United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge
Keyes Law Firm, LLC ("Plaintiff or "Keyes"),
an asbestos litigation firm in Baltimore, Maryland, brings
this action against two lawyers, Paul J. Napoli ("Mr.
Napoli") and Marc J. Bern ("Mr. Bern"), and
sixteen law firms with which they have been affiliated.
Messrs. Napoli, Bern, and the defendant law firms are all
based in New York. Keyes alleges that its principal, Mary
Keyes ("Ms. Keyes"), entered into association
agreements with Mr. Napoli and Mr. Bern on behalf of their
firm Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP ("NBRS") and
ten other law firms which collectively make up the
"Partnership." Pursuant to these agreements, Keyes
and an associated Bankruptcy Firm referred thousands of
Maryland clients with asbestos-related claims to NBRS. In the
event that the clients prevailed, Keyes, the Bankruptcy firm,
and NBRS were to divide any contingency fees earned.
Mr. Napoli and Mr. Bern split as law partners, the Plaintiff
alleges that the association agreements were assigned to Mr.
Napoli, Mr. Bern, or firms that Mr. Napoli or Mr. Bern formed
after their termination as partners. Plaintiff complains
that, since these assignments, Defendants have failed to meet
their contractual obligations. As of October 2016, Defendants
have allegedly stopped making payments required by the
case of reference, this Court refers to the Legacy Defendants
as the law firms prior to the split of Mr. Napoli and Mr.
Bern, which include: Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP; Napoli
Bern, LLP; Napoli Bern & Associates, LLP; Napoli Bern
Ripka & Associates, LLP; Napoli Bern Ripka, LLP; Napoli
Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Associates, LLP; Law Offices of
Napoli Bern, LLP; Law Offices of Napoli Bern Ripka &
Associates, LLP; Law Offices of Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik
LLP; Law Offices of Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik &
Associates LLP; Napoli, Kaiser, Bern & Associates, LLP;
and Pasternack Tilker Napoli Bern LLP. This Court refers to
the Napoli Defendants as Mr. Napoli and the law firms
associated with him after the split: Napoli Shkolnik PLLC;
Napoli Law PLLC; Paul Napoli Law PLLC; and Paul J Napoli.
This Court also refers to the Bern Defendants as Mr. Bern and
the law firms associated with him after the split: Marc J.
Bern & Partners LLP; and Marc Jay Bern. Collectively, the
Legacy Defendants, the Napoli Defendants, and the Bern
Defendants, are referred to simply as Defendants.
February 12, 2019, after a telephone conference on the
record, this Court denied Defendants' Motions for
Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF Nos. 113, 116, 117), and
granted Keyes' Motion for Leave to File First Amended
Complaint (ECF No. 125). (Ltr. Order, ECF No. 144.)
Keyes' First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 145) was filed on
February 13, 2019, which, among other things, removed Bern
Ripka LLP as a Defendant, added Napoli Bern Ripka, LLP, and
corrected the name of Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates,
LLP. Defendants have Answered (ECF Nos. 154-169, 183,
February 26, 2019, the parties filed letters with this Court
seeking resolution of a discovery dispute. (ECF No. 148,
149.) A telephone conference was held on February 28, 2019,
and a Letter Order (ECF No. 152) was issued the same date,
ordering the following:
1. Defendants SHALL PRODUCE the requested ESI in a
searchable, indexable form with metadata;
2. The Parties' joint request to revise the Scheduling
Order as set forth in the proposed Revised Scheduling Order
(ECF No. 147) is GRANTED;
3. Mindful that a bench trial in this case is firmly set to
begin on December 9, 2019, Defendants SHALL NOTIFY this Court
of the date by which it will comply with this Order.
(Ltr. Order 2, ECF No. 152.) Since that time, attorneys
Benjamin Rosenberg, Jeffrey M. Lichtstein, J. Teigen Hall,
and Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP, have moved for leave to
withdraw their appearance as counsel for the Napoli
Defendants. (ECF No. 173.) As of this date, by separate
Order, that motion was granted.
April 10, 2019, Keyes filed a letter with this Court and
indicated that the Napoli Defendants had not complied with
this Court's February 28, 2019 Order (ECF No. 152) and
requested another telephone conference to resolve discovery
disputes. (ECF No. 176.) The requested telephone conference
was scheduled for today at 11:00 a.m., and letters were filed
by the parties regarding the dispute. (See ECF Nos.
177-181.) This morning, new counsel for the Napoli Defendants
filed his appearance and attended the telephone conference,
although he was understandably unable to provide substantive
responses to the Napoli Defendants' discovery production.
asserts that the Napoli Defendants have collected fees on
behalf of the more than 2, 000 clients ("Subject
Clients") that had been referred to Defendants, but the
Napoli Defendants have not fully complied with this
Court's Order to provide the discovery documents that
accounts for the funds. (ECF No. 178.) Keyes provided this
Court with sample evidence that, regardless of the Napoli
Defendants insistence that they do not track this kind of
information, it is clearly apparent that they do. (See,
e.g., Napoli Ltr., ECF No. 179-8.) Moreover, law firms
such as the Napoli Defendants are ethically bound to account
for funds received on behalf of their clients, and
practically speaking, they must account for receipts and
distributions from client accounts. Neither the Legacy
Defendants nor the Napoli Defendants, although they have
produced further documentation in a searchable format since
this Court's prior Order, have fully complied with all
Subject Client information.
this Court Orders Defendants to fully comply with this
Court's Order (ECF No. 152), as further clarified herein,
or show cause why they should not be found in contempt of
Court for failing to comply with this Court's Orders.
foregoing reasons, 1. Defendants shall demonstrate their full
compliance with this Court's Order (ECF No. 152) no later