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Disgraced law partners who bragged about dedication to ‘culture’ resign after emails reveal years of racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, and antisemitic exchanges


Left: John Barber (LinkedIn). Right: Jeffrey Ranen (Facebook).

Disgraced California lawyers John Barber and Jeffrey Ranen insist that a decade and a half of graphically racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and misogynistic emails exchanged between them is “not any reflection of any way, reflections of the contents of our hearts, or [their] true values.” But as the fallout from a New York Post report continues to be swift and fierce, the two have exited their newly-formed law firm, leaving behind more than 100 attorneys who followed them in response to an inspirational “Jerry Maguire speech.”

In May, the legal world was stunned by an announcement that Barber and Ranen — both formerly top partners at megafirm Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith —  had left to start their own practice, bringing dozens of attorneys with them. At the time, Barber told reporters that the breakaway group of lawyers “didn’t want to compromise anymore.” Ranen said at the time that he gave an inspirational “Jerry Maguire speech” which convinced scores of lawyers to follow the two out the door.

Lewis Brisbois, however, seems to have struck back with something of a vengeance.

Law firm leaders dropped a bombshell tranche of emails for the Post story — reported in more specific detail by the Forward — which revealed 15 years of Barber-Ranen correspondence using insults, slurs, and offensive stereotypes to describe scores of people. The move sent Barber Ranen reeling as its two now-former leaders scramble to mitigate the fallout.

The examples of degrading messages are plentiful.

“Gypsy is my new word to describe about half of the minorities in California,” Ranen wrote to Barber in a June 2012 email.

“[H]is bio gave me a stiffy,” Ranen once wrote about a lawyer from another firm, adding: “Does that make me a homo?” He also used various anti-LGBTQ+ slurs in a variety of emails.

The pair degraded an Asian job applicant for the supposed size of his genitalia. About another applicant, Ranen suggested: “How about someone who’s not a Jew.”

The attorneys were particularly vitriolic toward Black people.

“She doesn’t want the word n—– used in her presence,” Ranen wrote in an email about a deposition witness, spelling out the anti-Black slur in full.

“Got it. N—–. Don’t use,” Barber responded sarcastically, also spelling out the full epithet.

Later, Barber responded to an email about attending a baby shower with the subject line “N—–,” once again spelled out in full.

Women were similarly targeted. Ranen called female colleagues “c—-” at least three times and referred to a woman judge as “sugar t—.”

In 2012, Barber emailed Ranen and suggested about a fellow attorney seeking overtime pay: “Kill her by anal penetration.”

When Barber and Ranen left Lewis Brisbois, Barber vowed that he and Ranen were “ferociously protective” of “excellence and culture,” and vowed to be focused on “paying it forward” rather than profit.

Barber spoke of helping mentor lawyers to reach their full career potential.

“While that may sound Pollyanna-ish, it is absolutely so firmly ingrained in who we are, and that’s the cornerstone of our firm,” Barber said in what seems in retrospect to be an ironic humble-brag.

In stark contrast to the fictional Pollyanna — a beloved child character symbolizing generosity and optimism — Barber called Ranen a “Jew c—” in response to Ranen’s having brought bagels into the office.

In a similar vein, Ranen bragged that he deliberately sent emails on Saturdays — the day of the Jewish Sabbath, when observers are expected to refrain from doing work — to an observant Jewish attorney.

Ranen and Barber released a statement Monday announcing their resignation from their namesake firm.

“We are ashamed of the words we wrote, and we are deeply sorry,” the statement said.

The remaining leaders at the boutique will start a new firm, said Tim Graves, chief executive officer at the operation.

Graves also posted a statement to the firm’s currently inoperable website Monday denouncing the language used by the firm’s named partners and accepting their resignation.

“The remaining equity partners express their disappointment and disdain for the language Mr. Barber and Mr. Ranen used,” said Graves.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos