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Legal trend utilizes AG experience

Modisett now co-leading firm’s specialized practice group.

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When he was the state’s top prosecutor, former Indiana Attorney General Jeff Modisett saw the beginning of a trend that’s now become a focus of his practice.

Working with colleagues throughout the country on issues including a multi-state tobacco settlement and sweepstakes industry reforms, the ex-AG was at the forefront of collective cooperation. A decade after leaving office, he’s joined a firm with a specialty practice focusing on many of the same issues he handled as a state attorney general.

This comes at a time when attorneys general around the country are increasingly flexing their enforcement muscles in high-profile matters, from health care suits to challenging new banking regulations.

“We really have a national AG practice now, not just a state-based AG practice these days,” Modisett said. “That’s been one of the most interesting developments in this area, and so we need people at the table who have the insight of being in those shoes, knowing how the AG world works and what they’re trying to achieve.”
 

modisett-jeff-mug.jpg Modisett

The new practice, SNR Denton, is an international law firm with more than a dozen offices throughout the U.S. and multiple locations worldwide. Modisett is one of two former AGs leading the state AG practice, the other being former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Modisett is working in the firm’s Los Angeles office. He has spent the last decade in the private sector after serving as Indiana AG from 1997 to 2001. During those years, he had a hand in high-profile matters including the multi-state legal battle against top tobacco product manufacturers that changed the industry’s marketing efforts and resulted in a $200 billion settlement split among the states, and an investigation of the sweepstakes industry that has helped protect the elderly.

Modisett also served as Marion County prosecutor and led the legal team that tried and convicted former heavy-weight boxing champion Mike Tyson for rape in the 1990s. Since leaving the state, Modisett has been a partner in the business and litigation firm Bryan Cave and served Fortune 500 and high-tech companies on privacy, competition, consumer protection, and related issues. He also served as deputy chief of the Public Corruption and Government Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, and deputy CEO and general counsel of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

All of that led him to where he is now.

“I was basically working as solo practitioner inside a big firm before, and it’s a night and day difference now,” he said, noting his start in April. “I’d describe this being much more like a strategic advisor, and in some ways, it feels like an in-house role. That’s incredibly rewarding. The support this office and all the former deputy attorneys general provide in the practice is something I didn’t realize how much I’ve needed and could benefit from.”

Modisett says the legal issues involve everything from anti-trust to consumer protection, development of privacy policies among high-tech companies, and new definitions of privacy in the evolving intellectual property field. His work involves everything from navigating regulatory oversight at the national and state levels, to making sure companies can stay ahead of compliance standards and settle litigation or enforcement actions when needed. Drafting or reviewing amicus briefs on pending issues is also a job duty, he said. The firm’s new AG practice will be especially attuned to state enforcement matters, and Modisett said it will also respond to investigative inquiries and AG-initiated litigation.

“You’re almost always working with a multi-national corporation that needs to work with various states on consumer protection or regulatory issues, and they are looking for strategic advice and guidance,” Modisett said.

As the Internet became more popular, Modisett said states began communicating more regularly on issues and cases and working together on single issues like those he was involved in as AG.

State attorneys general have become major players in policing major industries and business practices, from bank lending to consumer advertising and privacy. Newspaper headlines tell stories about AGs signing on to challenges of the new national healthcare laws and immigration policies, and are regularly visible making statements on both civil and criminal matters that stretch across state lines.

Most recently, a group of state AGs notified the country’s five biggest banks that they face at least $17 billion in liability unless a settlement is reached to resolve improper home foreclosure practices. In late June, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wrote an amicus brief on behalf of 48 AGs opposing proposed federal standards that would preempt state laws protecting consumers against national banks.

The type of focused firm practice area Modisett is now engaged in doesn’t really exist in Indiana, Zoeller observed, though he credits the state’s larger firms for having established government affairs and regulatory attorneys who aptly handle these types of issues.

“This idea of representing multiple clients with an AG focus isn’t something we really have here, but I think you’ll see even more of what Denton is doing,” Zoeller said, referring to some of the same national efforts he’s been involved in during the past decade. “As former AGs, they have (credibility) and that at least gets you in the door. It allows for more efficient negotiations, because really it’s almost too late once you’re in court.”

Indianapolis attorney Paul Jefferson, a partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s appellate practice group, sees the need for this type of specialized practice with the growing role of AG enforcement. He’s handled about 30 of these types of cases and devotes about a third of his practice to government practices, serving as administrative law judge on the Microvote voting machine case less than a decade ago and more recently handling cases such as the East Chicago casino revenue case and robo-calls suit before the Indiana Supreme Court.

Understanding the practical and legal implications of these actions is important for those facing off against attorneys general or solicitors general, Jefferson said, and having someone who’s been in that position before can make all the difference.

“This is a specialized practice area and I’m surprised more people aren’t devoting more time to that, rather than just general litigation,” he said. “The states are taking a broad view of regulatory powers and trying to enforce those, and you’re seeing them be more practice active about that. It’s how you negotiate the tension between regulation and enforcement, and that’s what those cases most often turn on. So having someone who knows the system and can balance those interests in finding a resolution is very important.”•
 

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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