When lawyering is hazardous to your liberty
By Roberta O. Roberts (4JM)
Providing legal counsel is what an attorney is supposed to do. But sometimes doing your job can get you in trouble. Maybe even land you in jail.
To illustrate just how important ethics and professional responsibility can be to a practicing attorney, A. Brian Phillips (LLMT 90), a prominent tax practitioner and adjunct professor in UF Law’s nationally renowned Graduate Tax Program, hosted a panel including two prominent attorneys who were prosecuted by the federal government. one faced charges for in-house representation of a company; the other for approving and receiving legal fees from clients in a criminal case.
The panel, featured during the fall semester in Phillips’ LL.M. in Taxation tax fraud course, included Benedict P. Kuehne, of The Law Offi ce of Benedict P. Kuehne, P.A. in Miami; and Steven Gremminger, of The Gremminger Law Firm in Washington, D.C.
“Some of the tax presentations are very tax-centric and can be uninteresting to non-tax practitioners,” Phillips said, “but this panel Injecting the profession into the classroom When lawyering is hazardous to your liberty had high-level practitioners in $3,000 suits who were arrested and processed like any other accused criminal.”
Gremminger was a principal and an associate general counsel of KPMG LLP, an international audit, tax and advisory services fi rm. Gremminger provided legal advice to KPMG and its partners. KPMG developed and marketed tax shelters to its clients. Although Gremminger did not design, develop or market the shelters, he, along with 18 others, was indicted by the Justice Department in 2005 on 42 counts of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, tax evasion and other charges. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found that the federal prosecutors violated his constitutional rights, and dismissed all charges. The decision was affi rmed on appeal.
The Justice Department in 2008 charged Kuehne with money laundering. Kuehne was hired to investigate legal fees due to attorney Roy Black from the family of Fabio ochoa, whom the U.S. Enforcement Agency considered a Columbian drug lord. ochoa was charged (later convicted and sentenced to 30 years) in the United States with drug traffi cking.
After conducting extensive legal and factual research, Kuehne reported to Black that the money was not tainted by drug traffi cking proceeds. Based on disputed evidence, the government claimed the money was tainted because of its use in a carefully concealed government sting operation. In defending against the money laundering charges, Kuehne argued, and a federal district judge and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that he did not know, nor could have known, that the money was tainted. All conspiracy and moneylaundering charges were dropped by the Justice Department.
Kuehne and Gremminger’s experiences show that “nobody’s untouchable — it is your own ethics and professionalism that carry you through adversity, even matters as serious and life-changing as these,” Phillips said.
Kuehne stressed to students how fragile a lawyer’s reputation can be and the diligence lawyers need to utilize when doing something that might harm someone’s reputation. Kuehne said it is about “being confi dent of every decision you make and being proud to proclaim your decision or apologize promptly for a decision that falls below your own personal or professional standards.”
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