A FOOL FOR A CLIENT

Abraham Lincoln often gets credit for the line, but in 1814 clergyman Henry Kett’s collection of proverbs in The Flowers of Wit included, “I hesitate not to pronounce that every man who is his own lawyer has a fool for client.”

More than two centuries later, it’s still true. But don’t tell Stephen DiCarmine, former executive director of the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf. He doesn’t believe it. Recently, he appeared before Acting Justice Robert Stolz and explained that he wants to fire his attorney and represent himself.

Last year, three weeks of deliberation following a three-month trial produced a defense verdict on some counts and a deadlocked jury on the remaining charges against DiCarmine, former firm chairman Steven Davis, and former chief financial officer Joel Sanders. Davis then entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and Justice Stolz dismissed additional counts. Retrial on the remaining charges against DiCarmine and Sanders is set for September.

Judicial Skepticism

“The consequences are very severe in this case,” Justice Stolz told DiCarmine. “You could go to state prison if convicted.”

DiCarmine thinks he knows better. A graduate of California Western School of Law in 1983, he told the judge that he had discussed the issue with several lawyer friends. Their reactions: “Bad idea.”

But DiCarmine heard what he wanted to hear. At least, that’s what he told the judge: “They said if anyone can do it, you can do it.”

The truth is that when incarceration is a potential outcome, no one can do it. And no one should try. Gideon v. Wainwright’s guarantee of a right to counsel in criminal cases exists for a reason. And it doesn’t matter if the defendant is a lawyer.

Justice Stolz warned DiCarmine that he might think he knows what the case is all about because he’s been through it once. “But I assure you,” he urged, “it will be a different jury. It will be a different presentation from the People.”

An Unfortunate Moment

DiCarmine’s current lawyer, Austin Campriello, did a masterful job at the first trial. For good reason, he’s among the most highly respected criminal defense lawyers in New York. Campriello told the court that although his client’s finances were a factor, the motivating reason for DiCarmine’s request related to defense strategy.

DiCarmine then offered an unfortunate comment that unfairly tarred other big firms.

“I’ve run a law firm,” DiCarmine said. “When the client is not paying the bill, the services that are being rendered are not necessarily the same as if he were being paid.”

Nonsense. He displayed a remarkable ignorance of what the lawyers in his firm were actually doing while he was “running” it. Directly, he insulted all former Dewey & LeBoeuf attorneys who worked on pro bono matters. Indirectly, he put a cloud over the noble efforts of big firm lawyers who provide millions of dollars in free legal services to clients every year. Implicit in his remarks are widespread violations of ethical rules to advocate on behalf of all clients with the same seal. Those rules apply to all lawyers.

Natural Consequences

Justice Stolz properly put DiCarmine in his place, saying that Campriello would work to the best of his professional capacity, regardless of DiCarmine’s financial situation. He also told DiCarmine to think long and hard about his pro se request before the next hearing on May 27.

DiCarmine seeks to jettison a great lawyer for someone who, apparently, has been in a courtroom only as a witness or a defendant — that is, himself. It reminds me of the joke that one of my mentors told about the importance of using experienced trial lawyers in important cases.

“A patient goes to a doctor with a serious medical condition for which there is an elaborate surgical cure,” the joke begins. “The doctor describes in great detail how the procedure will go — start to finish. The patient is impressed, but has one more question: ‘How many of these operations have you performed?’ the patient asks. ‘Oh, none,’ says the doctor, ‘But I’ve watch a lot of them.'”

Revise the scenario slightly so that the doctor has observed the procedure only once — and is going to perform it on himself. Now you have a sense of DiCarmine’s plan.

DEWEY, THE D.A., AND SECRETS

“There aren’t too many secrets in this case,” said Judge Robert Stoltz on December 5. He was referring to the Dewey & LeBoeuf trial over which he presided. The multi-year effort to convict Steven Davis, Stephen DiCarmine, and Joel Sanders produced a raft of acquittals on many charges and a hung jury on the more serious offenses.

Actually, there are two big secrets in the case, but no one is talking about them.

Secret #1: Why Zachary Warren?

