A former King & Spalding associate who said he was fired for raising ethical concerns about the conduct of two of the firm’s partners has sued the firm for wrongful termination.
David Joffe, who worked in the firm’s commercial litigation group from January 2012 to December 2016, says that King & Spalding partner Paul Straus made false statements during proceedings for an alleged wrongful disclosure by the ZTE Corp., a Chinese telecommunications company that King & Spalding had been representing in a contract matter.
In that case, tech company Vringo Inc. accused ZTE of disclosing confidential information, thereby breaching a nondisclosure agreement between the two firms.
According to Joffe’s complaint, Straus, appearing for ZTE in Vringo v. ZTE, 14-cv-4988, told Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan that ZTE had only provided the confidential information to a Chinese court, but documents later submitted in the case revealed that the confidential information had been shared with a Chinese administrative agency and with Google.
Joffe in the complaint alleged he learned of Straus’ plan to submit a sworn statement on behalf of ZTE stating the company had not disclosed the confidential information, other than in court filings.
Joffe went on to state in the complaint that he approached Straus to make his objections known and at one point told Straus that if he went through with having the declaration signed that Joffe would “personally report you to the bar.”
Joffe alleged that Straus replied, with apparent sarcasm: “Thanks for your support.” The declaration, however, was not submitted.
As the case progressed into discovery, Joffe said he approached Straus and King & Spalding partner Robert Perry to discuss whether or not the firm could ethically continue to represent ZTE.
According to a transcript from proceedings in the case held on June 23, 2015, Kaplan said to Straus that he is “compiling quite a track record in the case.”
“I see obstruction all over the place, not in a technical obstruction of justice criminal case sense, but obstruction of legitimate discovery, and I am not going to stand for it for much longer,” Kaplan said.
In July 2015, Kaplan issued an order for Perry and Straus to show why they should not be sanctioned and King & Spalding subsequently filed to withdraw as counsel for ZTE.
Joffe said that, soon after he told Robert Thornton and Philip Forlenza, general counsel for the firm, about the ethical breaches that lead to Kaplan’s sanctions order, the firm retaliated against him.
Following a December 2015 performance review, Joffe said that he would be removed from the firm’s partnership track and that his pay would be frozen for three months. He was eventually fired in December 2016.
In a statement sent by a spokeswoman for the firm, the firm said Joffe’s firing had nothing to do with the Vringo case. Rather, he failed to follow firm directives. The firm also denies that its attorneys made false statements to Kaplan.
“If Mr. Joffe had any reason to believe that those statements were not true at the time they were made, he had an obligation to immediately so advise the partner or the court,” the statement said.
Andrew Moskowitz, of counsel to Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins, is representing Joffe.
Southern District Judge Valerie Caproni has been assigned to preside over Joffe’s wrongful termination suit.
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