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Expert Testimony Issues on the Rise
Topics | 2008/04/01 15:05
The Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in United States v. Nacchio has recently reversed an insider trading conviction in the high profile criminal case, finding, in short, that the trial court improperly denied the defendant an opportunity to call an expert witness. The Court ordered a new trial. "The Court based its holding on the improper exclusion of expert testimony, specifically, an economic analysis of Nacchio's stock trading patterns," says Joseph Martini, a partner with Wiggin & Dana LLP and a member of the firm's White-Collar Litigation and Appellate Practice Groups. "From a review of the cases, it appears that issues concerning the introduction of expert testimony are coming up in more and more white collar criminal cases," he observes. Wiggin and Dana partner James Glasser also notes that during his tenure as former Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut, "defense counsel in white collar cases often argued against federal charges by pointing to experts opinions on such issues as the application of complex accounting principles. These issues are now coming up at trial," says Glasser. Martini and Glasser are available to write or comment on expert testimony issues in white-collar criminal cases including the Nacchio trial.


Paxil Teen Suicide Case Trumped by Michigan Law
Law Firm News | 2008/04/01 14:53

The parents of a Michigan teenager who killed herself while on the antidepressant Paxil cannot sue the drug's manufacturer because a state law grants immunity to the maker of any drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney of the Western District of Michigan said FDA approval of Paxil use by adults was enough to shield manufacturer SmithKline Beecham Corp., even though the agency never approved the drug's use by teens.


He therefore dismissed Nadine White and David B. McCullough's lawsuit against SKB over their 16-year-old daughter Moriah's 2001 suicide after taking Paxil for three months.

Michigan is the only state with a law providing drugmakers immunity from state tort suits if the FDA has certified their products as safe and effective. The only exceptions to the statute are for fraud on the FDA or bribery of an agency official.

In this case, White and McCullough filed a negligence and strict-liability suit against SKB in a Pennsylvania federal court because the company is located in that state.

The drugmaker won a change of venue to the Western District of Michigan because the plaintiffs are residents of that state. It then filed a motion to dismiss.

In their opposition to the motion the plaintiffs argued that their suit is a failure-to-warn case because SKB never warned doctors not to prescribe Paxil to teens or children and, in fact, conducted a secret campaign to promote such "off-label" use.

Moreover, since the company never applied to the FDA for marketing approval to prescribe the drug to teens and children, it cannot argue that it has immunity under the Michigan statute, they said.

Judge Maloney rejected that argument, saying the Michigan Legislature provided immunity to drug manufacturers for FDA-approved products and that it is uncontested that Paxil was approved by the agency for use in adults.

"The statute does not limit the protection to situations when the drug is used for approved purposes," he said. "Should the Legislature wish to limit the protection available to "off-label" uses of the drug, it may do so."



Former Latham Partner Pleads Guilty
Blog News | 2008/03/31 14:53

A former partner at Latham & Watkins pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding both clients and his own firm by charging them more than $300,000 in personal or false expenses.

Samuel A. Fishman, a mergers and acquisition specialist in Latham's New York office from 1993 to 2005, was designated billing partner for a number of firm clients. According to prosecutors at the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office, Fishman, 51, used his position to carry out a fraudulent scheme over the course of several years.

Responsible for supervising and approving invoices sent to clients, Fishman added to the bills a number of inappropriate items, mischaracterizing them as charges for photocopying or express mail. He also fraudulently sought reimbursement from his firm for a number of personal expenses he claimed were for business.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not identify Latham as Fishman's firm in a criminal information filed with the guilty plea, nor was the firm's name mentioned in court Friday afternoon when Fishman entered his plea to one count of mail fraud. But in a statement Friday, the firm acknowledged Fishman as a former partner and said his misconduct had come to light in 2005.

