Posted Jul 18, 2007 10:46 pm CDT
Representing a high-profile client in a major white-collar case can be both a blessing and a curse for a criminal defense attorney. Such cases can bring in big bucks and offer lots of free publicity. But they can also result in enormous unpaid legal bills.
That nightmare scenario is apparently prompting at least a few of the lawyers for former employees of KPMG to beat a hasty path to the exit doors, now that charges have been dismissed against 13 of the 16 defendants in a major tax shelter fraud case, according to the Wall Street Journal law blog.
Among them is Robert Fink, whose 12-lawyer New York City appellate firm has been representing Richard Smith, former vice chairman of the tax department at the Big Four accountant. Although he was initially paid $400,000 by KPMG, the firm stopped funding defense costs when threatened with prosecution for doing so, Fink tells the blog. He says he is still owed “seven figures,” and that continuing to represent Smith, if the dismissal is reversed on appeal, could wipe out his life savings.
As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan dismissed charges against 13 defendants on Monday because prosecutors violated the employees’ constitutional rights by pressuring KPMG not to pay their defense costs. In addition to releasing his client from further prosecution, at least for now as prosecutors appeal, the dismissal also unchains him from the case, Fink contends.
However, the judge must determine whether to approve motions to withdraw from the case apparently filed by Fink and several other lawyers. A hearing is scheduled next week to determine whether attorneys can properly withdraw before pending appeals are exhausted. In general, a criminal defense lawyer is expected to represent a client through appeal, once he or she has accepted the case, unless a court accepts a motion to withdraw.