A federal trial court judge admonished Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and former partner Alex Oh for alleging opposing counsel in ongoing litigation with their client, Exxon Mobil, violated ethics rules without reviewing available evidence to support their claims.
“Both should have known better than to impugn another attorney’s character without reviewing the entire record,” Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Wednesday.
Oh was named head of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission in April but resigned soon after because of the sanctions issue in the case. She withdrew as counsel for Exxon in the spring, the court noted.
The plaintiffs in the litigation, which has been ongoing for almost two decades, allege the oil company perpetrated human-rights abuses as it sought to secure a gas facility in Indonesia.
The Reagan-appointed judge imposed monetary sanctions on Exxon in early May relating to the conduct of a company executive during a deposition. The current discipline relates to the firm and Oh’s allegations in their cross-motion for sanctions, the court said.
They claimed that opposing counsel Kit Pierson, an attorney with Cohen Milstein in the District of Columbia, was “combative,” “disrespectful,” “unhinged,” and “demonstrated a general lack of respect towards a professional adversary,” the court said.
The court explained in its order that even though the alleged conduct occurred at a late-night deposition where it’s difficult to retain a “clear memory of the event,” there was a video of the deposition that the firm and Oh could have watched before making their allegations.
“The Court 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,” it said.
An admonishment is appropriate where the parties have apologized for their behavior, which they have, the court noted.
Contact information for Oh wasn’t immediately available. Paul Weiss and Pierson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The case is Doe I v. Exxon Mobil Corp., D.D.C., No. 1:01-cv-01357, 5/12/21.