The disturbing allegations from a whistleblowing, former Pierce Bainbridge attorney whose allegations continue to reveal an ugly picture of a Big Law firm unravelling
Dan Garner – LawFuel were first to seriously call the finances of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP into question. Upon seeing competing quotes in Forbes from firm founder John Mark Pierce and ex-partner Don Lewis, we sensed a red flag. Lewis made very specific statements about “$9,157,072.95” declared default by Pierce Bainbridge litigation funder Pravati Capital LLC, which Pierce claimed was “not true.”
We continued to question Pierce’s statement and continue to investigate allegations of foul play at Pierce Bainbridge; the collapse of the firm, as reported by Ryan Boysen of Law360, now appears to confirm what Lewis has been telling his ex-partners, the courts and LawFuel all along.
“Greed in the end, fails even the greedy”
One of the first casualties has been Pierce (pictured, right) as a credible individual with his outlandish and often infantile statements about his firm. Pierce Bainbridge whistleblower Lewis had made serious claims relating to his former firm, including Pierce but also casting his former partners in a similar light: “my former partners were concerned with themselves only, they intentionally ignored my efforts to stop John Pierce’s shenanigans, and instead turned a blind eye, endorsed, promoted and enabled him until the money dried up; each of my former partners put a price on their integrity.”
Lewis, (pictured, left) a double Harvard graduate, has named various attorneys as party to the Pierce attacks upon him as whistle blower, including Michael D. Yim of Putney Twombly and S. Jeanine Conley of Littler Mendelson as additional enablers and promoters of the Pierce attack on his reputation that he claims was an attack solely launched for the purpose of discrediting and humiliating a whistle blower. (Coverage of the alleged hypocrisy and of Conley and collusive malice of Yim are illuminating. Conley and Yim are pictured below with Pierce confidante Lauren Schaefer-Green, all three – and the affiliated firms – are defendants in lawsuits brought by Lewis )
A fourth law firm, Mukasey Frenchman and Sklaroff, led by Marc Mukasey, has filed to withdraw as counsel for Pierce Bainbridge citing ethical concerns with continued representation.
As for the “money drying up,” any doubt appears to have been removed based on yet another recently filed lawsuit against Pierce, Pierce Bainbridge and related entities. This new complaint, filed on March 17, 2020, is the second recent lawsuit from a “cash advance” lender.
An allegation from the complaint is alarming:
Lewis has hardly held back on his views of Pierce and his former colleagues. Pierce and Lewis were in the Harvard Law School Class of 2000 and Lewis has alleged in court filings: “Pierce is a desperate, broke, substance abusing shell of his former self. . .” It also appears that under the watch of Pierce and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Cash (formerly of Orrick Herrington), Pierce Bainbridge, apparently like John Pierce himself, is “broke.”
When and What did the Partners Know?
Whether there is criminal liability in the various activities at the law firm is another matter. Pierce’s financial and other actions may carry criminal liability, in which case the knowledge of his partners is a matter deserving of close scrutiny. Remember that the firm itself conceded in a court filing in May 2019 that Lewis allegations: “if true . . . would amount to criminal activity.”
Another lawyer back in 2018 warned Pierce about growing too fast and “ending up in jail,” like Marc Dreier (pictured, left). As Benjamin Weiser reported in the New York Times, attorney Dreier concocted an “elaborate fraud scheme” and “was sentenced to 20 years in prison.” In addition, a recent article by Aaron Kesel of ActivistPost.com is entitled “Lawyer Don Lewis Exposes Marc Dreier Fraud Redo.”
Lewis’s depiction of his former partners as “fueled by personal greed,” may appear to be a purely personal view, but it increasingly focuses attention upon those lawyers given the unravelling at Pierce Bainbridge.
While his former partners appear to have remained fiercely loyal to Pierce until things started falling apart, a group of partners who joined the firm after each of them, quit in around October.
