Our typical Lawyer of the Day is an attorney you’ve never heard of, from a firm you’ve never heard of. It’s highly unusual for LOTD honors to go to a pair of legal titans, two of the nation’s leading litigators: Ted Wells (pictured) and Marty Flumenbaum, the co-chair and former chair, respectively, of the celebrated litigation department at Paul Weiss.
It appears, however, that the honors are deserved. The New York Law Journal reports:
A New Jersey judge has sanctioned two firms, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Lowenstein Sandler, for pursuing a “frivolous” and “ridiculous” legal claim on behalf of billionaire Ronald Perelman against his 85-year-old ex-father-in-law [Robert Cohen]….
Superior Court Judge Ellen L. Koblitz ruled that Perelman’s attorneys should have known that the claim was unsupportable. “No competent attorney could have missed the frivolous nature of this promise claim once the unhelpful testamentary documents were received,” Koblitz said in ordering the sanctions last Wednesday. “There was no legal or factual basis for the plaintiffs to proceed with their amended complaint given the evidence they had and the state of the law in New Jersey.”
Ouch — quite the stinging benchslap. The Garden State hasn’t seen such a slugging since the first season of Jersey Shore.
And other marquee names got dragged into this mess — a pair of high-powered lady lawyers, in fact….
According to the NYLJ, in addition to Wells and Flumenbaum, Pereleman’s team included a third Paul Weiss partner, Roberta Kaplan — the stylish lesbian litigatrix who has been actively involved in the legal fight for same-sex marriage. (Aside: We heard that Kaplan isn’t the easiest partner in the world to work for.)
Lawyers at Lowenstein Sandler — arguably the top law firm in New Jersey, and the former home of Ted Wells, before he hopped across the Hudson — also got in trouble with Judge Koblitz. One of the Lowenstein lawyers involved in the case was Zulima Farber, the well-connected Latina litigatrix and former attorney general of New Jersey. (This isn’t the first time that “Zu” Farber has found herself in trouble.)
On top of the frivolity of the claims advanced, Judge Koblitz wasn’t a fan of what she saw as Paul Weiss’s scorched-earth approach to litigating the case:
“Counsel for the estate engaged in hard-fought litigation that at times crossed the boundary of appropriate litigation tactics,” Koblitz wrote. She said Flumenbaum’s examination of Mr. Cohen, who suffers from Parkinson’s, was “harsh and painful.”
She ordered Paul Weiss and Lowenstein Sandler to pay Mr. Cohen’s fees and costs for opposing the claim and set a hearing for July 8 to determine the amount.
The defense, led by Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati partner Robert Gold and of counsel Mitchell Epner, has estimated that those fees will total several million dollars.
A typical client would probably be upset — but Perelman, the temperamental billionaire, is not the typical client. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Perelman demanded that his lawyers make the arguments the judge found “frivolous” and “ridiculous.” And, given his vast personal wealth, Perelman can make his lawyers whole after they cough up “several million dollars” in fees and costs.
Both Paul Weiss and Lowenstein Sandler take issue with Judge Koblitz’s ruling. Paul Weiss chair Brad Karp said in a statement that “the representation we provided our clients throughout this case was appropriate in all respects and we intend to appeal the lower court’s ruling.” A Lowenstein spokesperson told the WSJ Law Blog, “We are disappointed by and respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.”
P.S. What attracted us to this case was the benchslapping of top lawyers. The underlying litigation is messy and complex (not unlike Ron Perelman’s personal life). If you want to delve into the merits, you can read more at the links below.
N.J. Judge Sanctions Firms Over Perelman’s ‘Frivolous’ Estate Claim [New York Law Journal]
Paul Weiss Heavyweights Get Smacked by Judge in Perelman Case [WSJ Law Blog]
Judge deals Ronald Perelman another blow [Fortune]
How Ronald Perelman met his match [Fortune]