Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP is a highly regarded law fim with some 950 lawyers in twelve offices worldwide.
On its website, Cleary boasts:
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP was founded by prominent lawyers committed to excellence in the practice of law, while maintaining the highest ethical standards and diversity and individuality in its lawyers.
Kensington International Ltd., a financial institution which invests in debt and equity instruments issued by foreign governments, had secured a $56,911.991.47 money judgment against the Republic of Congo , and, in furtherance of executing that judgment, was seeking the testimony of Medard Mbemba, a citizen of France and Congo.
Because of his dealings with the Congolese government, Mbemba was believed to be familiar with the location of the Republic's assets and had been subpoenaed by Kensington's attorneys to testify as a non-party witness.
When partners at Cleary -- which served as counsel to the Republic -- learned that Mbemba had agreed to testify without being accompanied by a lawyer, he was contacted by Jean-Pierre Vignaud (a member of Cleary's worldwide executive committee), who allegedly attempted to dissuade Mbemba from cooperating by appealing to the latter's sense of patriotism and warning him that his testimony could "hurt the Congo," and prove "dangerous."
Finding this conduct to be highly irregular and inappropriate, Judge Preska concluded that Cleary's "incivility" warranted formal rebuke and reproach. The Judge noted, in pertinent part, as follows:
Sanctions serve three purposes: (1) to prevent a party from benefiting from its own improper conduct, (2) to provide specific deterrents, and (3) to provide general deterrence ... Here, Cleary did not benefit from its own improper conduct. But Cleary is an ideal candidate for specific deterrence. It has shown a willingness to operate in the murky area between zealous advocacy and improper conduct, and here it crossed the line.
Cleary, through two of its attorneys, sought to interfere with the legitimate post-judgment discovery process in this case by attempting in bad faith in furtherance of its own interests to dissuade Mbemba from attending the properly noticed deposition.
This conduct is inconsistent with counsel's obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and recognized ethical strictures ....
This case is far from over, and sanctions are necessary to remind Cleary that it has obligations beyond representing its client. Accordingly, Cleary is hereby sanctioned pursuant to the Court's inherent authority. Cleary is directed to pay Kensington the reasonable costs and attorney's fees incurred by Kensington in connection with this motion. This sanction is imposed as a formal reprimand and should be circulated to all attorneys at Cleary. Sanctions here will also serve as a general deterrent to other law firms and perhaps as an entreaty as well: civil litigation can be high stakes, zealously litigation, aggressively fought, and civil.
Enough of incivility!