New figure in Edwards scandal: attorney Lee Rohn (update: denies story)

by Walter Olson on August 22, 2008

Aficionados of the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter scandal may have noticed a new attorney’s name cropping up in news reports: Lee Rohn of the U.S. Virgin Islands. From the New York Daily News:

One day before Edwards went public with the affair, Hunter and 6-month-old daughter Frances were flown to the Virgin Islands on a chartered jet, the Enquirer reported.

The $50,000 trip was paid for by friends of Edwards. The newspaper also said she stayed at the oceanfront home of another Edwards’ pal, lawyer Lee Rohn.

(Larry McShane, “John Edwards promised Rielle Hunter they’d be together – report”, Aug. 20)(via ABA Journal)(Update: Rohn vehemently denies the Enquirer story as false, saying she neither hosted Hunter nor is close to Edwards; see below). Readers may be wondering: is Rohn yet another attorney whose doings are going to make irresistible copy for a site like this, much as with Edwards chum/Democratic moneyman/perennial Overlawyered mentionee Fred Baron? To which the answer would appear to be, “you bet”:

St. Croix attorney Lee Rohn has stirred up a chorus of criticism and complaints about her professional practices both inside and outside the courtroom.

Her most vocal critics have been opposing parties or counsel in lawsuits she has filed. They have alleged a wide spectrum of professional conduct violations.

Among Rohn’s frequent targets is Innovative Communication Corp., which runs the Virgin Islands’ local telephone provider and the islands’ newspaper, and whose lawyers say they’ve lost count of how many times she’s sued them. The company’s chairman, Jeffrey Prosser, has called in vain for Rohn’s disbarment, complaining of “intolerable” and “abusive” instances of “ethical misconduct” as well as “vitriolic” public attacks: “In some cases with us, she coerced her clients to sign documents that were knowingly false [and] ignored judge’s orders on limits of discovery inquiry during depositions,” he wrote.

In 2002, Rohn publicly blasted one of the islands’ two federal district judges, Thomas Moore, accusing him of inappropriate behavior, and Moore recused himself from some of her cases citing the antipathy. Subsequently, after she moved to demand Moore’s recusal from yet another of her cases, he refused, stating in his written ruling, “I believe attorney Rohn’s personal attack on one of the two sitting judges in this jurisdiction was nothing more than a calculated litigation tactic that would be labeled ‘judge shopping’ in most places.” Moore, who has sanctioned Rohn for insulting and profane language toward witnesses and court personnel, wrote in another case, in which the Caribbean Geoffrey Fieger “sought to compel testimony from all the federal judges in the territory”:

“Nothing Lee Rohn does surprises me anymore, although subpoenaing all the federal judges in the jurisdiction is a high point of ingenuity and creativity in attempting to manipulate the system,” Moore wrote.

“I do not believe, however, that an attorney should be allowed to use her calculated personal attack on a sitting judge as a technique to prevent that judge from presiding over any of her cases, especially in a small district with only two judges.”

A few weeks ago, it may be recalled, we looked at the question of lawyers’ public denunciations of judges and whether they do or should result in recusal by those judges. (Jason Robbins and Lee Williams, “From judges to opponents, Rohn has no shortage of harsh critics”, Virgin Islands Daily News, Mar. 29, 2004 — the newspaper, it bears repeating, and its parent company have been frequent targets of Rohn’s litigation, as in this libel case arising from her airport pot bust). Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts has more, including a picture of the Rohn villa.

The National Enquirer, which keeps breaking new developments in the story, is now reporting that “a team of six more lawyers have been involved in the coverup”. They can’t all be as interesting as Baron and Rohn, can they?

Update Fri. 8:20 p.m.: the Daily News reports Rohn categorically denies the story’s truth:

The Enquirer quoted Virgin Island pol Anne Golden as saying Hunter stayed for 10 days in an oceanfront home owned by prominent St. Croix lawyer Lee Rohn.

Rohn hotly denied that to the Daily News and vowed to sue.

“It is absolutely false,” she told The News. “The Enquirer knows the story is not true as they sat on a hill above my house for a week with telephoto lenses and video cameras and had no sighting of her. The guest cottage she was supposedly staying in is under construction and has no floor.”

Rohn said that while she donated money to Edwards, she is not friends with him. Records show she gave $2,300 to Edwards a year ago and another $2,300 to Barack Obama early this year.

