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A former rising star in the intellectual property practice of WilmerHale has resigned from the bar after admitting to a litany of misconduct, including falsifying expense reports, forging client signatures, and assigning associates to perform “pro bono” work for friends and family. William DiSalvatore, who resigned as a partner in WilmerHale’s New York office in January, offered to resign from the bar in May, as he was facing a disciplinary investigation that would have likely led to his disbarment. “[I]f charges were predicated on the misconduct under investigation, I could not successfully defend myself on the merits against such charges,” DiSalvatore, 40, said in the affidavit accompanying his bar resignation. New York state’s Appellate Division, First Department, approved the resignation Aug. 10 ordering the ex-partner’s name stricken from the roll of attorneys. In his affidavit, DiSalvatore admitted to misconduct of unusual breadth. He said he had falsified credit-card receipts to claim reimbursement from his firm for $109,000 in personal expenses. He also said he forged client signatures on a consent to joint representation and on a conflict waiver. Furthermore, he admitted misleading a client into believing an appellate brief was still at the draft stage when it had already been filed. In perhaps his most elaborate deception, DiSalvatore convinced his firm over a two-year period that he was handling matters for two of the firm’s pro bono clients. “I created fabricated engagement letters and fictitious billing records, falsely recording time for work which I never performed,” he says in his affidavit. WilmerHale co-managing partner William Perlstein says it appeared DiSalvatore falsified the pro bono matters in order to have associates at the firm perform free legal work for family members and friends. DiSalvatore also admitted in his affidavit that he asked lawyers at the firm to perform work for “a corporate officer of a firm client” who was in fact a friend of his. Perlstein says the firm was also aware of one instance where DiSalvatore may have submitted suspect documentation to support a court application for attorney fees. He says the amount sought was under $5,000 and the court in question was informed of the possible problem Aug. 11. Perlstein says the firm as a whole was “shocked and saddened” by the matter, which he calls “very hard to understand.” He adds that DiSalvatore had been very highly regarded by both clients and colleagues. Indeed, despite his relatively young age, DiSalvatore had already achieved a name for himself as a patent litigator. In 2002 the National Law Journal, an affiliate of Legal Times, named him one of the nation’s top litigators under the age of 40. DiSalvatore, a 1991 graduate of Pace Law School, joined the New York office of Boston’s Hale and Dorr as a partner in 2000, having previously been an associate at White & Case. Hale and Dorr, long known as a premier firm in the IP arena, merged in 2004 with D.C. regulatory heavyweight Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering to form the 1,000-lawyer firm now known as WilmerHale. The firm, which has around 430 lawyers in Washington, had profits per partner of $915,000 last year. MAJOR VICTORY In October 2004, DiSalvatore won a major victory for Canadian imaging-technology company Creo Inc., in a patent infringement suit brought by Agfa Corp., a much larger competitor. The Massachusetts federal judge presiding over the case found Agfa’s claims unenforceable and ordered it to pay almost $3 million in attorney fees. Creo went on to be acquired last year by the Eastman Kodak Co. for almost $1 billion. Perlstein declined to say if DiSalvatore’s suspect application was for a portion of the fees in the Creo case. The District Court’s decision, including the attorney-fees award, was upheld in June by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Agfa’s lawyer, John Kester of Washington’s Williams & Connolly, could not be reached for comment. Paul Kacir, the former general counsel of Creo and now a partner at the Vancouver law firm Gowlings, recalls DiSalvatore as a “great guy” and skilled lawyer who “got us a great result, a big win.” “This is all a big surprise,” says Kacir. “We certainly didn’t have any indication he had any moral or ethical problems.” �NOT QUITE RIGHT’ Perlstein says that WilmerHale first became aware of possible misconduct last November, when a client expressed concern that DiSalvatore’s correspondence regarding internal case-management issues seemed “not quite right.” An internal investigation quickly revealed a “pattern of improper action in terms of administrative matters,” says Perlstein, adding that those actions appeared to be steps DiSalvatore took to conceal his activities from others at the firm. The firm placed DiSalvatore on administrative leave Dec. 19, with his resignation coming a month later. In March the firm, by then represented by John Harris of Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman, reported its findings to the disciplinary committee, which then opened its investigation. All of DiSalvatore’s active clients also had been informed, and all had been supportive, says Perlstein. Aside from the suspect fee application, Perlstein says the firm’s investigation had determined that DiSalvatore’s actions had not affected active court matters. The clients whose signatures DiSalvatore had forged had already agreed to the conflict waiver and joint representation consent. Perlstein also notes the client whom DiSalvatore had misled about the status of its appellate brief had not sought any changes to the supposed draft. Perlstein says that DiSalvatore’s situation is an anomaly and isn’t reflective of a lack of internal controls at the firm. “We constantly are evolving [administrative safeguards], both because I think every institution is and certainly following the merger,” he says. “Nothing that is specifically related to this, but certainly we will revisit controls to make sure that we have everything covered.” Perlstein was unaware of DiSalvatore doing any work with the D.C. office. DiSalvatore declined to comment through his lawyer, Hal Lieberman of Hinshaw & Culbertson. In his affidavit, DiSalvatore said he was now seeking nonlegal employment. He also expressed remorse for his actions and said he would attempt to pay full restitution. Toward that end, he said he had surrendered his entire capital contribution to the firm as well as the unpaid portion of his 2005 compensation. DiSalvatore is the second large-firm partner whose misconduct has come to light this summer. Last month a former partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher was suspended from practice for one year for billing $30,000 in personal calls to clients. That partner, Patrick Carmody, similarly resigned from his firm after his actions were discovered.
Anthony Lin is a reporter for the New York Law Journal , the ALM publication in which this article first appeared. Legal Times reporter Anna Palmer contributed to this article.

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