Glen Lerner, the Las Vegas personal injury lawyer who portrays himself as a perpetual winner in his incessant advertising, lost a second round in federal court in Louisiana and decided to accept defeat.
He’s trying to avoid another loss by fighting a pending State Bar of Nevada complaint alleging professional misconduct.
Since 2013, Lerner has contested allegations of misconduct stemming from cases involving the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In February 2015 he was sanctioned by New Orleans-based U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who decided that Lerner and his law firm would not be able to represent 1,000 clients. Financially, that was a heavy hit for the man once known as the Heavy Hitter.
In June, a three-judge panel upheld Barbier’s sanction.
In a wreck? Need a check?
Well, Lerner’s not getting settlement checks from that oil spill.
The Nevada bar’s complaint is based on the same allegations of professional misconduct that were deemed valid in Louisiana. The problems have caused Lerner great stress, said local attorney Dominic Gentile, who has represented Lerner for 15 years. “He’s not laughing it off, he’s very upset,” Gentile said.
Lerner has received at least five previous reprimands in Nevada for allowing paralegals to pose as attorneys; allowing a lawyer who wasn’t licensed in Nevada to handle his cases; and for not showing up on the first day of a client’s murder trial.
Gentile fears the state bar wants to make an example out of Lerner because of his public profile and send a message to Nevada attorneys in the process.
Lerner was one of many attorneys who flocked to Louisiana like migrating pelicans in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They all wanted a piece of the big settlements that were sure to follow.
Lerner had some Tulane Law School buddies who were licensed in Louisiana. Lerner and Jon Andry formed a law firm called Andry Lerner. Lerner had a separate business relationship with another law school friend, Lionel Sutton.
All three were sanctioned by Barbier for professional misconduct. Four federal judges agreed Lerner had to take responsibility for improprieties in dealing with the Court Supervised Settlement Program, which oversaw the claims of oil spill cases.
Lerner had a business relationship with Sutton in a water reclamation business called Crown LLC. Through circuitous payments, Sutton received $40,000 in client referral fees. Judge Barbier found that was a back door fee split prohibited by Louisiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Sutton had referred one client, Casey Thonn, to Lerner after Sutton went to work for the settlement program.
Lerner was sanctioned for violating the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. It also prohibits conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The settlement program was created to administer justice.
Barbier said Lerner “had to know it was a huge conflict of interest” to pay Sutton, who at the time was working within the settlement program, while asking Sutton to hurry along the settlement of Andry Lerner cases. Lerner was liable for knowingly violating the ethics rules and assisting Sutton in violating the ethics rules, the appellate judges wrote.
The State Bar of Nevada piggybacked on Barbier’s ruling, filing a complaint Feb. 23 alleging Lerner “engaged in acts of misconduct warranting the imposition of professional discipline.”
Gentile’s motion to dismiss the bar complaint said Lerner trusted Sutton and asked whether there was a conflict of interest; Sutton said there wasn’t. Lerner’s defense says the ethics rules are unconstitutionally vague.
Any discipline against Lerner ultimately would be decided by the Nevada Supreme Court and could range from a letter of reprimand to a fine, suspension or disbarment.
My guess: Lerner will receive some sort of discipline.
How could Nevada officials find he did nothing wrong when a federal judge ruled the opposite?
Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison