*Bonus Video at the end.
In November 2019, Rudy Giuliani hired Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP to represent him in the Ukraine fiasco; firm founder John M. Pierce has called Rudy a “good friend.” Just days earlier, a Time Magazine article was titled: “Rudy Giuliani Once Fought Corruption, Now He Is Embroiled in It.” The latter part of this characterization appears to apply equally to the Los Angeles-based firm. Millions of dollars went through Pierce Bainbridge, a firm which dramatically disintegrated shortly after agreeing to represent Rudy. Accusations from several sources of corruption at Pierce Bainbridge, coupled with Giuliani’s controversial history, suggest something is rotten.
Mass Attorney Exodus
Pierce Bainbridge received a $28.5 million infusion in April 2019 from a Houston-based litigation funder, Virage Capital Management. It was not the start of good things to come; which perhaps should have been expected given the firm’s prior funder, Pravati Capital LLC, had declared a $9.1 million default. Within a year, the firm’s debt had ballooned to $70 million; and the self-proclaimed “fastest-growing law firm in the history of the world,” saw a mass attorney exodus, with approximately 60 of 70 lawyers departing between September 2019 and May 2020.
The collapse spawned new firms formed by ex-partners: Hecht Partners LLP; Warren Terzian LLP; Bradford Edwards & Varlack LLP; and Bainbridge Law APC. Other long-time partners joined Goldstein & McClintock LLLP, Withers Bergman LLP / Withersworldwide and BraunHagey & Borden LLP; while others, Jonathan A. Sorkowitz and Michael M. Pomerantz (according to an ex-partner), started solo firms.
Questionable Ethics & Lawyers Hiring Lawyers
Accusations against Pierce Bainbridge in court filings throughout the country document a pattern of concerning behavior. The accusations include lying under oath, committing fraud on courts, repeatedly pledging the same collateral in exchange for tens of millions in cash, and stiffing legal vendors for modest amounts.
Illustratively, David L. Hecht, a Pierce Bainbridge name-partner, and founder of the spin-off Hecht Partners, was accused in May 2020, by an ex-firm associate of lying to a federal court. Previously, in April 2019, a federal judge found Hecht acted “inconsistent” with the professional ethics rule “which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty and misrepresentation.”
Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that former firm partners are hiring their own lawyers. Since mid-2019, approximately eight different law firms across three different continents have been retained. Hecht Partners LLP has hit all three continents, while Christopher N. LaVigne, Amman Khan, Carolynn K. Beck and Douglas S. Curran have completed the double.
Felonious Clients, Lack of Litigation Success & Criticism of the FBI
Pierce declared on LinkedIn that “Clients pick PB because our DNA is precisely the same.” Pierce Bainbridge has publicly promoted felonious clients tied to accusations of money laundering. Tellingly, the client featured in Pierce’s LinkedIn post has plead guilty to money laundering and spent time in prison. The client has also faced issues involving violence and drug abuse.
Lending credence to Pierce’s “DNA” declaration is a public filing by his former spouse, which touches on Pierce’s “four month” tenure at the K&L Gates law firm; Pierce is the “Respondent.”
The firm’s litigation track record has also been a negative. In the 3+ years of Pierce Bainbridge’s existence, the firm has only one reported trial victory (with a net verdict of $500K); juxtaposed with an estimated $70,000,000 debt, amassed in approximately one year, while attorneys were leaving by the bushel, this seems odd.
While lamenting the treatment of two firm clients, George Papadopoulos (convicted felon) and Carter Page, Pierce accused the “Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)” of “wrongdoing.” Recently, Pierce appeared to take aim at federal authorities again; upon the dismissal of a Carter Page lawsuit last week, Pierce said Page had been subjected to the “most brazen criminal conspiracy in American political history.” (Pierce apparently intends to be involved in a Carter Page lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice.)
How does a law firm rack up a debt? The answer in this instance is litigation finance.
Virage Capital is in deep with Pierce Bainbridge. In November 2019, a week after Rudy was in tow, the funder appears to have double-downed on its April 2019 investment. Law360 previously reported that Pierce Bainbridge owes “roughly $65 million;” Virage says the law firm defaulted on the debt; the remaining approximately $5 million is owed to cash advance lenders.
The Houston-based funder, however, has not sued Pierce Bainbridge or any of its partners; instead, the litigation financier appears to have funded Hecht Partners, a spin-off firm whose entire partnership is comprised of former Pierce Bainbridge partners. Virage is also apparently paying Pierce Bainbridge legal bills in certain of a slew of legal actions filed against the firm and/or its partners.
The sequence of events surrounding Giuliani’s time with Pierce Bainbridge is puzzling. Millions of dollars went through firm and seemingly nothing to show for it.
- August 2019. According to the Miami Herald, Giuliani stayed with Venezuelan client accused of money laundering Alejandro Betancourt, in Madrid, and “met with a top aide to the Ukrainian president” related to a corruption investigation sought by President Donald Trump.
- September 2019. The article says the following month Giuliani met with the Department of Justice on behalf of the same Venezuelan client.
