Risk Update

Law Firm Risk Roundup — Lawyer Insider Trading, Political and Reputation Risk, Judicial Disqualification Denied

Ex-Boyfriend Of Biglaw Associate Arrested For Insider Trading… Wonder Where He Allegedly Got All That Nonpublic Info?” —

  • “Seth Markin, a former FBI trainee, and his friend Brandon Wong were arrested on insider trading charges (there’s also a parallel civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission)…”
  • “According to the indictment, the pair made ~$1.4 million by improperly trading on nonpublic information, specifically that Pandion was set to be acquired by pharmaceutical company Merck.”
    How’d they come across this insider information? The indictment indicated Markin was dating a Biglaw associate staffed on the M&A deal, and he ‘abused his relationship of trust and confidence’ to gain access to the information.”
  • “The law firm associate girlfriend was working from home as she worked on the Merck deal, trusting that Markin would ‘maintain her confidences and keep information she shared with him confidential,’ according to the indictment.”
  • “The associate took confidential work calls from her apartment, sometimes on speakerphone, and kept work documents such as binders, notes, and legal pads ‘out in the open in her apartment,’ where Markin sometimes stayed for days at a time, the DOJ said.”
  • “‘Because she trusted Seth Markin … she left him alone in her apartment and gave him a key fob to access her building,” the indictment states. ‘[She] trusted that Markin would not look through her confidential work materials, and if he overheard or saw anything confidential, he would keep it secret.'”

Fla. Firm Fundraiser For Trial Judge Doesn’t Trigger DQ” —

  • “A law firm that hosts a fundraiser for judge’s reelection campaign while one of its lawyers is in active litigation in the judge’s court is engaged in ‘ordinary’ election activity, a Florida appeals court ruled Wednesday.”
  • “In a ruling backing a Miami judge’s decision not to recuse himself from a real estate dispute, a three-judge Third District panel drew a distinction between ‘limited’ lawyer involvement in judicial campaigns and more extensive activities — as when a lawyer acts as a judge’s campaign treasurer — that might require the judge to step aside.”
  • “The December fundraiser for Judge Mark Blumstein, a circuit judge in Miami-Dade County, occurred long before he issued adverse rulings raised by defendants in an April disqualification motion, according to the appellate court. Also, there were no ‘individualized allegations’ regarding the plaintiffs’ counsel in the case, Joshua E. Rasco of Barakat & Bossa in Coral Gables.”
  • “In a disqualification motion, they [the plaintiffs] argued that the court’s bias against them had been evident from the outset of the case, including during a deposition scheduling dispute and a remark the judge made intimating that their claim on the funds was improper.”
  • “Only later did the couple’s lawyers learn that on the same day, Barakat & Bossa was helping host a fundraiser at a Coral Gables restaurant for Judge Blumstein’s re-election campaign. A flyer attached to the motion lists the firm first among 16 law firm hosts.”
  • “The Barakat firm is ‘big on supporting good judges, helping them with their campaigns, and we do fundraisers for a lot of judges,’ he said. Requiring disqualification any time a lawyer from a firm supports a judge’s campaign ‘would defeat the purpose of supporting the judge,’ he [Rasco] said.”

For Big Law in Florida, Balancing Client Interests and Politics Is Treacherous” —

  • “As corporations and asset managers increasingly focus on diversity and ESG, Big Law and its corporate clients face growing challenges in Florida to stay off the governor’s enemy list.”
  • “Being canceled by Gov. Ron DeSantis has real consequences, and the governor’s penchant for retribution is causing others to think twice before speaking out. Since DeSantis in April banned core tenants of DEI training at large Florida employers, Florida law firm managing partners with numerous DEI initiatives have declined to discuss the impact of the ban on their own firms’ diversity and inclusion programming.”
  • “Requesting anonymity to discuss the chilling effect of the ban, one Miami firm leader said he and his colleagues feared retribution from state government overall—particularly after the Texas legislature’s threats to Sidley Austin.”
  • “DeSantis has a history of exerting influence on law firms. Former Holland & Knight partner Sanford Bohrer was instructed to drop a 2020 lawsuit he was preparing to file for a longtime client, the Miami Herald, after the state’s general counsel received Bohrer’s demand letter.”
  • “In a recent interview, Bohrer said he doesn’t know whether DeSantis would try to pressure law firms to drop clients larger than his or retaliate against perceived political slights in the way of the Texas legislature. But having felt the influence of Tallahassee from his office in Miami, Bohrer said that any firm that wants to lobby the Florida legislature or represent state agencies will have to make accommodations.”
  • “Bohrer had represented the Miami Herald in records lawsuits against Florida state agencies dating back to the 1990s, but the planned April 2020 lawsuit (which demanded that the state produce records on COVID outbreaks at Florida elder care facilities) was the first time he felt the governor’s influence in his practice. After DeSantis’ general counsel placed a call to George Meros, the state’s outside counsel at Holland & Knight, Bohrer was told not to file the lawsuit. “
  • “Holland & Knight declined to comment on its relationship with the governor or Bohrer’s statements. At the time, the firm issued a statement citing a possible conflict of interest as the reason for siding with DeSantis, while the governor’s office denied pressuring the firm.”
  • “Without knowing how Meros’ ongoing representation of DeSantis (in a lawsuit involving felon voting rights) impacted the firm’s ability to represent the Miami Herald (in a lawsuit about elder care COVID cases), Alfieri said the firm’s simultaneous representation of the newspaper and the state may or may not have presented a concurrent client conflict.”
  • “But a sophisticated government client would be reluctant to consent to a law firm’s representation of another client it deems hostile, Alfieri said, adding that such a government client would likely try to avoid disclosing the reason for withholding its consent and opt to leave the decision to its legal counsel.”
  • “‘In this way, the law firm withdrawal may be perceived as an ethically dictated result consistent with the rule of law, rather than a politically motivated outcome driven by a partisan calculation,’ Alfieri said. ‘Doubtless, Florida citizens would prefer a less shrewd and a more open and accountable government decision-making process.'”
  • “Bohrer, who has since retired from Holland & Knight, said he doesn’t envy the position of managing partners who have to prioritize client relationships based on economics and politics.”