Trials & Litigation

Ex-BigLaw partner accused of 'shaking his behind' at opposing counsel escapes sanction

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A federal judge in Houston has ruled that there is no need to sanction a former BigLaw lawyer after a motion accusing him of “shaking his behind” at a mediation went viral.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal noted that the facts are in dispute about what happened and who is to blame. In any event, she said in her May 4 order, lawyer Dennis Duffy’s reputation has already taken a hit, and that made sanctions unnecessary.

Duffy was a partner at BakerHostetler when the sanctions motion was filed in February. He now works at Kane Russell Coleman & Logan, Law360 reports. He no longer represents the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. in the discrimination case filed against it.

Rosenthal began her opinion this way: “One of the sentences a judge does not imagine—much less welcome—writing includes the words ‘butt shaking’ in describing a lawyer’s alleged actions at a mediation. Sadly, those words fit here.”

The opposing lawyer, Alfonso Kennard Jr., had accused Duffy of “shaking his behind” in front of him during the August 2019 mediation and making disparaging comments about his ponytail.

According to Kennard’s motion, Duffy said, “Do you want to f- - - me? You have a ponytail haircut, I figured you wanted to f- - - me.”

Although Chevron replaced Duffy with new lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright, the company nonetheless disputed Kennard’s allegations.

Rosenthal received declarations under seal about the alleged episode from Duffy, Kennard and the mediator.

“The declarations show significant disagreement about what occurred,” Rosenthal said. “While Duffy’s behavior was clearly outside professional bounds, neither counsel was a role model of professional conduct.”

Rosenthal said there was no need to sort out the factual disputes because she thought no formal sanction is necessary at this point.

“Duffy has had to withdraw,” she wrote. “Before he did so, he received national press coverage when the sanctions motion ‘went viral.’ Duffy’s professional reputation, and the closely related ability to attract new business, will no doubt suffer, and they should.”

Kennard had sought $10,000 in attorney fees to cover the cost of the sanctions motion and coordinate a deposition. Rosenthal turned down the request.

Rosenthal said the sanctions motion was “short and straightforward, and neither it nor the added deposition-coordination justify the large amount of money [the plaintiff] seeks, even as a penalty.”

The plaintiff in the case, Alclair White, alleges that she was fired because of her age, race, gender and disability after working at Chevron for more than 30 years.

Kennard told Law360 that he disagrees with Rosenthal’s finding that neither lawyer was a role model of professional conduct. He said he thinks Rosenthal thought that he made the motion go viral, but it wasn’t true.

“We didn’t issue any press releases or anything of the sort,” Kennard told Law360. “I think Judge Rosenthal thought ‘shame on us’ for making this a national headline, but we didn’t.”

Duffy declined to comment when contacted by Law360.

BakerHostetler previously told the ABA Journal in a statement that it couldn’t comment on a confidential mediation, but “we strenuously deny the assertions made in Mr. Kennard’s filing.”

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