Risk Update

Risk Roundup — Judge/Clerk Conflict is Not, Texas Ethics Opinion Opinions Welcome, Russian with Lawyer’s Help AML Indictment

“‘Don’t Worry About That’?: Judge Refuses to Recuse After Hiring Former Assistant Federal Defender as Clerk” —

  • “On Jan. 9, two days after ending a four-year career as an assistant federal public defender in the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon, an unidentified employee was hired as a law clerk for Senior U.S. District Judge James P. Jones—without a heads up to her former employer in the same district.”
  • “Once discovered, the Federal Public Defender’s Office asked for Jones to be removed from nearly a dozen cases. In response, however, Chief Judge Michael F. Urbanski said the new law clerk was restricted from working on any matters handled by her former employer, according to Jones’ identical orders filed last week in several cases.”
  • “The office stressed that it did not accuse the court or the employee of any misconduct, but that it was raising an issue that the court’s impartiality may be questioned and that recusal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. 455.”
  • “Jones disagreed, declining to recuse himself from any of the cases, noting that due to his new law clerk’s former employment, he ‘walled her off … forbidding her from being involved’ in cases handled by the federal public defender’s office, according to the judge’s orders.”
  • “While the lead attorney declined to discuss specific employment details of the former employee, she said the office is a collaborative space.”
  • “‘There’s almost no one in our office who doesn’t know what’s happening in the different cases even in the different divisions. That’s just not how our office operates, we operate as a unit, and the clients are represented by the Federal Public Defender Office. Individual attorneys may step into court to represent a client but the Federal Public Defender Office is who represents them,’ Scott said.”
  • “A motion on the hearing was held Feb. 2. However, less than a week later, the judge declined the motion.”
  • “‘… [i]t is well-established that a law clerk’s conflict is not generally imputed to the judge,’ Jones wrote. ‘A law clerk does not exercise discretion and acts only in service of the supervising judge. In other words, ‘[b]oth bench and bar recognize … that judges, not law clerks, make the decisions.’ Consequently, the isolation of the law clerk from the cases in which she has a conflict is usually the proper remedy.'”

Committee seeks public comments on third proposed ethics opinion” —

  • Proposed Opinion 2023-3 (comment deadline 4/16/2023): Do the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit staff counsel employed by an insurance company from representing insured clients if the insurance company considers the results of performance surveys in deciding the lawyer’s compensation or continued employment?”

Russian Citizen Indicted for Making Payments on Behalf of Sanctioned Russian Oligarch” —

  • “On February 7, 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Vladimir Voronchenko (“Voronchenko”) with participating in a scheme to make payments in excess of $4 million dollars to maintain four properties located in the United States that were owned by Viktor Vekselberg (“Vekselberg”), a sanctioned Russian oligarch…”
  • “The indictment alleges that Voronchenko is a long-time friend and associate of Vekselberg. Vekselberg was listed as a SDN by OFAC on April 6, 2018. Almost immediate thereafter, Voronchenko allegedly began to cause to be made approximately $4 million in payments to maintain four properties belonging to Vekselberg.”
  • “The attorney who ultimately took receipt of the transferred funds, who is not named in the indictment, is alleged to have used those funds under the direction of Voronchenko to make payments to maintain and service the four properties, all without OFAC permission or disclosure.”
  • “Additionally, the indictment alleges that Voronchenko attempted to sell two of those properties, all without disclosure or approval by OFAC. More specifically, one of the Panamanian shell companies controlled by Vekselberg, represented by the attorney, entered into agreements with real estate brokerage firms to sell the properties.”
  • “Ultimately, however, both brokerage firms delisted the properties. During the time of the 25 payments and attempted sales, the attorney and Voronchenko allegedly communicated via the WhatsApp messaging app and openly acknowledged Vekselberg’s SDN status in those messages.”