Strange $54 Million Fee-Split Saga Haunts Thelen
"Secrets, lies and betrayal are the heart of any good story.
Add an itinerant Frenchman with dark secrets and a powerful American law firm — first fighting together to expose millions of dollars in fraud, now locked in bitter battle of money and ethics themselves — and you’ve got an epic.
The long-running saga began with allegations of French banks secretively, and illegally, buying a California insurer. It has devolved into a battle over millions of dollars because of shifting — and questionable — fee-splitting deals between Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner and the informant it once represented.
Last February, Francois Marland, the French lawyer and holder of secrets, demanded arbitration over the fee-sharing deal. Thelen, represented by top-flight litigators at Keker & Van Nest, has responded with a lawsuit to cut him off. The showdown trial is scheduled for this summer in the Northern District of California.
At issue is $54 million that the law firm (then Thelen Reid & Priest) was paid for its work in a case that wrought a $715 million payout from a consortium of French bankers in 2005. The fee-sharing agreement in the dispute has raised the hackles of legal ethicists, who say some provisions skate dangerously close to buying Marland’s testimony.
According to filings made in Thelen’s suit, Marland has been paid $19 million of Thelen’s fees. Still, he accuses Thelen of betraying him with another client and putting the firm’s interests ahead of his. He’s looking for $35 million or a greater cut of the contingency fee.
Thelen’s suit claims it doesn’t owe him anything else and wants the court to uphold the latest draft of Marland’s fee agreement "