The Departed Six
The partners who saw the writing on the wall six months ago, the “Departed Six,” include: Deborah Renner (Renner Law; prior experience at Simpson Thacher, Sonnenschein and BakerHostetler, Renner was known as the “lead attorney” for Trustee Irving Picard in unwinding the fraudulent activity of Bernie Madoff). Jeff Alexander (Wachtell Missry, prior experience at Latham & Watkins; Labaton Sucharow; Bleichmar Fonti & Auld and Kasowitz Benson) Robert Allen (Glaser Weil, prior experience at Gradstein & Marzano, and McKool Smith) Michael Winograd (Brown Rudnick, prior experience at Sullivan & Cromwell, Wachtell Lipton, Wilson Sonsini, and Ropes & Gray), Joan Meyer (Thompson Hine, prior experience Baker & McKenzie, United States Department of Justice), Susan Winkler (Winkler Law, prior experience United States Attorney’s Office.)
The (Not So) Sweet 16
Notwithstanding the defections of the Departed Six (most of whom have strong experience in white-collar criminal law), Lewis’s former partners, as noted, remain or remained committed for months.
Lewis’s former partners, all defendants in Lewis related litigation, have practiced at Wilson Sonsini, Davis Polk, Grais & Ellsworth, Margolis & Tinsman, Covington & Burling, Steptoe & Johnson, Murchison & Cumming, Quinn Emanuel, White & Case, Glaser Weil, Kirkland & Ellis, Kaye Scholer, Gibson Dunn, Heller Ehrman and more; these are sophisticated law firms.
It is reasonable to ask how much the so-called ‘Sweet 16’ knew about Pierce’s activities and the goings-on at the firm.
From left to right starting at the top, with new firms for those no longer with PB. James D. Bainbridge, Amman Khan (unknown); Carolynn K. Beck (unknown), David Hecht (Hecht Partners) – next row – Maxim Price (unknown), Caroline Polisi (Armstrong Teasedale), Eric Creizman (Armstrong Teasdedale) Patrick Bradford – next row – Jonathan Sorkowitz (The Law Offices of Jonathan Sorkowitz), Christopher N. LaVigne, Douglas Curran (BraughnHagen & Borden), Michael Pomerantz (unknown) – next row – Craig Bolton, Andrew Lorin, Conor McDonough (unknown), Melissa Madrigal (Armstrong Teasedale.)
The Creizman, Polisi and LaVigne Drama
Lewis has some keen observations on some of the key, departed former partners.
“Caroline Polisi recently joined Eric Creizman at Armstrong Teasedale; I was surprised. Polisi had worked for Creizman for years and said not so nice things about him which I will not repeat here but it is in writing. As for Creizman, he pitched an email fit about the prospect of being mentioned in a press release alongside Polisi and Christopher N. LaVigne. An upset and self-important Creizman messaged me: ‘I’m not on the same footing as they are’ and ‘I am one of the best white-collar lawyers in the City.’” Two of the several e-mails are below.
Creizman continued peppering Lewis with messages and concluded with a self-aggrandizing declaration, on which others were copied:
This begs the question: if Creizman is a top white-collar attorney, how could he fail to investigate and right his own house after Lewis blew the whistle? How could he not apply is self-declared top-tier skills to the mess of a situation right before his eyes? How could Creizman apparently be “a chump” for John Mark Pierce?
Interestingly, just three months after Creizman joined Pierce Bainbridge, the Washington Post reported that Creizman was an “advisory board member who also did legal work,” for a company — World Patent Marketing — subject of a federal investigation into accusations of fraud, which the company settled earlier in 2018 “for more than $25 million,” without admitting fault.
