The Eternal General’s correspondence with high-priced lawyers at big-time law firms may not constitute illegal activity, but it does reveal an unseemly, fundamentally squicky ethical swampland. Sorrell happily splashes around in this slime pit like it’s the kiddie pool at one of those swanky hotels he enjoys on the law firms’ dime.
In public service, there should be distinct lines between friend, colleague, benefactor, client, and adversary. In his communications with these lawyers, Sorrell stomps and pisses all over those lines until they all but disappear.
Perhaps my interpretation is skewed by the fact that I have more doctors than lawyers in my family. It used to be that doctors routinely accepted gifts, meals, and expensive travel from drug company representatives. Since then, the profession’s standards have tightened considerably. Doctors, health care organizations and professional societies have very strict limits on such things.
With Sorrell, it’s the Wild West. And while he can assert that his conduct is not affected by all the freebies, the appearance itself is awful. Especially for the guy who’s supposed to be the people’s lawyer.
Some of these specifics have been reported by Paul Heintz in Seven Days (most recently here), but I’ll outline some of the items that especially struck me.
Over and over again, as a matter of course, Sorrell accepts free travel and top-shelf hospitality from big out-of-state law firms. He appears at events arranged and paid for by the firms. He clearly has personal relationships with lawyers at these firms, which are simultaneously representing corporate clients with matters pending before the state.
Most of the uncovered emails are with two lawyers at top law firms, Lori Kalani and Divonne Smoyer. Both have very specialized practices, focused on building relationships with state Attorneys General on behalf of their corporate clients. As the New York Times reported, this has become a key area of concern for corporate law firms as Attorneys General have become more and more involved in business-related oversight, regulation, and litigation.
Both Kalani and Smoyer, as it happens, are young and female. I’m not implying hanky-panky here; but it certainly doesn’t hurt when most AGs are middle-aged or older men. It’s like Fox News always having an attractive woman showing off her legs on screen. You occasionally get a touch of flirtiness in the emails, as when Smoyer writes about bringing “1/2 a wet suit” to a conference in Florida for some ocean swimming.
Er, that’s the same conference at which Sorrell planned “some pool and/or beach reading.”
Workin’ hard there, Bill?
There are a surprising number of conferences for state AGs, usually held in resort towns or tourist-friendly big cities, and always at the finest hotels. Democratic and Republican AGs each have their own get-togethers. The National Association of Attorneys General has its own. And Sorrell, for some reason, regularly attends something called the Conference of Western Attorneys General. If he’s a western Attorney General, then I’m a cowboy.
In one email to Smoyer, he writes about possibly attending a CWAG gathering in Maui: “I still need to think more about the CWAG junket. . . I mean trip.”
Hahaha. Oh Bill, you’re such a card.
Many of his emails contain cringeworthy lines — at one point, he writes Smoyer approvingly about a Washington, D.C. bar’s “bottomless wine glasses.” But it’s the general atmosphere that’s the real issue. Sorrell just assumes he can accept all kinds of goodies from these law firms, and build close relationships with lawyers who are often his professional adversaries.
And here’s a thing that really rubbed me the wrong way. These firms routinely hold panel discussions featuring AGs and other experts. These events involve a minimal amount of preparation and a maximal amount of hospitality. For instance:
In February 2014, the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro held a panel discussion on patent trolling. Sorrell was one of the participants. The event was held at the InterContinental Barclay Hotel in New York City. The panel and Q&A session ran from 3-5 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception and a dinner hosted by Dickstein Shapiro.
For being one of three panelists, Sorrell got comped travel, free food and drink, and two nights’ lodging at one of New York’s finer hotels. All courtesy of a law firm that’s trying to win Sorrell’s favor and negotiate with him on behalf of corporate clients.
In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a passage from Smoyer’s official bio:
Smoyer works with AGs in anticipation of potential issues being raised or pursued by them, and then crafts creative solutions to those issues before they affect clients.
She also helps clients minimize exposure to litigation initiated by AGs and defends AG actions and investigations when they are unavoidable.
“Creative solutions” indeed. Even if Sorrell’s professional activities are unaffected by his personal dealings, his image as an honest broker is fatally compromised.
If this stuff isn’t illegal, it damn well should be.