Litigator of the Week: Theodore Wells Jr. of Paul Weiss
Theodore Wells Jr. of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison has long been a towering figure among trial lawyers. After his report on the bullying scandal that rocked the National Football League's Miami Dolphins, he's on his way to becoming a household name for sports fans as well.
Since it was released on Feb. 14, it's been hard to open the sports pages or turn on the TV or radio without encountering news of Wells' disturbing, highly lauded 144-page chronicle, invariably dubbed "the Ted Wells report." As a cautionary tale of a workplace culture run amok, it's also caught the attention of employers outside the sports world: Slate's Emily Bazelon, who has reported extensively on bullying, called the report "required reading in management courses and for anyone who wonders how ugly, demeaning and corrosive treatment can lie beneath a façade of 'all in good fun' workplace 'teasing.'"
Wells and three of his partners—Brad Karp, Bruce Birenboim and David Brown—worked alongside four associates and two of counsel on the independent investigation, which involved interviews with more than 100 current and former Dolphins players, coaches and staff. The resulting report explores in agonizing detail the locker room hazing that led second-year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin to walk out of a team practice midway through last season and check himself into a nearby hospital for psychological treatment.
The fallout has already claimed the jobs of the Dolphins' head athletics trainer, Kevin O'Neill, and offensive line coach Jim Turner. Friday's report includes allegations that O'Neill laughed at racist insults and sexual jokes about Martin's sister, and that Turner joined in taunting Martin.
The assignment wasn't the first of its kind for Wells. He also served as a special investigator for Syracuse University in 2012 after basketball coach Bernie Fine was accused of sexual abuse, and he authored an independent report last year into allegations of misconduct by the NBA players union leadership.
But he certainly hasn't quit his day job as a much-in-demand litigator. Wells checked in with us Thursday during a trial break at a New Jersey courthouse, where he's defending Exxon Mobil Corporation against environmental claims. He declined to comment on the contents of the Dolphins report, though he did describe how it differed from his usual routine.
"A trial lawyer has an ethical duty to zealously represent his client. So you are duty bound to be a zealous advocate," Wells said. But as an internal investigator, he said, his job is to function as "an objective, impartial finder of facts."
"The goal is to follow the evidence and get at the truth," Wells said. "It's a radically different job description."