Discovering that a partner at your law firm has engaged in a significant violation of New York’s Code of Professional Responsibility is not merely disillusioning. The Code’s imperative to report the ethical misconduct of your fellow lawyers also places you in a potential conflict with your firm and puts you at personal risk. Just how complicated and serious such a situation can become is illustrated by the case of Peter Kelly, the former Hunton & Williams associate who allegedly was discharged for blowing the whistle on the fraudulent billing of partner Scott Wolas, now a fugitive from justice. Ultimately, Mr. Kelly sued Hunton and won a settlement on the eve of trial (NYLJ, July 19), but not before joblessness and presumably a lot of angst along the way. Mr. Kelly’s case is a cautionary tale that raises many questions about how to act ethically without jeopardizing your employment when you suspect that one of your “superiors” has engaged in unethical conduct.
The factual recitation of Judge John Gleeson’s decision in Kelly v. Hunton & Williams reads like a John Grisham novel. Mr. Kelly joins Hunton’s New York office in 1990 as a first-year litigation associate. The office’s tightly knit litigation department has fewer than 10 partners and associates. Mr. Kelly works primarily for Mr. Wolas and Franklin Stone, another partner, and with Christopher Mason, then an associate. His first-year reviews are highly complimentary and he earns the maximum pay raise for his class. But during that first year, apparently because he was involved in preparing attorneys fee applications, Mr. Kelly begins to suspect Mr. Wolas of billing for time not worked. He shares his suspicions with Joseph Saltarelli, another litigation associate, whose own experiences confirm Mr. Kelly’s concern.
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