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Daniel Portnoy wasn’t having much luck. For days he’d been tracking his quarry. First he had called his house. Then he began stopping by unannounced, only to be turned away by a woman who said the man he sought was out of town. But now, on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 2, after days of mounting frustration, he finally had his target in his sights. As Portnoy watched from a parked car up the block, Albert Beveridge III, name partner of the Washington-based environmental boutique Beveridge & Diamond, pulled his silver Acura up to his home in the tony neighborhood of Wesley Heights in Northwest Washington. As Beveridge headed to his front door, Portnoy moved in, but the 72-year-old corporate litigator was too quick for him, doubling back into his car before Portnoy could reach him. As Portnoy ran back to his own car, Beveridge raced down the street to shake his pursuer. The chase was on. As Portnoy would later recount in a sworn affidavit, he soon caught up with Beveridge at a stoplight at the corner of Nebraska and New Mexico avenues, but when he tried to talk to Beveridge, the lawyer responded by executing a quick U-turn, brushing Portnoy out of the way. But Portnoy still managed to make his long-thwarted delivery, sticking a subpoena under the Acura’s windshield wiper as Beveridge sped away. The incident was just the latest twist in a sordid story that has ensnared partners at 95-lawyer Beveridge & Diamond in allegations that include adultery and forgery. The dispute stems from a bitter divorce battle between firm partner John Guttmann and his wife, Nancy Lasater, a nonpracticing attorney who was previously co-chairwoman of the Law Practice Management Section of the D.C. Bar and a solo practitioner who often represented firms on ethics issues. The couple’s real-life “War of the Roses” has pulled a litany of well-known Washington lawyers into the fray, including the elusive Beveridge, who is now senior counsel at the firm and was subpoenaed to testify about his role as a former trustee of the firm’s 401(k) program. It was Lasater, acting pro se, who persuaded Maryland state Judge Durke Thompson to issue the subpoena to Beveridge, based on her allegation that Guttmann forged her signature while taking out a loan from the firm’s 401(k) plan in 1993. That loan is one of three Lasater is investigating. “I’m entitled to all of the documents surrounding these three loans,” Lasater says. “I need information.” The firm argued against subpoenaing Beveridge because of his age and the fact that nearly 14 years have passed since the disputed loan was executed. But that argument didn’t get far with Thompson. “If Mr. Guttmann is dipping into the 401(k) without Ms. Lasater’s permission at the time and altered documents and now says �I can’t remember what I did,’ it doesn’t look too good,” Thompson said during a Sept. 24 hearing on the firm’s motion to quash the subpoena, according to a transcript. “And it may not look too good for Mr. Beveridge either if, indeed, there isn’t an adequate documentation in the file.” The firm and Guttmann both say Lasater’s allegations are much ado about very little. “Mr. Guttmann denies Ms. Lasater’s allegations and intends to defend himself vigorously,” says Guttmann’s attorney, Mark Carlin, a partner at Ain & Bank. “The only fair inference is that incomplete and misinformation was given to the Legal Times in a deliberate effort to embarrass Mr. Guttmann and to extract a larger settlement for Ms. Lasater.” The firm hired Evan Miller, an Employee Retirement Income Security Act partner at Jones Day (who was formerly at Hogan & Hartson) and Hogan & Hartson ethics partner John Keeney Jr., to look into Lasater’s allegations. Both lawyers concluded there was no wrongdoing on the part of the firm. Which isn’t to say there were no problems. “I wish that we had been more scrupulous with the paperwork,” says Robert Brager, managing partner of Beveridge & Diamond, “because then this wouldn’t be an issue. “The firm,” he adds, “is behind John 1,000 percent.” SIGNING YOUR WIFE’S NAME Guttmann is an environmental litigation partner focusing on commercial and securities cases. According to a court document filed by Lasater, he is the billing partner for the firm’s largest client, Sunoco Inc. Lasater cites his high profile as an incentive for the firm “not to have to report itself for disciplinary proceedings under the affirmative whistle-blowing obligations.” In 1995, Guttmann was tabbed by The American Lawyer as one of the 45 best lawyers under 45 years of age. At the time, Guttmann was serving as managing partner of the burgeoning environmental firm. When he stepped down at the end of his six-year run in January 1996, he left behind a record of tremendous growth: Under Guttmann’s guidance, Beveridge & Diamond’s head count and profits doubled, jumping to 60 lawyers and gross revenue of about $60 million. But it was also during this period that Guttmann served as one of three trustees to the firm’s 401(k) plan. While a trustee, he took out three loans from his 401(k) over a three-year period beginning in 1992. In total, Guttmann borrowed $103,693 from the retirement plan. But taking those loans required spousal approval. And because of what the firm acknowledges is “sloppy bookkeeping,” there is now a dispute over whether that approval was ever obtained. Lasater claims she had no knowledge of the three loans. She says it was only through discovery during the divorce proceedings that she came across copies of three promissory notes. “He took money out of our account without my consent,” Lasater says. “I don’t know where that money went.” While she acknowledges that the first and third loan appear to have her signature, she maintains that the second loan, for just under $33,000, does not have her signature. About that fact, there appears to be no dispute. According to an August 2007 deposition, Guttmann says he wrote his wife’s signature on the promissory note dated April 1994, but contends it was with her blessing. She insists that’s not the case. “I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Guttmann, when asked in his deposition if he was aware of any other 401(k) participants at the firm receiving loans without the paperwork being done first. Further clouding the matter is the fact that records show that the effective date of the loan was in December 1993, but that the promissory note wasn’t signed by the firm administrator until February 1994. And Guttmann did not sign the loan document for both himself and Lasater until April 1994. Beveridge, who was then a trustee of the firm’s 401(k) program, signed his name without dating his signature. Beveridge declined to comment for this story. These points in particular drew Judge Thompson’s attention. “It’s certainly not Ms. Lasater’s signature, and it’s a little fuzzy whether she consented or whether he just forged it,” Thompson said during the Sept. 24 court hearing, according to a transcript. “What does that mean? That means he [Guttmann] is committing acts of moral turpitude which could affect his license to practice. .�.�. And if the law firm through the 401(k) and its trustees hasn’t done what they were supposed to do, guess what, the law firm is now liable, okay?” AN �ALTERNATIVE’ INVESTMENT? Beveridge & Diamond was made aware of the loan dispute in a letter Lasater sent to the firm in December 2006. The firm responded on Jan. 7 with a letter from its general counsel, Cynthia Lewis, saying it would look into the allegations. The firm then hired Jones Day’s Miller to investigate, and he concluded that there were no ERISA violations. In a letter to Lasater sent in March, Miller said the loan had been paid back in full and at a reasonable rate of interest. Miller added that “any adverse effect on the value of Mr. Guttmann’s 401(k) Plan account would be both speculative and trivial. And, in any event, the statute of limitations on ERISA violations you assert has long since expired.” Miller says that prior to being withdrawn, the money Guttmann took from the 401(k) plan was invested in treasury bills and money markets, which provided the investment return of roughly 3.8 percent. The loans Guttmann repaid had an 8 percent interest rate. “It becomes an alternative investment that, at the end of the day, had more money in it as a consequence of the loan being at 8 percent,” Miller says. “Ms. Lasater actually saw her interests as a contingent beneficiary enhanced.” But Lasater says she does not know what Guttmann did with the money he borrowed. ERISA lawyers agree that there appears to be no violation by Guttmann, but there is puzzlement over the loan being approved before Guttmann signed the promissory note. “It would seem odd that a firm would permit the execution of a promissory note well after the loan had been executed to the participant,” says Kenneth Robbett, an ERISA lawyer at Robbett & Robbett. ACCOUNTING FOR AN AFFAIR For Lasater, the issues aren’t limited to Guttmann and the disputed loans. Dean “Holly” Cannon, a partner at the firm and managing partner from 1996 through the summer of 2001, admitted in an August 2006 deposition to having an affair with Guttmann that began in May 2005, six months before Guttmann filed for divorce, according to a transcript of that deposition. She is also helping Guttmann pay his soaring legal fees in the case. According to court documents and copies of personal checks produced by Guttmann in the litigation and provided to Legal Times by Lasater, Cannon has contributed more than $300,000 to help Guttmann pay his lawyers at Ain & Bank. Cannon declined to comment. According to court documents, Guttmann has signed promissory notes to repay the money to Cannon. Lasater alleges in a court document that Guttmann is borrowing money from Cannon and claiming it as a loan in order to “reduce both his obligation to support his family and to negate his equitable obligation to reimburse my legal fees.” Court documents show Guttmann’s assets totaling $2 million, with a net worth of $1.6 million. He claimed a gross monthly wage of $45,695. Guttmann declined to comment. Beveridge’s Brager, who says he has been friends with Guttmann for roughly 20 years, has also been pulled into the fray. According to both Lasater and Brager, he told a psychologist appointed by the court to determine custody of the couple’s two children that they would be better off with Guttmann. “Nancy has accused me of unethical conduct for talking to the psychologist,” Brager says. “She’s threatened to report me to the D.C. Bar. That claim on me reflects on her.” This isn’t the only pending litigation between Lasater and Guttmann. In August 2005, before Guttmann filed for divorce, Lasater filed a fraud case against him in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Md., alleging he moved money to a secret bank account. In that case, Lasater, who is seeking $2 million in punitive damages, is represented by Timothy McEvoy, a partner at Odin, Feldman & Pittleman. The case has been stayed by Judge Ann Harrington until the divorce is settled. The divorce trial date is Oct. 29. Moreover, there remains a question as to whether Guttmann could be subject to an ethics investigation by the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel. The investigation done on the firm’s behalf by Hogan’s Keeney determined that Beveridge & Diamond attorneys overseeing the 401(k) did not violate any ethics laws. “We were responding to a letter that said attorneys who received the authorization to execute the loan acted unethically,” Keeney says. “And that’s just not true.” But Keeney says he did not specifically look into whether Guttmann acted unethically. Barry Cohen, a legal ethics and malpractice partner at Crowell & Moring, says the D.C. rules of conduct for lawyers are clear. “If he signed her name without her permission then it would be, for ethics purposes, a dishonest act,” Cohen says. “It would fall under the category of dishonesty and could result in a censure or a suspension. We’d need to know the facts and the motivation.”
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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