Judicial Notice (06.03.23): Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Offensive emails from a pair of founding partners, the end of a prominent boutique, big free-speech rulings, and other legal news from the week that was.
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This episode of Judicial Notice is brought to you by… my husband Zach. He took our son Harlan on a Catksills camping trip, while I enjoyed a weekend of “me time.” Yesterday I went for a jog, attended a gym class, and took a nap in the middle of the afternoon. It was glorious. (And no way was I going camping, which I did for the first and last time in 1992; I consider camping a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.)
Since Monday was Memorial Day, it was a short week, which made for not much news—and I’m not complaining. I’m trying to make myself presentable for my birthday in a few weeks, so I’m on a diet and exercise regimen, and the relaxed news cycle allowed me to get in lots of walking and running, multiple visits to the gym, and decent sleep.
Now, on to the news.
Lawyers of the Week: John Barber and Jeff Ranen.
If you’re a lawyer, you generally don’t want to appear in the New York Post (unless it’s Page Six, and you’re Alex Spiro defending a new celebrity client). Alas, the Post is where John Barber and Jeff Ranen, who recently left Lewis Brisbois to launch their own employment-focused firm, Barber Ranen, now find themselves.
Yesterday the Post published what appear to be internal emails from the duo, sent while they were still working at Lewis Brisbois, that contain highly offensive language—including but not limited to slurs for women, African Americans, and gays, beginning with the letters “c,” “n,” and “f,” respectively. The Post said it obtained the emails from Lewis Brisbois, which claimed it uncovered them in the course of investigating a complaint made to management about Barber and Ranen after their departure. The firm told the Post it was “shocked to find dozens of emails between John Barber and Jeff Ranen containing highly inappropriate and offensive content,” including “slurs aimed at colleagues, clients, attorneys from other firms, and even judges,” and it is continuing to investigate its former partners. (Barber and Ranen did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Post.)
If the Post’s reporting is accurate and the emails are authentic, the story is rather ironic. First, Barber and Ranen claimed they left Lewis Brisbois to build a firm “that’s reflective of our values and our beliefs,” such as “empathy, collaboration, and compassion.” Second, the two partners focus on defense-side employment litigation and counseling—i.e., defending employers in discrimination lawsuits, plus keeping them out of litigation in the first place. Physician, heal thyself.
This isn’t the first wave of bad publicity to come in the wake of Barber and Ranen leaving Lewis Brisbois. Last month, a 2019 whistleblower letter by former Lewis Brisbois COO Robert Kamins, alleging shady financial practices at the Lewis firm, somehow became public. Kamins is, interestingly enough, now the acting COO of Barber Ranen. So if the Barber Ranen folks want to accuse Lewis Brisbois of playing dirty by providing their old emails to the Post, they might have to answer for some actions of their own. Regardless of whose side you take, here’s one thing we can all agree on: this is the ugliest law firm split in a long, long time.
Runner-up for Lawyer of the Week: Anthony Orlich, who also showed up in the New York Post. While walking around Manhattan at night, he allegedly snatched a wig off the head of a young Black woman whom he did not know. She confronted him, asking him why he did what he did; he responded by smirking at her and refusing to apologize. Unfortunately for Orlich, the woman, Brooklyn singer Lizzy Ashleigh, recorded video of their confrontation and posted it to TikTok—where it quickly went viral, racking up more than 600,000 views.
Based on the video, Orlich was quickly identified as the apparent perpetrator, then fired. The litigation boutique that previously employed him, Leader Berkon Colao & Silverstein, posted the following on LinkedIn: “We have been made aware of a video of a non-work related incident involving one of our associates circulating on social media. We take seriously any inappropriate behavior by any employee, whether inside or outside the workplace. This associate is no longer with the Firm.”
In memoriam: Harvey Pitt—the youngest general counsel in the history of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who became GC at the age of 30, then later led the SEC as chair—passed away at 78. May he rest in peace.
Judge of the Week: Judge Brantley Starr.
Remember the debacle I discussed last week involving lawyers who filed a brief replete with multiple citations to fake cases, courtesy of ChatGPT? One judge is already taking action to prevent that from happening in his court.
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