Pro Se Litigants

Aaron Charney 2 headshot Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett CharneyIf you haven’t already done so, you can still vote in our poll asking you whether you support Aaron Charney or Sullivan & Cromwell in Charney v. S&C. Click here to vote in that poll (or to view the results if you’ve already voted).
After we posted Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: The $15 Million Question, a number of you started to debate in the comments:

How much is Aaron Charney’s lawsuit really worth?

Here are some of your thoughts:

“5-10 mil seems like a fair sum to ask for in this matter.”

“I’d let partners say much more degrading things to me for $5M. I’d also allow myself to be left out of the summer mentoring program. ABP’s sandwiches are not bad at all. Esp. that chicken mozzarella one.”

“Does anyone have statistics on the average employment discrimination award in NYC? Include not just the cases that won millions, but also the cases we never hear about.”

“$15 million? Sheesh. I’d take it up the butt for $15 million, much less tolerate a few comments about bending over.”

We realize that what we’re about to do is completely unscientific and unreliable. We don’t know all the facts of the case. Nor do we have any data concerning the average size of employment discrimination awards in New York City (as one of you expressed an interest in seeing). So we don’t have any solid basis for comparisons.
But please, humor us; we’re curious. For what it’s worth — and we admit it may not be worth much — please take our latest poll:

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell

cocaine crack drugs.jpgWhen we write about pro se litigants, it’s usually because they have done something ridiculous. But some folks who represent themselves — and we’re not just talking about Aaron Charney — can be reasonably effective as advocates.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

In March 2004, police arrested Muhammad Dye on Central Avenue. They found him carrying an electric scale, two cellular phones, five empty sandwich bags with cocaine residue and $1,063 in cash.

Dye was charged with drug possession and possession of criminal tools, but after a weeklong trial in November 2005, a jury cleared him of the charges. Dye even argued successfully that all the items seized should be returned to him, right down to the sandwich bags.

This guy sounds AWESOME. Here’s more from the article:

Common Pleas Judge Lillian Greene declined to discuss the case because Dye has three more cases pending before her. Courtroom observers, though, said Dye is surprisingly charming. While he sometimes mangles his words, he gets his point across to the jury.

Considering that Dye prevailed in getting his cocaine-dusted Ziplocs returned to him, he’s got to be good.
Update: From someone who has witnessed Muhammad Dye in action:

He’s not great, I’ll be honest, but he’s not bad. His cross of a codefendant who flipped was decent — he got his point across. Having clerked in a federal district court, I’ve seen lots worse from retained defense attorneys.

Accused drug kingpin defending himself [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

H Rodgin Cohen Chairman Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett Charney Sullivan Cromwell Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law ATL legal tabloid legal blog.JPGLots of great reader comments concerning Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell. It’s getting hard to keep track of them.
If we get the chance, we may put together a “Best of” or “Top 10″ list for comments (as one of you suggested). This comment thread, appended to yesterday’s post about Aaron Charney’s interview on Canadian television, is especially interesting.
If you’re having a slow Friday, and if you haven’t already done so, we urge you to read the entire Complaint (PDF). We have no background in this area of law, so we won’t opine on the merits of Charney’s case. But his complaint seems fairly well-written, at least by pro se standards, and it’s full of fun gossip about S&C.
As a legal matter, as well as a matter of professional development — i.e., not burning every last one of your bridges, including those to your mentors and allies — it may have been unwise for Charney to lard his complaint with so much (arguably gratuitous) scuttlebutt. But as connoisseurs of Biglaw gossip, we’re grateful to him for dishing all that dirt about S&C.
For now, we’d like to share with you this amusing message from a reader, about specific allegations from the Charney Complaint:

Not being included in the Mentor Program. That HAD to be the breaking point. See paragraphs 60-61 (“Pagnani’s Mentor List did not include Plaintiff”).

Oh the horror. If there is one bright ray of sunshine in a young associate’s life, it’s the opportunity to take summers out for a $200 lunch once a week. How can any third year get out of bed knowing that they’ll be eating an $6 sandwich from Au Bon Pain, while everyone else is out at a mentor-mentee lunch?

