Legal Thriller From Grisham, or A Harsh Truth about Asbestos Law and How Firms Work?

asbestos lawyerIn a complaint that reads at times like a legal thriller with allegations of gross unethical conduct, a former associate of law firm Brayton Purcell has been filed by a former associate of the firm, Christopher Andreas.

The 45 page complaint was filed in the California Superior Court and makes the allegations against the firm’s founder, Brayton Purcell and unnamed defendants, as the legal newsline reports.

The complaint was filed July 1 by Plaintiff Christopher Andreas in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco. Defendants are Brayton Purcell LLP, Alan R. Brayton, the founding member and senior partner of the firm, and John Does 1-10.

Christopher Andreas was hired as an associate with the firm by Brayton in 1995, according to the complaint. The principal focus of Brayton’s law practice had been the representation of individuals damaged by workplace exposure to toxic substances, primarily related to asbestos exposure.

Andreas was hired with the express understanding that Brayton would be responsible for covering him with legal malpractice insurance and during the first five years this coverage was provided by a traditional third-party legal malpractice insurer, the complaint says.

Within two years of hiring, Andreas was assigned to the designated trial division of the firm. This was a small group of attorneys whose sole responsibility was to try the firm’s cases. Andreas worked exclusively in this capacity until he was terminated in 2008.

A separate department in the firm was dedicated solely to the preparation and filing of bankrupcy claim forms on behalf of the firm’s clients. These forms were filed with various Asbestos Settlement and/or Bankruptcy Trusts, often referred to as “Asbestos Trusts” or “Settlement Trusts.”

Importantly, during the last 10 years of his employment, Andreas states, he had “virtually no involvement with Defendants’ cases until they were assigned to the trial department.” In other words, he had no involvement in the preparation and filing of the claims.

According to the complaint, about five years after Andreas became employed by the firm, Brayton announced he no longer would pay for third-party malpractice insurance but the firm would be self-insured instead. He assured the associates that money would be set aside in an account specifically earmarked for malpractice defense and indemnity purposes.

Brayton further promised the assoicates, Andreas asserts, that their “malpractice defense coverage and indemnity rights would not be altered, qualified or diminished in any way by this development,” and he made further assurances along those lines.

The complaint devotes several pages to the revival of the Western Asbestos Company by Brayton and the “goal, laudable on its face” to uncover Western’s untapped liability insurance coverage policies so that asbestos victims could receive compensation.

The net result of this process was the “accumulation of hundreds of millions of dollars in default judgments in favor of Defendants’ clients” which were subsequently paid out of the roughly $2 billion in settlements obtained from several Western insurer defendants that were place in the Western Asbestos Settlement Trust. Brayton was on the advisory board of the Western Trust, the complaint says.

The complaint reads in respect of an Ohio Supreme Court action involving the firm:


According to the Court, Attorney Andreas was found to have engaged in a number of deceptive and unethical practices. Id. None of the fifty-three other partners and associates of Brayton Purcell were determined to have done anything inappropriate. To the contrary, the case against Attorney Andreas was built partly upon the candid testimony of one of the firm’s principals, Alan Brayton, Esq.
Brayton Purcell’s substantial stake in the proceedings became apparent the moment the startling Order & Opinion was issued on January 18, 2007. All of Judge Hanna’s findings of misconduct involved Attorney Andreas. No evidence was cited suggesting that he had been engaging in any misconduct with the knowledge and blessing of Brayton Purcell management.

Andreas asserts that the Ohio Order was “replete with conduct specific findngs that had nothing whatsoever to do with [Andreas] and for which he bore no responsibility,” and that the only truthful statement in the Ohio Memo was that he was “licensed to practice law in California and was a member of Brayton Purcell” but not a partner with ownership interest.

Needless to say, the relationship between Andreas and the firm and its principals, especially Alan Brayton, continued to deteriorate. There are numerous conflicts and breaches over compenstation, indemnification, and the paying of attorney fees alleged in the complaint.

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