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High-priced Chicago firm handling Durham’s appeal pro bono

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Just because Tim Durham isn’t paying a lawyer to handle the appeal of his 50-year federal prison sentence doesn’t mean he’s getting shortchanged.

Durham, sentenced in November on criminal fraud charges relating to the collapse of Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance Co., has the firepower of one of the nation's largest law firms behind him.

James H. Mutchnik, a white-collar criminal defense attorney at Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, revealed in court documents earlier this month that he’ll be representing Durham without charge during his appeal.

Durham filed in December to appeal his conviction to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, but said he had no money to hire an attorney.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted his request to proceed with his case as an indigent after Durham told her that his multimillion-dollar home is in foreclosure and his financial assets are tied up in bankruptcy proceeding of the companies he used to control.

It’s unclear why Mutchnik chose to represent Durham pro bono. He didn’t return a phone call from IBJ, and a firm spokesman declined to comment beyond issuing a statement confirming that Mutchnik is in fact leading Durham’s federal appeal.

Durham’s previous counsel, Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer John Tompkins, is no longer involved in the case.

“I know that Kirkland takes pro-bono cases on a regular basis,” he said. “This hit their radar somehow.”

It’s not uncommon for certain law firms to handle white-collar criminal appeals without expecting to be paid. Their fees often are too expensive for many defendants to afford, and handling an appeal pro bono gives their lawyers additional experience.

Only a small percentage of federal appeals are heard orally by judges, as most are addressed in written rulings.

Having Kirkland & Ellis representing Durham spares Magnus-Stinson from appointing a public defender.

With 1,442 lawyers in 10 global offices, Kirkland & Ellis is the world’s 13th-largest law firm, according to the National Law Journal’s latest ranking of the 250 biggest firms.

Mutchnik earned his law degree in 1989 from the Northwestern University School of Law. His biography on the firm’s website says he represents individuals and corporations in antitrust and white-collar criminal defense cases.

His legal work includes appearances before various investigative agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.   

A jury convicted Durham of securities fraud, conspiracy and 10 counts of wire fraud for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme that swindled 5,000 Ohio investors out of more than $200 million.

Unlike state prisoners, federal inmates must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, meaning Durham would have to live to 93 to survive his sentence.

Last month, Fair Finance bankruptcy trustee Brian Bash, charged with recovering funds for Fair investors, alleged in a court filing that National Lampoon Inc. funded Durham’s defense during his trial.

Durham was CEO at National Lampoon from 2008 until stepping down in January 2012. Bash is suing the Los Angeles-based company and is seeking to recover $9 million that Durham provided it over the past decade.

Fair Finance co-owner Jim Cochran received a 25-year sentence and Rick Snow, the company’s chief financial officer, received 10 years.

All of IBJ's coverage of Tim Durham and Fair Finance can be found here.

The IBJ is a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.
 
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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