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Top lawyer steps down over attack ads that targeted senators

Post by News Tribune Staff on March 11, 2009 at 11:01 am |
March 11, 2009 11:01 am

Matt Bergman, managing partner of Bergman Draper & Frockt, a Seattle law firm that specializes in asbestos litigation, has stepped down, taking the blame for the full-page newspaper ads that tried to pressure three state senators into passing a bill into law.


The senators retaliated by killing the bill, Senate Bill 5964.


Mark Firmani, who handles public relations for the firm, confirmed a few minutes ago that an e-mail that was sent to me anonymously is, in fact, authentic.


Bergman left Monday for Kenya, to open another school he has built with his own funds, Firmani said. Bergman is not resigning from the firm; he is just stepping down as its managing partner, Firmani said.


The ads ran last week in newspapers in the legislative districts of Sens. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam. The ads suggested the three senators were blocking passage of an asbestos-litigation bill, thus denying justice to a client of the law firm, whose husband had died at at 57 because of exposure to asbestos at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.


The senators blamed a former colleague, Brian Weinstein, a member of the law firm who until December was a state senator representing Mercer Island, for the heavy handed ads.

The ad that ran in The News Tribune cost about $10,000.


Bergman said it was his call to run the ads:


“Recent events in Olympia have given me reason to doubt my leadership. It is not so much the content of my decision to run the ads (I’ve made mistakes before) or the result of the decision but rather the manner in which the decision was made.

I am distressed that a course of action as significant as attacking Democratic senators in the midst of the most stressful legislative session in a decade was made in haste with so little deliberation, consultation and foresight.”


Here is the full letter:



My dear colleagues:


Over 90 years ago, my intellectual hero Max Weber wrote that effective leadership requires both passion and perspective.


For the past nine years I have led this law firm through good times and bad, my vision and passion balanced by David’s wisdom and perspective.


While at times intemperate and imperious, my leadership transformed our organization from a respected regional law firm into a national player in asbestos litigation. Our reputation for integrity, dedication to our clients and legal innovation is second to none. We have achieved amazing results for our clients, financial prosperity for our families and provided a generous and humane workplace for our employees. We have much to be proud of at our firm!


Recent events in Olympia have given me reason to doubt my leadership. It is not so much the content of my decision to run the ads (I’ve made mistakes before) or the result of the decision but rather the manner in which the decision was made.


I am distressed that a course of action as significant as attacking Democratic senators in the midst of the most stressful legislative session in a decade was made in haste with so little deliberation, consultation and foresight. While effective leadership requires a considerable level of self-certainty – not to mention a little bravado – this passion must be tempered with perspective and prudence. Up until now, every significant mistake I made in my career resulted from not trusting my initial instincts and ignoring the blinking yellow light urging caution. What worries me more than anything is that in this instance my intuition failed me altogether. It was not a question of ignoring my instincts or driving past the blinking yellow light, but rather that my instincts were missing in action.


Perhaps my loss of acuity resulted from ongoing grief over the loss in Arnold; perhaps I was distracted by my newfound interests in venture capitalism and international philanthropy or perhaps I’m just burned out after 12 years of holding the hands with dying mesothelioma victims.


In any case, I no longer believe I am the best person to lead Bergman, Draper & Frockt through the challenging times ahead and therefore cede the mantle of leadership to my dear friend and trusted partner Glenn. This decision is mine alone. I believe it is the best course of action for both the firm and our clients.


When I return from Kenya, I look forward to re-joining my friends and colleagues and resuming the good fight on behalf of the clients we are privileged to represent.


Until then, you have my unyielding affection and admiration.


See you soon


Matt

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