Joel Sanders outside court on Oct. 19, 2015, after a mistrial was declared in the first Dewey & Leboeuf trial. (Rick Kopstein/ALM)
More than a dozen attorneys and staff at Greenspoon Marder—and some former Dewey & LeBoeuf partners—are urging a Manhattan judge to show leniency at the sentencing of ex-Dewey chief financial officer Joel Sanders, who was convicted in May of defrauding the firm’s creditors before its collapse.
After Dewey’s 2012 bankruptcy, Sanders, 59, worked as chief operating officer and then as a consultant to firm operations at Florida-based Greenspoon Marder, an Am Law 200 firm that continues to employ him, according to Sanders’ attorney, Andrew Frisch.
In a letter to the court, Greenspoon founder Michael Marder said Sanders has been “noting but forthright and honest” and “Greenspoon Marder will continue to stand behind him.” In a separate letter, Greenspoon general counsel Bruce Goorland said Sanders “enjoys the trust and confidence” of the firm’s senior management.
The character reference letters were publicly filed in court Monday, included as part of Sanders’ overtures to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Stolz to impose no prison time. In a retrial this year, Sanders was found guilty of concealing the firm’s precarious finances before it was driven into bankruptcy. He was convicted of two class E felonies and one misdemeanor and he is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Other Greenspoon-affiliated attorneys who wrote in support of Sanders include Steven Geller, a former firm leader who was recently elected to the Broward County Commission, and shareholders David Kubiliun and Beth-Ann Krimsky, as well as some top administrators and staff.
“Though Joel was alleged to have defrauded a highly-regarded national law firm and its creditors, a highly-regarded national law firm kept him in its employ after indictment, continued to do so through two trials and after an adverse verdict, and continues to employ him today,” Frisch said in the sentencing brief.
Frisch also remarked on Sanders’ unique situation compared with Steven Davis, the ex-Dewey chairman now living in London who avoided a criminal trial by signing a deferred prosecution agreement, and Dewey’s former executive director Stephen DiCarmine, who was acquitted in May.
Neither Davis nor DiCarmine “will suffer any criminal penalty for either overseeing any fraud or insisting on the management policies at Dewey that contributed to it,” Frisch said.
Frisch said the prosecution never proved Sanders had any intent to steal or violate any tax laws, or that any financial misrepresentation caused Dewey’s collapse, “as opposed to financial mismanagement of Dewey by chairman Steven Davis,” consequences from the financial crisis or press attention from the district attorney’s investigation.
Richard Shutran, a former Dewey partner and now a partner at O’Melveny & Myers who testified for the prosecution, also appears to blame other firm leaders for Dewey’s woes.
“Joel constantly worked under extraordinary pressure generated not only by the firm’s circumstances, but also in large part by the strategy and decision-making undertaken by the senior management of the firm,” Shutran said in a separate letter of support. It wasn’t Sanders’ decision to embark on aggressive lateral partner hiring, open new offices or sign “unsustainable compensation agreements” with various partners, he wrote.
Michael King, former Chicago office managing partner at Dewey and now of counsel at Locke Lord, said Sanders had protested the 2007 merger that created Dewey & LeBoeuf. “In the rush to complete the merger, Joel, essentially alone, tried to stop it,” he said.
Former Dewey partner Thomas J. Moore, now a Mayer Brown partner, said his own experience representing lenders in bad loan and workout cases “has taught me that people in Joel’s position regularly make, and are expected to make, close—and even not so close but still colorable—accounting calls.”
“If Joel’s decisions at Dewey & LeBoeuf are criminal, I believe that many (if not most) of the chief financial officers of companies that experience extreme financial distress have also made decisions that could be found to be equally criminal,” he said.
The character letters include notes from Sanders’ wife, Laura Sanders, and his sons. “When my dad lost his job [at Dewey], he didn’t golden parachute into retirement, he didn’t point fingers in the press, and he didn’t abscond to London to hide from some revenge-inspired indictment. My dad swallowed his pride, he posted his resume on monster[dot]com, and he went back to work,” said his son, Justin Sanders.
The family letters say Joel Sanders became principally responsible for his mentally disabled sister, Tina; their mother, who died during Sanders’ retrial; and a 98-year-old aunt.
In a separate court filing to throw out the jury verdict entirely, Frisch attached an affidavit from accountant Alan Schachter of Citrin Cooperman & Co., who took issue with prosecutors’ interpretation of some accounting adjustments. “It is beyond comprehension how these accounting adjustments could have been alleged as fraud let alone as plainly wrong,” Schachter said.