My hand surgeon and my chiropractor should be paying attention to a certain case being tried in the New York Supreme Court. The finger-pointing alone is bound to result in injuries that would require an adjustment, if not an operation.
A headline in a recent “Am Law Daily” (americanlawyer.com) by Nell Gluckman, “Dewey Witness Says She Never Intended to Defraud,” says a lot. Another recent headline, “A Crash Course in Law Firm Disaster,” may say it all.
Dewey & LeBoeuf was formed in 2007 via the merger of two smaller firms. It rose to the heights, becoming a 1,400-lawyer firm with offices around the globe. Then it plunged to the depths, filing for bankruptcy reorganization in May 2013.
In the seminar I teach, law students read an article from a 2013 New Yorker—”The Collapse” by James B. Stewart—a blow-by-blow backstory. It’s a modern American horror show, from the very arena my students are choosing for their careers.
Dewey’s former chair, executive director, and CFO are collectively being tried in Manhattan. Among the 100-plus charges are grand larceny, fraud, and falsifying business records.
Per Gluckman, a “cooperating witness”—the former firm’s “director of revenue support”—admitted to altering the books to inflate accounts receivable. Which became a part of records shown to banks for such things as multi-million dollar lines of credit. She, of course, says she did it because her higher-ups told her to. Not her fault.
She was also asked about the habits of “a high producing insurance partner, who … had trouble submitting his hours.” On cross-examination, she was asked whether this partner “sometimes tried to smuggle his dog, Fluffy, past security and into the office.”
The D.A. objected. Overruling the objection, Acting Supreme Court Justice Robert Stolz said, “I think we all want to hear about the dog.”
“Most in the courtroom laughed,” writes Gluckman.
The cross-examination continued: “[The executive director] threatened to kidnap Fluffy until he got his time in, correct?”
“I have no idea,” the witness replied.
Gluckman reports on another exchange that happened the same day, though outside the jury’s presence. The lawyers were arguing over documents that both sides had marked as exhibits. One of the prosecutors “explained he intended to enter those documents himself,” complaining that one of the defendant’s lawyers “had put a ‘Defense Exhibit’ sticker directly over the ‘People’s Exhibit’ sticker.”
Pondering the matter, Justice Stolz remarked, “I don’t want to get unduly wrapped up in the arts and crafts of litigation here, [but] evidence doesn’t belong to anybody.”
The prosecutor nevertheless asked that the defense be required to disclose to the jury that the documents had been “re-stickered.”
“So you want a sticker charge?” the judge asked. “I’m a little stuck on what that would be.”
Gluckman says the judge smiled at his own pun. Two humorous incidents in one day? Go, Judge Stolz!
As you read this, the trial may be over. When I wrote it, the trial was entering its 40th day.
Whew! Is there a doctor in the court?
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.