“State aided suspect in huge swindle” boldly screamed Miami Herald’s front-page on Sunday, July 5, 2009. The suspect is Allen Stanford, accused of stealing $7 billion. And he had another partner in crime besides the State of Florida banking regulators who allowed him to set up a unique trust in Miami to swindle visiting foreign investors out of vast sums, launder the money and shred the documents, without reporting a penny to the regulators. The partner was a “powerful Florida law firm” that apparently colluded with public officials on the fraudster’s behalf.
Of course the Herald did not have to name that firm right off the bat, nor did it mention the Firm’s close ties to President George Bush or Florida Governor Jeb Bush, for everyone knows that the only “powerful law firm” around here, where might makes right and places the mighty above the law, is Greenberg Traurig, the firm that helped George Bush “steal the presidency” from Al Gore, the firm that gained further national notoriety via Jack Abramoff’s lobbying activities.
The indictment signed by the Attorney General of Guam on March 11, 2008 signified the felonious activities that the defendants Anthony P. Sanchez (Administrative Director of the Superior Court of Guam) Jack Abramoff, and Greenberg Traurig were allegedly up to in Guam: Unlawful Influence, Theft of Property held in Trust, Theft by Deception, Misapplication of Entrusted Funds, and Conspiracy to commit all the above. The Firm was too powerful to contend with for long, so Guam decided to drop the case for a return of some stolen funds, and it was duly noted that the firm cooperated with the investigation.
Indeed, it seems that Greenberg Traurig has been duly cooperative during several investigations into the misconduct of its attorneys, and is careful to dismiss the culprits when trouble is afoot. A few of its attorneys have been disbarred, but when is the Firm itself going to be held accountable for what appears to be a nefarious pattern contrary to the public interest? At last count it is the tenth largest law firm in the nation, one that arose from humble beginnings in Miami, a city that has often vied for the title of corruption capital of the United States. The muckrakers at the Herald have convinced us that the Firm has been tainted by original evil, that it is a corrupt organization, a significant contributor to the perverse ethos that has brought our great nation to its knees.
Lawyers are not all alike. Banking lawyer Bowman Brown refused to do business with Allen Stanford despite Mr. Stanford’s billions. What Stanford wanted to do – set up a Miami operation to hustle Latinos for investments in an offshore, pirate bank, a Miami trust operation that would not be regulated in the U.S. – was plainly wrong, and every banking lawyer and regulator knew it. But Greenberg Traurig was either incompetent or was glad to make wrong seem right – when you do wrong long enough, wrong seems right – and got the job done.
Lawyers are not all alike. Bowman Brown broke the code of silence, so to speak, and spoke to the media. Now other lawyers, professors and brokers are speaking up, to say the whole thing was plainly wrong. Although the Herald did not directly name the “powerful Florida law firm” right off the bat, perhaps for fear of being crushed like a bug, the awesome name was in fact once revealed halfway into the article: “Carlos Loumiet, a former Greenberg Traurig lawyer who helped draft the deal, declined to comment, citing ethical concerns.”
We wish the editor had included the specific ethical concerns the former lawyer cited. He must have had some concern with attorney-client confidentiality, and perhaps he has to keep his relationship with his former employer confidential, and then there might be an ongoing investigation, et cetera. Although the main concern of Ethics is with the nature of Good, who can say what that is? Some lawyers say that whatever is legal is ethical, while others insist that the principles of ethics are superior to positive law and might even contradict it. Ultimately, the god who makes the laws is above the law, hence might makes right. What is ethical for some might be unethical for others. A consensus is arrived at on certain rules of conduct, rules that embody principles deemed to be “ethical.”
For instance, Florida lawyers are supposed to abide by the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct, and they can be disbarred for failing to abide by them. Under “MAINTAINING THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROFESSION” We find “Rule 4-8.3 – Reporting Professional Misconduct, (a) Reporting Misconduct of Other Lawyers. A lawyer having knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects shall inform the appropriate authority.” And under “CLIENT LAWYER RELATIONSHIP, Rule 4-1.2 Scope of Representation, (d) Criminal or Fraudulent Conduct,” we see that “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is criminal or fraudulent….”
Florida lawyers must be members of The Florida Bar, subject to the Florida Supreme Court, and it is responsible for administering the Rules. Did Bowman Brown or any other attorney file a report about or ask for an inquiry into the conduct of the lawyers of Greenberg Traurig and the lawyers working for the State of Florida in respect to the Stanford fraud and the conspiracy to evade the banking laws of Florida and the United States?
Now fraud and conspiracy may be hard to prove, but honest, trustworthy, and fit lawyers such as Bowman Brown would not touch Mr. Stanford with a ten-foot pole, and those who did, at Greenberg Traurig, have blackened the already tarnished image of the profession. But if some lawyer breaks the “integrity” or integrative code of silence of the profession by pressing for an inquiry or asserting a complaint against the most powerful law firm in Florida with the lawyers at The Florida Bar – which should already be conducting an investigation on its own information – he might be laughed out of the royal court, or worse, someone might complain of his incompetence.
All we have here, it might be said, are charges hard to prove and easy for lawyers to wiggle out of. We may have the appearance of impropriety, but lawyers are not disbarred for mere appearances. If the facts show that a lawyer has forged a document or stolen some cash, let him be disbarred, but if the facts indicate that the Firm has helped its client evade banking laws designed to protect the public, hence billions of dollars were stolen, never mind, for nothing can be done, not even by honest, trustworthy, and fit lawyers.