- October 16, 2019. Giuliani pocket-dials an NBC reporter and says: “we need some money.”
- October 17, 2019. The New York Law Journal reports that six senior partners quit Pierce Bainbridge; one was Deborah Renner. At her prior firm, Renner was instrumental in unwinding the fraud of Bernie Madoff. (Over the next several months “nearly 60 attorneys” abandon the firm.)
- November 6, 2019. A New York Times article is titled,“Facing Investigation, Giuliani Needed a Lawyer, but Firms Stayed Away.”
- November 6, 2019. Giuliani tweets he has hired Pierce Bainbridge and Robert J. Costello of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP to handle Ukraine. The New York Times describes Costello as Giuliani’s “long-time” friend.
- November 7, 2019. An “Income and Expense Declaration” from Pierce says he makes no income from the firm, owes over $1 million to taxation authorities, owes $27,000 to the mother of his former spouse and owes $90,000 to Citibank. (The declaration was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California County of Los Angeles, Central District. CASE No. BD 639 740)
- November 14, 2019. Just eight days after Rudy announced he hired the firm, a UCC filing shows Virage Capital provided additional financing to Pierce Bainbridge, reportedly in the multi-millions.
- November 18, 2019 through February 2020. Pierce Bainbridge receives several “up front” cash advances in exchange for alleged future firm receivables. Each of these “cash advance” lenders eventually sues; a few months later it becomes evident, based on legal filings by Virage in some of those lawsuits, that Pierce Bainbridge at least quadruple-pledged the same collateral in exchange for tens of millions in cash.
- January 2020. Pierce Bainbridge files lawsuits for Tulsi Gabbard and Carter Page, both suits are busts.
- February 19, 2020. Pierce enters into an agreement on behalf of the firm for $2.5 million in exchange for alleged future firm receivables. The New York Law Journal characterized the cash provider as “essentially a payday” lender located at a “residential” address in Queens, New York. The agreement called for daily repayments, none were made; Pierce appears to have absconded with the $2.5 million. (The New York Law Journal subsequently covers a $4 million confession of judgment entered by the lender against both Pierce and the firm in May).
- March 1, 2020. After his firm apparently blew through tens of millions, and less than two weeks after the $2.5 million transaction, Pierce is accused of failing to pay child support. An excerpt from a declaration filed by his former spouse, Pierce is the “Respondent,” is disheartening.
- March 12, 2020. Marc Mukasey, of Mukasey Frenchman & Sklaroff LLP, described by Yahoo as having “deep, personal connections…within Trump’s orbit,” withdraws (quits) as outside counsel for Pierce Bainbridge citing ethical & payment concerns.
- March 20, 2020. One month after Pierce apparently absconded with the $2.5 million, spin-off firms Hecht Partners LLP and Bainbridge Law APC are formed.
- May 20, 2020. Pierce incorporates a new legal entity: “Pierce Bainbridge P.C.”
- May 21, 2020. The next day, a UCC is filed for Hecht Partners; it is virtually identical to a Virage Capital UCC filing with Pierce Bainbridge.
- June 1, 2020. Law360 reports Pierce Bainbridge defaulted on an estimated $65 million debt to Virage.
- July 1, 2020. Pierce is sued for putting a client up in a $1.3 million house for two years. This, coupled with Michael Avenatti having paid the firm nothing for legal services, raises questions about what perks, if any, Giuliani received from the firm.
- August 19, 2020. Robert J. Costello, Giuliani’s “long time” friend, supports an application for Pierce to practice law in New York. A previous Pierce application was met with a scathing opposition; Pierce withdrew his application the next day and claimed the withdrawal was unrelated.
- August 19, 2020. The same day Costello vouched for Pierce, a vendor files a complaint saying Pierce Bainbridge never paid invoices totaling $135K for multiple invoices dating back to November 2018.
- August 19, 2020. Again, on the same day, a different vendor sues “Pierce Bainbridge P.C.” for alleged failure to pay less than $10K for deposition services from February 2020.
This timeline alone raises several red flags. In addition, the temporal proximity of Virage Capital’s multi-million November infusion to Giuliani hiring the firm is notable. Giuliani’s “long-time” friend Costello vouching for the embattled John Pierce is also of interest.
What is Going on Here? (A Bonus Video Overview)
What legal work Pierce Bainbridge did, if any, for Rudy remains a mystery. What is not a mystery, however, is that approximately one week after Giuliani hired Pierce Bainbridge, the firm received millions in funding, which apparently dried up shortly thereafter, while a mass attorney exodus was underway and vendors were not being paid relatively modest amounts. When it comes to Rudy and Pierce, some may say “birds of a feather,” others may say “grifters of a feather,” others still, may say “sign of the times” and others perhaps something else. Whatever the case may be, a deep dive into the on-goings of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht, Rudy Giuliani, as well as Virage Capital, may help sort the question many have been asking: What is Going on Here? ← ← ← Bonus Video
*** Video created by Jennifer Sulkess***