Risk Update

Curious (Aged) Conflicts Stories — Longest (5 Year) Lateral Move? Judicial Mentor Allegation Axed (30 Years Old)

Associate Finally Joins Abraham Watkins, 5 Years After His Move Was Blocked by a Client” —

  • “Trial lawyer Efrain Gonzalez Jr. has joined Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner as an associate in Houston, nearly five years after USA Gymnastics, a client of his former firm, blocked his move by refusing to waive a conflict of interest.”
  • “Gonzalez’s unusual career progression began in September 2018 when Abraham Watkins offered him a position as an associate, and the young lawyer put in his notice at MehaffeyWeber, where he had practiced for about a year and a half. However, USA Gymnastics refused to grant a waiver for Gonzalez, so he could not join the firm.”
  • “Gonzalez filed a petition in 2018 state district court in Harris County, seeking a declaratory judgment that there is ‘no actual or imputed’ conflict of interest based on his previous employment as an associate at MehaffyWeber and potential future employment at Abraham Watkins, which then represented individuals who sued USA Gymnastics.”
  • “Gonzalez sought a court order to restrain USA Gymnastics from impeding his ability to work at Abraham Watkins, including the filing of any motion to disqualify him or the firm in litigation against USA Gymnastics. He alleged in the petition that he attested in an affidavit that he never worked on USA Gymnastics matters.”
  • “However, less than two weeks later, on Dec. 5, 2018, USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors and all proceedings in Gonzalez’s litigation were stayed. That lawsuit was dismissed for want of prosecution in 2021. Meanwhile, in 2021, USA Gymnastics agreed to a global settlement in litigation filed on behalf of U.S. gymnasts who were abused by a former doctor. USA Gymnastics’ final plan of reorganization was approved by a federal bankruptcy judge in 2022.”
  • “Gonzalez said he joined Abraham Watkins, because the firm he formed in 2018 had become so busy that he had to hire more lawyers or move to another firm.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba makes, then backs off, ‘conflict’ allegation against E. Jean Carroll judge” —

  • “Former President Donald Trump’s attorney Alina Habba on Tuesday backed off of a conflict of interest claim against the judge who presided over the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial after Carroll’s lawyer threatened to pursue sanctions.”
  • “Habba on Monday filed a letter with the court citing a New York Post story that said U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan and Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan, who are not related, had worked at the major law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in the 1990s.”
  • “An unidentified former partner at the firm, which employs around 1,000 lawyers, told the Post that Lewis Kaplan had been ‘like her mentor.'”
  • “Habba told the New York Post that the situation was ‘insane and so incestuous.'”
  • “The article included a quote from Roberta Kaplan’s spokesman Zak Sawyer, who said while they’d worked at the same large law firm, they ‘overlapped for less than two years in the early 1990s.’ The now-judge ‘was a senior partner and she was a junior associate and she never worked for him,’ Sawyer said.”
  • “In her letter on Monday, Habba said, ‘If Your Honor truly worked with Ms. Kaplan in any capacity—especially if there was a mentor/mentee relationship—that fact should have been disclosed before any case involving these parties was permitted to proceed forward.’ She suggested he had violated the judicial code of conduct and that she might use the allegation as ammunition in a request for a new trial.”
  • “She noted she’d had ‘many clashes’ with the judge during the trial and another last year and said he’d been ‘overtly hostile towards defense counsel.’ Her letter suggested the ‘conflict’ might have something to do with his ‘rulings, tone, and demeanor.'”
  • “Roberta Kaplan responded in a letter of her own to the judge Tuesday, saying the ‘allegations are utterly baseless.'”
  • “Roberta Kaplan said the allegation was part of the Trump team’s scheme to discredit the judicial system and suggested that she might seek sanctions against Habba.”
  • “Habba responded with another letter a short time later, saying she hadn’t made any ‘false allegations.'”
  • “‘The purpose of the letter was simply to inquire as to whether there is any merit to a recently published New York Post story which reported on the alleged existence of such a relationship,’ she wrote. ‘Since Ms. Kaplan has now denied that there was ever a mentor-mentee relationship between herself and Your Honor, this issue has seemingly been resolved.'”