Two decisions that just recently came to lightone issued in December and another handed down a year agohave squelched a high-profile ethics complaint lodged against four Crowell & Moring lawyers who penned a controversial mining industryrelated memo in 2011 that raised the specter of inbreeding in the Appalachian region.
The Am Law Daily reported in October 2011 on the 58-page complaint filed against the four Crowell lawyers with the Office of Bar Counsel in Washington, D.C., by Jason Huber, an Appalachia native and assistant professor at the Charlotte School of Law.
Huber brought the complaint in response to a three-page Crowell client memo critiquing a study produced by researchers from West Virginia University and Washington State University that explored the possible links between mountaintop coal mining and birth defects in Appalachia.
The client memo, written by Crowell product liability and torts practice chair Clifford Zatz, along with environmental and energy resources partner Kirsten Nathanson, product liability partner William Anderson, and product liability counsel Monica Welt, faulted the study because it "failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects."
The memo, in which the word "consanguinity"a synonym for inbreedingwas misspelled, provoked a storm of protest that elicited a formal apology from Crowell in July 2011. The firm quickly removed the offending document from its website.
Huberwho in addition to filing an ethics complaint against the four Crowell lawyers in D.C., filed a similar complaint in West Virginiatold The Am Law Daily at the time that he did so because he felt the firm's missive contained "material misrepresentations about the Appalachian people," which he felt should result in professional sanctions against those who authored it.
For its part, Crowell claimed that Huber was misguided in seeking sanctions over an online alert that was not intended to offend, was quickly removed, and for which the firm promptly apologized.
Now, thanks to Andrew Perlman, a former Schiff Hardin litigation associate who for the past decade has been a professor at Suffolk University Law School, we have our answer on how legal ethicists ruled when presented with Crowell's inbreeding memo mishap.
In a post initially written last month, Perlman, a cocontributor to the Legal Ethics Forum blog, wrote that he contacted Huber to determine what had come of his complaints against Crowell. It turns out that both were dismissed, with the D.C. complaint tossed on the merits a year ago this month, and West Virginia dismissing the second complaint on jurisdictional grounds in December.
Perlman notes that the West Virginia rulingpenned by investigative chairperson Charles Kaiser Jr. of Wheeling's Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser & Altmeyercontains the rejoinder that lawyers avoid making "gross stereotypes." (Perlman reposted his story March 3 after temporarily taking it down on the recommendation of Georgetown University Law Center ethics counsel and adjunct professor Michael Frischfor more background, see the comments section of Perlman's blog post.)