Brian Eason wrote a story for the Sunday Clarion Ledger (h/t RFP in comments) that is simply excellent about the conflicts of interest involved with Jones Walker representing everyone against the middle and it involves a truckload of public money with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority and the Farish Street Entertainment District in blighted downtown Jackson. Eason takes a complicated subject in legal conflicts of interest and makes it understandable for the reader. This part is key:
Larry Dessem, an expert on legal ethics, says conflict of interest rules are in place to protect a key principle of the profession:
“One of the primary duties of any lawyer is loyalty to his client,” says Dessem, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. “You owe that duty first and foremost.”
And even when a large firm is involved, conflicts can’t be ignored simply because different attorneys represent the clients.
“While lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly represent a client when any one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so,” the rule says.
Once upon a time a reporter that was not from this area was nice enough to lecture me on legal conflicts with a “Big C” and a “Little C”, a delineation that is evidently made on Wall Street to justify perverting the legal process. I don’t buy it. In fact there is a critter known as an Unwaivable Conflicts of Interest, the rules of which vary a bit from state to state. I would argue that Eason’s article makes clear Jones Walker’s conflict of interest in this matter is of the unwaivable variety, which requires the firm to step aside. Problem is they won’t.
What I find most revealing about the firm’s behavior in this whole deal is how down and dirty nasty Jones Walker became despite the massive conflict of interest:
At the time a Jones Walker attorney was maneuvering to have Watkins charged with fraud, another Jones Walker client, JRA, was still under contract with his group to develop one of its most sought-after projects.
When JRA dismissed Watkins in August, it put the agency in violation of its lease agreement with CMPDD —another Jones Walker client —which had loaned Watkins’ Farish Street Group $5.4 million for the project.
Until August, the interests of Watkins, CMPDD and JRA were one in the same —success for the Farish Street Entertainment District. But Jones Walker also had an opposing goal for Retro Metro that could have been detrimental to the project’s success —a fraud charge and monetary judgment against Watkins.
What a mess folks! That said nothing in Eason’s piece surprises me as Slabbed has long been wise to the many ethical shortcomings associated with the practice of law at Jones Walker. In the nice twist, The Clarion Ledger, one of the Sun Herald’s major competitors, exposes the paper’s law firm for what they are. To the extent Jones Walker’s Henry Laird is the official lawyer for self admitted felon Aaron Broussard’s SLAPP happy business associates, it is a story I’m more than happy to help the Clarion Ledger tell. Additionally I would posit there is way more dirt out there for enterprising muckrakers on the topic of Jones Walker’s conflicts of interests.
For the public this serves as another reminder that big firms are not inherently better than an engaged and committed local lawyer in a solo practice. My experience has been the exact opposite in fact, give me an experienced local lawyer committed to serving their clients over these mega law firms that view their clients as red meat. Caveat Emptor.