Super-lawyer David Boies has been at the center of some of the biggest legal battles in recent American history, including Bush vs. Gore, U.S. vs. Microsoft and the fight about California’s Proposition 8 and gay marriage.
Now Treasurer Gina Raimondo has lured Boies to Rhode Island to join the legal team defending the state’s landmark pension overhaul; he’s even cut his fee from $1,250 an hour to just $50. The first major hearing before R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter is scheduled for Friday morning.
Boies is chairman of the law firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner LLP. He sat down Thursday with WPRI.com to discuss the reason he took the case, how he views the legal arguments, and why he thinks liberal Democrats should support the pension law. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Let’s dive right in on the legal issues. Judge Taft-Carter says employees and retirees have an implied contract right to their promised pension benefits. You think she’s wrong.
Yes. I think there’s a difference between a statute and a contract. But obviously my view doesn’t control; I’m just an advocate for one particular party. What matters is what the courts ultimately decide. And so what we’ll be doing in the course of the proceeding is each side will have an opportunity to set forth their arguments for why this is or is not a contract.
Do you think it’s already too far gone at the Superior Court level because of Taft-Carter’s decision about the implied contract, and it will have to go to a higher court?
Treasurer Raimondo’s office confirmed Thursday that super-lawyer David Boies has agreed to join the state’s defense team for the big pension lawsuit at a knockdown hourly rate of $50 – quite a bargain considering the famed Bush vs. Gore attorney usually charges $960 (!) an hour.
Boies explained his reasons for taking on the case in an interview with Reuters’ Alison Frankel:
“This is a $5 trillion issue,” Boies told me in a phone interview Wednesday. “Unless we solve this problem, everyone is in jeopardy — cities and states, those who depend on their services, even employees of cities and states.” Boies predicts an unprecedented wave of government bankruptcies if elected officials don’t take action. …
Raimondo … approached Boies several weeks ago, after deciding the state needed a constitutional law expert. “The enormity of the consequences of this case is hard to overstate,” Raimondo said. …
Boies was intrigued by the national implications and constitutional considerations of pension reform. He also admired the way Rhode Island accomplished its overhaul. … “This was a bipartisan effort, led by Democrats, attempting to reform state finances in a way that will benefit everyone,” Boies said. “It doesn’t help employees to have an employer that’s insolvent.” …
“This is not just a legal question,” he said. “It’s a political question, a question of how we’re going to reform the finances of city and state governments.” If other states see that Rhode Island has succeeded in passing an overhaul and turning back a court challenge, he said, they may follow.
But the best quote in the piece may be from Council 94′s Michael Downey, who dismisses Frankel’s suggestion he and his union allies should be more worried now: “Boies didn’t do much good for Al Gore.”
Jennifer Smith reports for The Wall Street Journal:
Law firms are becoming top prey for email scammers who exploit lawyers’ eagerness to take on new clients through the Internet. …
“I got one last week – a guy from England saying he had a judgment for some money from a company in Rhode Island and that he would be sending over a check,” said William J. Delaney, a Rhode Island lawyer and former president of the state bar association, which sends out email warnings to lawyers each time a new variation sweeps the state.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The R.I. Economic Development Corporation has hired a special counsel, Max Wistow, to examine whether taxpayers have legal avenues to claw back some of the tens of millions of dollars they’re poised to lose after the collapse of Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios.
Central Falls filed for bankruptcy just last week, but the legal costs of the city’s 15-month-old financial crisis are mounting fast, according to a new story I just posted on WPRI.com:
A parade of lawyers has charged bankrupt Central Falls more than $1.2 million since its leaders declared insolvency – and state taxpayers have foot most of the bill, according to records obtained by WPRI.com.
As of Monday, the state had paid $1.07 million in legal fees to five lawyers and law firms for their work in Central Falls, while the city government had paid $158,215 to two more, according to the governor’s office. The city filed for receivership in May 2010 and declared bankruptcy last week.
The biggest payments so far have gone to the Providence law firm Orson and Brusini. Theodore Orson, a partner there, is the city’s lead bankruptcy attorney. His firm has charged the state $365,951 as of this week.
Close behind is Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, a large firm with an office in Providence. Karen Grande, an expert on municipal law at the firm, is assisting Orson with Central Falls’ case. Edwards Angell has charged the state $350,060.