(Helen Kennedy, “John’s island girl Rielle fled to St. Croix on eve of cheating flap”, Aug. 21). And — hat tip to commenter Ken Floyd — the opinions of heated Rohn critic Jeffrey Prosser, the newspaper/telephone magnate, should be evaluated in the perspective of his own controversial and colorful business record, which recently culminated in high-profile bankruptcy proceedings involving his Innovative Communication empire. Some sources on that here, here, here, and here. For more background on the recusal disputes involving Rohn and Judge Thomas K. Moore, see this Moore opinion (U.S. v. Roebuck, PDF) and this Third Circuit opinion (Selkridge v. Mutual of Omaha, 360 F. 3d 155). DBKP wishes it had been a fly on the wall during an AAJ award ceremony honoring Rohn. And see commenter #7 below who seems to have been doing considerable digging.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Lee Rohn: Coke, Controversy and Dropping the F-Bomb | DBKP - The Worldwide Leader in Weird
08.23.08 at 7:32 pm
Edwards Follow-up | MyMelee.com
08.25.08 at 12:28 am
Edwards scandal updates
08.25.08 at 12:20 pm

{ 9 comments }

1 Ron Miller 08.22.08 at 12:16 pm

There is a lot of smoke on this story, certainly. I think the questions is whether anyone really cares. Unless Edwards makes a comeback – I think he is Gary Hart gone – I think there will be little interest in connecting the dots on all of this.

2 Snoop-Diggity-DANG-Dawg 08.22.08 at 12:57 pm

“…the questions is whether anyone really cares.”

With the Democratic National Convention looming just 3 days away and federal investigators just beginning to wade their way through Edwards’ months of lies, obfuscation, illegal use of campaign funds and money-laundering?

B-e-l-i-e-v-e me, sir. There are plenty of people who are interested in this. This ain’t goin’ away, and there’ no come-back from something like this; it’s on a level all it’s own.

3 Ron Miller 08.22.08 at 3:12 pm

I don’t mean whether there are people interested. Walter post proves that point. I b-e-l-i-e-v-e you. Instead, the question is whether anyone cares enough to do something about it – to focus prosecutors on it, etc. Kinda like Roger Clemens. Everyone was talking about it but there was a question – and there still is – whether anyone wants to do anything about it.

4 Ken Floyd 08.22.08 at 8:06 pm

As a matter of fact, Innovative and its associated companies you name are now involved in one of the most sordid bankruptcy cases the Islands have ever endured.
Be careful who you cite as respectable complainants.
Attorney Rohn was on the money when it came to the USVI’s only telephone and cable company as well as the largest newspaper.
Do your homework.

5 J. Samples 08.23.08 at 12:17 am

http://www.thenewnixon.org
introduces
The Edwards Zone

6 Joe Bingham 08.23.08 at 8:35 am

hm… would they really lie about an obviously trigger-happy lawyer with no evidence?

7 Doing my homework 08.23.08 at 11:05 am

Yes, it looks like Lee Rohn should provide you with much “irresistible copy.” As a fellow (but embarrassed) UT law school grad, I decided to do a little more research on Rohn.

Check out Guerro v. Triangle Construction: http://vlex.com/vid/35361376
In this case, Rohn represented a union employee. The employee’s case was dismissed because he “did not allege that [his union] breached its duty of fair representation. . .” (According to the court, a U.S. Supreme Court decision holds that such an allegation is essential.) Now read footnote six: Rohn was simultaneously representing the union!!!

Let me see if I can wrap my head around that one: On behalf of one client, Guerro, she was supposed to allege that another client, the union, had breached its duty to Guerro. But she didn’t do that. That’s a major conflict of interest. Here in Missouri, that would get the lawyer severely disciplined, if not disbarred. (Not to mention sued for malpractice. BTW, the case indicates that Rohn also blew the appeal deadline for several other plaintiffs in the case so their appeals never even got considered (although presumably they would have lost too).)

Then there is this case http://www.visupremecourt.org/wfdata/frame828-1069/File17.pdf which describes Rohn being disqualified for taking a statement from supervisory employee of a party to a lawsuit, without the company’s lawyer present. That’s another ethical no-no and the trial court said that Rohn violated Rule 4.2 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Oh, and her web site biography: http://www.rohnlawfirm.com/jsp2271743.jsp says that she was the first woman president of the University of Texas Law School (but doesn’t list a year). The UT law school web page doesn’t list any presidents in the current administration: http://www.utexas.edu/law/people/admin.html only a dean and various associate or assistant deans. Based upon Rohn’s bio, she graduated from law school in 1974 and looks like she headed to the Virgin Islands around 1984. http://www.onepaper.com/stcroixvi/?v=d&i=&s=Community:People&p=1153545523
Is it likely that she became a president of a law school within 9 years of graduation? Or is this a false statement that violates Model Rule 8.4(c): It is misconduct to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” BTW, she also says she is a “Recipient, Keeton Fellow.” But that is the name UT law school gives you if you donate $1,000 a year for five years. http://www.utexas.edu/law/depts/alumni/giving_levels.html Tsk, tsk counselor.

Does anyone know if Rohn is still allowed to practice law? If so, why?

8 Frequent visitor 08.23.08 at 1:08 pm

This will tell you more about Attorney Lee Rohn
http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/index.pl/article_home?id=17626367

9 ms. helga 08.26.08 at 8:24 am

Did you ever hear the story about the newly graduated law student who decided to move to a little town down south and get rich by beeing the only lawyer in town? He was going broke until another lawyer moved in!!!

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