A federal judge has admonished former Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement chief Alex Oh for violating a federal rule in a legal spat over a deposition.
Senior Judge Royce Lamberth last month ordered Oh and several attorneys at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to show why they shouldn’t face sanctions for claiming in papers that opposing counsel, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partner Kit Pierson, was aggressive and “unhinged” at a deposition without supporting those allegations.
The dispute has been linked to Oh’s abrupt exit from the SEC, as she left the agency only days after becoming the chief of its enforcement division soon after Lamberth’s order.
Lamberth said in Wednesday’s opinion that, despite filings from Paul Weiss and Oh opposing sanctions, he would admonish them, finding they “should have known better than to impugn another attorney’s character without reviewing the entire record.”
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Paul Weiss chairman Brad Karp and an attorney for Oh did not immediately return requests for comment. In court filings, Oh and her former firm defended their conduct, stating that claims made about opposing counsel were made in “good faith.”
Details in Judge’s Opinion
In the 15-page opinion, Lamberth addressed discrepancies between Paul Weiss’ characterization of the opposing counsel’s conduct at the deposition and video of the questioning. The judge said that “returning to the video would have assisted defense counsel in providing an objective perspective on the deposition,” and failing to do so violated the rule.
“A reasonable attorney would have reviewed the deposition video before making serious allegations about another attorney’s professional conduct. Although defense counsel had access to the video, nothing in the record reflects that defense counsel took that simple step,” Lamberth wrote.
He added that by citing the transcript and not the video in filings, the Paul Weiss attorneys “provided a misleading account of the deposition.”
However, Lamberth decided against referring the matter for disciplinary action or ordering monetary sanctions, noting Paul Weiss and Oh apologized to the court and he had already ordered the firm to pay opposing counsels’ attorney fees and costs related to the deposition.
Lamberth instead issued an “admonishment” against the lawyers, writing that he “cannot allow such misconduct to occur without at least rebuking counsel, especially when the misconduct created a substantial complication in resolving the cross-motions for sanctions.”