Risk Update

Conflicts Accusations — “Hyperbolic” Argument Meet Effective Ethical Wall, Another Judge Called on Stock (Well, Bond) Ownership

Calif. Panel Won’t Disqualify Law Firm In Pipe Maker’s Fight” —

  • “A California appellate panel upheld on Tuesday a lower court’s refusal to disqualify Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP from representing Victaulic Co. in its multimillion dollar coverage fight with three AIG units, rejecting arguments that the firm’s attorneys obtained relevant confidential information on AIG while at a previous firm.”
  • “In a published opinion, a three-judge appellate panel said the AIG units couldn’t show how lower court Judge Jeffrey S. Brand abused his discretion in finding that Scott Greenspan and Arthur Aizley didn’t have any kind of ‘direct personal relationship’ or ‘substantial relationship’ with AIG’s claims-handling arm while the attorneys worked for Sedgwick LLP.”
  • “The panel slammed the insurers’ contention that while at Sedgwick, the two attorneys worked on coverage cases involving AIG that were nearly identical to the types of issues in the Victaulic case, calling it ‘some hyperbole.'”
  • “Judge Brand tossed the insurer’s motion, finding that despite Greenspan and Aizley’s work on previous matters involving AIG Claims, the AIG insurers couldn’t show that the attorneys obtained any information that was ‘material to the evaluation, prosecution, settlement or accomplishment of Pillsbury’s current representation of Victaulic in this case.'”
  • “The appellate panel agreed, saying there’s no evidence to show that Greenspan or Aizley had any direct relationships with AIG Claims personnel. Greenspan testified that during his time at Sedgwick, it was his supervising partner, Lawrence Klein, who logged most of the face time with AIG Claims, the panel noted. As an associate, Aizley had effectively no interaction with AIG, the panel added.”
  • “Also fatal to the insurers’ argument is that while Greenspan and Aizley worked on matters for AIG claims, there’s no evidence to show that the attorneys worked with any of the three AIG insurance units involved in the Victaulic litigation.”
  • “The panel further noted that Pillsbury put into place stringent ‘wall-off’ procedures that prevented Greenspan and Aizley from having any involvement in the Victaulic case or even accessing records from it when they joined the firm in November 2020 and February 2021, respectively.”
  • “‘Defendants do not even attempt to explain why these screening procedures are insufficient, much less how Judge Brand abused his discretion in finding them sufficient,’ Judge Richman wrote.”

A Federal Judge Bought Apple And Microsoft Bonds While Overseeing A Case Against Them — Then Dismissed It” —

  • “A federal judge who dismissed a child-trafficking and forced labor lawsuit against big technology firms including Apple and Microsoft is arguing that his decision should not be vacated over claims that he had a conflict of interest in the case.”
  • “The judge, Carl J. Nichols, a longtime corporate lawyer who was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2019 by President Donald Trump, had bond holdings in Apple and Microsoft when he was assigned the case at the end of 2019. Then, in 2020, while the case was pending before him, he purchased more bonds in both companies, according to an appeal filed against his decision in last month.”
  • “A separate filing that includes Judge Nichols financial disclosure forms shows that in 2020 he purchased bonds in Apple seven times, and Microsoft five times, holdings valued between $60,000 and $200,000.”
  • “While Nichols declined to comment for this article, he stated in a recent legal filing in April that he had not violated Section 455 because his holdings in Apple and Microsoft were bonds, not stocks – as initially asserted by the plaintiffs – and therefore did not have to recuse himself from the proceeding.”
  • “Pointing to a prior legal opinion, he stated that a bond holding does not ‘convey an ownership interest in the issuer,’ so it does not ‘give rise to a financial interest in the debtor.’ Nichols further added that he no longer holds bonds in either Apple or Microsoft.”
  • “Judge Nichols’ actions are of ‘serious concern,’ says Charles Geyh, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, who studies judicial conduct, ethics and procedure. Not only because of the size of the holdings, Geyh says, but also because Nichols increased his holdings multiple times while the case was before him. ‘This is more than your garden variety situation,’ Geyh says. ‘It is so rare to see judges feathering their nests on purpose…normally you would have a judge recusal.'”