Everyone enjoys the law firm gone bad. Think Wolfram & Hart; Bendini, Lambert & Locke; whatever the firm was that Devil was in charge of… Cravath? All right, it was really Milton, Chadwick & Waters, but whatever. The lawyer-hating masses like to see their biases lived out in the extreme, and lawyers enjoy the competence porn of thinking a law firm can really have an evil master plan. But these firms only exist in fiction, right?
So what the hell is going on with this firm?
Accusations are flying that this law practice was massively overfilling clients, instructing clients to harass and intimidate government officials, tailing people with P.I.s to accuse folks of traffic violations, and bugging people’s cars with GPS trackers.
It’s not plotting to birth the Antichrist, but it definitely sounds like bad news…
The California firm of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir recently announced they would be winding down operations. The firm, who represents police unions in Southern California, had suffered a number of embarrassing scandals and decided to shutter its doors for good. But not before another round of ridiculous allegations surfaced.
First off, the firm is accused of a bit of a billing SNAFU. According to a forensic accountant looking into the firm:
Managing partner Saku Ethir engaged in triple-billing, working on three separate cases simultaneously, billing the fund triple for the same time spent. On several occasions, Ethir submitted billing statements for more than 24 hours in one day. In 2012, Ethir billed for 4,275 hours – the average for a defense fund attorney is 1,800 to 2,000 hours. An attorney would have to work 11.5 hours a day, 365 days a year, to reach 4,200 hours.
During a three-day period in July 2013, Ethir was suspended by the state bar and ineligible to practice law. But she still billed the fund for time while under suspension. State bar officials said Ethir was placed on the inactive list for failing to fulfill continuing education requirements.
Attorney Peter Horton billed for hundreds of miles that were not traveled. He claimed during some of these phantom trips to have encountered traffic, causing him to bill extra.
Kasey Sirody, a former prosecutor from Ventura County, billed the fund for three separate trips after traveling to one destination to meet with three separate clients.
Remember, the guy who was busted for billing 29-hour days was only caught billing around 3200 hours. This guy bested him by 1000!
But it’s not just accusations of financial chicanery. These guys also posted a “playbook” of negotiation tactics that read an awful lot like threatening and intimidating people. It’s the
Chicago Southern California Way.
Some of the primer’s suggestions for negotiating with cities and counties: cast decision-makers as anti-public safety until they fall into line; convince residents their safety is at risk; and basically hound the city or county officials until they give in. The firm also talked about work slowdowns, advising law enforcers to canvass the whole neighborhood for a burglary call.
The “playbook” was taken down when police union presidents rightly criticized the bad faith tactics outlined in the piece. The Santa Ana Police Officers Association went so far as to label the tactics a threat to citizen and officer safety. Well all righty then.
And Lackie is accused of putting some of these bare-knuckled tactics to practical use.
A private detective who worked with the firm was investigated by the Orange County district attorney after allegedly tailing a Costa Mesa city council member from a local pub in 2012 and alerting police that the elected official appeared to be drunk.
Then-Councilman Jim Righeimer, who was perceived as being a critic of the city’s police union, later passed a sobriety test and produced a receipt for two Diet Cokes.
If lawyers lose their luster when the evil machinations of TV lawyers are exposed as a far cry from spending a night at the printer’s, private investigators are positively sad compared to their TV counterparts. Compare and contrast tailing a city councilman and accusing him of being drunk to driving a Ferrari around Hawaii.
No wonder the P.I. got bored of the job and got replaced by technology. Specifically, new allegations in the lawsuit filed by Costa Mesa officials accuse the firm of planting a GPS device on a city council member’s car:
In an amended lawsuit, Costa Mesa Councilman Steve Mensinger said the device was affixed to his car during the entire 2012 election season and came to his attention only when he was alerted by the Orange County district attorney’s office.
“Watergate, that’s when I last heard about something like this happening,” said Vince Finaldi, the Irvine attorney who filed the suit and amended complaint, which was first reported by the O.C. Weekly.
Spidey-tracers? Amazing. I honestly did not see that one coming. Tracing someone’s car sure sounds like a precursor to blackmail to me. Maybe there’s some more benign observation, like the firm wanted to know this guy’s shortcut to the 405 during rush hour.
So the next time you’re on the fourth conference call of the day and wonder what you’re doing with your life, think of the exciting alternative career path you could have.
Trying to defend these guys.
Police defense fund accuses law firm of misconduct [Orange County Register]
Unions denounce police negotiations playbook [Orange County Register]
Orange County D.A. raids police union law firm, seizes records [Los Angeles Times]
Law firm accused of planting GPS device on Costa Mesa official’s car [Los Angeles Times]