Lawyer Shredded Some Documents, But None of Them Were Originals, He Says in Court Filing

Theodore Tetzlaff, a Chicago rainmaker who as a law firm partner also served as the top attorney for Peoples Energy Corp., now faces a malpractice suit from the utility company alleging that the Ungaretti & Harris partner authorized the destruction of 16 boxes of evidence in a class action suit against the company in violation of a court order. The class action eventually settled, Crain’s Chicago Business reports, but People’s Energy maintains that the evidence destruction led to a significantly higher settlement.

Some documents were shredded, a recent Cook County Circuit Court defense motion allows, but the documents did not include any originals, only copies.

Peoples Energy “admitted that no original documents were destroyed and that copies of the documents at issue were available from multiple other sources,” Stephen Novack, Tetzloff’s lawyer, wrote in a motion. “No harm, no foul.”

Ungaretti & Harris is also a defendant in the malpractice case, which was brought in December 2010. In 2003, while Tetzlaff was a partner with McGuireWoods, he arranged an outsourcing deal with People’s Energy where he would serve as their general counsel and retain his firm position, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time. But McGuirewoods ended the $9 million a year arrangement with People’s Energy in 2005, and Tetzlaff then joined Ungaretti & Harris, taking People’s Energy with him.

People’s Energy was acquired by WPS Resources Group in 2006, and at that point some of the legal work was shifted to Foley & Lardner, including a 2004 class action suit customers filed against People’s Energy that alleged the company illegally profited from trading transactions with Enron at the expense of its regulated utilities, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas. Foley in 2009 discovered that several boxes of documents were shredded, according to the Chicago Tribune, and the firm reported the destruction to the court.

The complaint against Tetzlaff alleges that the class action complaint became “virtually untriable” for Peoples Energy because of the document destruction. The malpractice caused $4.6 million in damages, which includes legal fees, Peoples Energy said in the complaint.

In December, a firm-wide email from Ungaretti & Harris managing partner Thomas Fahey referred to news coverage of the malpractice case. “Without going into detail in this email, we simply want you to be assured that we are vigorously defending ourselves in the matter and are confident that it will be resolved successfully,” Fahey wrote. “We have always provided our clients with counsel of the utmost professionalism and integrity, and that was the standard that we adhered to in this matter.”

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