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March 15, 2012 4:07 PM

Legal Blotter: Another Batch of Lawyers on the Defensive

Posted by Brian Baxter

While former partners from several Am Law 200 firms have made headlines lately for all the wrong reasons, a 525-page report released Thursday by a special prosecutor probing the U.S. Department of Justice's pursuit of late Alaska senator Ted Stevens shows that government lawyers sometimes cross the legal line as well.

Henry Schuelke III, a former federal prosecutor and name partner at Washington, D.C.'s Janis, Schuelke & Wechsler, was appointed three years ago to probe why lawyers with the Justice Department's public integrity section failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to Stevens's defense counsel at Williams & Connolly while pressing the government's case against him.

The Justice Department subsequently picked up the legal tab for defense lawyers from Hogan Lovells, Patton Boggs, Steptoe & Johnson, O’Melveny & Myers, and Zuckerman Spaeder hired to represent the so-called Stevens Six, according to our previous reports. (One of the six, former public integrity trial attorney Nicholas Marsh, committed suicide in September 2010.)

When he wrapped up his criminal contempt investigation last fall, Schuelke indicated he had uncovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, but stopped short of recommending that criminal charges be brought against the government's lawyers, according to a report at the time by sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times.

The BLT reported earlier this month that another of the six, public integrity trial attorney Edward Sullivan, was fighting to block the planned release of Schuelke's report. On Wednesday, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the report could be made public, according to the BLT.

The BLT reports today on Schuelke's report, which is particularly critical of two assistant U.S. attorneys, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, but does not offer a conclusion about Marsh's conduct in the case. (The BLT, a unit of sibling publication The National Law Journal, is planning to publish several additional stories Thursday containing excerpts of Schuelke's findings.)

Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska in August 2010. In the wake of his death, Stevens's attorney, venerable Williams & Connolly litigator Brendan Sullivan, Jr. (no relation to Edward Sullivan or the judge in the case, Emmet Sullivan), blasted prosecutors publicly for their conduct in the case. On Thursday, Sullivan and Williams & Connolly released a statement in response to Schuelke’s report, which was posted on the firm's Web site.

"[T]he prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens was riddled with government corruption involving multiple federal prosecutors and at least one FBI agent," the statement said. "Some were more knowledgeable, and thus more culpable, than others. Nonetheless, they worked together to win at all costs in an attempt to convict a sitting [U.S.] senator in an ill-conceived prosecution."

Among the other attorneys to find themselves accused of committing ethical or legal lapses (not including former lawyers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Jenkens & Gilchrist, K&L Gates, and Winston & Strawn whose cases we've covered elsewhere):

Following a December trial that ended with him being convicted of bilking an elderly client out of $370,000, former Quarles & Brady and Michael Best & Friedrich partner Jeffrey Elverman was sentenced earlier this month to five years of probation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Elverman will also spend seven months in jail, but will be permitted out on 72 hours of work release per week so he can earn money toward the $325,000 in restitution he owes 94-year-old Dorothy Phinney. Elverman, who left Quarles in 2004 for Michael Best, was charged in April 2009.

Also facing allegations of improperly using client money: former Nixon Peabody private client partner Stephen Newman, who left the firm last year, according to a report this week by the Buffalo News. The News reviewed court records pointing to a probe conducted by a state attorney general investigator that found "a pattern of improper conduct" involving Newman and three elderly clients. Newman, who has not been charged criminally, is facing claims brought by three local charities in Erie County surrogate's court that he improperly took $748,500 due to them from the estate of a wealthy Buffalo woman who died in 2008. In court papers, the News reports, Newman's lawyers deny that he did anything improper. A call seeking comment placed to one of those lawyers, Terrence Connors, was not immediately returned. (The charities are represented in the case by Hodgson Russ.)

David Tamman, a former Nixon Peabody partner facing criminal charges in connection with his alleged role in helping an ex-client cover up a $20 million Ponzi scheme, will not get the quick trial he desired. The NLJ reported last month that Tamman is set to go to trial in October after losing an appeal in which he sought an expedited proceeding. Tamman, who was fired by Nixon Peabody in October 2009, joined Greenberg Traurig shortly thereafter. Greenberg fired Tamman in January 2011 after the SEC instituted administrative proceedings against him. Tamman sued Nixon Peabody in October, claiming the firm made him a scapegoat in the SEC probe.

Stephen Garcia, who helped open Kaye Scholer's Chicago office in 2001 but left the firm fours years later, was charged with bankruptcy fraud in a federal court in Salt Lake City in August 2010. Garcia was accused of allegedly concealing his relationship with a major creditor while representing Geneva Steel Holdings in its Chapter 11 case. Garcia plead not guilty a month later, but this past February avoided a jail term and fines by reaching an agreement with prosecutors, according to Law360.

Another former Kaye Scholer partner, well-known Los Angeles litigator Pierce O'Donnell, finally had a plea deal with prosecutors approved by a federal district court judge earlier this month, according to the NLJ. The agreement is a modified version of a deal rejected by the same judge last November. It calls for O'Donnell, who pled guilty last August to violating federal campaign finance laws, to serve 60 days in prison but retain his California Bar license, the NLJ reports. O'Donnell left Kaye Scholer in the 1990s and has since practiced at a series of firms bearing his name. (As sibling publication The Am Law Litigation Daily notes, the approval of the plea agreement came just days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a favorable ruling O'Donnell helped secure on behalf of victims of Hurricane Katrina.)

Former Fulbright & Jaworski partner Richard Graham Simkin and his wife Zakia Sharif, a former office manager for the firm in London, were sentenced to 16 months in prison by a British court earlier this month, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. The two pled guilty in January to false accounting and expense fraud charges, admitting that they worked in concert to steal $150,000 from Fulbright.

Separately, two former partners at large British firms were sent to prison after being convicted of committing crimes. Ex-Macfarlanes banking partner Francis Bridgeman was sentenced to 12 months in prison for claiming he had been kidnapped in order to avoid a drunk driving arrest, Legal Week reports. And Kevin Steele, ousted from his equity partnership at Mishcon de Reya in 2008, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty in December of forgery and fraud charges in connection with helping a client obtain a loan worth nearly $30 million, according to Legal Week.

 

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