A recent Law.com, by Mike Scarcella and Kristen Rasmussen, “Barnes & Thornburg Partner Suspended for 2 Years for Billing Misconduct” reports that a Barnes & Thornburg partner in Atlanta who faced possible disbarment for fraudulently billing a corporate client tens of thousands of dollars instead will be suspended for two years, the Georgia Supreme Court says. John F. Meyers was a Seyfath Shaw labor and employment partner at the time of the professional conduct violations.
John F. Meyers, a member of the Georgia bar since 1983, is a labor and employment partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s Atlanta office. He joined the firm in 2012 from Seyfarth Shaw. Barnes & Thornburg removed Meyers’ biography from the firm’s website after the discipline was announced.
Barnes & Thornburg said in a statement: “The conduct underlying the complaint against Mr. Meyers occurred before he joined [the firm]. We are committed to providing the best possible service to our clients and, above all, this includes the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct.”
Meyers, then at Seyfarth Shaw, ran afoul of ethics rules through his relationship with a lawyer named Michael L. DiTano, formerly an in-house counsel at the New Jersey-based manufacturer J.M. Huber Corp. The privately held company was a client of Seyfarth Shaw, and DiTano was the contact person for the law firm on the account.
DiTano told Meyers that Huber allowed him to do outside legal work—for his own clients—as long as those services were performed on personal time and posed no conflict to the interests of the company, according to the Georgia Supreme Court’s discipline order.
Several Seyfarth Shaw lawyers, including Meyers, beginning in 2011 provided legal services for some of DiTano’s outside, personal clients. But Seyfarth Shaw ran into trouble trying to collect fees on some matters, the Georgia Supreme Court said.
“When difficulties arose in collecting the fees for those services from the in-house counsel’s personal clients, the amounts due were rolled into the bills sent to the law firm’s corporate client, with the descriptions of the work that had been performed edited to eliminate information that would make clear that the work was not performed directly for the corporate client,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court’s order.
Huber fired DiTano in 2012 after it discovered the billing scheme. DiTano, who had worked at the company for more than a decade, in 2013 voluntarily surrendered his Georgia bar license.
Meyers, who is also a member of the Florida bar, resigned from Seyfarth Shaw around the time he was confronted about the altered bills that had been submitted to Huber.
In the disciplinary proceeding in Georgia, he denied participating in any scheme to defraud Huber. Meyers claimed DiTano duped him by saying the billing procedure was acceptable because the services would ultimately benefit Huber.
“Our position is that John Meyers is an honest guy that did what lawyers in that position do,” Meyers’s lawyer, Lester Tate, said during a November 2015 hearing before a special master, David Anthony LaMalva. “And our defense in this case … is actual innocence. This is not a technical defense. This is a case where John had been dealing with an inside general counsel for a long period of time and he did what the inside general counsel told him to do.”
LaMalva found Meyers violated various Georgia bar rules, including one that forbids an attorney from making a material misrepresentation of fact. LaMalva, finding Meyers complicit in the billing scheme, recommended disbarment. A review panel later concluded that disbarment was too harsh. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed.
“This court agrees that a two-year suspension from the practice of law is a sufficient sanction for Meyers’ conduct in this case,” the state justices wrote in their unanimous decision.
Meyers paid Seyfarth Shaw about $95,300—an amount that included improper billings paid by Huber and other bills that the company had not paid, according to the Georgia Supreme Court.