The Work

December 16, 2009 5:47 PM

McDermott's Lanny Davis Sticks Up for Partner, Ex-Mass. Gov. Weld

Posted by Brian Baxter

Two months after joining McDermott Will & Emery from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Beltway veteran Lanny Davis is representing fellow McDermott partner William Weld in a legal dispute involving the collapse of a Kentucky college run by the former Massachusetts governor.

While representing a fellow partner in personal litigation might be an unusual assignment for some lawyers, Davis says it's all part of his unique practice, which blends legal advice with media expertise.


"At Orrick I helped out in representing the spouse of a partner at the firm, which took a good amount of my time," says Davis (right), declining to name the partner involved or the matter at issue. "And so when I joined McDermott, Bill [Weld] and I reconnected and he asked for my advice."

Davis first met Weld while serving as White House special counsel during the Clinton administration, working with the governor during the recruitment process when Weld was nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. (Then-Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Jesse Helms opposed Weld's appointment, Davis notes, and scuttled the nomination.)

Having stepped down as governor after being nominated, Weld temporarily put politics aside and joined McDermott in 1997, where he would go on to head the firm's New York office. In 2005 Weld began a campaign to succeed former New York Gov. George Pataki--now at Chadbourne & Parke--as the next moderate Republican to lead the Empire State. But Weld's reputation took a hit following the October 2005 closure of a small, proprietary Louisville vocational school called Decker College, which was once run by Weld.

A disagreement with the U.S. Department of Education over accreditation and online courses offered by Decker resulted in the government shutting off $30 million in financial aid to the school's 3,700 students. Decker filed for bankruptcy and Weld, who had sunk $3 million into the investor-owned school to try and save it, was forced to bow out of the New York gubernatorial race in the ensuing furor.

After Davis joined McDermott in October, he says Weld came to him with information indicating that Decker was shut down because of the actions of a disgruntled Education Department official.

According to an affidavit by former Decker chief operating officer David O'Donnell, an Education Department administrator named Ralph LoBosco once told O'Donnell that he held Weld responsible for diminishing his lifestyle when the McDermott partner served as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts in the early 1980s. (Weld would later become head of the criminal division at Main Justice during the Reagan administration.)

O'Donnell's affidavit states that LoBosco believed Weld was responsible for the demise of his former employer, Wilfred American Education Corp., because of a criminal probe of the company conducted by Weld's office decades ago.

Davis claims that LoBosco retaliated against Weld years later by getting an Atlanta-based accreditation agency called the Council on Occupational Education to revoke its approval for Decker's courses, resulting in the Education Department withdrawing federal financing and causing the college's collapse. (As proof, Davis cites bankruptcy court testimony by a top COE executive.)

Davis also claims that LoBosco should have recused himself from any Decker inquiry because of his stated bias against Weld. He further claims that LoBosco, a middle manager in the Education Department's Kansas City, Mo., office, didn't have the authority to raise questions about Decker's qualifications to industry regulators.

"We believe Mr. LoBosco has an obligation to explain why his animus against Mr. Weld was not publicly reported and why he did not recuse himself," Davis says. "We also believe that the strong evidence suggesting that LoBosco caused Decker's accreditation to be withdrawn for completely specious reasons should be investigated."

LoBosco didn't return a request for comment by The Associated Press in response to Davis's accusations.

As a result of the alleged LoBosco revelations, Davis says the trustee for Decker in its Chapter 7 liquidation has filed suit against COE for unjustly revoking its credentials. Dow Lohnes partner Leslie Wiesenfelder and special counsel Daniel Prichard are representing Decker's trustee in the suit, which was filed in bankruptcy court in Louisville. The trustee is attempting to recover assets to repay Decker creditors, one of whom is Weld.

Davis says he has three goals in representing Weld: restoring the former governor's reputation, achieving a sense of justice for those harmed by Decker's demise, and gaining a measure of accountability over allegedly unethical conduct by a federal public official. Davis says he'll push for congressional oversight of the Education Department's actions in the Decker case, as well as advocate for the Office of the Inspector General to launch its own inquiry.

"I might have an unusual personal interest [in this case]," Davis says. "But I want to help my partner and my friend."

Photo: Courtesy of Diego Radzinschi of Legal Times

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