Former Dewey chairman Steven H. Davis won’t face a retrial. Assistant DA Peirce Moser has offered him a deferred prosecution agreement. As reported, he will not have to admit guilt and can continue practicing law. When my kids were young, they would have called this a “do-over.”

Judge Stoltz’s reference to secrets was in response to Moser’s suggestion that the retrial of executive director DiCarmine and finance director Sanders should precede the first trial of former low-level staffer Zachary Warren. The longer Warren dangled in a world of uncertainty, the more leverage it would give Moser in his relentless pursuit of someone who never should have been indicted in the first place. Appropriately, the judge denied Moser’s request.

That leads to secret number one: Why is the Manhattan DA’s office squandering its scarce resources to pursue Zachary Warren at all?

I’ve written extensively about Warren’s plight. At age 24, he worked at Dewey & LeBoeuf for about a year from mid-2008 to mid-2009 as a client relations specialist. His principal job was to pester Dewey & LeBoeuf partners into making sure clients paid their bills.

Apparently, his mistake of a lifetime came on December 30, 2008. That’s when he accepted an invitation to join 29-year-old finance director Frank Canellas and 53-year-old chief financial officer Sanders for dinner at Del Frisco’s steakhouse. There he allegedly witnessed the creation of what the DA’s office called a master plan of accounting fraud. As his price for that free dinner, Warren would get indicted five years later.

When Zachary Warren left Dewey & LeBoeuf in June 2009, did anyone in the world think that the firm was unlikely to repay its bills, much less collapse — ever? No.

In 2010, was Warren even at the firm as others worked on the bond offering at the center of the DA’s case? No, he was a one-L at Georgetown.

Even if obtained, would a conviction of Warren result in anything positive for anyone inside or outside our justice system? No.

Warren’s indictment was a travesty. The jury’s rejection of the DA’s case against his superiors is reason alone to drop the effort to prosecute him.

Unsatisfying Answers

So why is Moser so determined to try Zach Warren? One possibility is that the same phenomena contributing to Dewey & LeBoeuf’s downfall infects the DA’s office: hubris, ego, lack of accountability for mistakes, and an unwillingness to admit errors that would prompt thoughtful individuals to change course. Maybe it’s a lawyer personality thing.

Another possibility is the public servant manifestation of greed: the DA wants to put a Dewey & Le Boeuf notch — any Dewey & LeBoeuf notch — on its convictions holster. After Cyrus Vance, Jr. personally announced the indictments in a circus-like press conference on March 6, 2014, Moser suffered unambiguous defeat. In fact, even the plea agreements that the DA’s office squeezed from former firm staffers who later testified at trial now look silly. Unfortunately, the resulting penalties aren’t silly for those who are stuck with them.

To put the DA’s pursuit of Zachary Warren in context consider this. According to published reports, assistant DA Peirce Moser has offered him a plea deal, too. But it is more onerous than the DA’s deferred prosecution agreement with Davis.

There is no just world in which that makes any sense.

Secret #2: Where is the Money?

Prosecutors told the jury that it would not see a “smoking gun.” That’s because the DA didn’t know how to look for or describe it. But the gun was there. It was pervasive, insidious, and hiding in plain sight. It was the environment that caused staffers to fear for their jobs if powerful partners weren’t happy. That meant making sure they received millions more than the firm had available to distribute, even if it came from bank credit lines and outside investors in the firm’s 2010 bond offering.

That leads to secret number two: Why didn’t the DA follow the money?

The public could have reasonably expected Vance to direct the power of his office toward the most egregious offenders and offenses. That didn’t happen. Sure, Davis had a major responsibility for the strategy that brought the firm down. But the executive committee consisted of top partners who were supposed to be fiduciaries in running the firm for the benefit of all partners and the institution. Likewise, as most of the firm’s so-called leaders walked away with millions — far more than Davis, DiCarimine, Sanders, or Warren received — bankruptcy creditors got between five and fifteen cents for every dollar the firm owed them.

In a November 2012 bankruptcy court filing, Davis himself teed up what should have been the central issue in any attempt to assign blame for the firm’s problems:

“While ‘greed’ is a theme…, the litigation that eventually ensues will address the question of whose greed.”

