Help! I’m Trapped in a Firm and I Can’t Get Out!

Psst. Firm guy. Tired of long hours, backbiting, bullying, the long and slow chase? Put on a pair of dark eyeglasses, wrap yourself in a trench coat and slip into the Penn Club on June 2, 3 and 4.

The place will be jammed with lawyers, but most of them will be the in-house corporate kind. For $495, members of the American Corporate Counsels Association (nonmember litigators will have to cough up an extra $500) will attend an “accreditation program” for their type of lawyering-and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to pick up a few tips that will help you out of law firm hell.

Carole Basri, a University of Pennsylvania law professor and Deloitte & Touche consultant, organized the event. She’s taken to promoting the notion that being a lawyer inside a corporation is an overlooked specialty. “A lot of people think that in-house lawyers are people who maybe didn’t make it in a law firm. But I think they’re unique individuals. We try to look at the specialness of what we’re doing as in-house counsel,” she said. Topics include corporate compliance, crisis management and litigation management.

Susan Canter’s bosses at the corporate boutique of Shack & Siegel don’t mind her attending. “We represent a lot of companies that don’t have in-house counsel. I thought it would be a good thing to review what these lawyers do,” Ms. Canter said.

Other lawyers said they didn’t want their firms to know they were attending the sessions. See, they’re about to bolt. How soon? “I’d like to have yesterday,” said L.

L. wants out of litigation entirely. “In litigation today, there’s so much B.S. I’m kind of a cut-to-the-chase type of person, and having cases build up and drag on and on, with incessant delays … It’s really frustrating, it doesn’t match with my personality.”

Nor with the personality of C., a senior associate at a Wall Street firm. “The atmosphere and psychological stresses, the growing lack of civility, the gamesmanship, those types of things aren’t my personality. They are some people’s. But I’m not comfortable anymore insulting people, bullying them, playing games with them.”

Both L. and C. hope that taking the Penn Club program will help them slip in the corporate door. In-house bosses tend not to offer jobs to litigators like them, given all the time litigators have spent, as C. said, “not being team players, being obstructionist, adversarial, seeing extra issues, only asking questions.” Now they’re moving toward the light, even if they have to do it in dark glasses.

Sam Dash’s Case for Starr

When Congress allows the independent counsel law to lapse and die on June 30, will anyone cancel their beach trip to mourn?

Samuel Dash, Kenneth Starr’s ethics counsel, might. On April 19, he joined former independent counsel Alexia Morrison, statute co-author Elizabeth Holtzman, and former White House counsel Abner Mikva at New York University School of Law, to discuss what should be done about the lame-duck law.

Ms. Morrison spoke first, and said priority “No. 1″ is to amend the law so it no longer allows for a final report, which can be manipulated to include drivel, trash, unsubstantiated allegations and-as in the case of the Starr report-more titillating details than anyone really needs to know. Besides, for most counsels, the writing assignment simply wastes everyone’s money and time and encourages a lot of casuistry designed to justify one’s existence. “If you’re not going to actually write down in the report the real analysis of why you’re not going to bring a case”-in 1986, Ms. Morrison declined to indict Edwin Meese’s lieutenant Theodore Olson for withholding documents from Congress-”we ought not go through a hollow exercise of figuring out something else to say so we can have a pile of papers and call it a report.”

Mr. Dash agreed the final report must go. But he spent most of his time defending Mr. Starr. As he pointed out, a recent poll of the citizens of Charleston, W. Va., placed Mr. Starr below Saddam Hussein. “I was at the table when each issue of importance was being decided,” said Mr. Dash, in defense of Mr. Starr. “They could have been more aggressive.”

“There’s a lot of hypocrisy here,” he continued. “The Attorney General and the Justice Department are now saying that the statute forbids Ken Starr to do things, things which she [Janet Reno] has her prosecutors doing all the time.” [He left out the part about Ken Starr himself taking a job he didn't think should exist.]

Still, Mr. Dash, who resigned as Mr. Starr’s counsel during the impeachment hearings, conceded that some of the criticisms of Mr. Starr were on target: “He had terrible judgment during impeachment. He was tone-deaf to appearances.” Also, he said, the first-time prosecutor was too inexperienced to challenge his team. “Sam, I’ve got all these experienced Federal prosecutors who do this every day. I’ve got to follow their advice,” Mr. Dash recalled Mr. Starr saying.

Ms. Holtzman said the post-Watergate good-government statute should be revised (two years or less for an investigation, only investigators with no record of political activity for 10 years), while Mr. Mikva was the sole voice to say it should be trashed. (They both voted for it in 1978.) “What Congress does best is nothing, and sometime next month that great virtue of the United States Congress is going to play forth and the independent counsel statute will die,” he said. “Probably what will happen is they will pay as little attention as possible.”

