Matthew Flamm
September 27, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Did a lawyer and an agent think they could get the better of John Grisham? Or is the world’s best-read author spinning a tale to keep his late agent’s heirs from collecting their rightful share of commissions? This convoluted book-biz potboiler, which has been simmering slowly since Grisham quietly filed suit in Oxford, Miss., last February, seems to be heating up: Attorneys for both sides are apparently close to a settlement.

According to Grisham, it’s a simple case of greed and betrayal: He charges that Jay Garon, his late agent, and Elliot J. Lefkowitz, his former lawyer, ”implemented a scheme to secretly funnel to Lefkowitz unauthorized payments” from movie producers they were dealing with on Grisham’s behalf. The author, whose latest, The Runaway Jury, has been a top five bestseller since its May publication, is seeking unspecified damages and termination of his contract with the Jay Garon-Brooke agency — which continues to collect commissions on works Grisham created before switching agents after Garon’s death last year.

Greed and betrayal also figure into the defendants’ side of the story. Their attorneys point out that Garon took Grisham on as a client in 1987 after the lawyer’s first novel, A Time to Kill, had been turned down by 16 other agents and a dozen publishers. But as soon as Garon died, Grisham tried to nullify their deal, says Robert N. Chan, Lefkowitz’s attorney. ”He doesn’t want to see his money go to Garon’s gay lover and Garon’s elderly sister, who aren’t going to do him any good.” Chan claims Garon and Lefkowitz always informed Grisham of the so-called funneled money, which Chan describes as ”fees” paid by producers.

”Grisham is an extremely loyal, honorable, giving person,” counters Michael Rudell, a New York City attorney representing the author. ”The payments most definitely were not disclosed to him, and that is really the source of his outrage about this.” But for once Grisham can’t write his own ending.

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