One of the most prominent law firms in the world was on the receiving end of a stinging scolding from a federal judge over the firm’s refusal to provide the court with discovery documents in a case over misappropriated trade secrets.
In a 13-page order issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew W. Austin slammed Kirkland & Ellis (Kirkland) for stonewalling the court and withholding documents pertaining to attorneys placed with the firm by Evan Jowers–a former employee at the legal recruiting firm MWK Recruiting who is being sued by his former employer for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets and breaching his non-compete agreement.
Kirkland was not a party to the lawsuit, but was subpoenaed to provide communications between the firm and Jowers and any documents relating to attorneys placed at the firm by Jowers after his employ with MWK ended.
Judge Austin specifically called out Kirkland partner Will Pruitt, and said the firm failed to be “even the least bit cooperative.”
“The Court could not be more disappointed with the manner in which K&E has handled this subpoena,” Judge Austin wrote. “Pruitt’s petty, technical, overly-argumentative emails are a study in what is wrong with civil discovery in our court system today. The subpoena at issue sought a very small amount of uncontroversial information. None of it was privileged or confidential. MWK had served similar subpoenas on other ‘Big Law’ firms, all of which produced documents without objection. K&E’s approach, however, was to evade, complain, and refuse.”
Kirkland is not only the most profitable law firm in the United States, but also serves as a pipeline to the White House.
Attorney General William Barr is a prominent former Kirkland employee, as is the current head of the Justice Department’s criminal division Brian Benczkowski, and current White House counsel Pat Cipollone, to name just a few.
Barr was working at Kirkland at the time he famously sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department critiquing then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice theory. Barr was confirmed as Attorney General less than a year later.
Judge Austin also did not take kindly to Pruitt’s request that Kirkland be awarded attorney’s fees, saying the firm should “be embarrassed.”
“But this is not the end of things. Having chosen the stubborn route, K&E also audaciously requests that the Court award it the attorney’s fees it incurred in picking this fight,” he wrote. “Yet K&E somehow thinks that it should be awarded attorney’s fees. Apparently it believes obstinance is something worth rewarding. Far from it. If anything, K&E should count itself lucky that MWK did not request fees from K&E, as the Court would have been inclined to grant them. Because MWK did not, the Court will express its disapproval of K&E’s actions only in words and not dollars. Either way, K&E should be embarrassed.”
Law&Crime reached out to Kirkland & Ellis for comment.
See Judge Austin’s full order below:
[image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
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