A redfin photo of the house where a Pierce Bainbridge client has allegedly lived for two years with the embattled law firm or its founder John Pierce apparently picking up the tab.
The law firm of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP has a $65 million debt to litigation funder Virage Capital Management, and firm founder John M. Pierce recently told Law360 the firm is suffering from “unpleasant litigation and some unhappy creditors.” Yet, it seems a Pierce Bainbridge client, Lenwood “Skip” Hamilton, has been living the good life funded by Pierce or his law firm.
Homeowners, Faysaal and Rana Shaarni, have sued Pierce and Hamilton; alleging that Pierce signed a residential lease for a home located in Ventura County, California in May 2018, and breached the agreement as follows: (i) for approximately 2 years “Hamilton and his family” have “reside[d] at the Property without the landlords consent which is required,” (ii) at least one month of “monthly rent of $6,600” has not been paid; and (iii) the Hamiltons have failed to leave the house subsequent to the May 4, 2020 lease expiration date. (The redfin photo below, as with the cover photo, is of the address listed in the lease agreement attached to the complaint.)
According to a Ryan Boysen article in Law 360, Pierce defended the arrangement as ethically above board. The article, however, also notes: “Trisha Rich, an attorney at Holland & Knight LLP who co-chairs the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution practice and sits on the New York City Bar Association’s Professional Ethics Committee, opined: ‘I’ve never heard of a lawyer taking out a lease for a client. If there’s any assistance, it’s typically very small amounts of money. I’d say an attorney in this situation could be looking at a warning or even a suspension depending on the context.’”
Hamilton is a former professional football player and sued Microsoft in January 2017 related to the Gears of War video game (pictured).
The case docket indicates Pierce Bainbridge replaced another lawyer on April 26, 2018. Just four days later, on April 30, 2018, Pierce executed the lease. The Pierce Bainbridge representatives for Hamilton have included, among other attorneys, Patrick Bradford (Bradford Edwards & Varlack), Carolynn Beck (Goldstein & McClintock), John M. Pierce, David Hecht (Hecht Partners), and Jonathan A. Sorkowitz (The Law Offices of Jonathan A. Sorkowitz).
A complaint whistle blowing ex-partner Don Lewis filed against the firm last May contains allegations related to the case against Microsoft. A Law360 article by Boysen titled, Microsoft Gets Quick Win In Suit Over Gears Of War Character, notes: “In one of his complaints, Lewis said Pierce Bainbridge dramatically inflated the potential value of the Gears suit to Hamilton and litigation funder Pravati Capital. . .Lewis refers to the Gears suit throughout his complaint as ‘the so-called Billion Dollar Case.’” A federal judge threw out Hamilton’s case in September 2019, Pierce Bainbridge has appealed.
Lewis also alleged: “Pierce had the audacity to ask personnel to negotiate for $250,000 in a direct payment to the client in the Billion Dollar Case, when Pierce reportedly already had paid for living quarters. . .”
A February 11, 2019 article by Lizzy McLellan in the Legal Intelligencer contains an allegation by Hamilton’s original counsel, Bruce Chasan, that Pierce Bainbridge “pa[id] numerous 20-something video game players to launch. . .multiple lawsuits against the video game industry.”
That allegation has not been confirmed. Law Street Media has covered that line of cases and Kristen Errick reported on April 2, 2020 that a single claim for “false endorsement” against Epic Games filed on behalf of musician Leo Pelligrino survived a motion to dismiss; the remaining claims were dismissed. On June 1, 2020, Errick reported a Pierce Bainbridge lawsuit related to the “Running Man” dance move was dismissed in its entirety.
Chasan previously sued Pierce Bainbridge unsuccessfully related to the Hamilton representation, but recently filed a new complaint under theories of tortious interference and unjust enrichment. Pravati Capital and each of the five Pierce Bainbridge name-partners are also defendants.
There have been at least eight legal actions commenced against Pierce Bainbridge and/or affiliated individuals or entities since mid-2019; the plaintiffs have included, Karish Kapital, Creative Capital Funding, Slate Advance LLC, TransPerfect Legal Solutions, West Coast Business Capital, Lewis, Chasan and now these Ventura County homeowners. Virage Capital has intervened in two of the actions, and the litigation funder’s filings appear to reveal that Pierce Bainbridge, at minimum, triple-pledged collateral in exchange for cash.
The Pierce Bainbridge saga continues to unfold.