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Legal Ethics

Lawyer for Jill Kelley Says He’ll Sue US Attorney in Tampa if Leaks Continue re Petraeus Case

Posted Nov 28, 2012 12:52 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A lawyer representing Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, whose complaint about threatening emails wound up linking her name to a sex scandal that led to David Petraeus' resignation from his position as CIA Director, has threatened to sue the U.S. Attorney in Tampa.

Abbe Lowell wrote in a letter to W. Stephen Muldrow, an Assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, that he may pursue legal action If leaks about Kelley continue. The letter accuses the feds of giving his client's name to the media, among other information. A probe by the FBI determined that the emails to Kelley, who knew high-level military men because she served as a volunteer social coordinator for a military base in Tampa, came from Paula Broadwell, who wrote a biography about Petraeus and, other emails reportedly revealed, had had an affair with the retired four-star U.S. Army general.

“These leaks most certainly had to come, at least in part, from government sources,” Lowell wrote in a letter obtained by the Washington Post. “I write to ask whether the Department of Justice is investigating these leaks and potential infringements upon the Kelleys’ privacy ... as part of its current work.”

The Tampa Tribune reports that the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa is meeting Wednesday morning with the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General's Office to determine who should respond to Lowell.

Because the letter doesn't specify who the lawyer thinks may be responsible for the claimed leaking, it isn't clear that his office should be involved, U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill of Tampa told the newspaper. "He does not say our office leaked it. If the leaks did not occur in our office, we have no jurisdiction."

O'Neill said his office would "definitely investigate" if Lowell is alleging leaks by someone local. But if the claimed conduct occurred in Washington, D.C., he said, the investigation would have to take place there.

Meanwhile, the Post reports, Lowell also complained to Florida bar authorities about Barry Cohen, a lawyer who previously represented Kelley and her husband, Scott. Lowell contended that Cohen violated his ethical obligations to his former clients by holding a press conference to discuss them with the media several weeks ago, as the Petraeus scandal was unfolding.

Cohen did not immediately respond Tuesday night to a request for comment from the newspaper. However, the Associated Press reports that he said Tuesday that he hadn't seen Lowell's letter and contended that Kelley has already "lost the battle in the court of public opinion," regardless of what her counsel does now.

"No matter how many high-priced lawyers and publicists she employs, she has been exposed for what she is," Cohen said.

Cohen's law firm formerly employed Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who is an attorney, and was later sued by Khawam for alleged breach of contract and sexual harassment. A Tampa Bay Times article provides additional details about the suit and Cohen's reported comments about Kelley.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Another Woman at the Center of the Petraeus Scandal Has Retained Counsel"

ABAJournal.com: "Attorney Gloria Allred Suits Up for Lawyer in Media Firestorm, Thanks Petraeus Family for Support"

Daily Intel (New York Magazine): "Jill Kelley Launches Fight for Privacy As Pentagon Digs Deeper Into Her Inbox"

New York Times: "Investigation Into General Narrows Look at E-Mail"

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