Risk Update

Varsity Blues Scandal Continues to Reveal Plenty of Rich Risk Reporting (Or: Waves, Walls & Waivers)

The Varsity Blues college admissions scandal continues to make news, both in the general media and in legal circles. June was quite active on the conflicts front. Let’s catch up, starting with: “Ropes, Nixon, other firms face potential disqualification in college bribery case” —

  • “Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to examine whether more than half a dozen law firms — including ones with a large Boston presence like Ropes & Gray LLP, Nixon Peabody LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP — should be disqualified from representing their clients in the massive college bribery criminal case in Boston.”
  • “In a filing Thursday, the prosecutors said those law firms may have conflicts of interest with their clients. While some of those conflicts may not ultimately pose a problem, others could require the disqualification of the firms, they said, asking for a hearing into the matter.”
  • “The case has been a source of significant business for Boston’s white collar criminal defense bar. Since it’s taking place in federal court in Boston, the dozens of defendants who have faced charges, including celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have hired attorneys admitted to the Massachusetts bar.”
  • “Three of the firms — Ropes, Nixon and Latham — represent clients accused of defrauding the University of Southern California, even though all three represent USC in other matters, according to prosecutors. USC recently told the government about the conflict and that it had not waived the conflict, prosecutors said.”
  • “Another group of law firms — among them Ropes, Latham, Hooper Lundy & Bookman PC, Todd & Weld LLP, Duane Morris LLP and Martin Weinberg — represent multiple defendants in the college bribery case. Court rules are clear that if one firm represents multiple defendants in a matter, the court must “promptly” examine whether the simultaneous representations are proper, prosecutors said.”

Followed by some of what has since unfolded: “Boies Schiller Gets OK To Rep 2 ‘Varsity Blues’ Defendants” —

  • “A Boston federal court has decided that Boies Schiller Flexner LLP can continue to represent two defendants in the Varsity Blues college admissions cheating case, despite the fact that one parent is cooperating with the government and may be called upon to testify against the other.”
  • “In an order entered Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Page Kelley said she was satisfied that Boies Schiller has indeed gone to great lengths to keep the teams representing parents Robert Zangrillo and Davina Isackson totally separate from one another. The government has alleged both parents paid hefty bribes to secure their children’s admission to elite colleges.”
  • “Judge Kelley also said it appears as though Zangrillo, a Miami developer who has pled not guilty to the charges against him, fully understands the tricky situation presented by the fact that Isackson has pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government.”
  • “At a hearing earlier on Tuesday, Boies Schiller’s Matthew Schwartz told Judge Kelley that the firm has taken measures ‘about as robust as a law firm could take’ to prevent any potential conflict of interests from arising in its dual representation of Zangrillo and Isackson. Schwartz said files for each client have been ‘locked down’ in the firm’s computer system so that attorneys and staff can only access files for their own client.”

And: “Ropes & Gray Client OKs Rep Of Fellow ‘Varsity Blues’ Parent” —

  • “Ropes & Gray LLP received the blessing of one of the two parents it is representing in the ‘Varsity Blues’ college admissions scheme to take on multiple clients in the same case, following a hearing Monday morning in Massachusetts federal court.”
  • “Elizabeth Henriquez told U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley that she had no problem with the BigLaw firm taking on both she and Douglas Hodge, another parent accused of trying to bribe his child’s way into college, in the high-profile case. Henriquez signed a waiver shortly after Judge Kelley pressed her on whether she understood exactly what rights she might be signing away.”
  • “Judge Kelley warned Henriquez she could make her own case more difficult in the event of a future appeal related to her representation and said other issues could arise, including whether her lawyers could conduct an independent investigation, pick a jury or handle a potential sentencing with her best interests in mind while also standing up for another client in the same case.”