CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER
Hall v. Reed Smith
24 Corporate Crime Reporter 11(10), March 14, 2010
Oliver Hall is one lawyer.
Reed Smith is more than 1,700 lawyers.
And yet, Oliver Hall thinks he can bring Reed Smith down a notch.
Hall is a young lawyer based in Washington, D.C.
He also is founder of a group called the Center for Competitive Democracy.
And for the past couple of years, Hall has been facing off against the Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith – one of the nation’s largest law firms.
Remember back in 2004 when Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo were running for President and Vice President?
To get on the ballot, Nader/Camejo had to collect signatures in each state.
The Democrats decided they didn’t want Nader and Camejo on the ballots.
They feared they would siphon away votes from the Kerry/Edwards ticket.
So, they launched a nationwide campaign to challenge the Nader signatures.
And to try to force Nader off the ballot in as many states as possible.
In Pennsylvania, the Dems worked closely with Reed Smith to knock Nader off the ballot.
Reed Smith partner Efrem Grail boasts on his web site that he “successfully challenged Ralph Nader's effort to qualify for inclusion on Pennsylvania's 2004 general presidential election ballot.”
To get on the ballot in Pennsylvania, Nader/Camejo needed to collect 25,000 valid signatures.
They collected 51,000.
Reed Smith and state employees worked overtime to challenge those signatures.
And a Pennsylvania court eventually invalidated more than 30,000 of those signatures.
As a result, Nader/Camejo did not appear on the Pennsylvania ballot that year.
And as it turns out a Pennsylvania court ordered Nader, Camejo and the campaign to pay Reed Smith $81,000 in court costs.
Nader hired Oliver Hall to beat back the order.
And now, fully six years after the election, the case is still winding through the courts.
On April 21, for the first time since the litigation began, a Reed Smith attorney will appear in court – a DC appeals court – opposite Oliver Hall to argue the case.
Reed Smith sought to attach some Nader bank accounts.
But after Reed Smith filed its attachment case, something funny happened back in Harrisburg.
In July 2008, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett filed a grand jury presentment implicating an unnamed “law firm” as a key participant in the conduct under investigation in the Bonusgate scandal.
Why is it called Bonusgate?
Democratic state workers were allegedly awarded bonuses to work on the project to prevent Nader’s name from appearing on the 2004 ballot.
Reed Smith has not been charged.
Corbett charged twelve members or employees of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus with numerous felony counts of criminal conspiracy, theft and conflict of interest arising from the matter.
So far, seven defendants pled guilty. One was acquitted. And four defendants are currently standing trial in state court in Harrisburg.
“One state employee – Melissa Lewis – testified that she delivered work product to Reed Smith’s Pittsburgh offices,” Hall told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “She said she did it on three or four occasions. On each occasion, she delivered this taxpayer funded work product to Reed Smith partner Efrem Grail.”
“Another state employee – Janet MacNeil – testified that she went to “the law office in Pittsburgh.” She couldn’t remember the name of the firm. She went there, she said, to receive training on how to challenge petition signatures. She said she went, Melissa Lewis went, and several other employees went.”
“These state employees were apparently doing this work in consultation with Reed Smith. They were delivering their work product to Reed Smith.
Giving it directly to Efrem Grail. And then the attorneys were filing the challenge – portraying it as the product of their pro bono efforts. They claimed to be doing this pro bono.”
And were they doing it pro bono?
“The Federal Election Commission reports show that the Democratic National Committee retained Reed Smith and paid them $136,164 for legal and consulting fees during October and November 2004,” Hall says.
Hall wants Corbett to recuse himself from the investigation of Reed Smith.
“We discovered that in August 2008, not six weeks after Corbett filed this grand jury presentment implicating an unnamed law firm in this criminal conspiracy that he had accepted at least $15,900 in campaign contributions to his re-election campaign as Attorney General from Reed Smith and from the litigators at Reed Smith,” Hall says.
“This is an unacceptable conflict of interest.”
“More to the point, Corbett himself has pledged that in his twin roles as Attorney General and now as a candidate for Governor, that he would not accept campaign contributions from parties who he may be investigating.”
“And that’s exactly what he did here. We asked that he return the campaign contributions. He refused.”
“And we put out a press release. To this day, to my knowledge, he has not returned the campaign contributions – despite his pledge not to take money from people he should be investigating.”
Hall wants Reed Smith brought to justice.
“Here you have an Attorney General running for Governor, benefitting from a reputation as a crusader against this massive criminal conspiracy involving political corruption in the state legislature,” Hall says.
“He’s prosecuting these mid and low level state employees – who by all accounts were simply following the orders of their supervisors – often unwillingly and at pain of losing their jobs. And they were doing it apparently in consultation with legal counsel.”
“And yet these mid and low level state employees are now facing jail time. Whereas the attorneys who they were working with have gotten away without as so much as a slap on the wrist.”
Neither Efrem Grail, Reed Smith or any of the attorneys involved have ever publically disputed the grand jury findings or testimony about their challenge. They haven’t had to – because the Attorney General has failed to act on the evidence against them.”
We asked Reed Smith about the Hall charges.
A firm spokesperson e-mailed us the following statement:
“Reed Smith did indeed help coordinate the Nader challenge and contributed hundreds of hours to the effort. Reed Smith has no knowledge of any bonuses paid to legislative staffers and had on the contrary been assured that any such volunteers had been working on their own time. Reed Smith successfully uncovered what President Judge James G. Colins of the Commonwealth Court called ‘the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court.' Mr. Nader’s accusations of misconduct against these lawyers now, six years after the fact, are wholly without merit.”
“Read Justice Thomas Saylor’s dissent – which the majority simply ignored,” Hall fires back. “He notes that the record contains ‘no evidence’ of any fraudulent conduct by anyone associated with the Nader/Camejo campaign.”
“Judge Colins’ own factual findings indicate that only a tiny handful of the signatures – 1.3 percent of the total – were counted as so-called forgeries – resulting from pranks or sabotage by signers.”
[For a complete question/answer transcript of the Interview with Oliver Hall, see 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 11(10-16), print edition only.]
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