Law Firms

Bose McKinney & Evans Sanctioned for Acts of ‘Chameleon’ Lawyers

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Updated: A federal judge has sanctioned Bose McKinney & Evans, saying the Indianapolis law firm “skated the edge of its responsibility” by behaving as a chameleon and becoming indistinguishable from a client that withheld information in discovery.

U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney ordered Bose McKinney and the client, Red Spot Paint & Varnish Co., to split the costs of attorney fees and discovery related to the discovery litigation, according to a June 5 opinion (PDF) posted by the Indiana Law Blog. He also found that Red Spot had forfeited its defense to the suit by a property owner seeking environmental cleanup costs.

The law firm had pressed on with a litigation strategy that Red Spot had never used two dangerous chemicals despite indications to the contrary, according to the opinion. The firm failed to guide Red Spot managers to make a complete disclosure and never inventoried 68 boxes and two filing cabinets of documents in Red Spot’s basement.

Bose McKinney had also obtained relevant documents about contamination from the Environmental Protection Agency that weren’t disclosed to its litigation opponent, according to the opinion. Partner Richard VanRheenen reviewed the documents, but he later spent some time in the hospital, and the documents “fell into a black hole,” according to testimony by partner Amy Cueller.

The law firm “skated the edge of its responsibility” to disclose relevant information, McKinney said. “BME also failed in its responsibility to be candid with the court by making statements in court filings that it knew were misrepresentations at best and false at worst.”

Three of the firm’s partners—Cueller, VanRheenen and, to a lesser extent, Kathleen Lucas—“had opportunities to steer Red Spot … on a different path and it never did,” McKinney said.

“The court concludes that Red Spot’s conduct can only be described as contumacious, willful, and egregious. BME compounded the problem by, like a chameleon, becoming indistinguishable from its client and allowing Red Spot … to evade the truth.”

Bose McKinney managing partner Kendall Crook issued this statement to the ABA Journal: “This remains a pending matter, and we intend to work diligently to seek an appropriate resolution. We have taken this matter extremely seriously and took prompt action to address the issues described in the court order. The two principal litigators involved in this case are no longer associated with the firm.”

The blog First Impressions noted the ruling. “Do you remember back in school when a couple students in class would act up and the teacher would punish the entire class to make a point that type of behavior isn’t allowed?” the blog wrote. “That’s pretty much what happened Friday to Bose McKinney & Evans when U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney sanctioned the firm for the actions of a few of its attorneys and staff.”

As discussed in a subsequent post, the law firm recently settled with its former client’s litigation opponent, neighboring property owner 1100 West LLC.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. on June 15 to include link to subsequent post.

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