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In House Counsel

Ex-GC Tries ‘Career Suicide’ Defense

Posted Jun 1, 2007 1:17 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The former general counsel of Hollinger International, accused of helping direct noncompete payments to other companies owned by company executives, is claiming at trial that he was unfamiliar with securities law and relied on the advice of outside counsel.

That strategy could work in the short term for Mark Kipnis, charged with mail and wire fraud, but it could mean “career suicide,” according to an analysis by Corporate Counsel.

“He's not going to find it easy to find employment elsewhere," law professor John Coffee of Columbia University told the legal magazine. "You can't come back from his position."

Kipnis was a real estate attorney at the law firm law firm Holleb & Coff before he joined Holinger. In opening arguments, his attorney, Ronald Safer, said Kipnis lacked experience and was assured he could rely on outside counsel to raise red flags when warranted. But lawyers at Torys in Toronto and Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York made the wrong call, he said.

Ironically, Kipnis’ defense strategy is one often used by corporate executives accused of white-collar crime—they claim they were following legal advice.

Miami criminal defense lawyer Stephen Bronis told the Chicago Sun-Times that one reason prosecutors often indict company lawyers in corporate scandals is so executives cannot claim they acted on the advice of lawyers. Another reason is that the strategy overcomes attorney-client privilege.

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