A Disappearance, Leaked Documents, Litigation Fund, Bar Complaint, Accusations of Bribes, Death Threats and More . .
“[John] you have an unsustainable business model. . .Trying to do what you are doing – build a major NYC firm overnight is hugely risky . . .The last person who tried it in NY was Mark Dreier. He ended up in jail.” ~ NYC Lawyer, September 2018
Dan Garner – The saga of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht, the near extinct previously self-proclaimed “Fastest Growing Law Firm in the History of the World,” gets crazier every day. LawFuel has previously characterized the firm’s legal battle with ex-partner and whistle blower Donald Lewis as a Grisham-like Legal Thriller. In The Firm, Tom Cruise in the role of Mitch McDeere is pegged for Harvard, while his brother Ray is pegged for jail. John Mark Pierce, Harvard Law School Class of 2000, may place himself in a position to pull off the rare double by himself.
The Pierce Bainbridge founder is reportedly an unabashed fan of United States President Donald J. Trump. This aligns with the firm’s representation of Rudy Giuliani, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, a Russian Oligarch, co-counsel relationship with Harmeet Dhillon – Co-Chair of Woman for Trump – and Pierce Bainbridge’s retention of Marc Mukasey of Mukasey, Frenchman & Sklaroff.
In the Summer of 2019, Mukasey — who Yahoo called “the lawyer at the center of Trump’s universe” –referred to Pierce Bainbridge as a “first-class” operation. Mukasey subsequently added: “Pierce Bainbridge is focused on . . . expanding its footprint as an elite litigation firm.”
Several months later, Mukasey withdrew as counsel for Pierce Bainbridge citing ethical concerns; and reports surfaced last week that Pierce Bainbridge is closing its doors. Channeling his inner Trump, Pierce characterized word of the firm’s demise as “total fake news.” On the heels of Pierce’s dubious proclamation, Ryan Boysen of Law360 published a shocking report, that Pierce Bainbridge apparently has an “estimated $65 million debt” to litigation funder Virage Capital Management.
With Pierce Bainbridge being brutalized throughout the legal community, Putney Twombly Hall & Hirson LLP (Michael D. Yim) and Littler Mendelson P.C. (S. Jeanine Conley) find themselves in an increasingly embarrassing situation given their close ties — as co-defendants in the Lewis disputes — to the disgraced firm.
The Mass Attorney Exodus
The carnage has been substantial. Around 60 attorneys have left in the last several months, leaving the current number in the single digits.
The departed attorneys have practiced or now practice at a diaspora of firms, such as Armstrong Teasedale, BakerHostetler, Baker & McKenzie, BraunHagey & Borden, Browne George & Ross, Brown Rudnick, Covington & Burling, Davis Polk, Fish & Richardson, Gibson Dunn, Glaser Weil, Grais & Ellsworth, Grant & Eisenhofer, Kasowitz Benson, Kirkland & Ellis, Kaye Scholer, Kobre Kim, Margolis & Tinsman, McKool Smith, Murphy & King, Murchison & Cumming, Reid Collins & Tsai, Steptoe & Johnson, Sullivan & Worcester, Quinn Emanuel; White & Case, Wachtell Missry, Wilson Sonsini, Withers & Bergman, and White & Case.
Such a massive rejection of the Pierce Bainbridge Way is remarkable.
Over the last few weeks, as the firm’s slow but sure fall from grace transitioned to warp speed, the bombastic Pierce was oddly quiet. Chatter developed that Pierce was “in hiding;” LawFuel has learned that Pierce reportedly communicated he was in a “treatment facility.” This revelation is at odds with Pierce’s (since dismissed) claim that Lewis’s allegations about a Pierce “substance abuse” problem were purportedly defamatory.
“Menace to the Legal Society”
In yet another devastating blow, Gustavo Escamilla, the President of a former Pierce Bainbridge client, Greenway Nutrients, has re-filed a complaint with the California State Bar against Pierce and Pierce Bainbridge. Based, in part, on new information, the complaint requests “John Mark Pierce be disbarred from the practice of law,” and characterizes Pierce as a “menace to the legal society” who “needs to be stopped immediately.”
