Earlier this year, Jacob Triest, a litigation partner at Swanter, McMillan and Carte, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., was assigned a case between two local corporate behemoths: Reuven, Inc. and Brestle Corp., two iodine producers who’ve locked horns for decades in a battle for local market share. In their latest clash, Reuven sued Brestle for nearly $100 million in damages for using a valuable idioine manufacturing patent it claimed Brestle never properly licensed.
Soon after reviewing the facts with Brestle Corp.’s general counsel, and performing rudimentary document review during pre-trial preparation, Triest realized that he was in possession of the proverbial “smoking gun” — an email from Reuven’s CEO allowing Brestle’s CEO the use of underlying patent at issue in the case in exchange for an agreement to end an costly and aggressive advertising campaign. However, instead of burying the email until a dramatic reveal during trial, Triest did the unthinkable: He exposed the email’s existence in a pre-trial summary-judgment memorandum. The result was an easy victory for Brestle, despite the company’s previous willingness to pay Swanter, McMillan and Carte “whatever it would take” to win the case.
Immediately following the Court’s grant of summary judgment, Richard Swanter, the firm’s managing partner, released Triest of his duties, citing “behavior unbecoming of a trial attorney.”
The firm’s official termination letter noted that any attempt to win on summary judgment had to be approved by a minimum of two partners, and the speed at which Triest had closed the Brestle case had not received such authorization. Further, firm policy in corporate cases is, during the course of pre-trial preparation, to review every single document possessed by both companies. By ending document review as soon as dispositive evidence was discovered, Triest precluded the months of records examination the firm had scheduled.
“I don’t know what Triest was thinking,” Swanter said in a recent interview with Minnesota Litigator Monthly. “He let the whole firm down. There were numerous attorneys looking forward to putting in long hours on the Brestle case. Now, they’ll never get the chance — all because Triest had to show off. It’s selfish, really.”
For his part, Triest has been apologetic. In the same Minnesota Litigator Monthly piece, he admitted to having been “caught up in the rush” as the case prepared for trial. “I really didn’t stop and think,” he said. “Sometimes I can be too competitive. … I saw the document and just went for the ‘w,’ you know?”
The firm has voluntarily self-reported the case to the Minnesota Bar Association, which has indicated it will not seek further sanction.