Risk Update

Conflicts News — Conflicts “Adversity” Adversity, Consulting Conflicts Clash Continues, Lawyer Special Master Conflicts Allegation

Hacker and His Victim Can Employ Same Lawyer, NJ Court Rules” —

  • “In a case testing the bounds of attorney conflicts of interest, a New Jersey court is allowing a lawyer to represent both a hacker who stole online social media account information and the victim he targeted.”
  • “The Thursday ruling pits the international World Mission Society, Church of God against a church attendee who alleges a plot in which the church sought to investigate dissenters. The lawsuit claims the hacker—a third party defendant—was coerced by the church into creating web message boards for criticizing the organization and then using posters’ log-in information to access their social media accounts and find out their identities.”
  • “The decision is a win for lawyers who seek joint-representation agreements, allowing them to coordinate between diverging, but not adverse, parties in litigation. The unanimous ruling took a narrow view of what could make these seemingly conflicting parties ‘directly adverse,’ which can bolster litigators’ arguments for wide latitude to represent multiple players in a broader dispute.”
  • “There’s ‘no ‘significant risk,’’ that the plaintiff or the hacker ‘will be ‘materially limited’’ by the attorney’s responsibility to the other, the court’s unauthored opinion said.”
  • “The church argued that if it’s found liable, it will turn around and blame the hacker, and this would make the attorney’s representation of the hacker and plaintiff at odds. The church used the example of a car crash—an attorney can’t represent both an injured passenger plaintiff and the driver of the car she was injured in unless the driver isn’t at fault for the damage.”
  • “The court rejected this reasoning: ‘If plaintiff prevails against defendants on liability, it does not automatically follow’ that the hacker ‘will be held liable by a finder of fact if defendants pursue the third-party complaint against him to completion.'”

McKinsey Must Face Bankruptcy Racketeering Lawsuit” —

  • “McKinsey and several of its executives must face a critic’s lawsuit alleging the consulting firm concealed conflicts of interest from bankruptcy courts to win business advising on major corporate restructurings.”
  • “Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. District Court in New York declined on Monday to dismiss the bulk of claims filed against McKinsey by the founder of a competing firm accusing it of submitting false disclosures to bankruptcy courts that omitted potentially disqualifying financial conflicts.”
  • “The judge’s ruling allows Jay Alix, the retired founder of turnaround consulting firm AlixPartners, to advance his claims that McKinsey’s disclosures were part of a racketeering conspiracy to boost its restructuring advisory practice at the expense of competing firms.”
  • “Judge Furman granted McKinsey’s motion to dismiss one of the four racketeering counts Alix alleged, while finding the other three were plausible enough to proceed against the firm. It has denied the allegations and said Alix wants to use the lawsuit to drive McKinsey out of the lucrative marketplace for restructuring advice.”
  • “The firm has also faced years of private lawsuits by Alix and government probes into its restructuring group’s practices, including whether it failed to disclose potential conflicts and guard against insider trading involving clients.”
  • “McKinsey paid $18 million in 2021 to resolve a government probe into its policies meant to prevent insider trading, and $15 million in 2019 to settle a separate investigation into the firm’s conflict-of-interest disclosures in bankruptcy court, in each case without admitting wrongdoing. Private litigation has dragged on with Alix, who has brought claims in several courts that the firm profited by misrepresenting its conflicts of interest, which it denied.”
  • “The lawyers, bankers and consultants who steer major chapter 11 cases must file declarations in bankruptcy court disclosing any connections to the business, its creditors and any other interested parties when they seek court approval to be retained. Restructuring advisers are required to be disinterested and to disclose connections they have to parties in a chapter 11 case that could give rise to a conflict of interest.”
  • “Alix alleged in his lawsuit that as McKinsey sought retentions in 14 bankruptcy cases, it concealed connections that could have disqualified it from the assignment. He claimed that if bankruptcy courts had been aware of McKinsey’s connections, they wouldn’t have approved the firm to serve as a restructuring consultant. McKinsey obtained business that would have otherwise gone to competing firms including AlixPartners, he argued.”
  • “Judge Furman said that Alix’s allegations are ‘particularly strong’ with respect to several bankruptcy cases. He noted that in the bankruptcy of metallurgical coal company Alpha Natural Resources, McKinsey allegedly concealed that it also served U.S. Steel, one of Alpha’s major customers. In energy company GenOn’s bankruptcy case, McKinsey allegedly concealed that it also served GenOn’s parent NRG, with whom the company had an adverse interest, the judge wrote.”

Plaintiffs in Roundup lawsuit seek to disqualify high-profile St. Louis attorney” —

  • “Plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking to disqualify attorney Bob Blitz as a special master in a Roundup lawsuit, arguing that his close legal and business relationship with attorney James Bennett presents an ‘appearance of impropriety.'”
  • “In a motion filed Aug. 17, attorney Joe Jacobson, a shareholder in Jacobson Press PC, wrote that attorneys representing 90 plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Monsanto learned Aug. 9 that Bennett will be the company’s lead trial counsel in the case. The plaintiffs’ attorneys brought in Jacobson to file the motion to disqualify.”
  • “Special masters are routinely assigned to handle technical, scientific and medical issues in a case and can handle pre-trial motions. They also can rule on matters during a trial, but the judge has the final say.”
  • “Jacobson wrote in the motion that Blitz and Bennett are co-counsel representing the city of St. Charles and St. Charles County in a lawsuit against Ameren Missouri. That lawsuit, pending in federal court in St. Louis, seeks millions of dollars in damages from the utility company over well-field contamination.”
  • “Bennett represented Blitz personally and his law firm, Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch LC when they were sued in 2015 by a group of clients, Jacobson wrote. While the claims against Blitz individually were settled, Bennett continued to represent Blitz’s law firm on appeal until at least March 2020, according to Jacobson.”
  • “Jacobson also cited Blitz and Bennett’s roles in representing the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority in the 2017 lawsuit filed against the National Football League and the Los Angeles Rams.”
  • “Jacobson wrote that the relationship between Blitz and Bennett creates a ‘conflict of interest such that Blitz is not qualified to serve as special master in any case in which Bennett is trial counsel.’ The Missouri Code of Judicial Conduct applies to special masters to the same extent as judges and they must avoid ‘even the appearance of impropriety,’ he wrote.”