Howard Willens: Dancing with Words; Deanne Siemer: Crossing Lines

April 26, 2009


Howard Willens receives no more than $48,000 annually in taxpayer money from the CNMI to perform duties as a "special legal counsel" and an assistant CNMI attorney dealing with public land issues. This is according to his contract with the CNMI government.

He has written a letter to the editor to clarify his contract that was recently released under the Open Government Act request of Rep. Tina Sablan. The letter was published in the Saipan Tribune:
No great mystery or conspiracy here

In response to recent publicity regarding my contract with the Commonwealth, I would like to emphasize the following:

1. I do not receive any compensation or salary for my professional services to the Commonwealth as Special Legal Counsel to the Governor. I submit no billing statements reflecting the hours that I work on identified Commonwealth matters. This is the same basis on which I worked for former Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio during 1998-99.

2. I do receive reimbursement for documented expenses that I incur on a monthly basis in my capacity as Special Counsel. There is a ceiling of $12,000 for each three-month period. Under the contract I can seek reimbursement for only one trip to and from the CNMI during the quarter (not to exceed $3,000), monthly car rental (not to exceed $1000), and no more than 60 days of $100 per diem during each quarter that I live in the Commonwealth.

3. In each of the three calendar years of 2006, 2007, and 2008, my total reimbursements for the year have been less than the authorized amount of $48,000 per year. I do not seek reimbursements for expenses incurred while I work for the CNMI in Washington, D.C. During the last two months of 2008 and the first two months of 2009, I was working for the Commonwealth in Washington on several important matters and received no compensation of any kind.

There is no great mystery or conspiracy here. My wife and I have a long-standing commitment to this Commonwealth. We have worked for more than 30 years with hundreds of Commonwealth officials and residents. We have many friends here, and are pleased to provide our services without any charge for legal fees. We are proud of our record of achievement in the Commonwealth, and anticipate that we will continue to enjoy our work with the people of this community in the years ahead.

Howard P. Willens
Via e-mail
Okay, it is not salary. It is not compensation. It is not legal fees. What is it? Reimbursement? Whatever it is called, Willens receives no more than $48,000 annually for his "services" to the governor and lieutenant governor. How can services be free and "without charge" if the CNMI is paying him from public coffers? Mr. Willens never did define what the $12,000 per quarter is called. He just dances with words. Whatever it is, he GETS MONEY for his services!

I am glad they are proud of their achievements. It's good to feel pride in your work. Please remind us, what was it you two did to help the Commonwealth? Help draft PL 15-108, draft the anti-federalization lawsuit that cost the CNMI (oops we don't know that, do we...), vilify the federal ombudsman, attack Representative Tina Sablan, ghost-write letters for the CNMI Department of Labor, promote the anti-federalization lawsuit with a slide show, help draft the Covenant that you defend as if it were your child?

I think the valuable contributions that they may have made were writing several books that I have been told were funded by the NMI Council for the Humanities under grants from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities. (This would mean that they were paid, compensated, or otherwise received money to write the books.) The books are An Honorable Accord: The Covenant between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, published in 2001; National Security and Self-Determination. U.S. Policy in Micronesia (1961-1972), published in 2001; and Oral Histories of the Northern Mariana Islands: Political Life and Developments, 1945-1995, published 2005; and From the White House, Documents on the Northern Mariana Islands and Micronesia (1945-1995).

The couple received $15, 949.00 for the last book. That year they also received $8,066.00 to copy federal documents digitize a large collection of federal documents relating to the political status negotiations between the U.S. government and the Marianas Political Status Commission in the early 1970s resulting in the Covenant. I am unsure of how much money they received for the other projects.

Receiving money implies you are not a "volunteer" or providing free services. There is nothing wrong with being compensated. What's wrong is pretending you are volunteering. Where are the ethics?

Haughty, smug, and arrogant. All words that people have used to describe Howard's partner and wife, Deanne. Yet, in 1994, Deanne Siemer and her firm, Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, were hit with a $500,000 legal malpractice judgment, finding that Pillsbury lawyers violated conflict-of-interest rules by siding against their own client, a lobbying firm.

From The Washington Post:
In a harshly worded opinion, Circuit Court Judge Jane Roush asserted that Siemer "willfully ignored" the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers, and that the law firm shared the blame for failing to heed the warnings of junior associates that the "dual representation ... was rife with conflicts of interest."
According to trial testimony, when internal tensions erupted at the lobbying firm of Murphy & Demory (a District firm that is incorporated in Virginia), Pillsbury lawyers assisted one partner, retired Adm. Daniel Murphy, in his plans to take control of the small corporation or divert its clients to a new firm, leaving Murphy & Demory to "wither." At the time, Pillsbury lawyers represented Murphy & Demory as a corporation, the judge ruled, and owed their allegiance to the entire firm, rather than to any individual officer.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the lobbying firm and Willard L. Demory, the partner left behind when Murphy resigned to start a competing lobbying firm. In the midst of the feud between Demory and Murphy, Demory fired Pillsbury and hired John Dowd, of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Demory's lobbying firm later sued Murphy for breach of contract and Pillsbury for malpractice. The judge also awarded Demory's firm $1 million on his claims against Murphy.
Siemer, with Pillsbury since 1990 and a onetime partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, also was haunted at trial by her own ethics expertise. She has written a book, "Understanding Modern Ethical Standards," for the National Institute on Trial Advocacy, a nonprofit group that teaches young lawyers how to try cases. Known nationally as a fierce litigator, Siemer is now the institute's chair-elect.
This was not Siemer's first brush with ethical problems. In 1980, she resigned as a top Energy Department aide after an internal investigation concluded that her efforts to get the Energy Department to hire her stepson "appear to violate the federal laws against nepotism."
Attempting to hire her stepson? It is rumored that another child works for Jenner and Block which was selected as the law firm to handle the anti-federalization lawsuit for an estimated $50,000 a month. (I said rumored because this has not been verified, and I have no idea if this is true.)

The malpractice case was so notorious that it was featured in a legal textbook, "Lawyers Crossing Lines, Nine Stories," by James L. Kelley. The book is an ethics/responsibility casebook. The chapter entitled, Breaking Up is Hard to Do features the case with Siemer outlined above, and oddly enough the chapter about Siemer's case is online. From a comment on Amzaon.com where the book is being sold:
It is too easy to think that falling foul of the Bar Disciplinary Committee is the privilege of the solo or small law firm. Kelley shows that even nationally renowned law firms can get themselves in a terrible mess when the partners' eyes are on profits rather than ethics.
Is it ethical to claim you earn no salary and no compensation when you have a contract that says you receive no more than $48,000 annually? I don't think so.

10 comments:

Saipan Writer said...

Interesting stuff, Wendy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making the information about Deanne Siemer's past professional conduct available to the readers of your blog site. As reported in Mr. Kelley's book her ethical misconduct occurred in the mid-90's , a short time before she and Willens returned to Saipan to provide their brand of legal advice to the Third ConCon. They did not come out to help us or volunteer their services and one can easily conclude that she did not leave a lucrative practice with Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro to draft constitutional amendments (all of which failed ratification by the voters) out of love for the CNMI and it people!At least they did not claim to be "volunteers". She and Willens were off the radar screen for many years following self government in 1978.It must have been very embarrassing for her to have her reputation in the legal community sullied so badly. However,she was the major player in a series of events that resulted in her client being ordered to to pay $1,000,000.00 in damages for following her legal advice. In addition, she was ordered to pay $500,000.00 and her law firm was also ordered to pay a very sizable amount for her misconduct.The chapter in Mr Kelley's book is a very good read and provides real insight into how Deanne Siemer operated in the real world. Some of her activities in the CNMI are also questionable. A lot of losers arrive on the shores of our islands, but none have held such a lofty position before falling from grace! "Haughty, smug, and arrogant" probably do not do her justice! She and her husband have contributed greatly to the latest round of injustices inflicted on nonresident workers in the CNMI. What a legacy!

Anonymous said...

Interesting indeed! The last sentence from the book explains why Howie and Dee returned to Saipan.

"Deanne Siemer and her lawyer husband had worked in the trust territory of the Pacific Islands in the 1970's. She left the Pillsbury firm and they returned to establish Siemer and Willens, a civil practice firm on Saipan, the mariana Islands.

Also, from the book, "Siemer was a veteran trial lawyer with an abrasive manner."

The Truth said...

"And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them."

~as written by Ezekiel and published in many of Our books

Anonymous said...

WHOA!

samiam said...

You can run, but you can't hide.

sam (jackson) i am said...

Did you really find that in Ezekiel, or did you just get it from me in Pulp Fiction?

wendy said...

This was comment was posted on the post, Eloy Inos Governor's Pick...

I am posting it here too!

Anonymous said...
Ode to Howard and Deanne (sung to the tune of Jack and Diane by John Cougar Mellencamp):

Little ditty about Howard and Deanne
Two American kids growin old in the homeland.
Howard’s gonna be a volunteer,
Deanne fights the feds and lies, tries to spread the fear.

Suckin on filet mignon, ordering the finest wine,
Deanne laughing at the expensive bill,
because it’s on the taxpayers’ dime.
Howard say, hey Deanne let’s run off
Behind a shady tree
Deanne looks at her watch
says, “Baby we can’t, we’re booked for DC.”
And Howard says

Chorus:
Oh yeah life goes on
Long after the spin of federalization is done,
Oh yeah life goes on
Long after our contracts with Uncle Ben is long gone, they walk on

Howard sits back reflects his thoughts for a moment
Scratches his head and says in his most sincere voice
you know Deanne we oughtta move back to our home in DC,
Diane says, baby you remember Pillsbury?
Deanne says

Chorus:
Oh yeah, not life in our nation,
Paid too many fines for ethics violations.
Oh yeah life is great here,
CNMI pays for our bills, so have another beer.

Let them lie,
Sell their souls,
Let Ben Tan come down
with his anti-fed trolls.
Hold on to bitter times as long as they can,
Hope comin round real soon
Replacing Ben, Howard, and Deanne.

Little ditty about Howard and Deanne,
Two old volunteers spinning it best they can.

Anonymous said...

I'm neither pro nor anti Willens/Siemer but there appears to be no understanding here of the concept of expenses as opposed to compensation. Volunteers may not expect to make money from their efforts but for the most part they don't expect to lose money by them, hence expenses - documented expenses per Willens (unlike the good old "per diem" real grifters prefer) If I provide my time and expertise to you on any matter, the only cost to me is the opportunity cost ie. I could be doing something else that would profit me. That's not an out-of-pocket loss to me. If however I have to stay in DC or copy documents or suchlike that's real money out of my real pocket and it's eminently reasonable to have it reimbursed.

Anonymous said...

Deanne Siemer is a disgrace and shame on the legal profession. her unprofessionalism is well described in Chapter 1 of the book Lawyers Crossing Lines (the whole story is on her professional unethical misconduct). she is clearly unethical and corrupt. It's shocking that she wasn't disbarred. not sure why- she violated professional legal ethics rules and made others violate these ethics rules. She should have been DISBARRED AND NEVER ALLOWED TO PRACTICE LAW AGAIN. it's unfortunate she still got her license.