OSPRI Press Release
McConnell Nomination Leaves DuPont Settlement Unsettled
The Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) continues to pursue the truth in regards to the behind-closed-doors negotiations between then Attorney General Patrick Lynch, DuPont and Obama nominee for the U.S. District Court, John J. McConnell whose controversial nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee today in a pitched 11-7 vote.
In an environment of mass torts where billions of dollars are at stake and the office of Attorney General can essentially be auctioned to trial lawyers, why has OSPRI’s Founders Project doggedly pursued the allocation of a paltry couple of million dollars? Because the lack of candor surrounding this affair hints at the deeper problem of conflicts arising when an entire state citizenry can be scooped up as clients without their approval.
In a recent answer to questions from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney McConnell emphasizes his own confusion on this topic by calling Attorney General Lynch “his client”. This epitomizes the inappropriate perspectives attending contingency fee arrangements where lawyers see their responsibility as to the decision makers awarding the contracts rather than the citizens they represent.
This reference is only the first questionable answer that McConnell recently delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In defending the gerrymandering of funds from the DuPont Deal to cover a pledge of his law firm to the Brigham and Women’s hospital, McConnell has suggested that the moneys were tantamount to a fee. They weren’t a fee he says, but a fee would have been due if his firm did not waive it.
“We disagree that a fee was due” said Brian Bishop for the Founders Project. Attorney McConnell misstates his contract with the state in his recent responses to the Senate. He says: “My law firm entered into an agreement with the State of Rhode Island that set forth the attorney fees as 16 2/3% of any recovery obtained as a result of the litigation.” In fact, the contract says: “In the event the litigation is resolved, by settlement or judgment, under terms involving the provision of goods or services, equitable relief, or any other in-kind payment, the parties hereto agree to seek . . . compensation for [Contingent Fee Counsel]”
“The fee agreement is triggered by “Settlement or Judgment”, neither of which occurred in the DuPont Deal by the testimony of both Dupont and Attorney General Lynch and, in any event it is an agreement to seek fees, not to obtain them”, said Bishop.
Senator Grassley also asked: “Was DuPont aware of your firm’s pledge to Brigham & Women’s Hospital? If not, was it ethical to withhold this knowledge from DuPont and/or its counsel?”
Attorney McConnell responded: “Yes”.
“Yes what? Were they aware; or is he saying it was ethical if they were not?” Bishop continued, “The public record is replete with statements from DuPont indicating they were not aware of this relationship and objected to their donation being credited to McConnell’s firm. We think it an ethical blind spot if this answer should instead be taken to suggest it was ethical to dupe opposing counsel rather than openly insist on a fee.”
Finally, when asked if it was made public that the DuPont monies were used to fulfill the firm’s pledge, McConnell says it was and points to information revealed in an investigative report over a year after the DuPont Deal was announced.
“If this were so above board and already known to other counsel why wasn’t it made public when the deal was done? We think that says all that needs to be said about the inappropriate lack of transparency here. It is not for us to say whether this is disqualifying for a seat on the federal court, but it certainly doesn’t reflect qualities we would wish to see displayed there,” said Bill Felkner, Founder and Director of Policy for the Institute.