ILNews

Legal trend utilizes AG experience

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

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  2. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

  3. From the article's fourth paragraph: "Her work underscores the blurry lines in Russia between the government and businesses . . ." Obviously, the author of this piece doesn't pay much attention to the "blurry lines" between government and businesses that exist in the United States. And I'm not talking only about Trump's alleged conflicts of interest. When lobbyists for major industries (pharmaceutical, petroleum, insurance, etc) have greater access to this country's elected representatives than do everyday individuals (i.e., voters), then I would say that the lines between government and business in the United States are just as blurry, if not more so, than in Russia.

  4. For some strange reason this story, like many on this ezine that question the powerful, seems to have been released in two formats. Prior format here: http://www.theindianalawyer.com/nominees-selected-for-us-attorney-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/44263 That observed, I must note that it is quite refreshing that denizens of the great unwashed (like me) can be allowed to openly question powerful elitists at ICE MILLER who are on the public dole like Selby. Kudos to those at this ezine who understand that they cannot be mere lapdogs to the powerful and corrupt, lest freedom bleed out. If you wonder why the Senator resisted Selby, consider reading the comments here for a theory: http://www.theindianalawyer.com/nominees-selected-for-us-attorney-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/44263

  5. Why is it a crisis that people want to protect their rights themselves? The courts have a huge bias against people appearing on their own behalf and these judges and lawyers will face their maker one day and answer for their actions.

ADVERTISEMENT