A month before the June 30 deadline, Senate Democrats had yet to offer a bill. A staff member on the Democratic side of the Senate’s Committee on Governmental Affairs, Jason Yanussi, said, “The Senators are working on one.”

Tapes of the N.Y.U. discussion are available from the Nation Institute.

Fund-Raiser Floats Suit Against Sea School

All is not shipshape at the State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, according to a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan. A former fund-raiser has sued the college, its socially connected president and two other college officials, claiming she was a victim of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and defamation.

It all allegedly happened to Nanette Piccirillo, formerly a political fund-raiser, who was hired to set up the development office at the college in 1993 but was eventually demoted, charged with embezzlement and forced to resign. She claims the charges were made up to conceal the fact that she had been repeatedly groped and harassed by an assistant to the president of the college, Admiral David Brown. A retired naval officer, Admiral Brown is married to Sheila McCurdy Brown, a yacht company heiress. The couple travels in society yachting circles.

According to Piccirillo v. SUNY Maritime College, the $130 million lawsuit filed last July, Admiral Brown became president of the college in 1995 and indicated extreme discomfort at working with women. Soon, the suit claims, he tried to restrict Ms. Piccirillo’s duties. At the same time, he hired Joseph Bereswill as his special assistant. Ms. Piccirillo charges that Mr. Bereswill started a campaign of groping her and pushing his genitals into her back. He spread rumors that she kept sex toys in her desk. When Ms. Piccirillo complained, her supervisor told her that she should take the abuse or quit her job.

In February 1997, Ms. Piccirillo was demoted and her salary was slashed by $10,000. Her alleged harasser, Mr. Beres-will, was promoted to her job and given a $10,000 raise. That same week, Admiral Brown and Mr. Bereswill accused her of embezzlement, claiming the development account was missing checks. At least two checks had been made out to another college employee, Capt. Allan Lonschein, and the plaintiff’s signature had been forged on them. The complaint alleges that Captain Lonschein forged the checks.

The elderly Captain Lonschein is a close friend of Mr. Bereswill and had asked Ms. Piccirillo to marry him several times, she claimed. He is also the brother of State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Lonschein.

According to the complaint, Admiral Brown and Mr. Bereswill verbally abused Ms. Piccirillo and demanded she sign a confession admitting the embezzlement. The college chief of security, Eric Guttenplan, said that the F.B.I. was investigating the case and he would have her removed from the campus in handcuffs. Ms. Piccirillo protested her innocence. Under duress, she said, she resigned.

After she resigned, the complaint charges, Admiral Brown and Mr. Bereswill spread false stories that she had destroyed all the college development records. Captain Lonschein also told colleagues of Ms. Piccirillo that she was a cocaine addict, she alleges in her complaint.

The college, Admiral Brown, Mr. Bereswill and Captain Lonschein are named as defendants in the suit. Because the college is a state institution, the State Attorney General’s office is handling the defense.

“The defendants set out on a campaign to destroy her,” said Mary Wright, Ms. Piccirillo’s lawyer. “In my opinion, Lonschein had been spurned by her, Bereswill wanted her power and Brown hates working with women. It seems they conspired to get rid of her. They decimated her reputation; many people in the maritime industry think she is an embezzler, and this seriously hurt her psychologically.”

“I’d love to tell you why Ms. Piccirillo resigned,” said Admiral Brown, “but I have to leave comments to the lawyers.” Captain Lonschein also declined to comment on the case.

“We are in the preliminary stages of discovery in this case,” said Richard Hamilton, the state assistant attorney general defending the school. He would not comment on the specific issues of the lawsuit. “I had nothing to do with Ms. Piccirillo,” said Mr. Bereswill. “The suit is really between her and the college commandant. She’s hoping for an out-of-court settlement.”

-Dylan Foley

America’s Richest Lawyer

Michael Ciresi is the richest lawyer in the country, at least this year. He is the product liability specialist who represented the State of Minnesota in its $6.6 billion settlement with the tobacco companies. Thanks to that settlement, his Minneapolis firm will have added an unbelievable $560 million to its books by the end of next year.

So, on a recent trip to Minnesota, Jonathan Marshall of Pennie & Edmonds asked Mr. Ciresi why exactly he was still working. The top dog didn’t explain. Recalled Mr. Marshall: “He just grinned. I don’t think he has any hobbies.”

What he does have, however, is ambition. According to the Legal Times , when he’s not tallying his bank account, he’s thinking of running for the U.S. Senate.

You can reach N.Y Law at

mfleischer@observer.com.