Patrick Rogers, Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s chief of staff, was a partner at Edwards Angell before joining the administration in January. Chafee’s father, the late Sen. John Chafee, was also a lawyer for the firm, which hosted fundraisers for the future governor during his campaign.
Read the rest of the article to find out how much the three receivers have made and why Robert Flanders is nervous about another legal cost the city could be facing.
In 2009, a total of 209 people passed the bar exam in Rhode Island. But the state is only expected to have about 102 legal job openings each year between 2010 and 2015, leaving a surplus of 107 lawyers, the study found.
Those numbers come from Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., a consulting firm, using data from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.
Rhode Island’s lawyer surplus is mirrored in nearly ever state. The only places without one were Nebraska, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., the study said. So even if you’re planning to pass the bar here, it might not be a bad idea to take a class in agricultural law in case you land a job in the Cornhusker State.
Bonus fact: The median wage for a lawyer in Rhode Island is $39.65 an hour, compared with about $44 an hour in Massachusetts and Connecticut; $70.96 in Washington, D.C.; and $24.96 out in Montana.
One of Rhode Island’s best-known criminal defense lawyers has signed on to represent a co-defendant in the case against reputed former mob boss Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio.
Providence lawyer Artin Coloian will defend Thomas Iafrate of Johnston, who was indicted along with Manocchio in January. Iafrate pleaded not guilty earlier this month to charges of racketeering extortion and conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge William Smith on Friday granted Coloian’s pro hac vice motion to represent Iafrate in the federal case. Iafrate has been represented up to now by Kevin Salvaggio, a former North Providence police officer who owns an eponymous law firm in Providence.
Coloian is no stranger to high-profile court cases. His other clients have included former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, reputed mobster Robert “Bobby” DeLuca, and the suspect in the hit-and-run accident that injured Providence City Councilman Terrence Hassett.
That was the question The New York Times asked over the weekend in a big story about whether it makes sense for law students to be taking on six-figure debt-loads to enter a field that’s apparently overcrowded already. (Slate published a similar, shorter piece in October.)
One of the issues highlighted by The Times is the questionable ways schools go about boosting and maintaing their spots in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings. Suffice to say, the statistics they provide about how many of their graduates are working and how much they’re making should be taken with a grain of salt:
In 1997, when U.S. News first published a statistic called “graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation,” law schools reported an average employment rate of 84 percent. In the most recent U.S. News rankings, 93 percent of grads were working — nearly a 10-point jump. …
Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000. That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure.
Rhode Island only has one law school, the private Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, which was established in 1993 and accredited by the ABA four years later. (The state isn’t likely to open a public law school anytime soon.) U.S. News doesn’t rank RWU Law numerically but classifies it as a fourth-tier program.
I pulled RWU’s latest employment report [pdf], which showed 82% of its 2009 graduates were employed nine months later. An additional 9% were pursuing another degree, while the rest were unemployed.
Nearly half of RWU Law graduates with a job were in private practice. Among the rest, 15% were clerking for a judge, 15% were in business, 11% were in government, 7% were doing public interest work and 2% were in academia.
The average first-year salary among the 159 graduates who responded to the survey was $66,074, while the median salary was $46,000. The Times story cautions that those numbers may be inflated by the fact that less successful graduates are also less likely to fill out the survey.
I suspect these numbers will keep improving for RWU as the school continues to establish itself and its graduates make names for themselves in law and politics – although it may also face a bit of regional competition now that Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth has become part of UMass.
Update: Economist Michael Mandel points out one reason people are still going to law school: the legal sector was one of the relatively few that added jobs over the last 10 years.
A tipster e-mails to point out something I haven’t seen reported locally (though I may have missed it): the lawyer representing Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of providing WikiLeaks with thousands of classified government documents, is a local man.
Manning’s defense attorney is David E. Coombs, an Army defense counsel whose office is in Fall River who is also an adjunct professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. He has agreed to defend Manning for a flat fee of $100,000, according to Wired.
Coombs’ résumé [pdf] says he attended the University of Idaho – earning a bachelor’s in journalism, of all topics – and served in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps from 1997 to 2005. He then got his master of laws degree at The Judge Advocate General’s School in Virginia and subsequently spent three years as a professor there, except for a six-month stint as a judicial adviser in Iraq, before he left the service.