The underlying matter was handled by Pierce and former firm partner Jonathan Sorkowitz.
Shockingly, Escamilla claims: “Greenway has strong reason to believe that Mr. Pierce and his firm Pierce Bainbridge accepted bribes from individuals with criminal backgrounds who have been under investigation by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security for several years.”
Escamilla says multiple requests for information from Pierce Bainbridge related to communications with litigation funder Pravati Capital have been met with stonewalling, excuses and silence.
The Leaked Documents
Compounding Pierce’s problems, documents have leaked which suggest additional problematic activity. Pierce and former or current firm client, Troy Queen (connected to singer Barry Manilow), have apparently raised capital for a litigation fund Pierce was involved in incorporating in September 2018 named “Talon LF, LLC.” Pierce reportedly claims to have raised several hundred thousand dollars for the fund and expressed a desire to raise over $100 million.
From a cursory review, there appear to be two puzzling representations:
First, a communication accompanying the Talon solicitation materials states: “Vertically integrated with PB w/ a success rate on contingency cases of 97%.” Under any definition of “success,” this appears to be false.
Second, the materials represent a positive “investment rate of return” on cases funded by Pravati Capital; however, there appears to be no indication that Pravati had declared a $9,157,072.95 million default – as reflected in a May 2019 UCC filing in Curran’s name.
According to Law360, “several attorneys familiar with the situation said the firm paid Pravati back entirely with a new loan it received from Virage.” Escamilla, however, as stated in the Greenway Bar complaint, believes “Pierce [potentially] used. . . bribe money to pay down some, or all, of an over $9.1 million default.”
The Cash Advance Lawsuits
Pierce, the firm and related entities, are also defendants in two lawsuits recently brought by cash advance lenders – West Coast Business Capital and Slate Advance LLC. Pierce allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront in exchange for future interests in firm receivables but failed to fulfill payment obligations.
Exacerbating issues, just seven days after payment on the West Coast advance allegedly stopped, Pierce, according to the New York Law Journal, secured a loan in firm’s name from a payday type lending entity at a residential address. Pierce and the firm are defendants in at least five lawsuits alleging financial malfeasance.
What Did The Partners Know?
Any notion that Lewis’s former partners were in the dark about financial foul play, which he blew the whistle on over a year ago, appears unlikely given what Lewis has alleged and sent to them.
In March 2019, Lewis provided his former partners with a 96-page, over 400-paragraph complaint. An August 2019 Forbes article characterized Lewis’s allegations as an “explosive and detailed” account of “serious financial improprieties.”
“An Amazing Training Ground”???
Tom Warren has also left the firm. Warren stated to the American Lawyer: “Pierce Bainbridge has been an amazing training ground.” Lewis remarked: “The firm has faced well-founded allegations of fraud, misogyny, substance abuse, lack of ethics, deceit, dishonesty, dysfunction, potential criminality and more; which begs the question: An ‘amazing training ground’ for what?”
However Warren’s comments align with Pierce’s recent statement, also in the American Lawyer, that “[Pierce Bainbridge] continues to maintain close relationships with its departed partners and is committed to working with all of its former lawyers.” These declarations of camaraderie run contrary to any narrative that Pierce operated as some type of lone wolf.
The New Destinations
The two primary partner outposts are Armstrong Teasedale and BraunHagey & Borden. The related individuals, pictured below, are defendants in Lewis’s complaint or a pending amended complaint, with the exception of Franklin Velie.
Lewis, however, noted: “I’ve known Frank Velie since I was a boy, our families were very close. In adult life Frank asked me for an intimate personal favor, I obliged. As far as I know, Frank sat back and did nothing for a year, while I was defamed and relentlessly attacked by this remarkably corrupt law firm; this has been profoundly hurtful and deeply disappointing to both me and my family.”
The BraunHagey & Borden Boys
On the mass departures, Lewis remarked: “They are like self-absorbed children who break something, and rather than own up to it like adults, they hide it behind the couch.”
Time will tell if Lewis’s former partners, Littler Mendelson and Putney Twombly, and Pierce Bainbridge will ever be held accountable.
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