09:17, March 12 445 0 abajournal.com

2018-03-12 09:17:07
Lawyer sues Thompson Coburn for $10M, says law firm has ‘some serious explaining to do’

The March 6 suit filed by Joseph Gentleman of Gentleman Law, who claims Thompson Coburn partner Robert Lang appeared to be acting “as a ruffian” for the pleasure of the opposing side during the courtroom incident Feb. 28. The alleged courtroom menacing occurred after Gentleman filed a suit claiming Lang and his firm had aided and abetted a client’s violation of a noncompete clause. Law360 covered the allegations.

According to the March 6 suit, Lang spotted Gentleman on a courtroom bench, exclaimed, “There he is!” in a menacing tone, took a seat, and continued to look back at Gentleman in a menacing matter. When Gentleman’s case was called, Lang stood in front of Gentleman, leaned in and said, “My firm sent me here to send you a message,” the suit alleges.

Gentleman ignored Lang and approached the bench. As the matter was finishing, Lang “blurted out in front of the entire courtroom” that he would be getting sanctions against Gentleman, according to allegations.

Gentleman turned away to write up an order. “Once Gentleman’s back was turned,” the suit says, “Lang slapped Gentleman on the back three times with each time getting harder and harder.” Gentleman then asked the judge if she saw what happened, and the judge said she did not.

The suit claims Lang was trying to intimidate Gentleman so he would dismiss the aiding and abetting case against Thompson Coburn. “Based upon the fact that Thompson Coburn is a huge firm and based upon the fact their actions are willful wanton and are abominable to the legal profession, Gentleman asks for punitive damages in excess of $10 million,” the March 6 suit says.

Gentleman also claims Thompson Coburn had an Illinois attorney general candidate sign court papers in an underlying case that led to Gentleman’s aiding and abetting claim. The signature by candidate Renato Mariotti was apparently added because “in Lang’s sick and twisted world he thought he could gain some advantage in the case” by adding the high-profile lawyer’s name, the suit alleges.

It’s also possible the candidate was involved in the case, the suit says. “In either case, Mr. Mariotti and Thompson Coburn have some serious explaining to do” in discovery, the suit says.

Law360 describes the underlying legal dispute. Gentleman’s aiding and abetting claim stemmed from litigation between Gentleman’s client, which owns a medical marijuana company, and Lang’s client, the company’s ousted CEO.

The marijuana company claims the former CEO was fired for hiring employees into ghost jobs, and he is violating a non-compete clause. The former CEO says he was wrongly forced out of the company.

Gentleman’s aiding and abetting claim alleges that Thompson Coburn helped the former CEO violate the non-compete agreement by helping him form a new medical marijuana business.

“Tensions have been running high in the suit” for months, Law360 reports, “with attorneys on both sides trading personal barbs both in court filings and emails.” One email from Lang objects to Gentleman’s “diatribe” and refers to Vinny’s opening statement from the film My Cousin Vinny, without elaborating. Vinny’s opening line: “Everything that guy just said is bullshit.”

Thompson Coburn issued this statement to the ABA Journal: “The lawsuit naming Thompson Coburn and its partner Robert Lang is unfounded. It sets forth a story of a dramatic confrontation that purportedly took place in front of a judge who somehow didn’t see any of it. This is an unfortunate strategy by opposing counsel who is trying to distract attention from the merits of the underlying case.”