Jamaica's prime minster admitted for the first time this week that he authorized hiring Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to lobby U.S. officials in connection with an extradition dispute involving an alleged international drug kingpin that has strained relations between the two countries and resulted in an ethics complaint against the firm.
As reported by local news sources and The Associated Press, Prime Minister Bruce Golding told his country's Parliament on Tuesday that he had approved retaining Manatt to help resolve the extradition standoff over Kingston businessman Christopher Coke, indicted by federal prosecutors in New York last August for trafficking in illegal narcotics and firearms.
Golding contended, however, that it was his ruling Jamaica Labour Party, not the Jamaican government, that hired and paid Manatt -- despite the firm's continuing insistence to the contrary.
"I sanctioned the initiative, knowing that such interventions have in the past proven to be of considerable value in dealing with issues involving the governments of both countries," Golding said Tuesday, reading from a lengthy prepared statement. "I made it clear, however, that this was an initiative to be undertaken by the [JLP], not by or on behalf of the government."
Golding acknowledged authorizing Kingston attorney -- and leading JLP member -- Harold Brady to approach Manatt. Somehow, Golding said, the firm was "made to believe that Mr. Brady was acting for the government of Jamaica, rather than the JLP, and that their engagement was authorized by the government of Jamaica." The prime minister did not explain how Manatt was "made to believe" that was the case.
Golding also said a payment of nearly $50,000 made to Manatt last September came from JLP coffers. "Rumors and speculation carried in the media that these funds were provided by Christopher Coke are completely false as the Party is fully aware of the source of these funds," Golding stated. He said the funds came from unnamed "financial contributors to the Party," and maintained that there was "absolutely nothing illegal or surreptitious" about his actions or those of the JLP.
As with previous comments on the matter made by Brady, Golding, and other government officials, the prime minister's Tuesday statement directly contradicts Foreign Agent Registration Act filings made with the Department of Justice by Manatt. Those documents say the firm represented the Jamaican government. None of those filings -- available at the bottom of this story -- make any mention of lobbying conducted on behalf of the JLP.
A search of Senate lobbying records also reveals no such filings by the firm, which on Thursday stood by a previous statement from general counsel Monte Lemann II that Manatt was retained by the Jamaican government, through Brady, "to assist with existing political and economic matters, including existing treaty agreements between Jamaica and the U.S. The firm was never employed by or did work for Christopher Coke." (As disclosed in a March FARA filing, Manatt ended the relationship in February.)
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the contradictions between Manatt's filings and Golding's statement. When asked about the ramifications should a FARA filing be found to contain inaccurate information, the spokeswoman said the department doesn't "speculate or offer legal opinions on a specific matter."
Andrews Kurth partner Roscoe Howard Jr., a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, says that typically in such cases, "You take the filing, you take an agent, and you [show] the lawyers what they filed and say, 'Tell us what's going on.' Clearly if you are doing some sort of work on the Hill or anywhere else and you're trying to hide who you're actually representing, you have a problem. That's what [FARA] is all about. But sometimes people make mistakes, and then you tell them to clean it up."
Asked if it was possible for a lawyer to honestly be confused about who his or her client was or what their lobbying interest was, Howard says: "Not with a filing like that."
Meanwhile, the imbroglio has apparently created another headache for Manatt. According to two letters obtained by The Am Law Daily, someone named Terry Ann Golding has asked the District of Columbia Bar to investigate whether two Manatt partners -- including founding partner Charles Manatt -- violated their obligations under FARA as a result of the firm's work on behalf of Jamaica.
While information was not immediately available about Terry Ann Golding and what possible stake she might have in the matter, Manatt is clearly taking any potential bar inquiry seriously.
The two letters -- dated April 29 and written to assistant bar counsel Gayle Marie Brown Driver by Pamela Bresnahan, head of the litigation practice for the D.C. office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease -- deny that Charles Manatt or international trade partner Susan Schmidt committed any ethical violations in their representation of Jamaica. Bresnahan's letters state that both lawyers "fully complied with [their] obligations under all applicable Rules of Professional Conduct."
Bresnahan was out of the office on Thursday and unavailable for immediate comment. Driver did not respond to a request for comment.
A Manatt spokesman provided the following statement from general counsel Lemann: "Investigations by the Office of Bar Counsel are confidential. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for us to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation."
MANATT'S FARA FILINGS
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.