Wednesday , August 26 , 2015

Lifting the Heavy Curtain on the Barnes Foundation Mess: Ethics 101

March 29, 2011

               Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire.   photo by Philip Lustig March 29, 2011

Judge Stanley Ott invited the participating attorneys to Courtroom B at the  Montgomery County Courthouse on August 1 to explain their positions on the Barnes mess. Judge Ott didn’t call it a mess, but he could have.

RalphWellington, the impeccably-groomed heavy from the Philadelphia office of Schnader, Harrison, Segal  & Lewis LLP addressed Judge Ott on behalf of the Barnes Foundation. His message was very simple.  We don’t talk fancy like Mr. Wellington, but here’s the gist of what he said:

 

These guys (meaning Sam Stretton, Esquire, the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, and others) are full of it and besides, they don’t have a right to bring this action to Court. With all due respect to Your Honor, they should be shown to the door.  But since we’re here, it might as well be said that Sam Stretton’s claim that there is new evidence of wrongdoing by former Attorney General Mike Fisher is bunk.  Everybody knew about Mike Fisher’s dealings with Lincoln already.  It was, like, you know, the stuff that goes on.  It was even in the newspaper!  So what’s new?  Nothing.

Geeze, you would think at those Schnader prices some new ideas would come up.

The next fancy suit was Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Barth. Larry’s been on this case like forever. The nice thing about Larry is that you always know where he stands because you can’t help but notice where he sits:  as close as possible to the Barnes Foundation lawyers.  We even spotted him at that posh Four Seasons breakfast for the Philly-stines with the project architects. These guys are really tight!

 

Okay, but what did Larry say?  To tell you the truth, it was really hard to hear him, but what we got out of it was pretty much the same spiel heard umpteen times already.  The Attorney General had no conflict of interest, bleh, bleh, bleh. The Barnes Foundation was in such terrible financial shape  that the collection was in danger of being scattered to the four corners of the earth.  That being the case (so they claimed), it was in the public’s interest for the Barnes Board to grab the Pew zillions with both hands and hit the road.

 

And also remember, we (and the Judge) are just take them at their word  — don’t even think about asking for the evidence about the financial condition of the Barnes Foundation.

 

Evidence, did we mention evidence?  Sam Stretton wanted to give Judge Ott a packet of information that shows a very different picture from the one Larry and Ralph presented in the 2003,  2004 hearings. Well, Larry and Ralph were all over Sam’s case in a flash and he was unable to submit the packet.  More on that in a future post.  But first the Oral Arguments.

Now, Sam.  Sam Stretton is a lawyer’s lawyer and a judge’s lawyer, too.  He’s an authority on Pennsylvania legal and judicial ethics, so he knows a thing or two about what an Attorney General is supposed to do and what is beyond the pale.  If  Sam says that  Mike Fisher’s apparent threatening behavior toward Lincoln University’s Board and then not telling the Court about it was “an absolute conflict of interest,” there is every reason to believe it is. Sam told Judge Ott this was “Ethics 101.”

 

Beyond that kind of obvious problem, Sam asked Judge Ott to consider the fundamental role of the Attorney General in a case like this.  Is the AG supposed to be a supervisor?   Or, is the AG supposed to bring the evidence before the Court so that the Judge can assess it and reach a conclusion? Sam also told Judge Ott that there is ample evidence to show that what was presented in earlier hearings misled the Court.

We are hardly objective observers, but Sam Stretton’s arguments and delivery were electrifying. Barth and Wellington’s were more like two dull thuds.

 

But styles aside, it’s  the substance of what these lawyers said and their written legal arguments submitted to the Court that will carry this forward – or not. You can read about it in more detail in the “Critical Mass” column in Philadelphia’s City Paper by Clare Foranand  in the Main Line Times by Cheryl Allison.

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