Mr Justice Peter Smith has slated the working practices of former Jones Day Reavis & Pogue lawyer Mohammed Amersi in last week’s Saab judgment.
Throughout the trial the Saab brothers contended that they did not know that Jones Day was acting for both sides on a share placement with the Saudi American Bank (Samba). However, although Judge Smith ruled that the Saabs were aware of the potential conflict, he found that the firm had still behaved improperly. The judge said Amersi “never explained what the difficulties might be. Clients are entitled to be informed of the possible conflicts.”
Judge Smith added: “Mr Amersi saw himself as a dealmaker. He was thus bringing together the Saabs and Samba for mutual benefit. He forgot that he was a lawyer who owed duties to different clients that might cause conflict.”
Judge Smith later said that Amersi was so attracted by the success fee on the deal that he lost a proper sense of objectivity.
Smith was unequivocal in his criticism of Amersi, whom, he said, Jones Day did not adequately supervise. He ruled that Amersi’s approach to client billing was extremely lax.
Judge Smith also said: “The timekeeping records of Mr Amersi can, in my mind, only be described as a shambles. Equally, his approach to retainers is casual and confused.”
When discussing the Saabs’ client billing and costs, Smith said: “No satisfactory supporting records have been produced by Jones Day to substantiate the amounts claimed, despite requests. The computerised printout was produced during the course of the trial purporting to record the chargeable hours incurred by Mr Amersi on the project. This document itself is questionable.”
Amersi came unstuck during cross-examination by the Saabs’ lawyers and Judge Smith stated that he was an unreliable witness.
On the second day of his cross-examination, Amersi was asked whether he had given any thought to the professional conduct rules that bound him while working for Jones Day in Saudi Arabia.
Amersi replied: “The thought never crossed my mind. I can’t recollect that I looked at a rulebook to see how I’m supposed to conduct myself.”
Judge Smith concluded: “The conflict forms were completed by Amersi’s secretary, which I find to be a quite extraordinary state of affairs.” He added that Amersi’s record-keeping “shows a lamentable way of conducting oneself as a lawyer”.
Jones Day was represented by Lista Cannon of Richards Butler, Stephen Rubin QC of Fountain Court and Thomas Braithwaite of Serle Court. The Saabs were represented by Graham Huntley of Lovells and Andrew Sutcliffe QC and James Evans of 3 Verulam Buildings.
Cannon told The Lawyer: “Jones Day will vigorously resist the claim by the Saabs for damages on the basis that any misunderstanding as to the firm’s role was not causative of loss allegedly suffered by the Saabs.”