Thomas O’Brien is the former U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. He recently joined Paul Hastings, which trumpeted his arrival in a press release. Tom O’Brien is a public figure — he used to be the top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate — so he’s used to a little public scrutiny.
But O’Brien couldn’t have been prepared for what happened when his girlfriend’s estranged husband took an unauthorized stroll through her email inbox. The husband found emails between O’Brien and his wife, and they didn’t make him happy.
Instead of handling the situation like a rational adult, the husband — we’ll call him “Ken” — decided to bombard the professional networks of both O’Brien and his wife (also an attorney) with the “pillow talk” emails he discovered. Ken attempted to cast the relationship between O’Brien and his (Ken’s) wife as an affair.
This is not the first time such a thing has happened. Back in 2008, the New York Times reported on a husband’s similar vendetta against a successful Wall Street banker, carried out online. Earlier this year, as Above the Law readers may recall, a cuckolded husband emailed sexting messages between his wife and a White & Case attorney to all of the lawyers at White & Case in Miami.
Ken took this aggressive strategy one insane step further, apparently emailing every lawyer he could think of. You may have already received Ken’s emails, especially if you’re in California, from Ken himself or via email forward.
Is spamming an entire professional network the new revenge of the spurned lover? Are lawyers, as members of a profession that is surprisingly small and highly reputation-conscious, especially vulnerable to this tactic? Does this approach actually work?
After the jump, let’s look at the offense and the (over)reaction.
Sources report that Ken has been estranged from his wife for some time. We understand that the couple is in the process of getting divorced (though we don’t know how far along in the process they are).
At some point O’Brien and Ken’s wife started dating. Sources tell us there is nothing secret about the relationship.
But you wouldn’t know that from the email thread that Ken sent to the world, framing the relationship between Ken’s wife and Tom O’Brien as illicit and scandalous. Essentially the thread involves O’Brien and Ken’s wife making the final plans for a romantic getaway to Cabo San Lucas. We’d publish the thread if it were (a) interesting or (b) not precisely what Ken wanted us to do. But, aside from a couple of racy lines you don’t normally hear uttered by a former U.S. Attorney, the email itself is pretty standard.
Ken, however, was furious. After finding the emails, he forwarded them to a number of people in his wife’s and Tom O’Brien’s personal network — using her email address. O’Brien’s travel plans were sent to:
* Lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice
* City of Los Angeles government officials
*Judges on L.A. Superior Court
* The Asian Professional Exchange
* Corporate counsel at Nordstrom’s
* Media outlets like the Daily Journal, Law Dragon, and Sister City
* And high-level partners at Paul Hastings, Seyfarth Shaw, DLA Piper, Katten, and Bird & Marella
Shouldn’t a man trying to recapture the heart of a woman be less pathetic and bitchy? In my day, such disputes were handled with a stiff drink and a sucker punch.
When we talked with Ken, he didn’t really have any answers as to why he spammed an entire community of legal professionals. In an email to Above the Law, he said simply:
Dear Ms. [sic] Mystal,
I have no comment at this time regarding your inquiry other than to say these two points;
1. [My wife] has dedicated her entire professional career to public and community service and that she is a well respected leader both within the legal bar associations and the Asian American Community.
2. I can confirm that I alone sent out all of the emails (all accounts).
Clearly Ken still remembers the happier days of his marriage, which he has committed to internet posterity (through an online shrine to his wedding). Strangely, his email reads like he is trying to defend his wife’s public persona, even after airing all of her business in public. Maybe he thought her reputation was just collateral damage in his romantic rivalry with O’Brien? A Facebook friend of Ken texted us to say “he’s not in a good place.”
Whatever his desired goal was, it appears that all he has accomplished is ruining his wife and O’Brien’s vacation. Above the Law contacted the hotel in Cabo where O’Brien was supposed to be staying at last week, and a hotel employee confirmed that the couple never showed up — they canceled their trip, apparently after Ken spammed the world with their plans.
But if Ken was looking to cause professional harm to O’Brien, it appears that he has failed. Spokespersons for Paul Hastings declined to comment for this story, but sources tell us that the firm really couldn’t care less about where one of its new partners goes on vacation and with whom he travels.
One husband trying to ruin another man by accusing him online of adultery is a strange situation. A second husband doing it, by emailing all of that man’s law firm colleagues, may be a disturbing pattern. A third husband employing this tactic, by spamming an entire professional network, might be a problem.
Certain aspects of the legal profession, such as the easy availability of lawyer contact information through firm websites and public databases, may make it easier to make lawyers look bad before their colleagues. O’Brien, of course, is a public figure. But can it be argued that lawyers in general are — as officers of the court, whose professional activities are regulated by the state — somewhat more public than the average private citizen? After all, investment bankers and architects don’t have to go through a “character and fitness” review.
Does anyone want to live in a world where an estranged spouse or lover can email everyone we work with about our sex life? Probably not. But such is life in the digital age.
Paul Hastings Lands O’Brien, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles [WSJ Law Blog]
On Wall St., Reputation Is Fragile [New York Times]
Rumor And Consequences: Lessons From A Wall Street Guy’s Ex-Marital Affair? [Dealbreaker]
Earlier: Nationwide Getting Laid Watch: White & Case
Should White & Case Have ‘Gotten In Front’ of the Miami White Situation?