Morgan Lewis & Bockius was entitled to withdraw from representing a Turkish arms manufacturer that still owes $25 million on a three-decades-old products liability and civil contempt judgment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled.
Plaintiff Robert Ohntrup was shot through the hand when the pistol he was loading malfunctioned. The manufacturer, Makina ve Kimya Endustrisi Kurumu (MKEK), and the gun’s seller were found jointly liable for $847,000. MKEK is wholly owned by the Turkish government and has not participated in post-judgment proceedings for 25 years.
MKEK fired Morgan Lewis as counsel after the Third Circuit upheld the judgment against the company in 1985, but the court did not allow the law firm to withdraw until the client could retain substitute counsel.
Due to the fact MKEK has not participated in proceedings for 25 years, that has left the law firm “merely a captive, uncompensated process server,” Judge Thomas Hardiman concluded, writing for judges Thomas Ambro and D. Michael Fisher.
The panel said that U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was not in error to let Morgan Lewis withdraw from representing MKEK some 30 years after MKEK fired the law firm.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ lawyers had sought to execute the judgment through discovery into a $16.2 million transaction in which Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems Inc. agreed to sell munitions-manufacturing components to MKEK. The panel ruled that Goldberg should not have denied additional discovery in aid of execution of its judgment against MKEK.
The plaintiffs seek to enjoin Alliant from transferring property owned by MKEK and to disclose information regarding its transactions with MKEK.
The panel ordered additional proceedings regarding whether Ohntrup can pursue discovery against Alliance in aid of executing the judgment—including whether MKEK’s munitions manufacturing components are immune from attachment under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
William Ford of Lathrop & Gage in Kansas City, Mo., argued the case for intervenor Alliant.
Casey Green of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green in Philadelphia, Pa. argued for Beverly Ohntrup, administrator of her husband’s estate.
Thomas Sullivan Jr. of Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia argued for the law firm.
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a contributor to law.com.