At first we thought this message was facetious. But now we’re not so sure. If being forced to dine at ABP while your colleagues go to Nobu isn’t actionable, we don’t know what is.
P.S. Yes, we know: Chief Justice John Roberts eats at Au Bon Pain (and also gets take-out from Cosi). But he makes less than a fourth-year associate — and can’t stop bitching about it.
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)

David Braff David H Braff Sullivan Cromwell.jpgMove over, Fire Island. See ya later, Provincetown. Rehoboth Beach, you’re all washed up.
The gay destination of choice for summer 2007? This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s 125 Broad Street, New York, New York — home of the estimable law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell (plus the ACLU’s LGBT Rights Project).
From Aaron Charney, the plaintiff in Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell:

I am informed by numerous sources that David Braff (at right), on behalf of certain gay S&C partners, circulated a memorandum stating that such partners are pleased with the work environment at S&C.

Big Gay Al South Park Comedy Central.jpgWhat exactly makes Sullivan such a fabulous workplace for gays? Is it the subsidized gym? The proximity to S&C client Goldman Sachs, home to countless cute banker boys with seven-figure incomes? The complimentary cosmos served in the firm cafeteria?
If you have a copy of this memo, please send it our way, by email.
We’re looking forward to seeing it. But Charney seems less than impressed:

Braff’s memo directly misses the point. My complaint concerns the discrimination and retaliation perpetrated by S&C against me. S&C clearly has no defense against the allegations enumerated in my Complaint and instead seeks to muddy the waters by trying to divert people’s attention away from the issue at hand. S&C’s campaign of diversion is the latest example of S&C’s unwilling[ness] to enforce the firm office manual’s anti-discrimination policy and confirms why I was left with no choice but to pursue this legal matter.

Charney’s willingness to speak freely about the case — or to try it in the court of public opinion, as his critics claim — may explain why he seems to be winning the PR war, at least at the current time. In our reader poll, which is still ongoing, about two-thirds of respondents support him over S&C.
(But that is down somewhat from the 75 percent support that Charney enjoyed earlier in the afternoon. Could an anti-Aaron backlash be developing?)
Update: One of you has posted what appears to be the gay partners’ memo in the comments. Thanks!
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)

As the Times of London noted, reactions of Above the Law commenters to Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell have been all over the map, “var[ying] from encouragement to contempt.” Some of you have hailed Charney as a hero, while others have attacked him vociferously (using terms we won’t repeat here).
But commenters aren’t necessarily representative of the larger readership. So we’d like to obtain a more accurate sampling of public opinion about this high-profile lawsuit. (If you need to read up on the case first, click here to access our past coverage.)
Disclaimers: We are not social scientists. This poll is highly unscientific. The question is vague. Few of the facts about the case are known, and many are in dispute. Discovery has not yet commenced (and won’t start for a while).
But for what it’s worth, and based on what you currently know (or think you know), please take our reader poll:

P.S. Speaking of reader polls, please cast your vote for ATL’s December 2006 Couple of the Month, if you haven’t done so already. Thanks!
Sullivan & Cromwell hit with gay bias suit [Times (U.K.)]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)

H Rodgin Cohen Chairman Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett Charney Sullivan Cromwell Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law ATL legal tabloid legal blog.JPGIt will take a while for Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell to pick up speed as a legal case. New York Supreme Court isn’t exactly a rocket docket. When we were in private practice, we worked on a New York Supreme Court case with a 1973 index number. That’s before we were born.
But on the public relations front, battle has been joined. Yesterday Sullivan & Cromwell sent us this statement, via S&C partner Theodore O. Rogers, Jr., in which the firm “categorically denie[d] Mr. Charney’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation.”
We contacted Aaron Charney, by email, to seek his response to the statement. What he wrote to us, plus a statement of his current employment status at the firm, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: Charney’s Response to the S&C Statement”

H Rodgin Cohen Chairman Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett Charney Sullivan Cromwell Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law ATL legal tabloid legal blog.JPGThe lawsuit filed by an openly gay associate against his prestigious law firm, Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, has been picked up by the mainstream media — big-time.
We expect that, after this rash of articles, the MSM will move on from this story. Rest assured, dear reader, that ATL will not.
We intend to cover the crap out of this case. If you have any information whatsoever about Aaron Charney, Sullivan & Cromwell’s treatment of gay lawyers, or related subjects, please email us. No detail is too small to escape our interest. If you shared your apple juice with Aaron Charney in kindergarten, we want to hear about it.
Okay. We have carefully read this morning’s coverage of the lawsuit by the New York Times, the New York Law Journal, and the Times of London — so you don’t have to. We’ve located the highlights, the juiciest details, and the money quotes.
The most notable news, as reported in the NYT and the NYLJ, is that Charney has been barred from the Sullivan & Cromwell offices while an internal investigation is underway. Considering the weirdness and tension that would have resulted otherwise, both Charney and the S&C partners are probably happy about his absence.
Excerpts and links to the full articles, after the jump (i.e., click on the “Continue reading” link below).

