(Photo by Maggie Soladay)
“There aren’t too many secrets in this case,” said Judge Robert Stoltz on Dec. 5. He was referring to the Dewey & LeBoeuf trial over which he presided. The multiyear effort to convict Steven Davis, Stephen DiCarmine and Joel Sanders produced a raft of acquittals on many charges and a hung jury on the more serious offenses in October.
Actually, there are two big secrets in the case, but no one is talking about them.
Secret No. 1: Why Zachary Warren?
Former Dewey chairman Davis won’t face a retrial. Manhattan assistant district attorney Peirce Moser has offered him a deferred prosecution agreement. As reported, he will not have to admit guilt and can continue practicing law. When my kids were young, they would have called this a “do-over.”
Judge Stoltz’s reference to secrets was in response to Moser’s suggestion that the retrial of Dewey executive director DiCarmine and finance director Sanders should precede the first trial of former low-level staffer Zachary Warren. The longer Warren dangles in a world of uncertainty, the more leverage it gives Moser in his relentless pursuit of someone who never should have been indicted in the first place. Appropriately, the judge denied Moser’s request.
That leads to secret No. 1: Why is the Manhattan DA’s office squandering its scarce resources to pursue Zachary Warren at all?
I’ve written extensively about Warren’s plight. At age 24, he worked at Dewey & LeBoeuf for about a year, from mid-2008 to mid-2009, as a client relations specialist. His principal job was to pester Dewey & LeBoeuf partners into making sure that clients paid their bills.
Apparently, his mistake of a lifetime came on Dec. 30, 2008. That’s when he accepted an invitation to join 29-year-old Dewey finance director Frank Canellas and 53-year-old chief financial officer Sanders for dinner at Del Frisco’s steakhouse. There he allegedly witnessed the creation of what the DA’s office called a master plan of accounting fraud. As his price for that free dinner, Warren would get indicted five years later.
When Zachary Warren left Dewey & LeBoeuf in June 2009, did anyone in the world think that the firm was unlikely to repay its bills, much less collapse—ever? No.
In 2010, was Warren even at the firm as others worked on the bond offering at the center of the DA’s case? No, he was a 1-L at Georgetown.
Even if obtained, would a conviction of Warren result in anything positive for anyone inside or outside our justice system? No.
Warren’s indictment was a travesty. The jury’s rejection of the DA’s case against his superiors is reason alone to drop the effort to prosecute him.
So why is Moser so determined to try Zach Warren? One possibility is that the same phenomena contributing to Dewey & LeBoeuf’s downfall infects the DA’s office: hubris, ego, lack of accountability for mistakes and an unwillingness to admit errors that would prompt thoughtful individuals to change course. Maybe it’s a lawyer personality thing.
Another possibility is the public servant manifestation of greed: The DA wants to put a Dewey & LeBoeuf notch—any Dewey & LeBoeuf notch—on its convictions holster. After Cyrus Vance Jr. personally announced the indictments in a circuslike press conference on March 6, 2014, Moser suffered unambiguous defeat at trial. In fact, even the plea agreements that the DA’s office squeezed from former firm staffers who later testified at trial now look silly. Unfortunately, the resulting penalties aren’t silly for those who are stuck with them.
To put the DA’s pursuit of Zachary Warren in context, consider this. According to published reports, assistant DA Peirce Moser has offered him a plea deal, too. But it is more onerous than the DA’s deferred prosecution agreement with Davis.
There is no just world in which that makes any sense.
Secret No. 2: Where Is the Money?
Prosecutors told the jury that it would not see a “smoking gun.” That’s because the DA didn’t know how to look for or describe it. But the gun was there. It was pervasive, insidious and hiding in plain sight. It was the environment that caused staffers to fear for their jobs if powerful partners weren’t happy. That meant making sure that they received millions more than the firm had available to distribute, even if it came from bank credit lines and outside investors in the firm’s 2010 bond offering.
That leads to secret No. 2: Why didn’t the DA follow the money?
The public could have reasonably expected Vance to direct the power of his office toward the most egregious offenders and offenses. That didn’t happen. Sure, Davis had a major responsibility for the strategy that brought the firm down. But the executive committee consisted of top partners who were supposed to be fiduciaries in running the firm for the benefit of all partners and the institution. Likewise, as most of the firm’s so-called leaders walked away with millions—far more than Davis, DiCarmine, Sanders or Warren received—bankruptcy creditors got between 5 and 15 cents for every dollar the firm owed them.
In a November 2012 bankruptcy court filing, Davis himself teed up what should have been the central issue in any attempt to assign blame for the firm’s problems:
“While ‘greed’ is a theme … the litigation that eventually ensues will address the question of whose greed.”
The DA’s office never pursued that question.
Shortly after Vance’s March 2014 press conference, assistant DA Moser received a promotion. He became chief of the tax crimes unit. The DA’s office announced that Moser’s new position would not preclude him from continuing to run the Dewey & LeBoeuf case. According to his prominence at the most recent court hearing, it’s still Moser’s case.
If no good deed goes unpunished, sometimes it seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded.