There was quiet rumbling in the office of the United States Attorney when the new regime seized power. “Beware the Southern District,” some folks whispered; “lawyers feed on their own in Manhattan.” There is an ambitious new kid on the block. David Fein, Connecticut’s new to federal prosecutor, was said to be a man on a mission: He was going to come marching into office smelling of Hellfire and brimstone.
I guess this Greek chorus got it right.
Fein’s one of those squeaky clean sorts of fellows with a resume that glows in the dark. He worked as associate legal counsel in the Clinton White House, and spent about six years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. He revolved through the doors of several status firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, among them. He then landed at Wiggin and Dana in Stamford, where he flourished, reportedly earning $1.8 million at the firm in 2008.
But trial experience has been hard for him to come by. The Department of Justice webpage introducing him as Connecticut’s new top prosecutor has this to say: “He has “tried approximately 15 cases ... to verdict, of which he was chief counsel in approximately 10.” Let’s just say he’s not good with numbers.
He has been on tour in the state, reporting his agenda: he cares about public corruption and financial fraud. I’m also told he cares about the next rung in his career. With a net worth of more than $3.5 million, he is set for life. So why not strike high and hard? Perhaps ride the rocket docket of destiny to a judgeship or Washington by the end of the first Obama term.
I heard all this chatter from folks close to the office and listened with an impish interest. But I didn’t take the talk all that seriously. There are winners and losers in every pyramid. There is room at the top for but one. Perhaps what I was hearing were the sounds of sour grapes being mashed.
Then I learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had dropped yet another line in the fetid waters of a place called Waterbury. Why not topple a prosecutor, and bring down a defense lawyer for the ride? Hey, perhaps we can even topple a judge or two? When I got wind of this investigation I shuddered. This could be just the ticket for an ambitious prosecutor.
But still I was not persuaded that the legionnaires at Justice would come marching on orders from Washington to despoil the bar.
I believe it now. And here’s why. A client of mine, Attorney Martin Minnella, just received a grand jury subpoena. Among the items requested are a complete list of his clients for past six years together with the fees he was paid for representation. The subpoena even asked for the non-privileged portions of certain client files. Has Mr. Fein decided to go fishing with his 23 new buddies on the grand jury? Will he be fishing in your firm records next?
The grand jury was supposed to be a tool to protect ordinary people from the antics of government officials. The theory was that secrecy protected the parties investigated from the damage public accusations can cause. The grand jury has become an investigative tool that works in secret, obscuring its purposes even from those whom it is intended to protect. When I have called prosecutors to ask about the scope of their inquiry, I am told these purposes cannot be revealed. Let me get this right: To protect my client the government sets about secretly to destroy him?
Welcome to the brave new world of lawyering in Connecticut. Your records and files can be summoned at will by a Government that believes it must protect you from its suspicions about you. This is the specious reasoning of a tyrant.Of course, we will file a motion to quash this new subpoena. I do not know to what judge the motion shall be assigned. I hope the judge hearing the motion will have a question or two for Mr. Fein’s office. Among the questions is what view, if any, does the Government hold of the scope of the attorney-client privilege? I, for one, have more than one client who would not want the Government to know that they had paid me a fee to remain under the radar.
What role will the Court play in supervising the antics of the new, improved office of the Grand Inquisitor? Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.