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Wiley Rein spent last week responding to allegations that one of its top rainmakers may have helped conceal evidence in an insurance case born out of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The firm, along with its client and co-counsel, were sanctioned $1.25 million on June 18 by a federal judge in Manhattan for withholding evidence of an insurance policy that covered the World Trade Center at the time of the terrorist attacks. Thomas Brunner, chairman of Wiley Rein’s insurance practice, and partner Leslie Platt were the lead attorneys on the case. Brunner is one of the firm’s top rainmakers and shareholders; because of the clout he wields he is commonly referred to as a de facto name partner. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York dropped the fine on Wiley Rein, Morristown, N.J.-based Coughlin Duffy, and the firms’ client, Zurich American Insurance Co. Before the attacks, Zurich issued an insurance policy to the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York, landlord of the World Trade Center, and to Westfield Corp., which leased the space. Zurich claimed the Port Authority wasn’t covered. But Hellerstein found that Zurich and its counsel withheld for nearly two years a 62-page policy that had been printed on the day of the attacks that shows the Port Authority and Westfield were covered. “Given the existence of this document,” Hellerstein wrote in his decision, Zurich’s courtroom arguments about the insurance coverage “were either dishonest, or objectively unreasonable, or the product of a failure to make reasonable inquiries.” Platt told Hellerstein a Wiley Rein associate first reviewed the crucial document in March 2003 but didn’t show it to the partners until much later. But Hellerstein chastised Brunner, who had previously interviewed two key Zurich officials with knowledge of the policy’s existence. “A baseless factual contention poses a greater threat to justice than a baseless legal contention,” the judge wrote. In February 2005, six days after the insurance document was turned over to the court, Wiley Rein filed a motion to withdraw from the case, claiming the firm didn’t know about the policy. Despite the blowback and the huge fine, Wiley Rein says Brunner’s future with the firm is secure. “There’s not only no immediate change in his position as chair, there’s going to be no change at all,” says Bert Rein, the firm’s name partner. “This is a complex and hard-fought case, and you can have different perspectives.” Brunner’s future with the D.C. Bar Counsel is less clear, given a history of D.C. lawyers being punished with ethics violations for similar sanctions. Wiley Rein, Zurich, and Coughlin Duffy have until July 6 to decide how the fine will be divided among the parties.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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