May 26, 2022

Quinn Emanuel sued over legal fees in major foreign bribery case

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By Nell Gluckman, From The Am Law Daily

A case that Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan hailed last year as a “stunning” victory is ending in a dispute over legal fees between the firm and its onetime client, former oil executive Joseph Sigelman.

In a demand for arbitration filed last month, Quinn Emanuel said Sigelman still owes $3.69 million in unpaid legal fees for the firm’s successful efforts to keep him out of prison over foreign bribery charges.

But in a countersuit brought in Florida state court in Miami on March 7, Sigelman claims that he already paid the firm $8.4 million, and that he never received “complete invoices or backup for the astronomical amount of expenses” he’s accused of not paying.

Sigelman, a co-founder of the oil company PetroTiger, was arrested in January 2014 and accused of bribing a Colombian official in exchange for help winning a government contract for his company, among other  charges.

Though he faced more than 20 years in prison, Sigleman’s New Jersey federal trial ended quickly after a prosecution witness admitted under cross-examination to giving false testimony. Prosecutors dropped five of six counts against Sigelman, who was sentenced to three years’ probation with no prison time.

Sigelman’s complaint says his legal fees included an advance payment of $2.5 million for the trial, which he paid. He understood that to be a cap, he claims, but eight months after the trial the firm asked for more money, which Sigleman called “unexpected” and “undocumented” in his complaint. He now claims that he is entitled to a unspecified refund from Quinn Emanuel, explaining that the trial was projected to go on for six weeks but lasted only one.

In an emailed statement, Quinn Emanuel partner Marc Becker said that the firm stands by its representation of Sigelman.

“Having won the case for him, he now refuses to pay the attorneys’ fees in full for the successful representation, or abide by the arbitration agreement he signed,” Becker said. “This matter is properly before the arbitral forum, and we are confident Mr. Sigelman’s effort to avoid the arbitration agreement by suing in his home state will be defeated.”

Sigelman, who lives in Miami, said in his complaint that there was no valid arbitration agreement because while he signed a retainer letter, he did not initial the arbitration provision. He alleges that he was not able to read the letter and wasn’t alerted to the arbitration provision, but was told to sign the document on the last page. 

In Quinn Emanuel’s demand for arbitration, which was filed as an exhibit to Sigelman’s complaint, the firm said that it provided Sigelman with monthly invoices. After paying 20 invoices, “Mr. Sigelman began to fall behind on his payments,” Quinn Emanuel claimed.

The firm explained that it worked on Sigelman’s case for two years and interviewed potential witnesses all over the world.

The lead partner on Sigelman’s case was William Burck, a former deputy White House counsel under the George W. Bush administration who joined Quinn Emanuel from Weil, Gotshal & Manges in 2012. He is now the co-leader of Quinn Emanuel’s Washington, D.C., office. Burck was hired by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association last year after U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a 47-count indictment against the organization.

Kevin Kaplan, president of the Florida boutique Coffey Burlington, filed Sigelman’s complaint against Quinn Emanuel. Kaplan was not immediately available to comment. 

IMAGE: Joseph Sigelman, indicted former chief executive of PetroTiger Ltd.

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