The accusations against disbarred New Jersey lawyer Kenneth Denti — who allegedly falsified time sheets, slept with a client he was representing in her divorce, and got reimbursed by his firm for dinner dates with women he met on the internet — have been covered extensively throughout the legal blogosphere. We previously linked to a post on the Legal Profession Blog about Denti, and his story was also written up in the ABA Journal and the WSJ Law Blog.
But the 94-page decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review Board contains some juicy tidbits — about money, sex, and other good stuff — that haven’t been mentioned in prior coverage.
So let’s take a closer look….
Five years ago, in January 2005, lawyer Kenneth M. Denti joined the Princeton office of Fox Rothschild as a “contract partner.” Although he didn’t have equity in the firm or any interest in firm profits, he was paid nicely: $190,000 plus benefits, for a total package worth somewhere between $230,000 and $240,000.
While this might not seem like a lot by New York City standards — where the current market rate for a fourth-year associate is $210,000 in base salary, and where one non-equity partner was recently offered a pay package worth at least $300,000 — remember that this was central New Jersey. Denti’s deal was actually quite nice for the other side of the Hudson. Remember also that this was five years ago, well before the big jump to the $160K scale in January 2007 (led by Simpson Thacher).
In exchange for this generous compensation, Denti was expected to bill roughly $630,000 a year (1800 hours at $350 an hour). This seems like a reasonable enough arrangement; 1800 hours is not a particularly high billing target.
Alas, it seems that Denti had difficulty in meeting it — at least with real as opposed to fictitious billable hours. From the New Jersey Supreme Court’s disbarment decision:
Respondent, while a partner with Fox Rothschild, LLP (“Fox Rothschild”), and later with Margolis Edelstein, submitted falsified entries in the respective law firms’ time-keeping systems. He indicated that he had performed legal services for numerous clients. These time entries were bogus. Moreover, the clients for whom respondent claimed he had performed services were not clients of his current firm, but had been represented by law firms by whom respondent had previously been employed. Respondent submitted these phony entries to mislead his employers and, therefore, to ensure the continuation of his agreed compensation.
The clients weren’t invoiced in timely fashion. When some of them finally were invoiced, they responded by saying they had no idea what the invoices were for. Whoops.
The scope of the alleged fraud, at Fox Rothschild and then at Margolis Edelstein (which Denti joined after leaving FR), was extensive. According to the opinion, Denti “submitted fictitious time sheets for more than two and one-half years, encompassing more than $350,000 in fees.”
On the other hand, one might also say: financial fraud by a lawyer? Yawn. Far more interesting is the allegation that Denti “engaged in a conflict of interest by entering into a sexual relationship with a divorce client.”
The relationship was discovered by Michael McKenna, managing patner of Margolis Edelstein, when McKenna reviewed Denti’s emails after Denti’s departure from the firm. McKenna found hundreds of emails between Denti and Michelle Angelastro, a divorce client of the firm who was represented by Denti (at the time going through his own divorce).
When questioned during disciplinary proceedings about some of the emails, Denti tried to explain away the various exchanges as part of his professional representation of Angelastro. For example:
Q. Here’s page 12, the top, it’s an email from you to Michelle Angelastro: You’re no fun. Don’t make me beg to see the tan lines, all of them, lol, lol. It’s going to get pretty warm wearing a parka and overalls. Hope you can stand the heat.
Q. And why are you interested in a professional relationship with seeing her tan lines?
A. I’m not interested in seeing her tan lines. That’s what the lol lol stands for. It’s a joke….
Ha ha. But laughter wasn’t the reaction that Michelle Angelastro was hoping for from Ken Denti:
Q. Page 18. Let’s start at the bottom from you to Michelle Angelastro: You are saying: Umm, just wondering if I am going to be laughing when the parka and overalls come off, lol.
Q. And Michelle’s reply to you: You better not be laughing. Drooling would be better.
A. That is her response; that’s correct.
(Tan lines can be dealt with, but there are risks.)
Here’s another good exchange:
Q. Page 19. The middle of page 19 is an email from Michelle Angelastro to you. I can take it as hot as you can and begging always works for me. I take stand [sic] it as you can. I don’t know what that means. Don’t you have anything better to do than teasing me, maybe some work. Haven’t you been away for a week. I’m going to try to get some sleep so I’ll be able to keep up later. Thanks for the sweet dreams.
Q. What’s she going to have to keep up with?
A. As far as I can tell, again, I didn’t write it, she did. As far as I can tell she may have been tired. In order to properly meet with me, I’m sure she wanted to make sure that she was refreshed and of the proper mindset, I’ll be able to keep up with the conversation. That’s what I’m assuming.
But it seems that their meetings weren’t ordinary attorney-client conferences:
Q. She says to you: Sure, as long as I don’t have to be on my knees the whole time. My inner thighs hurt when I woke up Sunday morning. My neck doesn’t bother me anymore.
A. Right. I see that.
Q. And that does not refer to any sexual encounter you are saying?
A. It does not.
Q. You are following page 47?
Q. What do you want to do before the extracurricular activities? Dinner and/or a movie. The Ritz theater’s a few miles from the house in Voorhees.
