Lawyers Behaving Badly: which leads to our favorite lawyer joke

» Posted in News & Resources

It’s Friday, the end of the month and we have a holiday next week: no one wants to read an analysis of yet another serious legal issue, so time for another post in the Love Your Lawyer (Yes, Really!) category here on the Legal Updates blog. These are meant to be a not-so-serious look at lawyers in general and the relationship between lawyers and their clients in particular.

Already, for today’s topic, we can hear the more cynical of our readers commenting on the title: wait, lawyers behaving badly is simply redundant. Which calls to mind one of our favorite lawyer jokes:

You know what the problem with lawyers is?
      Just 98% of them give all the rest a bad name!

Well, let’s just say there are a lot of us lawyers out there that like to think we are in the 2% that are knowledgeable, effective, ethical and add value to our clients.

But we do have to say that June has been quite a month for lawyers behaving badly all across the land. There have been prominent reports of the thieving in house Texas lawyer, the collapse of the big time New York law firm with assorted allegations of fraud and malfeasance, and the just plain bizarre conduct of a California husband and wife lawyer team. Let’s get to the juicy details.

Thieving General Counsel?
Lawyer Anthony Chiofalo is accused of creating a fake Texas law firm, and then using his position as in house lawyer for a Houston company to pay himself more than $9 million for supposed legal services that were never rendered. Wow, great work if you can get it!

Tadano America Corp. hired Chiofalo back in 2009 to serve as its head of legal affairs. Like many in house lawyers, he was responsible for hiring, supervising and paying outside counsel. Chiofalo apparently did his job well: he paid out more than $9 million to the law firm of Maio & Cardenas. Problem is, Maio & Cardenas never existed. Actually, all the invoices and checks were sent to Chiofalo’s home address—and all that money went into Chiofalo’s personal bank account. Finally, a fraud examiner discovered the ruse and both Chiofalo and his wife have been criminally charged. Last we heard, poor wifey had been arrested and was being held on an $18 million bond. But brave Anthony Chiofalo was still at large, although he supposedly told his defense lawyer he “intends to turn himself in soon.”

Law Firm Fraud, Malfeasance and an Alleged Ponzi Scheme?
The tailspin and collapse of the prominent New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf has been featured all over the mainstream news and analyzed almost to death by the legal pundits. Spectacularly bad business decisions, overreaching, greed, inept management, the dramatically changing legal services landscape – each of these has been offered up as reasons why Dewey was forced to declare an ignoble bankruptcy in May. Well, law firms come and go – Dewey was just larger, richer and more well-known than most. But was the implosion because of lawyers behaving badly?

Possibly. First, eyebrows were raised when the former Chairman of the firm, Steven Davis, was asked to leave Dewey once the New York District Attorney prosecutors opened up a criminal investigation of Davis and his activities at the firm – something about “serious wrongdoing.” Among the allegations: significant “financial irregularities” perpetrated by Davis at the firm. Hmm, that sounds rather bad.

Then, a former Dewey partner filed a lawsuit against five former members of Dewey’s management team, claiming they essentially misrepresented Dewey’s financial performance to lure away partners from other firms. And then used the revenue brought in by the new partners to pay their favored cronies instead of running the firm. What got everyone’s attention was the allegation that the firm’s management was “running a Ponzi scheme in order to enrich themselves and select partners of the Firm.” Lawyers running a Ponzi scheme? That would be very bad indeed.

Husband and Wife Lawyer Team Run Amok
Now we turn to the just plain bizarre. Kent and Jill Easter, both California lawyers, have been arrested by Irvine police and criminally charged with conspiracy. It seems that the Easters were miffed at a volunteer at the local elementary school who, they felt, had not adequately supervised their son at an after-school activity. So what did they do: they planted illegal drugs in the volunteer’s car and then tried to turn her in to the police.

Yes, according to reports in the local media, Kent is accused of driving to the volunteer’s home in the early morning hours and placing a bag of prescription drugs and marijuana in her unlocked car. Later that same day, Papa Kent then called police and, using a false name, told the dispatcher he saw an erratic driver park at the elementary school, named the volunteer and said he’d seen her hide a bag of drugs in her car. How did the police piece this together? Because Kent and Jill called one another on their cell phones as they hatched this scheme. Then, the two married lawyers helpfully texted one another repeatedly as they executed their plan for revenge. Kent and Jill now face charges of false imprisonment, conspiracy to falsely report a crime and conspiracy to procure the false arrest of the poor school volunteer. OK, lawyers behaving badly, bizarrely and stupidly – we have a winner!

But seriously folks, all the lawyer jokes and these episodes notwithstanding, most lawyers are pretty good folks. If you have an attorney that is responsive, knowledgeable, helps solve your legal problems in a practical way and does so efficiently and economically, then Love Your Lawyer (Yes, Really!). Happy Fourth of July.