Former King & Spalding associate David Joffe, who accused partners at the Am Law 100 firm of unethical conduct while representing Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp., cleared a hurdle in June in his wrongful termination suit against the firm.
But now a dust-up with lawyers representing him in the case is likely to delay the litigation, as the attorney-client relationship has broken down, according to court papers.
On Monday, a lawyer for Joffe—Andrew Moskowitz of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins in Springfield, New Jersey—filed a brief in Manhattan federal court outlining issues that he said have soured his representation of the former King & Spalding associate and Harvard Law School graduate.
In the filing, a reply brief that supports a motion to withdraw as counsel, Moskowitz said Joffe has missed at least $6,250 in payments on his legal bills. The brief also claims that Joffe has resisted Javerbaum Wurgraft’s advice regarding a suit in which Joffe alleges that King & Spalding fired him after he expressed concerns about possible ethical breaches by partners that represented Shenzhen-based ZTE.
Neither Joffe nor Moskowitz immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday. But Moskowitz’s filing this week marks the latest in a back-and-forth between Joffe and his lawyers that became public in mid-July, when Javerbaum Wurgraft first filed a motion to withdraw from the case.
One source of disagreement between Joffe and his lawyers is a demand on Joffe’s part that any settlement with King & Spalding should require the firm to create an ethics program. But Moskowitz on Monday said there’s more to the discord than that single issue.
“JW does not seek to withdraw because Mr. Joffe sought to require K&S to adopt an ethics program,” Moskowitz wrote. “Rather, the reasons include … Mr. Joffe’s unwillingness to inform his counsel what monetary figure he would accept and his refusal to entertain ‘the possibility [of settlement] in a realistic manner.’ In addition … Mr. Joffe has deliberately disregarded his contractual obligations.”
In addition to trying to drop Joffe’s case, Javerbaum Wurgraft has sought to impose a retaining lien against Joffe. Moskowitz has argued the lien is necessary because the firm has racked up more than $38,000 in expenses while representing him, but Joffe hasn’t reimbursed the firm for those costs despite agreeing to make installment payments that would apply to the balance.
Joffe responded to the initial withdrawal motion in a letter on July 24. Though he said he didn’t oppose Javerbaum Wurgraft’s motion to withdraw, he accused the firm of failing to express any concerns about missed payments or a “deteriorating relationship.” Based on his understanding, Joffe said the only real source of disagreement was his insistence that any potential settlement include a provision for King & Spalding to adopt an ethics program.
“I recognize that including such a program in any settlement does not inure to Mr. Moskowitz’s direct financial benefit (nor, by the same token, to mine). But that is not a basis for withdrawal,” Joffe wrote. “Contrary to counsel’s apparent expectations, the client is not a walking dollar sign.”
Joffe went on to allege that Javerbaum Wurgraft’s withdrawal motion revealed confidential information about his own participation in the case against King & Spalding. But Moskowitz, whose brief on Monday was heavily redacted, denied that his firm revealed any confidential information that would affect Joffe’s case.
Before the attorney-client spat, Joffe’s suit had been moving toward a trial. In June, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni issued a ruling that denied King & Spalding’s motion for summary judgment. The judge initially set a pretrial conference for Aug. 10, but that has since been postponed in light of the attorney withdrawal motion.
Joffe’s claims against his former firm stem from King & Spalding’s work for ZTE in a case brought against the company buy telecommunications industry competitor Vringo Inc. In that underlying litigation, Vringo accused ZTE of breaching a nondisclosure agreement by sharing confidential information with Chinese regulators and competitors.
King & Spalding partners in that case were asked by a different judge in Manhattan federal court to explain why they didn’t deserve to be sanctioned for potentially intentional discovery delays and harassment.
Joffe expressed concern that the King & Spalding partners representing ZTE, Robert Perry and Paul Straus in New York, were making false statements to the court regarding the limits to which ZTE had shared confidential material. King & Spalding eventually withdrew from representing ZTE and the Vringo case later settled before there was any ruling on potential sanctions against the law firm. (Perry left King & Spalding in December.)
But the end of the case spelled trouble for Joffe, according to his suit against King & Spalding. Shortly after the suit ended, he was demoted from senior associate to associate, his pay was frozen and he didn’t receive a bonus. He was then fired in December 2016.
King & Spalding, which denies Joffe’s claims, has argued that the former associate’s career had “plateaued” and that he was fired in part because he did not submit a practice plan. Proskauer Rose is representing the firm in the litigation. King & Spalding succeeded late last year in dismissing another suit filed against the firm by FORM Holdings Corp., an entity that claimed to have been deceived by the firm through its representation of ZTE.