Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht and its former partner Donald Lewis lodged dueling complaints against each other on Wednesday, with Lewis accusing his old firm of financial improprieties and dismissing him over phony sexual assault claims, and Pierce Bainbridge claiming Lewis tried to extort the firm out of $65 million.
Lewis accused Pierce Bainbridge, its global managing partner John Pierce and other partners and staff of stiffing creditors, inflating the merits of potential cases to trick clients and litigation financiers, and firing him after a sham investigation. Lewis’ complaint quotes emails, texts and Slack messages that he said exonerate him and show misconduct by his former colleagues.
In its own suit, Pierce Bainbridge asserts that Lewis was put on leave last year following a staffer’s accusation that Lewis grabbed her breasts after she saw him masturbating in a glass-walled office. The firm said Lewis was fired after he violated the terms of his leave by sending a “mass email” to partners that named his accuser and disparaged the people and work of the firm.
Lewis alleges in his complaint that he was placed on leave following “demonstrably false allegations by a junior level employee who was used as a pawn” by firm management. In a statement to ALM, he said: “Virtually every allegation in my complaint is supported by contemporaneous documents. When I learned the firm was a house of cards, and of the deceitful financial conduct by Pierce, I had to speak up. He can insult me all he wants and attempt to create a false narrative, it does not change what actually happened at Pierce Bainbridge.”
Pierce, in a statement, described Lewis’ allegations as a shakedown. “We will not be held up by a disgruntled former employee looking for a payout,” he said. “It seems the defendant has concocted salacious accusations to retaliate for the firm firing him for his own wrongdoing. The firm stands ready to defend its reputation and reveal Mr. Lewis’s actions for what they are—outright extortion.”
Pierce Bainbridge, a 2-year-old litigation boutique that has become home to many former Big Law attorneys, said in its suit that Lewis sent a draft complaint to the firm in March packed with obscene and false allegations and demanded $65 million. Lewis later told a partner that he would need at least $3.5 million, and threatened to ”‘go on Oprah’ to ensure his story received publicity,” the firm alleged.
Lewis, a former Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom associate who worked in-house at WeWork before joining Pierce Bainbridge last year, sued the firm in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday. While his complaint had disappeared from state court databases by that evening, Pierce Bainbridge attached it as an exhibit to the complaint it filed against Lewis in Los Angeles County Superior Court the same day.
In his complaint, which the firm said was deleted after having been online for about an hour, Lewis, who is black, accused his former firm of a wide range of misconduct, including fraud, racial discrimination and various common-law claims. It seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages.
The lengthy complaint, which was signed by lawyer Neal Brickman, describes Pierce as a “con man” and substance abuser who has built his firm “on smoke and mirrors,” and accuses him of making a wide array of misogynistic comments. It depicts some partners and staff at the firm as petty, greedy, and willing to turn a blind eye to misconduct, with some described as making inappropriate remarks about others.
Pierce Bainbridge’s complaint accuses Lewis of extortion, defamation and other common-law wrongdoings. It says he “made virtually no meaningful contribution to the firm’s development” before he was terminated in November, and that he has made his strategy clear with threats to “ruin” the firm and have it investigated by the Federal Trade Commission.
Brickman, Lewis’ lawyer, said Lewis had offered to mediate if Pierce Bainbridge’s opening offer had been at least $1 million. He said he filed suit after outside counsel for his adversary failed to commit to such an offer by an 11 a.m. deadline he gave.
In Brickman’s account, after opposing counsel indicated shortly afterward that Pierce Bainbridge might work toward an agreement, Brickman went to the New York County e-file clerk, said the complaint was filed “in error” and had it pulled. But after 6 p.m., he said, it became clear that no deal would be reached, something he said underscored Pierce Bainbridge’s dishonesty.
“Regarding the allegation of extortion, it is untrue. Virtually every allegation made by Mr. Lewis is supported by documents. His complaint speaks for itself,” Brickman added in an emailed statement.