The DA’s office never pursued that question.

Just Rewards

Shortly after Vance’s March 2014 press conference, assistant district attorney Peirce Moser received a promotion. He became chief of the tax crimes unit. The DA’s office announced that Moser’s new position would not preclude him from continuing to run the Dewey & LeBoeuf case. Based on his prominence at the most recent court hearing, it’s still Moser’s case.

If no good deed goes unpunished, sometimes it seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded.

THE DEWEY TRIAL: FOUR EXAMPLES OF NOT-SO-FUNNY COMIC RELIEF

The ongoing criminal trial against three former leaders of Dewey & LeBoeuf has consumed six weeks. Time flies when you’re having fun. For example:

#1: Funny, If It Weren’t So Sad

For a bunch of smart people, some senior partners did some dumb things. One of the prosecution’s first witnesses was a former member of Dewey’s executive committee who retired at the end of 2010. She had contributed more than $600,000 in capital to the firm and, upon retirement, expected to get it back. Although the partnership agreement permitted the firm to spread the payments to her over three annual installments, she testified that chairman Steve Davis had discretion to accelerate them.

Davis declined her request to do so. Instead, he encouraged her to get a bank loan from Barclays for the full amount and told her that over the subsequent three years the firm would repay the loan for her. She followed his recommendation and borrowed the money.

The firm failed to repay the Barclays loan. She remained on the hook and paid the full amount herself. Adding insult to injury, she lost again when the firm filed for bankruptcy and her $175,000 annual pension disappeared.

#2: Funny, If You Were Not a Fellow Partner

For a bunch of high-powered former Dewey partners who rose to the very top of the firm, titles typically associated with power didn’t mean leadership. Likewise, becoming a member of the firm’s governing structure apparently didn’t result in any duties or responsibilities that involved actual knowledge of the firm’s finances or operations.

For example, during the fifth week of trial, Ralph Ferrara testified that even though he had no equity stake in the firm, he held an impressive title — vice chairman — and had an agreement whereby the firm paid him a salary around $5 million a year. He told the jury that former chairman Steven Davis’ announcement that Ferrara would assume the vice-chairmanship became an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

“I’m embarrassed to say, my ego overcame my good judgment,” Ferrara, a former general counsel of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said on the witness stand.

That line could describe leaders of big law firms everywhere. But it’s a flimsy excuse for abdicating responsibilities that come with power. So is another of Ferrara’s quoted lines: “I’m a practicing lawyer. I’m not a law firm administrator.”

Dewey’s other vice-chairman was Mort Pierce. As the firm was failing and Pierce was jumping ship in 2012, he similarly disclaimed any leadership responsibilities associated with his title and position.

#3: Funny, For a Lawyer

For a bunch of lawyers who make a lot of money advising clients not to write stupid stuff, some of them sure wrote stupid stuff. As the trial plodded through its fifth week, the jury saw these colorful messages from former Dewey partner Alexander Dye:

“Fellas: Time to start spending Momma LeBoeuf’s money like its water.”

“Steve DiCarmine, if you are reading this, I’ll have your f-cking head on a stick.”

During week six, one former executive committee member, Richard Shutran, testified about his internal firm emails, including these nuggets:

“I spend most days bulls–ing people…”

“Do what I do. Work out a lot and do drugs…”

“If he calls me, I’ll kill him…”

A defense attorney for Dewey’s former chief financial officer Joel Sanders had Shutran explain that these were all jokes. Apparently, the strategy is to convince the jury that Shutran’s email jests were part of a culture producing defendants’ supposed email “jokes” about finding “a clueless auditor” and using “fake income” in crafting the firm’s financial statements. Good luck with that one.

#4: Funny, If You’re Not A Juror

At the end of week six, jurors listened as the presiding trial judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Stoltz, interrupted Stephen DiCarmine’s defense counsel in mid-question. He wanted counsel to explain a term he was using in cross-examining Dewey’s former budget and planning director:

“What does the phrase ‘unreconciled expense write-off’ mean?”

Riveting.

Only three more months to go.

THE DEWEY TRIAL: TRUTH, JUSTICE, OR NEITHER?

