Thursday, January 25, 2007

Testimony for Sale!

If you want to confirm that some plaintiffs' lawyers are slimy, check out this piece about the fee dispute between law firm Thelen Reid and guy from France Francois Marland.
The case involved a whistleblower suit on Marland's behalf against a consortium of French banks who'd used a shell company to secretly buy an insolvent California insurance company in violation of California law restricting foreign ownership of insurance companies.
Deep breath. 
Yawn--  I mean... the plot thickens.
When the California Department of Insurance brought a suit, too, Thelen got Marland's permission to represent it as well. 
(Legal Ethics Rule #1:  You can represent clients with potentially conflicting interests unless they waive the conflict -- and sometimes not even then.  Actually, this is the only ethical rule most big firm lawyers deal with frequently.)
Under the fee-sharing agreement, Thelen Reid provided legal services and Marland and some lawyers he put together would secure documents and testimony ... especially Marland's testimony. 
The article notes that "[t]he fee-sharing agreement in the dispute has raised the hackles of legal ethicists, who say some provisions skate dangerously close to buying Marland's testimony."  Actually, it looks like they fell through the ice.
And stop snickering at the phrase "legal ethicists."
In the 1999 version of their agreement, "Marland and a group of lawyers he'd assembled would receive 52.5 percent of Thelen's take (65 percent if the case settled quickly). The large cut would be in exchange for securing documents and testimony, among other services. A later amendment would reduce Marland's cut by two-thirds if he failed to testify at all, and by half if he testified only before the grand jury but not during the civil trial."
If that's "not buying testimony" then Murder, Inc. was "not hiring contract killers."
The article makes a big deal out of the fact that Marland wasn't a lawyer at the time of the first fee-sharing agreement (it's okay to fee-share only with a lawyer).  But even if he'd been a lawyer, that doesn't mean you can pay for his testimony. 
Hey, maybe that could be Litvak's Rule of Legal Ethics, if it were a rule of legal ethics.  Actually, it's just law that applies to everyone.  You can't sell testimony.  Even if you're a lawyer!
Go figure.

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