A federal judge this afternoon declined to disqualify two Katten Muchin Rosenman partners from their continued defense of Fraser Verrusio, a former House of Representatives staffer who is charged in a public corruption case in Washington.
Judge Richard Roberts of Washington's federal trial court met with the defense lawyers, Joshua Berman and Glen Donath, for an hour this afternoon in a closed session that will remain sealed.
After the meeting, Roberts said in court that he is satisfied there is no conflict and that the attorneys can continue to represent Verrusio, who did not participate in the ex parte discussion among Berman, Donath and the judge. Roberts said he will not require Verrusio to waive any conflict.
Last week, Justice Department lawyers raised the potential for a conflict, which prosecutors said stems from work that Berman and Donath performed in 2008 for the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Berman and Donath are former Sonnenschein partners who represented the firm when prosecutors sought evidence and testimony from it during the Verrusio investigation.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Sonnenschein paid of some of the gratuities that are at the heart of the government’s case against Verrusio. A former Sonnenschein lobbyist, James Hirni, is expected to testify for the government at Verrusio’s trial. Verrusio is charged with taking illegal gratuities from Hirni and others and failing to report the gifts on a financial disclosure form.
Justice attorneys said they were concerned Berman and Donath acquired confidential information during the work they did for Sonnenschein. Berman and Donath, prosecutors said, would have been torn between protecting the confidentiality of that information and zealously representing Verrusio.
In court today, Roberts said he was satisfied with the answers Berman and Donath provided to questions. The judge did not discuss the nature of those questions and did not articulate in open court why the discussion was held behind closed doors.