A. That’s what she wrote, correct.
A. I see that. Her email, again, is 12:49 p.m. Mine is 9:37 a.m.
Q. Let’s talk about your email. What are you talking about with a whole case of raincoats and using them all in one night?
A. I think I’m joking — I’m jokingly suggesting — raincoats, I believe I was talking about prophylactic devices. Obviously an individual could not use an entire case of prophylactic devices in one evening. I am obviously joking to her about condoms because I think she had mentioned to me that she’d found one that her husband had left laying around the house from when they were –
Well, at least he didn’t try to claim that the “raincoats” were, well, actual raincoats.
These next emails were harder to explain:
Q. It is Michelle’s email to you: Yes, it’s very weird but the best work around I could come up with. Thanks for being so understanding and flexible. Speaking of flexible, you better rest up. Tomorrow night we wrestle in my king size bed.
A. That’s what she wrote.
Q. That doesn’t indicate that you have a personal, sexual relationship with her going on at that time?
A. No, it does not.
If you’re paying someone by the hour to wrestle in your king-size bed, it’s probably not your attorney.
Okay, this exchange is actually sort of sweet:
Q. And your response to her on page 49: You don’t have too much time left to recover then, to which Michelle replies: Don’t worry, I’ll work through the pain, you’re worth it. And you are [sic] response to her: Thanks, hon. I am flattered. My intention is to inflict pleasure upon you, not pain, right?
A. That is what it says, that is correct.
Q. Her response to you doesn’t refer to any sexual activity; is what you are saying?
Of course, Denti has an explanation for it:
A. …. Ms. Angelastro is talking about engaging in some activity that she had done – I have a trampoline in my yard, and Ms. Angelastro used to be a very good athlete. She was a swimmer. And apparently she had used — she had got on the trampoline. My kids thought it was actually pretty funny because I never really jump on it. Ms. Angelastro, after being on it for a short period of time, indicated afterwards that, you know, to me, wow, that had been quite a workout. She was sore from it.
“Jumping on the trampoline”: the new version of “hiking the Appalachian Trail”?
Alas, Angelastro didn’t corroborate the trampoline story:
[A]lthough respondent had asserted that Angelastro had complained of soreness after working out on his children’s trampoline, Angelastro testified that she had used her nieces’ trampoline and did not recall that respondent’s children had a trampoline.
Denti’s explanation also makes no sense because HE IS NOT A TRAMPOLINE. As he wrote in his email to Angelastro, “Thanks, hon. I am flattered. My intention is to inflict pleasure upon you, not pain, right?”
The rest of Denti’s infractions fell into this category:
Finally, while a partner at Margolis Edelstein, respondent submitted vouchers for meals with individuals who, he alleged were either potential clients or potential sources of client referrals. The Margolis Edelstein law firm reimbursed respondent for these meals. As it turned out, however, he was not entertaining potential clients, but women he was dating, including two he had met via an Internet dating service.
(There’s nothing wrong with internet dating; I owe my current relationship of over a year, as well as several concluded but “good while they lasted” relationships, to the world wide web. But you can pay for the dates on your own dime — especially if you’re earning as much as Denti was.)
The amounts weren’t huge; unlike a Cravath associate post-bonus, Denti wasn’t dining “at New York’s finest restaurants” (as the WSJ Law Blog recommends). Four women were involved in the alleged expense fraud, involving about ten dates or so, and the total reimbursements paid by the Margolis firm to Denti totaled less than $1,000. That’s an average about $100 a date — respectable, but not extravagant. I’m thinking Cheesecake Factory.
Denti tried to use these various women to incite jealousy in his wife Donna, from whom he was getting a divorce at the time. This great email correspondence also appears in the opinion:
Donna: IT’S STILL ON RECORD! Little Man.
Respondent: Little man? Hhmmnn – let’s see – I think the following women would disagree with that: Jill, Aimee, Kerry, Debbie,
Doris, Kelly, Michelle, Cindy, Kris … lol Was only little around u, toots. It isn’t attracted to dikes!!!!
Donna: Can you say CIALIS?
Respondent: Actually, that let’s [sic] me nail one in the morning, having sex with another at night and then still have enuff left for another one of them the next day!! Isn’t modern science wonderful??. . . .
Respondent: Sorry – one last thing. Why don’t u stop over tonite for a few lessons from Michelle on how to please a man. Not sure what time she is getting there – but if u see a White Honda Pilot in my driveway u will know she’s there!!
Classy all around. Makes me proud to be a Jersey boy.
In the Matter of Kenneth M. Denti [Supreme Court of New Jersey – Disciplinary Review Board]
NJ Lawyer Slammed Over Alleged Fake Time Sheets, Improper Client Relationship [WSJ Law Blog]
Firm Pays For Dates, Disbarment Imposed [Legal Profession Blog]
Ex-BigLaw Partner Disbarred for Bogus Time Entries, Expensed Meals for Internet Dates [ABA Journal]