September 23, 2020

O’Melveny chose not to stop racist comments about a judge, and partners "dating" associates

       Back when President Trump was running for office, he had an awful case around his neck. Former students of Trump University had sued him and the school for fraud. So he asked O’Melveny & Myers to get rid of it. Mother Jones just released a video of a break in one of the case’s depositions (rejecting O'Melveny's demand that they destroy the video.) During the break, Mr. Trump told an O'Melveny lawyer, Mr. Daniel Petrocelli, that he was concerned about the judge’s "Spanish" background.  

       Sometimes people don't know what's legal or illegal, or what's right or wrong, and part of a lawyer's job is to counsel their client. But just like when a sexual assaulter reportedly threatened his victim in front of Mr. Petrocelli, he appears to have relinquished that role. Based on the tape, Mr. Petrocelli did not chide him, correct him or even just tell him not to say such things for appearances' sake.

       A few months later, Mr. Trump went public with this thought, stating that the judge was biased because of his "Mexican" background. This time, he was roundly criticized by dozens of republican politicians -- leading a regretful Mr. Trump to say his comments were misconstrued. These fellow republicans did in public what O'Melveny could have done in private.

       Later, Mr. Trump and Mr. Petrocelli talked about 68-year-old investor Thomas Barrack's new wife. Mr. Trump asked if she was beautiful, and Mr. Petrocelli said yes, because she was "young . . . 38, 37." Of course there’s nothing unethical about saying younger people are more attractive than older ones. But since I’m writing about the article, I’ll include this amusing exchange as well. 

       And actually, while I'm on the topic, I've heard of lawyers using the profession itself to find young partners. For example, there was an attorney in Mr. Petrocelli's Century City office who was known to "date" (to quote one person) or "f***" (to quote another), the summer associates. Both of these comments were made among a group of people, none of whom protested and some of whom laughed at his cheekiness. In the first case, he himself was there and laughed about it. I include this story despite worries about O'Melveny's threat to sue me for defamation, because it was so open that I can't believe they would try to deny it. And on that note, I should add that no one said he used force or coercion. These were presumably fully consensual relationships, that the young women would have entered into even if they weren't summer associates at his law firm.

       But sometimes there is clear coercion. Here's an excerpt from a July 2018 Wall Street Journal article, describing a chilling allegation at another firm, Gibson Dunn: 

Mr. Reeves called a female associate into his office after going to lunch with her and having several glasses of wine, people familiar with the matter said. He locked the door, dropped his pants, pushed her into a chair, put his hand on the back of her head and made her perform oral sex, they said, adding that she emerged crying after a partner knocked repeatedly on his office door. An attorney for Mr. Reeves said Mr. Reeves “adamantly denies that any such incident occurred and is shocked by the allegation.” A Gibson Dunn spokeswoman said the firm “promptly investigated allegations when they were brought to our attention in December and acted swiftly” in response, resulting in Mr. Reeves’s departure.

       Jesus. At least the 37-year-old billionaire's wife got a family and, who knows, perhaps true love. This young woman reportedly had to perform sexual favors, and all she got was a miserable junior attorney job at Gibson Dunn. Three years of law school, top of your class, only to get abused while working at the kind of firm that would have been the "evil lawyer" in movies like Erin Brockovich. The only redeemable part of this story is that Gibson Dunn did something once they discovered what happened. Do not expect the same from O'Melveny. For example, when O'Melveny's Adam Karr "investigated" whether a junior attorney was forced to perform sexual favors, he reportedly accused her of lying  (he said he "couldn't corroborate" her allegations) and then he tried to use a nondisclosure agreement to prevent her from telling anyone what happened. 

       These places can be awful. And I want to reiterate that you should feel free to contact me if you are being sexually harassed or assaulted at a firm. I'm obviously not a powerful person, but I'm also not tainted by a profit motive, and I will do what I can to help free of charge. In the past I've called the perpetrator's firm on behalf of the victim, leading to departures. Or, if that's too big of a move, you can contact me anonymously and I'll do my best to listen and offer advice - with a focus on helping you deal with the situation with as little disruption to your life as possible. "Dating" young associates might have been a perquisite of being a senior lawyer in the old days, but times are different now.

O'Melveny, omm