The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has publicly reprimanded a Weil Gotshal partner for disseminating to clients and potential clients a statement by a federal judge regarding the lawyer’s skills.
Attorney Edward R. Reines argued a case before the Federal Circuit in March of 2014. The day after the argument, the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit, Randall Rader, sent an email to Reines with the subject line, “Congratulations.” In the email, Judge Rader relayed that his colleagues on the bench had praised Reines’ performance at oral argument (Rader was not a member of the panel), and stated, “I was really proud to be your friend today. You bring great credit on yourself and all associated with you!” Rader closed the letter by stating, “And actually I not only do not mind, but encourage you to let others see this message. Your friend for life, rrr.”
Taking Judge Rader’s comments to heart, Reines circulated the email to 35 existing and prospective clients, “with accompanying comments soliciting their business based on the email.” Some of the recipients were non-lawyers.
Judge Rader stepped down as chief judge on May 23, acknowledging that he had, “engaged in conduct that crossed lines,” and then retired permanently, effective June 30.
On June 5, the court ordered Reines to show cause why he should not be disciplined.
Although the court acknowledged that the dissemination of complimentary comments by a judge does not itself violate Rule 8.4(e), it found that Reines’ particular actions did violate the Rule. According to the court, Reines distributed an email that, “both explicitly describes and implies a special relationship between [Reines] and then-Chief Judge Rader.” Reines’ email forwarding Rader’s comments also described the judge’s praise as “unusual,” and referenced his “stature” with the court. Recipients of the Reines’ email also indicated they believed it conveyed a special relationship between Reines and Rader. The court further found that Reines suggested in the email that he should be retained not just for his advocacy skills, but for his relationship with the judge. The court therefore concluded that Reines had improperly implied an ability to influence a government agency or official to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or the law.
The court found a public reprimand to be the appropriate sanction.
As a final note, the court stated that it was referring Reines to the California bar authorities for investigation of separate incidents in which Reines allegedly arranged for concert tickets and backstage access for Judge Rader while Reines had cases pending with Rader’s court.
Wall Street Journal coverage can be found here.
The court’s public reprimand is here.