The Talent

January 13, 2012 5:14 PM

Legal Blotter: A Fresh Batch of Lawyers on the Defensive

Posted by Brian Baxter

Given that the new year is well under way—and that it's been more than a month since we last rounded up news about attorneys accused of committing crimes or other ethical breaches—The Am Law Daily felt it was time to revisit the topic.

What we found was that current and former partners from Andrews Kurth, Fulbright & Jaworski, Hogan Lovells, Kaye Scholer, Mayer Brown, McGuireWoods, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Thompson Hine have all made headlines recently in connection with allegedly improper acts.

Friday, for instance, brought news that the head of Andrews Kurth's corporate governance and securities enforcement group, former SEC lawyer Spencer Barasch, had reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice to pay the maximum $50,000 fine as part of a civil settlement stemming from charges that he violated federal conflict of interest and ethics rules by advising alleged Ponzi schemer R. Allen Stanford.

Barasch served as head of enforcement for the SEC’s regional office in Fort Worth before leaving public service in 2005 and signing on to represent Stanford in connection with an SEC investigation—despite having spent several years working on Stanford-related matters while with the agency.

An SEC inspector general's report released in 2010 was highly critical of both the SEC and Barasch, and recommended that he potentially be sanctioned and disbarred for attempting to "quash investigations" into Stanford's activities. A former client sued Andrews Kurth last year over its alleged ties to Stanford. (Aggrieved Stanford investors are also suing Chadbourne & Parke and Proskauer Rose, seeking about $200 million in damages from both firms for allegedly enabling Stanford's Ponzi scheme by obstructing SEC investigations.)

Reuters reported earlier this week that Barasch, who is being represented by former U.S. attorney and Locke Lord white-collar practice head Paul Coggins, would not admit wrongdoing as part of the deal. Stanford himself has also proclaimed his innocence, and last month a federal judge deemed him fit to stand trial in a proceeding that is set to begin on January 23.

Now that Stanford's trial is just around the corner (stop us if you've heard this one before), the disgraced financier’s defense lawyers want out . . . again. Court-appointed attorneys Ali Fazel and Robert Scardino of Houston's Scardino & Fazel and solo practitioners John Parras and Kenneth McGuire have asked that they be allowed to withdraw from the case, according to sibling publication Texas Lawyer.

Among the reasons the defense lawyers cite for wanting off the matter: "funding constraints" that are preventing them from hiring experts and litigation support. In lieu of being allowed to drop Stanford as a client, the lawyers are requesting a 90-day continuance to better prepare for trial.

Among the other attorneys in legal hot water:

Former Fulbright & Jaworski partner Richard Simkin appeared along with his wife Zakia Sharif at the Old Bailey in London this week to plead guilty to charges of false accounting and fraud, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. Simkin worked out of Fulbright's London office until resigning in September 2008, Legal Week reports. That same year, Sharif was dismissed as the firm's London office manager after her husband admitted to bilking roughly $150,000 from the firm by submitted false expense claims. Legal Week reports that Simkin's sentencing is set for March.

The Financial Times reported this week that almost one in five people believe that it's perfectly acceptable to exaggerate work expenses. Someone who may have previously believed that but probably doesn't anymore is ex–Hogan Lovells partner Christopher Grierson, who was dismissed by the firm last year for allegedly inflating more than $1.6 million in expenses. Grierson returned from Monaco this week for an appearance before a magistrates' court in London where he's facing fraud charges, according to The Telegraph.

Federal prosecutors are asking that former Thompson Hine senior antitrust partner Leslie Jacobs in Cleveland serve 16 months in prison for filing false tax returns and overstating business expenses by more than $250,000, according to Law360. As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, Jacobs was charged with tax fraud last October and entered a guilty plea a month later.

A federal judge sentenced former Sullivan & Cromwell partner John O'Brien to more than two years in prison this week for failing to pay millions of dollars in taxes, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal. Courthouse News, which also covered the sentencing, notes prosecutors said the unpaid taxes were used to fund renovations for a vacation home and a rare books business run by O'Brien’s partner. O'Brien, who pled guilty in August, earned $9.2 million in partnership income from S&C between 2003 and 2008. He has also been ordered to pay $2.87 million in restitution.

Federal prosecutors denied this month that placing noted California litigator Pierce O'Donnell on trial again for felony campaign finance charges would constitute double jeopardy, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. O'’Donnell, who once practiced at Kaye Scholer but now runs his own Los Angeles firm, saw a federal judge reject a tentative plea agreement with prosecutors last year on the grounds that it was too harsh. Federal prosecutors responded by saying they would take the case to trial. O'Donnell, who is being represented by Jones Day's Brian O'Neill, spoke with The American Lawyer in 2010 about his fall from grace.

Former North Carolina governor and onetime McGuireWoods partner Michael Easley had a second year tacked on to what was a one-year suspension of his law license, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Easley, who pled guilty to a felony campaign finance charge in 2010, managed to avoid disbarment because the state's bar counsel could not find evidence that he knowingly engaged in wrongful conduct, according to the News & Observer.

Former Mayer Brown partner Joseph Collins, once the subject of a lengthy feature story in The American Lawyer about his firm's work for defunct derivatives broker Refco, got good news this week when a federal appeals court overturned his 2009 fraud convictionaccording to the NYLJ. The Am Law Litigation Daily reports that Collins's defense lawyers from Cooley prevailed in seeking a retrial of their client. Our former colleague Alison Frankel reports that lawyers from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who testified at Collins's first trial, will be key the second time around.

Finally, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Ice Miller associate Courtney King was arrested on December 29 and charged with alcohol intoxication, disorderly conduct, terroristic threatening, and assaulting a police officer. The arrest came after King, 30, was asked to leave a Louisville bar and, according to a police citiation cited by the newspaper, responded by allegedly scuffling with security guards and police called to the scene, and delivering this threat: "You are going to—die. I am a lawyer. You can Google me." We did. She joined the firm in April 2011, but her bio no longer appears on Ice Miller's Web site. King's lawyer, Alex Dathorne, told the Courier-Journal that his client pleaded not guilty to the charges and is due back in court on February 7. He said she has not been terminated from Ice Miller.


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