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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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