[NOTE: My recent post, “Cravath Gets It Right, Again,” was a BigLaw Pick of the Week.]

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“Not all the evidence that you hear and see will be riveting,” said Steve Pilnyak last Tuesday as he opened the prosecution’s case against three former leaders of the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf. The judge warned jurors that they will probably be there past Labor Day. The antagonists will present dueling views of what the New York Times called “arcane accounting treatments and year-end adjustments” three years before Dewey’s collapse. As you read between the yawns, watch to see if the trial leaves the most important questions about the final days of a storied firm unanswered.

Victims?

The prosecution’s case requires victims. It settled on insurance companies who bought the firm’s bonds in 2010 and big banks that lent the firm money for years. We’ll see how that plays, but it’s difficult to imagine aggrieved parties that would generate less juror sympathy than insurers and Wall Street bankers. Then again, rich lawyers aren’t exactly the most desirable defendants, either.

The prosecution’s cooperating witnesses will take the stand to explain what it calls a “Master Plan” of accounting adjustments that are the centerpiece of the case. The battle of experts over those adjustments is more likely to induce sleep than courtroom fireworks.

Villains?

If you think former firm chairman Steven Davis and his two co-defendants, Stephen DiCarmine and Joel Sanders, are the only villains in this saga, you’re allowing the trees to obscure a view of the forest. In that respect, the trial will fail at its most fundamental level if it doesn’t address a central question in the search for justice among Dewey’s ruins: Who actually received — and kept — the hundreds of millions of dollars that entered the firm’s coffers as a result of the allegedly fraudulent bond offering and bank loans?

As the firm collapsed in early 2012, it drew down tens of millions of dollars from bank credit lines while simultaneously distributing millions to Dewey partners. As I’ve reported previously, during the five months from January to May 2012 alone, a mere 25 Dewey partners received a combined $21 million. Are they all defendants in the Manhattan District Attorney’s criminal case? Nope. Will we learn the identity of those 25 partners, as well was the others who received all of that borrowed money? I hope so.

Shortly after those 2012 distributions, Wall Street Journal reporters asked former Dewey partner Martin Bienenstock whether the firm used those bank loans to fund partner distributions. Bienenstock replied, “Look, money is fungible.”

It sounds like his answer to the question was yes.

Unwitting Accomplices?

With respect to the proceeds from Dewey’s $150 million bond offering, the picture is murkier, thanks to protective cover from the bankruptcy court. When Judge Martin Glenn approved a Partner Contribution Plan, he capped each participating partner’s potential financial obligation to Dewey’s creditors at a level so low that unsecured creditors had a likely a recovery of only 15 cents for every dollar the firm owed them. That was a pretty good deal for Dewey’s partners.

But here’s the more important point. As it approved that deal, the court did not require the firm to reveal who among Dewey’s partners received the $150 million bond money. In calculating each partner’s required contribution to the PCP, only distributions after January 1, 2011 counted. The PCP excluded consideration of any amounts that partners received in 2010, including the bond money. That meant they could keep all of it.

In light of the bankruptcy code‘s two-year “look back” period, that seemed to be a peculiar outcome. Under the “look back” rule, a debtor’s asset transfers to others within two years of its bankruptcy filing are subject to special scrutiny that is supposed to protect against fraudulent transfers.

Dewey filed for bankruptcy on May 28, 2012. The “look back” period would have extended all the way to May 28, 2010 — thereby including distributions of the bond proceeds to partners. Which partners received that money and how much did they get? We don’t know.

Connecting Dots

As the firm’s death spiral became apparent, a four-man office of the chairman — one of whom was Bienenstock — took the leadership reins from Steven Davis in March 2012. A month later, it fired him. In an October 12, 2012 Wall Street Journal interview, Bienenstock described himself as part of a team that, even before the firm filed for bankruptcy, came up with the idea that became the PCP. He called it an “insurance policy” for partners.

Taking Bienenstock’s “money is fungible” and “insurance policy” comments together leads to an intriguing hypothetical. Suppose that a major management objective during the firm’s final months was to protect distributions that top partners had received from the 2010 bond offering. Suppose further that in early 2012 some of those partners also received distributions that the firm’s bank loans made possible. Finally, suppose that those partners used their bank loan-funded distributions to make their contributions to the PCP — the “insurance policy” that absolved them of Dewey’s obligations to creditors.