Continuing Creizman’s theme of self-importance, a related press release is titled: “Legendary New York Attorney, Eric M. Creizman, Joins World Patent Marketing Advisory Board.” In addition, in August 2019, the purportedly “Legendary” Creizman, submitted a declaration in response to petition filed by Stefan Lumiere, a former portfolio manager at Visium Asset Management, seeking relief on the ground of “ineffective assistance of counsel” from a “swift verdict” and Lumiere’s conviction by a federal jury.
“Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”
The Sweet 16 were on notice of alleged foul play for well over a year; Lewis provided each of them several telling written communications.
In November 2018, Lewis and his counsel sent letters and e-mails to his former partners which mentioned “collective unethical, improper and potentially illegal” conduct; and stated “we are compelled to note the curious timing of Mr. Lewis’s leave, forced isolation and continued ridiculous demands for lifetime isolation, given recent concerns he had very strongly expressed over conduct, and dealings at Pierce Bainbridge.”
In March 2019, each of his former partners received a copy of Lewis’s draft complaint, which lays out with substantial specificity alleged financial misconduct at the firm, and contains the following allegations:
“[T]the firm was . . . essentially ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’ ~ Don Lewis, May 16, 2019
“[Pierce] is trying desperately to keep the massive house of Pierce Bainbridge cards from crashing down all around him.” ~ Don Lewis, May 16, 2019.
In a recent Law360 article by Andrew Strickland, “Pierce Bainbridge Funding Deal Raises Ethical Red Flags,” Lewis is quoted: “Everything I said . . . is proving to be true: dishonesty, lack of ethics, financial foul play. I exposed the firm as a house of cards and, as the truth comes out, that house is collapsing.”
As if on cue, a Law360 article by Ryan Boysen shortly thereafter, suggests the firm’s death knell is imminent.
Ethical and Other Issues Hounding Lewis’s Former Partners
Incredibly, not only did the Sweet 16 fail to take any action, as Lewis says they were ethically required to do, but he added: “My former partners continued to get financially fat off the apparent illicit financial activity for well over a year. It was only when the money dried up, that certain of them decided to exit.” Recent events, including two cash advance lawsuits, a payday loan fiasco, and apparent “insufficient funds” in the Pierce Bainbridge accounts appear to bear this out.
“Fraud is the daughter of greed”
Lewis’s original May 16, 2019 complaint is rife with mention of “fraud.” Another key allegation in light of recent events:
“The opening of PB’s books, would very likely reveal that Pierce is a fraud and a con man, lying to his partners, lying to the press, lying to his clients and lying to investors; it would also very likely crater a firm built on smoke and mirrors . . .” ~ Don Lewis, May 16, 2019
The Sweet 16 were not only on notice, as firm partners, presumably that had access to the books and records. In fact, almost a year ago, in July 2019, in a short letter sent to all of his former partners, as well as Putney Twombly managing partner Daniel Murphy, Lewis provided the simplest of road maps; the letter stated: “I admonished John Pierce for his greedy self-dealing, which is surely documented in Wells Fargo bank statements.”
Lewis remarked: “Shortly before I was ousted, the bookkeeper said Pierce withdrew $200,000 from firm accounts in August and September 2018, we almost missed payroll, Pierce placed a moratorium on paying creditors, Christopher N. LaVigne said Pierce should be reported. This was in October, eighteen months ago.” (A text exchange between LaVigne and Lewis from late September is below. “P”is the firm’s bookkeeper.)
Lewis was banished shortly thereafter, by e-mail, without a conversation, and the entire firm was banned from communicating with him again. E-mails show that all of that happened in one-minute.
LaVigne apparently never reported Pierce; instead, according to Lewis: “Christopher N. LaVigne and Denver G. Edwards lied under oath to smear me and to protect John Mark Pierce.”
Lewis is firm in the view that all the partners who turned a blind eye should be held accountable: “When I decided to say something about financial improprieties, for the benefit of the partnership, not for one second did I think the response would be a concerted and relentless group attack on my reputation. Even if people now realize I was right all along; the damage my former partners have done to me is immense and they must be held accountable.”
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