The Talent

March 30, 2010 4:34 PM

Prominent Denver Lawyer Sanctioned for Overstating Diversity Claims

Posted by Brian Baxter

Willie Shepherd, Jr., cofounder of Denver firm Kamlet Shepherd Reichert, received a public censure on Monday for misrepresenting the firm's diversity numbers to win legal work from DuPont, the Denver Business Journal reports.

Last year, Shepherd's plans to leave KSR and join Perkins Coie collapsed amid reports of the disciplinary action pending against him.

Willie Shepherd

William Lucero, presiding disciplinary judge with the Colorado Supreme Court, fined Shepherd (pictured right) $127.50 and censured the lawyer and prominent Democratic donor for misconduct dating back to 2007. (Click here for a copy of Lucero's order and here for a transcript of the disciplinary action, courtesy of the DBJ.)

According to court transcripts, Shepherd made false statements to an individual in DuPont's in-house legal department so that KSR would qualify for the company's Diverse Legal Supplier Program.

The program is designed to give some of the company's legal work to firms where women and minorities own at least 50 percent of the equity, The Denver Post reports. Shepherd claimed that KSR met that standard, when women and minority lawyers only held 30 percent of the firm's equity.

The misrepresentation came to light in March 2009 when Shepherd and another partner at KSR sent a letter to an unnamed individual in DuPont's legal department asking to be removed from the Diverse Legal Supplier Program, acknowledging that the firm should never have been included because it didn't meet the standard. (The Am Law Daily has previously reported on DuPont's inclusion initiatives and commitment to minority lawyers.)

DuPont general counsel Thomas Sager declined to comment. Shepherd's lawyers, Denver solo practitioners Dean Neuwirth and Patrick Burke, did not respond to requests for comment. Shepherd e-mailed a statement to The Am Law Daily.

"I am truly sorry for my conduct," writes Shepherd, who did not contest the censure. "It was inappropriate and not typical of how I have conducted myself during a 17-year law career."

Deceiving DuPont wasn't Shepherd's only act of misrepresentation. A well-known Democratic fund-raiser, Shepherd also claimed to members of President Barack Obama's transition team that he had been a cochair of gubernatorial and mayoral transition teams, when he had only been a member of certain committees. Shepherd attributes his dishonesty to stress.

"I faced an overwhelming number of pressures both personally and professionally," he says in the statement. "While I make no excuse for my actions, it is clear to me now that I lacked the necessary time to reflect, which is critical in exercising good judgment."

The Denver Post had named Shepherd a "Person to Watch" in 2009, when the lawyer's Democratic political connections helped him land on a short list to replace former U.S. attorney Troy Eid, a Republican who stepped down and rejoined Greenberg Traurig shortly before the Obama administration took office last year.

Like several other Denver firms, KSR was hit by layoffs at the time, and reports surfaced that Shepherd would be leaving the firm. In May 2009, Shepherd announced that he was parting ways with the firm he cofounded in 2000 with Jay Kamlet to join Perkins Coie. (Kamlet, who remains a partner at the firm now called Kamlet Reichert, did not respond to a request for comment.)

But two days later Perkins Coie withdrew the job offer amid reports that Shepherd was facing a complaint before Colorado's Office of Attorney Regulation. A Perkins Coie spokeswoman told The Am Law Daily the firm has no further comment beyond a statement it released at the time.

"Perkins Coie and Willie E. Shepherd will not proceed with the previously announced agreement for Mr. Shepherd to join the firm," the statement said. "The Perkins Coie offer was subject to a number of conditions, some of which could not be satisfied. As a result, Perkins Coie and Mr. Shepherd have agreed to terminate discussions and thus allow Mr. Shepherd to pursue other opportunities."

Since then, Shepherd has moved on from big-firm life. Last August, he started the Shepherd Law Group in downtown Denver offices leased from local firm Spies, Powers & Robinson. He tells The Am Law Daily that he's taken time to reflect on his actions and made certain "personal and professional" changes in his life in order to exercise better judgment.

"I have rededicated myself to my profession and its conscientious and ethical practice," Shepherd says in his statement. "I am eager to return my full attention to my legal practice and serving the Denver community."

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