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Lawyers Acting Badly

I realize that I'm a softie when it comes to ethics, but this article, Lawyers Pay Price in DuPont Fee Case, describes a well-deserved suspension and disbarment handed to two Florida plaintiffs attorneys. According to the article, the two attorneys, Roland St. Louis Jr. and Francisco Rodriguez, represented 20 clients suing DuPont for damages arising out of their exposure to a harmful pesticide. The plaintiffs lawyers obtained a ruling for sanctions for discovery abuse; the court was ready to strike DuPont's pleadings and encouraged the company to settle the case. Sounds like a huge win, but read on ...

Instead of leveraging the court's rulings to maximize a settlement award for their clients advantage, the plaintiffs lawyers chose to use it for the own personal benefit. The plaintiffs lawyers settled the case for $59 million, which sounds reasonable enough on the surface. But they also agreed to get the trial judge's order vacated and keep the settlement confidential. And at the same time, the lawyers accepted a secret side deal, where the firm would receive over $6 million from DuPont to refrain from further litigation involving Benlate (the pesticide at issue) and to serve as counsel or consultants for the company in future cases. 

Now, if the lawyers had disclosed the side deal to their clients and the clients agreed to the arrangement (which seems unlikely), I'd have a different view. Moreover, the fact that these lawyers concealed the $6 million payoff shows that they recognized that it was shady -- yet they pursued it anyway. And in doing so, they subordinated their clients' interests to their own for pecuniary gain. 

Though these lawyers deserved their penalty, the case is sad nonetheless: that two lawyers who had the talent and drive to bring DuPont to its knees didn't have the restraint or discipline to stop themselves from the crossing an ethical line.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 17, 2007 at 03:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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