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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. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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