Criminal Justice

Fired BigLaw partner harassed colleagues, causing one to sleep with loaded gun, prosecutors say

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Prosecutors told jurors in Manhattan, New York City, on Tuesday that a fired K&L Gates partner sent emails and texts that so intimidated colleagues that one slept with a loaded gun under his pillow and another moved to a different state.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Simon told jurors that defendant Willie Dennis used violent imagery and made threatening statements in his texts and emails, Law360 reports.

His messages included statements such as, “I will find you,” and, “Sleep with one eye open,” Simon said.

Dennis was initially charged with four counts of cyberstalking, but one count has been dropped.

Dennis is representing himself with the assistance of standby counsel. He told jurors that his messages addressed sexual harassment, racial discrimination and poor management at the firm. His intent, he said, was to put partners on notice of specific misconduct, he said.

Law360 described Dennis’ opening statement as “at-times erratic” and sometimes seemingly off-topic as he addressed current events, such as the war in Ukraine.

The publication also reports that the judge presiding over the trial, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, scolded Dennis for sending improper emails to the court. Rakoff warned that more emails could result in a contempt holding.

Dennis had sued K&L Gates in November 2020, alleging that he was fired in May 2019 for his complaints about discrimination and then harassed by private investigators hired by the law firm. The suit said Dennis was ousted after he complained in an email sent to more than 300 partners about male partners dating women at the firm and then determining their compensation.

Dennis told the ABA Journal at the time that, before and after he left, his complaints were about sexual harassment and diversity.

At the time of the lawsuit filing, K&L Gates said Dennis was expelled “because of an extensive and documented record of erratic, offensive and improper behavior.”

Dennis’ lawsuit is on hold pending arbitration and the criminal trial, Reuters reports in its coverage of the beginning of the trial.

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