Kentucky Bar Association v. Helmers

353 S.W.3d 599 (2011)

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Kentucky Bar Association v. Helmers

Kentucky Supreme Court
353 S.W.3d 599 (2011)

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Facts

David Helmers (defendant) was a young attorney employed by a law firm that represented plaintiffs in a class action suit against a pharmaceutical company. The circuit court ordered the parties to mediate, and a $200,000,000 settlement agreement was awarded to the plaintiffs. The settlement was contingent on the decertification of the class and on the plaintiffs signing a release. Helmers’s supervising attorney instructed him to prepare a payout schedule for each plaintiff and to meet with those clients to present the settlement award and obtain their releases. Helmers meet with and obtained the release from 39 clients. However, at his employer’s direction, Helmers intentionally withheld critical information from these clients about the nature of the settlement, including the offer’s financial details, the decertification of the class action, how many cases were being settled, and the withholding of funds to indemnify the defendant against other claims. In addition to withholding information, Helmers’s employer instructed him to offer the clients amounts substantially less than what they had been originally assigned in the allocation, to tell them they would be heavily penalized if they spoke to other plaintiffs, and to ask them to approve donating unawarded settlement money to a charity that the firm’s supervising attorneys controlled. Consequently, the majority of the attorneys with whom Helmers worked were eventually disbarred. The Kentucky Bar Association Inquiry Commission (plaintiff) investigated Helmers’s participation in the scheme, which led to a complaint being filed against Helmers that charged him with eight ethics violations. The trial commissioner found Helmers guilty of six of the eight charges, noted that he was a subordinate to those attorneys who had directed the scheme, and recommended that he be suspended from practicing law for five years. The Board of Governors of the Kentucky Bar Association decided to consider the matter de novo, found that Helmers was guilty of the same six counts, and recommended to the Supreme Court of Kentucky that he be permanently disbarred.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Minton, C.J.)

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