Federal judges don’t take kindly to misstatements by counsel appearing before them. And when the judge is unhappy, the client is unhappy. And when the client is unhappy, outside counsel gets cashiered. It’s not a pretty process.
Let’s travel down to south Florida, where an allegedly incorrect statement by a partner at Greenberg Traurig has incurred the wrath of a federal judge — apparently resulting in the client replacing the firm, and the firm parting ways with the partner.
It’s a cautionary tale for litigators….
TD Bank has acknowledged that it made
a falsean incorrect statement to a federal judge about evidence in a lawsuit related to the Scott Rothstein Ponzi scheme, according to a notice filed on Tuesday in federal court in Miami. The bank has also announced that a new law firm will be handling the case, which is on appeal.
[UPDATE (5/24/2012): The South Florida Business Journal has updated its story to replace the word "false" with "incorrect," in both the body of the story and the headline. We have updated accordingly.]
The bank acknowledged that one of its attorneys at Greenberg Traurig, Donna Evans, was wrong when she told a federal judge on Jan. 13 that a document called a “Standard Investigative Protocol” didn’t exist – when in fact the bank did have such a document and has now provided it. Evans did tell the judge the bank had a “Standard Investigative Tools” document.
Perhaps Greenberg needs to work on its “Standard Investigative Protocol” for collecting documents from clients?
The terms “Standard Investigative Protocol” and “Standard Investigative Tools” don’t sound that different. But recognizing such fine distinctions — and getting them right, down to the last detail — is why companies hire Biglaw firms. And pay them the big bucks.
The fallout from this alleged screw-up has been significant. Judge Marcia Cooke (S.D. Fla.) has scheduled a hearing for next month to determine whether TD Bank should be held in contempt of court — ouch. TD Bank has dumped Greenberg Traurig as counsel in the case and replaced the firm with McGuireWoods and Kasowitz Benson.
What does Greenberg Traurig have to say about the case? The firm responded to our inquiry with this statement: “We cannot comment directly about facts regarding our representation of a client, particularly a matter currently before the court. We are working to address this situation in a professional manner.” The firm did confirm to us that Donna Evans no longer works at GT. (She’s not on the firm website anymore, but you can see a cached version of her bio on the next page of this post.)
Here’s something we’re wondering about: Is Greenberg Traurig throwing Donna Evans under the bus (or autobús, since we’re in Miami)? It seems unlikely that she’s the lone gunwoman or the one bad apple, simply by virtue of the way that large firms staff their cases. Did any other partners, in statements made in open court or in written filings, also deny the existence of the “Standard Investigative Protocol”? Was Evans advised by one of her associates that the document did not exist?
And what about the client? Did any employees or in-house lawyers at TD Bank tell Greenberg Traurig as outside counsel that there was no such thing as a “Standard Investigative Protocol”? One can’t help but wonder what transpired here.
Perhaps some of these questions will be answered next month, when the contempt hearing takes place before Judge Cooke.
UPDATE (5/21/2012): Here’s what happened at the contempt hearing.