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lawyers

Extraordinary allegations by the Manhattan District Attorney, as summarized by Bloomberg:

Three former executives at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, once the No. 3 legal adviser to banks handling merger deals, were charged with a “blatant” $200 million fraud that spurred the largest law firm bankruptcy in history.

The three, including the chairman, executive director and chief financial officer, were accused of using accounting gimmicks similar to those that sent top executives at WorldCom Inc. and Tyco International Ltd. to prison a decade ago. Authorities cited e-mails in which the men referred to “fake income,” “cooking the books” and “accounting tricks.”

“Patrick Coulton’s lawyers ripped him off to the tune of $275,000 and left him to rot in prison.” But few stories end this way: he’s living in one of the former lawyers’ houses. [Sun-Sentinel, auto-plays video]

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“The National Security Agency was involved in the surveillance of an American law firm while it represented a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States, The New York Times reported in a story based on a top-secret document obtained by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.” [AP] This would be big news if true: the way it works is that lawyers are supposed to mess with your privacy, not the other way around. However, writes Orin Kerr, “the story ends up delivering considerably less than it promises.” [Volokh]

Last year we linked a report about a series of unfortunate events that kept happening to elected officials in Costa Mesa, Calif. after they resisted negotiating demands from the city’s police union. One saw his supporters’ businesses harassed by cops, while another was picked up on a bogus DUI charge phoned in by a private eye with ties to an Upland, Calif. law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir, known for extremely aggressive representation of police unions around California.

Now the Lackie, Dammeier firm is in turmoil following a raid on its offices by the Orange County District Attorney’s office. Former Costa Mesa councilman Jim Righeimer, target of the bogus DUI report, and council colleague Steve Mensinger have also alleged in a lawsuit that the law firm’s private investigator attached a GPS device to Mensinger’s car. Lawyers for the two believe the device allowed the investigator to trace the pair’s whereabouts to the bar, allowing for the called-in DUI report which failed when Righeimer produced evidence he had consumed only a couple of Diet Cokes. Mensinger “said the device was affixed to his car during the entire 2012 election season and came to his attention only when he was alerted by the Orange County district attorney’s office.” [L.A. Times, more] The Orange County Register reported: “Mensinger and Righeimer are strong supporters of reforming public pensions and privatizing some city services. … Besides Mensinger, [investigator Chris] Lanzillo is also suspected of following former El Monte City Manager Rene Bobadilla to his home in June 2011, according to a police report obtained by the Orange County Register.” And more recently: “Though they made no admissions, lawyers for the law firm and Lanzillo argued in court papers that placing a tracking device on Mensinger’s truck wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy.” The Costa Mesa police union, also named as a defendant, says in a separate filing that it wasn’t involved with any GPS-tracking plan. [Daily Pilot]

That’s not the only trouble facing the firm: “A statewide police defense fund is no longer sending [it cases] after a forensic audit uncovered triple-billing, bogus travel expenses and ‘serious acts of misconduct.’” [Orange County Register] According to press reports, the firm is in the course of dissolving.

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“…than [against] almost any other group.” Can you guess which new federal agency is being referred to? [National Law Journal]

Seeking help with an auto accident claim, Robert Friedrich was in a meeting with an attorney at a personal injury law firm in 2003 when a chair collapsed under him. He won a $2.2 million jury verdict against the law firm of Fetterman & Associates and a retailer that sold the chair, but an appeals court directed a verdict against him, finding a lack of needed causation. Now the Florida Supreme Court has reinstated the verdict [Legal Profession Prof, ABA Journal, earlier]

Perhaps the most remarkable passage in the ABA Journal’s coverage:

An expert for Friedrich said an inspection should have revealed the “weak joint” in the chair blamed for the collapse and said it should be standard procedure for businesses to test chairs every six months, the court recounts. An expert for the law firm said the only test for defects in chairs is to sit in them, and no other test would have revealed the defect that caused the Friedrich accident. …

A dissenting judge would have upheld the directed verdict against Friedrich. Even if the jury agreed that businesses should inspect chairs every six months, the dissenting judge said, there was insufficient evidence to prove that an inspection would have revealed the defect in the chair at issue.