When the complete story of Dewey gets told, the end game could be its climax. It could reveal that a relatively few partners at the top of the firm won; far more partners, associates, staff, and creditors lost.

Or maybe I’m wrong and the only villains in this sad saga are the three defendants currently on trial. But I don’t think so.

THE BINGHAM CASE STUDY — PART I

“For the first time since I’ve been in this job, we have all the pieces we need to do our job.”

That was former Bingham McCutchen chairman Jay Zimmerman’s penultimate line in the September 2011 Harvard Law School Case Study of his firm.

Oops.

Harvard Law School Professor Ashish Nanda and a research fellow developed the study for classroom use. According to the abstract, it’s a textbook example of successful management. It demonstrates how a firm could evolve “from a ‘middle-of-the-downtown pack’ Boston law firm in the early 1990s to a preeminent international law firm by 2010.”

Oops, again.

Familiar Plaudits

At the time of Nanda’s study, the profession had already witnessed a string of recent big firm failures. He should have taken a closer look at them. In fact, only seven months before publication of the Harvard Study, Howrey LLP was in the highly publicized death throes of what was a preview Bingham’s unfortunate fate.

Bingham’s Zimmerman and Howrey’s last chairman, Robert Ruyak, had several things in common, including accolades for their leadership. Just as Nanda highlighted Zimmerman’s tenure in his study, two years before Howrey’s collapse, Legal Times honored Ruyak as one of the profession’s Visionaries. Along similar lines, less than a month after publication of the Harvard study, Dewey & LeBeouf’s unraveling began as partners learned in October 2011 that the firm was not meeting its revenue projections for the year. But Dewey chairman Steven Davis continued to receive leadership awards.

Perhaps such public acclaim for a senior partner is the big firm equivalent of the Sports Illustrated curse. Being on the cover of that magazine seems to assure disaster down the road. (According to one analyst, the SI curse isn’t the worst in sports history. That distinction belongs to the Chicago Cubs and the Billy Goat hex. But hey, anyone can have a bad century.)

Underlying Behavior

The Lawyer Bubble investigates Howrey, Dewey, and other recent failures of large law firms. The purpose is not to identify what distinguishes them from each other, but to expose common themes that contributed to their demise. With the next printing of the book, I’m going to add an afterword that includes Bingham.

If Nanda had considered those larger themes, he might have viewed Bingham’s evolution much differently from the conclusions set forth in his study. He certainly would have backed away from what he thought was the key development proving Bingham’s success, namely, aggressive growth through law firm mergers and lateral hiring. He might even have considered that such a strategy could contribute to Bingham’s subsequent failure — which it did.

To find those recent precedents, he need not have looked very far. Similar trends undermined Howrey, Dewey, and others dating back to Finley Kumble in 1988. As a profession, we don’t seem to learn much from our mistakes.

The MBA Mentality Strikes Again

What caused Professor Nanda to line up with those who had missed the fault lines that had undone similar firms embracing the “bigger is always better” approach? One answer could be that he’s not a lawyer.

Nanda has a Ph.D in economics from Harvard Business School, where he taught for 13 years before becoming a professor of practice, faculty director of executive education, and research director at the program on the legal profession at Harvard Law School. Before getting his doctorate, he spent five years at the Tata group of companies as an administrative services officer. He co-authored a case book on “Professional Services” and advises law firms and corporate inside counsel.

It’s obvious that Nanda is intelligent. But it seems equally clear that his business orientation focused him on the enticing short-term metrics that have become ubiquitous measures of success. They can also be traps for the unwary.

In Part II of this series, I’ll review some of those traps. Nanda fell into them. As a consequence, he missed clues that should have led him to pause before joining the Bingham cheerleading squad.

Meanwhile, through December 6, Amazon is offering a special deal on my novel, The Partnership: It’s FREE as an ebook download. I’m currently negotiating a sale of the film rights to the book.