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: Aaron Charney Has Left the Building”

Eric Krautheimer Eric M Krautheimer Aaron Charney Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett Charney.JPGHere’s a trio of links from around the blogosphere concerning everyone’s favorite lawsuit, Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell:
1. White Shoe Lawyers Probably Didn’t Like ‘Philadelphia’ Either [Gawker]
2. Associate Hits Major NYC Law Firm with Gay Discrimination Suit [Towleroad]
3. S&C Associate Files Complaint; S&C Chairman Fires Back [WSJ Law Blog]
And here’s an excerpt from the Charney complaint that was highlighted in the Gawker post, which we failed to mention earlier (but should have, ’cause it’s really good):
Eric M Krautheimer Aaron B Charney.jpg
ICK. But if you’re (masochistically) trying to picture this scene, we’ve helpfully provided photographs for you of Eric Krautheimer (inset left) and Aaron Charney (inset right). Enjoy.
Earlier: Prior coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)

Theodore Rogers Theodore O Rogers Jr Sullivan Cromwell.jpgAs you learn on your first day of law school, there are two sides to pretty much every case (or rather, every interesting case, or any case worth including in a casebook).
It seems that Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell is no exception. In response to our email request for comment, we were contacted by S&C partner Theodore O. Rogers, Jr., a prominent and highly respected labor and employment litigator (pictured at right).
Mr. Rogers forwarded us a copy of this email, from the legendary H. Rodgin Cohen, Chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell (and a god of the banking M&A bar):

H Rodgin Cohen Sullivan Cromwell.jpg—–Original Message—–
From: Cohen, H. Rodgin
Sent: Tuesday, January 16, 2007 2:56 PM
To: *AllUsers.WorldWide

Today an associate of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Aaron Charney, filed a complaint against the Firm, representing himself, alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation. Mr. Charney chose to post his Complaint on the web site before serving the Firm.

The Firm categorically denies Mr. Charney’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation. Mr. Charney first raised assertions of this sort in May 2006 through a lawyer, and his assertions were followed by a multi-million dollar demand. The Firm promptly investigated his assertions at that time, and rejected Mr. Charney’s money demand. Mr. Charney chose to remain associated with the Firm thereafter.

Sullivan & Cromwell is widely recognized as welcoming to all persons without regard to sexual orientation. We are proud of our record of hiring and advancement of individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation, as well as of our lawyers’ representation of organizations and individuals who protect the rights of individuals to be free from sexual orientation discrimination.

Rodgin Cohen

Shortly after we received Cohen’s email, we received this interesting message from a reader (who is not at S&C):

“I gotta say, I was suspicious of the pro se thing (and posting the complaint on his website) before your interview. He’s right that any competent employment counsel is going to try to quietly settle it. As a gay m&a attorney in nyc, I’m glad he is drawing attention to their behaviour, but if I were in his place I’d likely have retained counsel, settled for two years’ salary and moved on.”

“Do you think they will pay him more now to make him go away? On the one hand, they can’t terminate him now because it would be de facto retaliation but on the other hand it makes it more difficult for him to prove damages because he is still working there and continuing to get ‘big deals.’”

Earlier: Prior coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)

Aaron Brett Charney headshot.jpgAs we reported earlier today, Aaron Charney, an openly gay associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, is suing his firm for discrimination and retaliation. He filed his Complaint (PDF) in New York Supreme Court this morning. He alleges, among other things, that S&C partner Eric Krautheimer threw a document at his feet and told him to “bend over and pick it up — I’m sure you like that.”
Earlier this afternoon, we reached out to both Aaron Charney and a Sullivan & Cromwell spokesperson, by email. We haven’t heard back from S&C; but Charney did give us a call.
We interviewed Mr. Charney about his lawsuit against Sullivan & Cromwell, his continued employment at the firm, and related matters. He struck us as intelligent, earnest, fair-minded, and thoughtful. Also, he has a very nice speaking voice.
A summary of our interview with Aaron Charney appears after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: Our Interview with the Plaintiff”

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