Commenter DKJA at the ABA Journal writes:

So every business in Florida now has to “inspect” every piece of furniture every six months in perpetuity?

Maybe we should just replace all furniture with beanbag chairs. Although I’m sure someone would figure out how to injure themselves on one of them as well.

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“Did the law firm [Ropes & Gray] retaliate against John Ray III by providing information about his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission race-discrimination complaint to the Above the Law blog?” That is among the questions a federal court in Boston will consider in a trial beginning next month. Specifically, the firm sent a copy of the EEOC’s determination letter in Ray’s case to the popular blog. Since no law bars “retaliation” by employees against employers, we might arrive at a situation in which an employee is free to try his case in the press, while an employer’s hands are tied against responding in kind. [ABA Journal; earlier]

The columnist has a priceless anecdote of a fact-checking query mistakenly left in a pre-publication book version sent out by Prof. Dershowitz’s publisher; also, why those who complain about being called celebrity lawyers should probably not call attention to lists of the famous people they’ve represented. [Boston Globe]

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“CEOs and lawyers are among the professions with the most psychopaths — evidence that psychopathic traits aren’t all bad, according to a new book by an Oxford research psychologist. … The [Washington] Post quotes one successful lawyer who spoke to [author Kevin] Dutton. ‘Deep inside me there’s a serial killer lurking somewhere,’ the lawyer says. ‘But I keep him amused with cocaine, Formula One, booty calls, and coruscating cross-examination.’” [ABA Journal, Smithsonian]

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A Florida court rejects such an argument in an appeal by a litigant pro se (oh dear, there we go doing it ourselves). [Parris v. Cummins Power South, PDF] (& Greenfield)

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1962 country hit.

Writing at Capital Research Center’s Labor Watch:

A shocking change in American labor relations is brewing at the U.S. Department of Labor, which is expected sometime soon to alter a major regulation. The change involves a new interpretation of the “advice exemption” of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Specifically, businesses would have to disclose the names of, and fees paid to, attorneys and consultants who advise them on union-organizing activities. In turn, attorneys and consultants providing such advice would be required to disclose their client lists and the fees they receive.

If that sounds like a road map for retaliation and strong-arming, with dangers for traditional attorney-client confidentiality, well, you’re getting the idea. Furchtgott-Roth says the department has evaded regulatory review by low-balling the proposal’s billions of dollars in costs. “The change has no basis in existing law or precedent.”

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The IRS scandal is a genuine scandal, for sure; efforts to portray it as merely a “scandal” within quotation marks, as by the L.A. Times’s Michael Hiltzik, are well answered by Megan McArdle, Patterico, Ed Krayewski, and (implicitly in advance) by this Josh Barro column exploding the notion that 501(c)4 status was somehow intended only for volunteer fire departments and the like and not for politically engaged citizen groups.

Once the scandal momentum gets going, however, people start in on all sorts of efforts to connect dots that may not have any necessary connection or even qualify as dots at all. Example: at the Daily Caller this morning, reporter Patrick Howley is out with a story headlined, “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Obama connections.”

Curious, I read on to see which law firm with strong Obama connections Lerner’s husband, an attorney named Michael Miles, is a member of. It turned out to be Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, a pillar of the Atlanta legal establishment known for its strong tax practice.

Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan is a so-called BigLaw firm. Per the American Lawyer’s profile, it has 387 lawyers and represents all sorts of clients, with an emphasis on corporate work across a wide range of industries.

So what’s the evidence that Sutherland has “strong Obama connections” or is tight with White House Democrats? Here it is: according to Howley, the firm:

hosted a voter registration organizing event for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, praised President Obama’s policy work, and had one of its partners appointed by Obama to a key ambassadorship.

