When it comes to crooked colleagues, California lawyers can remain silent no better than any other professionals—like bankers and stockbrokers—but the state takes a special interest when prosecutors are involved, making it a much more difficult case to make.
That’s true on the federal side of things, where in some districts, federal prosecutors can use their special muscle to get charges dropped against crooked former clients or former business partners, and in some of these cases, it’s been very successful. That includes the long running case against former President Bill Clinton in the early 2000s, where the government, in exchange for the key witness’s guilty plea to perjury, got an important charge against the former president dropped.
Yet when it comes to state prosecutors who are in the business of prosecuting corporate crimes, California is no exception. In fact, it’s become the rule. In the last several years, as more lawyers have found work in the corporate sector, the state has seen its share of corporate fraud cases come out of its top lawyers.
That trend came to a head recently when the prosecutor in the fraud conviction of Pacific Gas & Electric Company was fired, and the prosecutor was replaced by a former federal prosecutor.
California prosecutors have also earned high marks when it comes to helping their corporate clients avoid trial. The defense lawyers in the BP Oil Spill case got a big win when the judge threw out nearly all of the evidence offered by the prosecution to show the oil giant’s negligence and recklessness in the disaster.
In the same case, corporate attorneys had to face what appears to be a new and potentially damaging technique—in this case, a claim by BP, one of the biggest firms in the world, that the plaintiff’s lawyers were overcharging attorneys working pro bono for their time and expenses. BP lawyers said the “billing practices that the plaintiffs’ attorneys have advocated in this case would be improper for other attorneys to take,” based on their own experience, and they pointed out that their case was “a complex litigation.”
As BP lawyers pointed out, it’s true that corporate attorneys sometimes do things that are inappropriate or illegal, but they also often do things that are legal