No breaks for attorney accused of violating ethics in oil spill aftermath

By Robert Lawson | Jul 27, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – Glen Lerner lost in a second federal court appearance in New Orleans. The attorney has been accused of professional misconduct in the handling of cases related to the devastating BP oil spill. 

Lerner, of Las Vegas, has been fighting claims that he was engaging in kickbacks and other unprofessional or illegal conduct since 2013, a time when an investigation was opened to explore abuse. 

He was sanctioned by a Louisiana court last year, presided over by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Essentially, the judge ruled that he would not be permitted to represent around 1,000 clients, which was a heavy financial blow to the attorney, whom advertises himself as a constant winner.

Melissa Landry is the executive director for Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. She explained how Lerner started a firm with a friend named Jon Andry who attended Tulane Law School with Lerner. Together, they formed AndryLerner. They allegedly paid referral fee money to a senior official at the Court Supervised Settlement Program named Lionel Sutton. Lerner and Sutton had a business relationship in a water reclamation company called Crown LLC. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals focused on the specific "backdoor split" violation and rules of conduct related to how attorneys in different firms divide referral fees. 

"Las Vegas-based billboard lawyer Glen Lerner is one of the many trial lawyers who flocked to Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon accident looking to profit from the disaster," Landry told the Louisiana Record in an email. "Court records show AndryLerner gave Sutton $40,000 through an alleged kickback scheme that included a fake shell company. Prosecutors alleged the goal of the $40,000 'contribution' from the law firm to Sutton was to encourage him to expedite their clients' BP claims. Court records also suggest Andry, Lerner and Sutton lied and denied the allegations when investigators started asking questions. The elaborate kickback scheme is further outlined in the Freeh report."

Lerner allegedly violated Rule 1.5(e) regarding the division of fees between lawyers who are not in the same firm. Likewise, Sutton and Andry violated Rule 3.3 by allegedly making false statements during the course of the Special Master's investigation. Sutton, Andry, and Lerner violated Rule 8.4(c) by allegedly engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation, and Rule 8.4(a) by purportedly assisting each other in violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. Each of these attorneys are claimed to have engaged in conduct that caused damage to the integrity of the CSSP and was prejudicial to the administration of justice, a violation of Rule 8.4(d).

"As a consequence, Barbier ruled that all three lawyers be disqualified from representing clients with damage claims against BP over the 2010 spill," said Landry. "Barbier also asked the court-appointed special master, Louis Freeh, to file complaints with disciplinary authorities in Louisiana and Nevada." 

Now the State Bar of Nevada has filed formal charges against Lerner. Lerner is attempting to avoid more financial and professional losses by fighting the pending complaint. 

Landry explained that misconduct has been rampant related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"Indeed, this scheme is just the tip of the iceberg," said Landry. "In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident, this settlement fund was established with the goal of fairly compensating victims. In the intervening years, however, a cadre of personal injury trial lawyers, administrators and fraudsters have abused this system for their own personal gain – tarnishing our legal system and further hurting deserving victims. Local and national law enforcement officials have uncovered more than $26 million in fraudulent claims thus far, and more reports are being made. It is estimated more than 250 fraud cases have already lead (sic) to criminal charges and convictions." 

Lerner's consequences include the sanctions, but other new sanctions could also be a possibility according to some sources. Also, the public's opinion of the lawyer will also likely turn sour. Landry said she is most concerned about how his "ethical lapses" have hurt victims.

"This outlandish case highlights the lengths to which trial lawyers and other fraudsters will go to line their own pockets," Landry said. "Of course, ambulance-chasing has long been a part of the legal profession, but the extraordinary amount of fraud and corruption that has marred the Deepwater settlement suggests a new low for the plaintiffs’ bar altogether."

Landry had other questions, too.

"While it is certainly encouraging that the appellate court upheld Barbier’s ruling and the Nevada bar is moving forward formal ethics charges – it begs the question: why we haven't seen any action taken against Lerner in Louisiana?," said Landry. "Why hasn’t the Louisiana State Bar Association or the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board taken any action to sanction or at least investigate Lerner? When a lawyer behaves unethically, the administration of justice is compromised and people are harmed. To allow this to continue without penalty or punishment seems absurd."

Lerner has a history of reprimands in Nevada, including allowing paralegals to pose as actual attorneys, allowing attorneys not licensed in that particular state to represent his cases and other complaints.

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