Really? In a 387-lawyer BigLaw firm, those are the strongest Obama links Howley was able to come up with? As with virtually all BigLaw firms, Sutherland has attorneys active in both parties who host events favorable to one side or the other. It took me only a minute or two on search engines to confirm that Sutherland lawyers and alumni are quite successful in landing prominent appointments under Republicans. Here’s a 14-year Sutherland alum (though he’d moved on to other employers in the interim) who served as National Executive Director of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and went on to a distinguished career as ambassador appointed by that administration. Here’s a Sutherland attorney (“top lawyer at the Pentagon for six years”) nominated by President George W. Bush to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Of course, some BigLaw firms do have a distinct coloration that falls toward one side of the political spectrum while tolerating the occasional maverick from the other. Is this true of Sutherland? I consulted the Open Secrets database and found that in the last election cycle the firm’s lawyers donated $41,700 to Mitt Romney and $35,413 to Barack Obama. In Congressional races, the firm’s lawyers donated $38,040 to Republican candidates and $25,350 to Democrats. The biggest recipient by far in the Congressional races? Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who got $16,250 from Sutherland lawyers. Overall, these figures would rank Sutherland as not a particularly heavy hitter among law firms in federal donations. Twenty other law firms’ attorneys gave upwards of $1.2 million in the last election cycle, mostly leaning much more toward the Democratic side than did the donations from Sutherland’s attorneys.

I suppose “Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner’s husband’s law firm has strong Ted Cruz connections” would have made for too confusing a headline on a Daily Caller lead story.

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May 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 7, 2013

  • In quiet retreat from STOCK Act, Congress dispenses with trading transparency for its staff [Prof. Bainbridge]
  • Deep-pocket quest: hotel named as additional defendant in Florida A&M hazing death [Orlando Sentinel, earlier]
  • “Keynes didn’t expect to have kids so he didn’t care about the future” wheeze long predates Niall Ferguson [Kenneth Silber; my new post at IGF, where I've also been posting lately on the topic of adoption]
  • Ten and five (respectively) reasons for a plaintiff’s lawyer to turn down a personal injury case [Eric Turkewitz, Max Kennerly]
  • Setback for man seeking to trademark “Eat More Kale” [AP, earlier]
  • Gawker is now on the UK “Warning: This bag of nuts may contain nuts” case [earlier]
  • Overlawyered’s Twitter feed just passed the 7,000-follower mark, while our Facebook page, which recently stood at 1,000 likes, has now surged to nearly 2,500. Thanks for following and liking, and if you’d like to engage with other parts of Cato on social media, check out this nifty guide by Zach Graves.

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Extraordinary emails bolster a client’s case that mega-law firm DLA Piper wasn’t holding its legal billings to a needed minimum. [New York Times "DealBook"]

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A Houston-based trial lawyer has some grandiose plans for snagging New York storm-insurance cases: Steve Mostyn “indicates his firm should be able to take on more than $1 billion in disputed claims — or half of all the Sandy litigation.” That’s assuming clients sign on, of course. One who did was a swim club owner from Pound Ridge who was frustrated dealing with New York lawyers and quickly signed a contract with Mostyn’s firm: “It is worth the 40 percent just for someone to listen to my story and be kind to me,” she said. [Austin American-Statesman]

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Ken at Popehat and Mike Masnick at TechDirt are on the case of Prenda Law, which is in the business of monetizing low-value copyrights to adult entertainment properties. The story, which recently resulted in the filing of defamation suits against Prenda critics, is highly convoluted, so I recommend scrolling down to earlier posts in the series (such as this one by Ken).

Lawyers roundup

by Walter Olson on March 4, 2013

  • Feds investigating prominent Texas attorney and many-time Overlawyered mentionee Mikal Watts [MySanAntonio via PoL]
  • Florida high court: lawyers not privileged to defame parties during informal witness questioning [Delmonico v. Traynor]
  • Client’s story: not only did attorney try to kill me, he also gave me bad advice [Lowering the Bar]
  • Some lawyers for city of Cleveland seek union representation, following municipal attorneys in S.F., D.C. and Houston [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
  • Watch what you say about lawyers, part CLXXVI [NYLJ, "shakedown"]
  • Former ATLA president Barry Nace fights disciplinary proceeding in W.V. [Chamber-backed WV Record]
  • Minnesota lawyer who billed client for time he spent having sex with her won’t be allowed to practice for more than a year [TheLawNet, earlier on this candidate for "ultimate Overlawyered story"]
  • Should she take the job offer from an apparently unethical attorney? If she has to ask… [Elie Mystal, Above the Law]

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