After a mere four days on the job, former congresswoman Mary Bono on Tuesday resigned as interim CEO of USA Gymnastics.
One reason she stumbled was self-inflicted—she’d previously posted a photo of herself blacking out the Nike logo on her golf shoes, apparently in response to the Colin Kaepernick ad campaign. That prompted gymnast Simone Biles to tweet “*mouth drop* … don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything.”
But Bono was also blasted by gymnast Aly Raisman for her affiliation with Faegre Baker Daniels—a 660-lawyer firm with 13 offices. A nonlawyer, Bono worked for affiliate Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting.
“Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?” tweeted Raisman, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner.
Scott Himsel, an Indianapolis-based litigation partner who is no longer with Faegre, represented USA Gymnastics as the Larry Nasser sex abuse scandal was unfolding.
Raisman wrote, “My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. We now know USOC & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels (Mary Bono’s firm) were also told then, yet Nassar continued to abuse children for 13 months!?”
The Indianapolis Star in May obtained emails where Himsel told Nasser that “his medical techniques were under investigation, and ‘it is in everyone’s best interest’ that Nassar not attend a gymnastics event that weekend,” the IndyStar reported.
The paper said the Himsel agreed to Nassar’s request that USA Gymnastics would explain his absence by saying he was sick. The lawyer also allegedly went along with a later excuse that Nassar was focusing on his private practice.
“At least partly as a result of such discretion, Nassar’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost experts on the treatment of gymnastics-related injuries remained intact for 14 months after USA Gymnastics officials reported him to the FBI,” the IndyStar reported. During that time, he allegedly continued to abuse girls.
In a statement to the IndyStar, Faegre said it participated in reporting Nassar to the FBI in the summer of 2015, “a fact that refutes any claim of a cover up.” The firm added, “We are bound by our obligation of client confidentiality, and thus we cannot comment further at this time.”
Legitimate questions can and should be raised whether Himsel acted properly in representing his client, and whether firm management shares any blame.
But what does this have to do with Bono, a former gymnast and the widow of singer Sonny Bono, who was based in Washington, D.C., where she worked “to find bipartisan, win-win solutions in legislative, regulatory and policy matters”?
It’s entirely possible that she never even met Himsel. And certainly she would have had no control over the work he did.
In a statement to CNN, USA Gymnastics said, “Faegre Baker Daniels is a large, global firm that has a number of divisions and areas, and Mary was not involved in FBD’s work with USA Gymnastics as counsel of record.”
That she is nonetheless tainted by association is troubling—and points to a larger question that I’m surprised big firm lawyers don’t ask more often: Why do we practice law together anyway?
Yes, yes there are synergies and efficiencies and cross-selling. And of course money. But there’s also a risk when a bunch of strangers band together under one brand. With hundreds of lawyers and far-flung offices, there’s often no real connection between partners.
You don’t really know who you’ve thrown your lot in with—and unfairly or not, the misdeeds of one can hurt many.
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