Law Firms

Proskauer accuses former COO of 'brazen and malicious' theft of firm's sensitive information

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Updated: Proskauer Rose has sued its most recent chief operating officer for allegedly downloading and printing “valuable confidential information” that would be “highly useful” to competitors.

Former COO Jonathan O’Brien had created a list of the information that he planned to steal—which the law firm was able to recover after its deletion, the Dec. 27 lawsuit alleges. The list included financial performance of each practice group, proprietary software and programming tools, each partner’s compensation and evaluations, and strategic plans.

O’Brien allegedly used his position to bypass law firm controls to download the information onto a thumb drive in two occasions in December. He also manually printed a “black book binder” showing partner compensation and performance, as well as allocation of the firm’s profits, the suit said.

The conduct was “brazen and malicious,” according to the suit.

Reuters, and the New York Post are among the publications with coverage.

“Mr. O’Brien knew this information would be highly useful to Proskauer’s competitors, as it would enable them to effectively target and recruit Proskauer’s partners, practice groups and clients,” the suit said. “The information would also enable Mr. O’Brien to hit the ground running on behalf of another firm, whether as an employee or a consultant.”

O’Brien bypassed controls by telling the information technology director that he needed the information downloaded to a thumb drive to provide to an external consultant.

O’Brien received his bonus just before the second download and announced his resignation afterward. He left for a vacation in Mauritius in Africa—with plans to return one day before his end date of Jan. 6.

O’Brien also told an e-discovery consultant to lift a litigation hold that prevented deletion of his emails more than a year old and then manually deleted more than 2,000 other emails, the suit said.

O’Brien did not tell Proskauer where he planned to work after his departure, but he did tell one of the people he supervised that firm management would be very angry if they found out.

Proskauer discovered evidence of the alleged theft Dec. 20, the day that O’Brien announced his resignation.

The suit alleges violations of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act, misappropriation of trade secrets under New York common law, breach of fiduciary duty, faithless service and conversion.

The suit seeks disgorgement of compensation earned during a period of faithless service, damages, a temporary restraining order and an injunction. The firm wants an order to prevent transfer and use of the propriety information and to require its destruction.

U.S. District Judge John P. Cronan of the Southern District of New York issued a temporary restraining order Dec. 28 that bars O’Brien or anyone who has notice of the order from disseminating, copying or using any of Proskauer’s proprietary or confidential information. The order also requires all the stolen information to be returned to Proskauer by Jan. 5 and requires permanent removal of all copies, subject to supervision by Proskauer.

The order also temporarily bars O’Brien from working for or consulting with any person or business to which he disclosed or discussed the stolen materials.

Cronan ordered O’Brien to show cause why he shouldn’t be subject to an injunction in a telephone hearing before Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York on Jan. 10. Cronon later pushed back the hearing date to Jan. 24 at the request of O’Brien’s lawyer, according to Law360 and Bloomberg Law.

O’Brien began work at Proskauer in 2015 as chief financial officer and became the COO in 2017.

He did not immediately reply to a request for comment in an email sent to an address listed in court documents. A lawyer for O’Brien, Russell Beck, gave a statement to Law360 and Bloomberg on Wednesday.

“Mr. O’Brien has a very different perspective on the case and is eager to tell his story, which will provide the truth of what actually happened,” Beck said. “Out of respect for the process, he hopes to refrain from hashing this out in the press.”

Updated Jan. 4 at 10:22 a.m. to include information from U.S. District Judge John P. Cronan’s order. Updated Jan. 5 at 8:05 a.m. to include the statement by Jonathan O’Brien’s lawyer and the new hearing date.

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