DEWEY & LEBOEUF: CONNECTING MORE DOTS

[NOTE: August 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm EDT is the deadline for nominations to the ABA’s annual list of the “100 best websites by lawyers, for lawyers.” To nominate The Belly of the Beast, please click here.]

Two years ago, Dewey & LeBeouf filed for bankruptcy. Intriguing aspects of the firm’s unraveling are still emerging.

Recently, three of the firm’s former leaders, chairman Steven Davis, executive director Stephen DiCarmine, and chief financial officer Joel Sanders, filed an omnibus motion to dismiss the criminal charges against them. Such filings are not unusual. But their joint memorandum in support, along with DiCarmine’s separate supplemental brief, contain fascinating insights into the firm’s collapse. As the dots get added, it’s becoming easier to connect some of them.

Beyond the Scapegoats

Back in November 2012, former Dewey chairman Steven Davis hinted at the flaws in any narrative suggesting that he alone took the firm down. His filing in the Dewey bankruptcy proceeding promised another perspective:

“While ‘greed’ is a theme…, the litigation that eventually ensues will address the question of whose greed.” (Docket #654; emphasis in original)

The three co-defendants’ joint memorandum returns to that theme. It argues that the firm’s distress resulted from, among other things, “the voracious greed of some of the firm’s partners.” DiCarmine’s supplemental brief describes the greed of some former partners as “insatiable.”

The 2010 Bond Offering and 2012 Partner Contribution Plan

Some former Dewey partners might find the defendants’ recent filings uncomfortable. For example, much of the government’s case turns on the firm’s 2010 bond offering that brought in $150 million from outside investors. DiCarmine’s supplemental brief asks why, except for Davis, “the Executive Committee members who approved and authorized it have not been charged with any wrongdoing.”

Later, as the firm collapsed during the first five months of 2012, it drew down millions from bank credit lines while simultaneously distributing millions to Dewey partners. As I’ve reported previously, from January to May 2012, 25 Dewey partners received a combined $21 million.

The joint memorandum suggests that “if the grand jury presentation was fair and thorough, it demonstrates that drawdowns the firm made in 2012, prior to filing for bankruptcy, were made at the direction of several partners on the firm’s Operations Committee, and against the advice of Mr. Sanders, and despite the concerns of Mr. Davis and objections raised by Mr. DiCarmine.”

Shortly after those 2012 distributions occurred, Wall Street Journal reporters asked former Dewey partner Martin Bienenstock whether the firm used those bank credit lines to fund partner distributions. Bienenstock replied, “Look, money is fungible.”

He’s right. But that raises another question: Did some partners then use those eleventh-hour distributions of fungible dollars for their subsequent payments to the bankruptcy court-approved Partner Contribution Plan? The answer matters because the PCP capped each participating partner’s potential financial obligation to the Dewey estate. Unsecured creditors will recover an estimated 15 cents for every dollar the firm owed them.

There’s another twist. Dewey made its way through the bankruptcy proceeding without disclosing how partners shared those 2010 bond proceeds. In calculating each partner’s required contribution to the PCP, only partner distributions after January 1, 2011 counted. The PCP excluded consideration of any amounts that partners received in 2010.

Remember Zachary Warren?

The joint memorandum also counters the Manhattan District Attorney’s characterization of the accounting issues in the case as open and shut: “lf the grand jury had been properly instructed on these [accounting] standards, it would have concluded that the accounting methods were permissible,….”

Which takes us back to the curious case against Zachary Warren, a subject of several earlier posts. The charges against the former low-level Dewey staffer are predicated on an underlying violation of those accounting standards, too.

Warren has sought to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants, Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders. Warren argues that plea agreements from witnesses who are cooperating with the government, notably Frank Canellas, demonstrate how thin the case against him is.

The Manhattan District Attorney responds that statements in the plea agreements are just the beginning: “[T]he purpose of the allocutions was to set forth facts implicating the witnesses in the crimes they committed; any part of them that inculpates the defendant is merely incidental.” (District Attorney’s letter to Hon. Robert Stolz, July 3, 2014) (App. I of Defendants Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders Omnibus Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss))

Really? Some career prosecutors might find it surprising to learn that when they get a defendant to “flip” and provide statements fingering a different target, the flipper’s statements are “merely incidental” insofar as they inculpate that target.