Latham "immediately acted to protect our clients fully, and disclosed the matter to appropriate law enforcement authorities," said David Gordon, Latham's New York managing partner. "Mr. Fishman resigned from the firm at the time the issues were discovered. Since that time, we have cooperated fully with the investigation."

In announcing Fishman's guilty plea, prosecutors noted that the firm had reimbursed its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been fraudulently charged. A firm spokesman Friday declined to identify the clients defrauded by Fishman.

The criminal information said Fishman's clients were in the banking, utilities, telecommunications and entertainment industries. He has previously acted as lead counsel for companies including movie theater chain AMC Entertainment Inc. and JPMorgan Partners, the private equity arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Accompanied at Friday's hearing by defense lawyer Jack Litman of Litman, Asche & Goiella, Fishman expressed remorse to Southern District Judge Victor Marrero.

"I am very sorry for what I did," he told the judge.

Fishman's sentencing is scheduled for June 27. The mail fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Fishman also has agreed to forfeit $350,000 in ill-gotten wealth. He also faces likely disbarment.

A number of major firms have had to deal in recent years with fraud by partners, though most instances have resulted in disbarment or other disciplinary sanction as opposed to criminal prosecution.

In 2006, former WilmerHale intellectual property partner William P. DiSalvatore resigned from the bar after admitting to a litany of misconduct, including falsifying expense reports and assigning associates to perform "pro bono" work for friends and family. He claimed more than $109,000 in false personal expense.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher and the former Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman are two other firms that have also terminated partners for fraudulently seeking reimbursement for personal expenses.

In most such cases, including that of Fishman, the defrauded amounts have been small compared to what the perpetrators earn as partners. Last month, Latham said it had profits per partner of $2.3 million in 2007.

Steven Lubet, a legal ethics professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said he always found it "incredible" that highly paid partners would resort to fraud. He said he could only imagine that such people were overspending trying to emulate the lifestyles of those they represented.

"The clients have that kind of money, the lawyers don't," said Lubet. "Sometimes, lawyers decide they want to live like their clients and that extra money has to come from somewhere."

Perhaps the most well-known case of a lawyer bilking his clients and firm was Webster Hubbell, the former associate attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

Hubbell was forced to resign his position in 1994 after his former partners at Arkansas' Rose Law Firm discovered billing irregularities. He later pleaded guilty to fraudulently charging almost $500,000 for personal expenses and legal work never actually performed. He served 16 months in prison.



23 Districts Improperly Report Attorneys
Blog News | 2008/03/31 14:38

Twenty-three school districts - nearly one-fifth of all the school districts on Long Island - improperly reported private attorneys as employees, which helped the attorneys earn public pensions totaling more than $342,082 a year, plus health benefits worth thousands more, a Newsday review of records has found.

In some cases, a town, village, library, special district or county also reported the attorneys as employees, often as full time, even though records show they did not always work full time. By being reported as employees at these other agencies while also working in private practice, they were able to enhance the size of their state pensions.

The employment arrangements - some of which started in the early 1970s and continue to this day - enabled a select group of 10 attorneys to garner generous public benefits, even as they earned millions in legal fees as well, state and school district records show. Three of the 10 have not yet begun receiving their pension.

Among the attorneys is one currently collecting a six-figure public pension; another is a Nassau County legislator. Although most of the attorneys declined to comment, those who did speak with a reporter said they were following previous practice when they got onto the public and school district payrolls. Two recently changed their status from employee to independent contractor.

The issue of independent contractors being treated as employees so they could obtain public benefits has been called into question after Newsday reported on the case of Centerport attorney Lawrence Reich. Five school districts falsely reported him as a full-time employee, enabling him to collect a pension of nearly $62,000 and health benefits for life.

About three weeks ago, the state comptroller's office found that Reich did not meet the standards used by the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether someone is an employee. As a result, he must pay back the pension he has been collecting since September 2006.

The FBI, IRS and New York attorney general's office all have launched investigations of lawyers being carried as employees by school districts.



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