Aaron Charney, Alexandra Korry, Biglaw, Eric Krautheimer, Gay, H. Rodgin Cohen, Media and Journalism, Robert Kolker

Brokeback Lawfirm: New York Magazine Piece (Part 2)

This is a continuation of our prior post, Brokeback Lawfirm: The New York Magazine Piece (Part 1), which discussed the first half of Robert Kolker’s New York magazine article about Aaron Charney.
Our discussion picks up on page three (web pagination) of Kolker’s piece. At the top of that page is this fabulous graphic, entitled “Notes on a Scandal”:
Sullivan Cromwell Notes on a Scandal Aaron Charney Above the Law.jpg
It’s arguably a little derivative of an earlier New York Observer graphic (discussed here). But the textual elements are new, and some of the featured individuals are different.
The illustrations are amusing. They’re perhaps the most “pro-Charney” part of the whole article, since they’re so unflattering to the S&C lawyers, who are drawn to resemble animals. H. Rodgin Cohen looks like a frog, and Alexandra Korry looks like a chimp.
Our further thoughts on the article appear after the jump.

Here’s Bob Kolker’s description of Aaron Charney’s personal life:

[Charney] had a serious girlfriend in college. They broke up early on in law school mostly because, he told friends, she wasn’t Jewish. At Columbia, he never seemed to date anyone, male or female. Friends say he asked to be fixed up with women but stacked the deck against a relationship by listing very hard-to-match criteria for his perfect mate. Once Charney did come out, he didn’t tell many of his old friends; they learned about it from his lawsuit.

Two thoughts. First, we’d love to hear from Aaron’s college girlfriend, if she’d like to come forward and chat with us.
Second, we’d love to hear about Charney’s “hard-to-match criteria for his perfect mate.” We suspect that we’d find them uninentionally hilarious. Maybe he was looking for a former runway model and Olympic gymnast, now working as a tax lawyer at a top five New York firm.
More on Aaron Charney, the mysterious Gera Grinberg — who also eluded Kolker’s investigative grasp — and their working relationship:

[O]n the second Anthem deal, [Aaron Charney] met [Gera] Grinberg, a Canadian-born associate with a few years’ more experience. “We were lumped in together for fifteen months and did a really good job,” says Charney. “So, they just staffed us on other things together. Gera actually worked to juggle our schedules so that we would work together.” Though Grinberg was the more senior of the two, at least one lawyer remembers Charney as the more impressive. “Aaron had ambition,” he says. “He was doing great work. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had unblemished reviews. Gera was a nice guy, and he was competent, but he wasn’t a rising star.”

As Charney moved into the ranks of midlevel associates, he also began to grapple with being gay:

This was also around the time that Charney was starting to come out. The talk with his parents, toward the end of 2004, went well; then there was his first romantic encounter.

An “encounter,” which Aaron said he “wouldn’t call… a relationship”? Sounds sketchy to us. We’re reminded of what Lucia (Lisa Kudrow) tells Matt Mateo in The Opposite of Sex, after Matt tells her that he’s bisexual: “Puh-lease! I went to a bar mitzvah once. That doesn’t make me Jewish.”
Now, we’re not saying that Aaron Charney isn’t gay (although his credentials are questionable). We’re just observing that there’s a certain irony in Charney, a “reluctant” gay, serving as the poster boy for the crusade against anti-gay discrimination in the hallways of Biglaw.
Since S&C partner Eric Krautheimer hasn’t spoken publicly about the case, we found this next part very interesting:

According to one source, Krautheimer is now telling people that Charney’s version of events never happened—though he’s stopping short of denying that he might have said something crude; he just doesn’t remember. Another knowledgeable source says that Grinberg, who allegedly witnessed both comments, didn’t interpret either insult as homophobic. But Charney is unpersuaded. “The tone, the way he did it,” Charney says. “It’s one of those things you never forget.”

Now, we could see the “bend over” comment itself being vague. But when you combine it with the subsequent comment about s*** being left on the document for Aaron Charney to enjoy — presumably a reference to this gay sexual practice — the anti-gay nature of the remark appears clear.
The article then goes on to describe Charney’s interactions with S&C management over the alleged harassment. We learn more about the delectable Alexandra Korry:

Korry is a powerhouse on the 28th floor—senior to Krautheimer in the M&A department—and, as with Krautheimer, the tales about her mistreatment of associates are legion. Even her devotees admit she is brutal. “She’s very profane,” says one lawyer. “I know plenty of good associates who had issues with her and ended up leaving the firm.”

To paraphrase The Graduate: “Ms. Korry, are you trying to seduce us?” The more nightmarish stories we hear about her, the more we adore Alexandra Korry.
(Back when we practiced law, we had some bosses who were very demanding. But we never had bosses who were outright ABUSIVE, which we regret. You see, we get off on being abused. We don’t understand it completely; we’ve worked on this issue with therapists, and we will continue to do so. Please understand, though, that when we praise difficult bosses, we do so sincerely rather than ironically.)
The article discusses some of the incidents that Charney cites as retaliatory in his Complaint. They come across as a bit thin in the retelling. If one falls into the anti-Charney camp, it would be easily to view Charney as overreacting to trivial, perceived slights.
Then we get to the mysterious retention of the first lawyer (whom Kolker didn’t get the identity fo either):

Charney hired a lawyer, and that lawyer, according to a knowledgeable source, suggested a $5 million settlement in a phone call that was promptly reported to the firm’s management committee and then turned down. To this, Charney issues only a partial denial: “There was never anything written to them asking for money,” he says, adding that he fired that lawyer soon after.

Alas, Kolker doesn’t delve into the reasons for Charney’s firing that lawyer (which presumably Charney refused to discuss with him). So we have no way of verifying the speculation that Charney dismissed his original counsel so he wouldn’t have to share any recovery with them.
Then Charney filed his pro se lawsuit. Kolker agrees with S&C that some of the disclosures made by Charney in his Complaint were gratuitous. For example:

Charney even included the firm’s partnership agreement in the appendix, a confidential document that reveals, among other things, how much the partners earn after retirement ($255,000 a year).

Being a retired S&C partner: nice work if you can get it.
Some thoughts from Kolker on where the case might go next:

Neither side has much incentive to settle. For Sullivan, a trial could be messy, but settling could be messier, losing the firm untold millions in revenue from clients who interpret cutting a deal as an admission of guilt. Charney, meanwhile, has nothing left to lose. Assuming neither side blinks, the case will orbit around the question of whom to believe—the problematic young associate or his gruff but respected bosses.

We’re not sure we agree. A settlement could be spun by S&C as “we just wanted to get this out of our hair” — a sentiment that the firm’s Fortune 500 clients will understand. And Charney would probably also like to get closure on this as soon as possible, so he can figure out what he wants to do next. Also, it sounds like the lawsuit has been very stressful for him.
The close of the article makes us question Charney’s sanity:

The case is his new career now. And nearly everyone believes that once it ends, so will his life as a corporate lawyer. When I ask Charney about this—if he thinks he’ll have to change careers—I’m not prepared for his answer.

“I truly don’t know,” he says. “In an ideal world, this would run its course, the people who have done something wrong would be punished, and the firm would take steps to change the environment. I would come back and return to my career.”

After everything that has happened, he still dreams of working at Sullivan & Cromwell.

“Is that impossible?” he asks.

Insert your own saucy punchline here. We feel too sorry for the poor guy to come up with one of our own.
The Gay Flannel Suit [New York Magazine]
Earlier: Brokeback Lawfirm: If Only Herb Ritts Were Still Alive
Sullivan & Cromwell v. Charney: Do You Know Aaron Charney?

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