But the best line in the District Attorney’s surreply tries to connect Warren’s alleged December 2008 activities to Dewey’s collapse more than three years later: “[H]e was there to light the spark that fueled the scheme until its implosion in 2012.” (p. 6)

At least with respect to Zachary Warren, methinks the government doth protest too much. Meanwhile, his co-defendants are focusing on questions that cry out for answers.

 

 

A DEWEY “FOOT SOLDIER”?

Back in March, I wrote about Zachary Warren. In 2007, his first job out of college was client relations coordinator at Dewey & LeBoeuf. In July 2009, he left the firm to attend law school. Unfortunately, his brief tenure was sufficient, years later, for the Manhattan District Attorney to name him as one of four undifferentiated “Schemers” in a 106-count criminal indictment.

When he joined the firm, Warren was a generation younger than his fellow alleged “Schemers”: former chairman Steven Davis, former executive director Stephen DiCarmine, and former chief financial officer Joel Sanders. Understandably, Warren would prefer not to be tried with his co-defendants, so he has moved to sever his trial.

Timing is Everything

In its latest filing, the Manhattan District Attorney acknowledges that Warren “was not the mastermind of the Dewey fraud scheme.” However, the government’s objection to Warren’s motion adds, “[H]e certainly was a willing foot soldier.” We learn some other things from the filing, too.

For example, it turns out that Warren was the first “Schemer” to be indicted. In December 2013, the grand jury charged him alone with six counts of “Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.” But Warren first learned of the charges two months later, when a broader indictment named him along with Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders.

Presumably, the timing of Warren’s indictment related to the five-year statute of limitations governing the claims against him. The government relies heavily on a handful of December 2008 events to make the case.

December 2008

According to the District Attorney, on December 30, 2008, Warren had dinner with two of his superiors, Joel Sanders and then-Dewey finance director Frank Canellas. To satisfy its year-end bank loan covenants, Dewey needed another $50 million by the end of the following day. Allegedly, Sanders and Canellas had developed a contingency plan of potential financial adjustments that Warren helped to implement.

The District Attorney emphasizes Warren’s supposed sophistication regarding accounting issues. But that’s a far cry from proving his competence to challenge directives from superiors holding CPAs and MBAs. In fact, the propriety of whatever transpired on December 31, 2008 with respect to Dewey & LeBoeuf’s financial statements is likely to become the subject of battling expert accounting witnesses at trial. Dive into those weeds at your peril.

Motive?

As for the aftermath of the alleged New Year’s Eve scheme, the Manhattan District Attorney cites Warren’s “$115,000 in bonus compensation in 2009” as evidence of something sinister. The government claims that the amount exceeded bonuses paid to all but five other Dewey employees. At best, that argument is disingenuous.

Warren received his $75,000 bonus for 2008 in early 2009, as expected. When he left Dewey in July 2009, Sanders promised Warren a $40,000 bonus for his half-year of service, payable in the fall.

Three months later, Warren was at Georgetown Law and still waiting for his final bonus. He left messages for Sanders, who eventually wrote, “If you’re wondering about your bonus, I have you down to receive $40k right after our year end close.”

Warren replied, “I didn’t take out any student loans this semester because I was anticipating the bonus to be paid in the fall as we discussed before I left.” (For unknown reasons, the District Attorney’s brief italicizes for emphasis the last phrase — “as we discussed before I left.”) When Warren still hadn’t received the bonus In November, he tried again and, shortly thereafter, the firm sent him $20,000 — almost the entire net amount. He received the final installment of $1,400 in April 2010.

For the District Attorney, Warren’s requests of his former employer are proof of his ongoing involvement in the original scheme: “In September 2009, he began chasing down the additional bonus that defendant Sanders had promised him.”

Seriously?

 The Continuing Mystery

A fundamental question still begs for an answer: How does whatever happened in the presence of Zach Warren during December 2008 relate to the demise of a storied law firm in May 2012?

So far, it doesn’t. Unless the prosecution develops that connection, something will remain terribly wrong with this picture — and with the effort to put Zachary Warren in prison.