The Firms

January 27, 2012 5:01 PM

Edwards Wildman Hits Back at Allegations Over Managing Partner's Affair

Posted by Brian Baxter

Edwards Wildman Palmer is hitting back over a salacious suit filed earlier this month in which two former partners accuse the Am Law 100 firm's soon-to-be-former managing partner Walter Reed of putting his amorous pursuits ahead of the firm's interests in negotiating a merger last year.

In a 17-page motion to dismiss and compel arbitration filed Thursday in Delaware's Chancery Court, the firm claims that by filing the suit, ex-partners Lawrence Cohen and Jay Rosenbaum violated their partnership agreement with their former employer in a power play for more money.

Cohen and Rosenbaum were members of a Boston-based private client and estate-planning team that left Edwards Wildman in November for Nixon Peabody, taking with them one counsel, two trust administrators, and two investment professionals.

In their 19-page civil complaint, which was filed two weeks ago in Delaware, Cohen and Rosenbaum allege that Reed began an affair with Cohen's wife, Edwards Wildman private client practice cochair Laurie Hall, in 2009. As a result of the relationship, Cohen and Rosenbaum—who shared clients—claim they had their compensation cut and were excluded from key leadership activities at their former firm. (The pair also claim that Cohen was asked to share clients with Hall.)

Edwards Wildman was formed on October 1, 2011, as a result of a merger between Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and Chicago-based Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon. Cohen and Rosenbaum's complaint alleges that Reed used the merger talks between the two firms to further his romantic interests with Hall, whom the plaintiffs claim Reed included in negotiations despite her lack of experience in "negotiating mergers or managing corporate deals."

In its Thursday filing, Edwards Wildman counters that the suit filed by Cohen and Rosenbaum breaches a "clear requirement" in the firm's partnership agreement that calls for "disputes among partners and the firm be resolved not in court, but through final and binding arbitration."

The response states that Cohen and Rosenbaum, who resigned from Edwards Wildman on November 9, "weave their tale" while showing a "blatant disregard" for what the firm says are their obligations under its partnership agreement. That agreement, the firm argues, specifies that only an arbitrator can decide the issues now before the Chancery Court.

Edwards Wildman's response does not make any mention of the allegation that Hall, Cohen's now-estranged wife, had an affair with Reed. Cohen and Rosenbaum's complaint claims that Reed and Hall announced their relationship and their plan to divorce their respective spouses at a partnership meeting in November 2011.

The following month, Edwards Wildman announced that Reed would step down as managing partner of the 650-lawyer firm for "personal and health reasons" sometime in early 2012. Edwards Wildman's senior management is in the process of identifying Reed's successor.

Reed did not return a phone message left at his office in Providence on Friday. In a statement provided to The Am Law Daily, an Edwards Wildman spokesman said that "the firm has moved to dismiss the complaint because these two former partners broke their written agreement to have their claims decided in arbitration. As stated when the complaint was filed, the firm will vigorously defend against the claims."

Proskauer Rose labor and employment partner Gregory Rasin and employment litigation and arbitration partner Steven Hurd are defending Edwards Wildman in the litigation. Neither lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment on motion filed by Edwards Wildman, which calls for the litigation to be dismissed and arbitration commenced before the American Arbitration Association.

(Rasin is married to Elise Bloom, cochair of Proskauer's labor and employment section. Both lawyers joined the firm in 2006 from Jackson Lewis.)

William Johnston, the immediate past chair of the corporate counseling and litigation section at Delaware's Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, is serving as local counsel to Edwards Wildman, along with litigation partner Melanie Sharp. Neither returned phone messages left for them on Friday.

Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott litigation partners Francis Pileggi in Wilmington and John Talvacchia in Boston are representing Cohen and Rosenbaum in the suit.

Pileggi, who joined Eckert Seamans last year after leaving Fox Rothschild, is a well-regarded Delaware litigator who launched and maintains the Delaware Corporate & Commercial Litigation Blog. Neither he nor Talvacchia returned phone calls on Friday about the firm’s response against their clients.

Cohen and Rosenbaum became partners at predecessor firm Edwards Angell in 1991 and 2005, respectively, according to court filings. Both are now members of Nixon Peabody’s private client practice in Boston. Neither responded to phone calls on Friday and a spokeswoman for Cohen declined to comment on pending litigation.


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