happened during someone’s lifetime,” he says. “[But] your star witness is dead. … It really is having to relive history, meet new people, often feeling like a private detective.”
He manages more than 200 active guardianship and federal fiduciary accounts, and regularly serves as trustee, personal representative and guardian.
Nusinov’s path to the law wasn’t destined. His great-great grandfather started Charles Nusinov & Sons—a jewelry store in downtown Baltimore. Nusinov plied the family trade for close to a decade, specializing in repairing mechanical watches, like wind-up pocket watches, by handcrafting replacement parts.
“That’s where I developed a work ethic,” he says. “But then I basically stumbled into the law.”
After law school, he met Norman Smith, another lawyer with a nontraditional background (Smith was a professional musician before switching careers). The two hit it off, and Smith needed an associate at Fisher & Winner to assist with estate and trust planning and litigation.
As the practice grew, Nusinov developed a reputation for finding creative solutions to prickly situations. “Jeff is always able to find that angle,” says Smith. “He’s got a different way of thinking about things.”
While estate tax may be fairly rote to someone like Nusinov, even he wasn’t sure what he was getting into the first time he received a message from Bubba the Love Sponge.
“I should disclose that I am not someone who listens to shock jock radio,” Nusinov says with a laugh. The pair speak on a daily basis now. “Even for the relatively brief time that I’ve known Bubba, I consider him a good friend already.”
Clem (born Todd Alan Clem) came to Nusinov with a long, sordid history of litigation that included defamation suits and accusations of tampering with ratings. But his beef against Cox Media Group, which owns 61 radio stations across the U.S., more than a dozen TV stations and four daily newspapers, is a tangled ordeal—one that’s perfectly suited for Nusinov. Chief among the suit’s accusations is that Cox used its standing to apply industry pressure to impose sanctions on Clem’s network, leading to Clem’s eventual firing from WBRN-FM 98.7 in Tampa Bay. Then, of course, there is the whole sex tape angle.
“I think it’s fair to say that he was searching for someone who could have a fresh pair of eyes on his situation,” Nusinov says, “and somebody who has a track record of not being afraid to take on a very large corporate defendant.”
Corporate defendant, novelist’s widow or shock jock, they all have one thing in common.
“I can’t tell you how many times a client will say, ‘This is going to be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard.’ Half the time I can finish their story for them,” Nusinov says. “But family drama is not what guides the litigation. The stories are pretty incredible, but I’m a believer that every family has these issues. Or at least the potential for them to surface: when you combine money and death, stuff always comes to the surface.”
How’d They Do That?
Interesting case tidbits
“The Estate of Tom Clancy is illustrative of the multitude of issues that arise in estate litigation. Our instincts led us to dig deep into historical records. What we found was a treasure trove of documents at the U.S. Naval Institute that helped us reconstruct the origins of Tom Clancy’s books and characters, including those from bestsellers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.”