Thomas M. Wells, photo from his law firm website
I’ve said before that Donald Trump is a one-man bar exam, as his candidacy seems to touch on roughly six bazillion different issues. One could easily create a law blog devoted solely to the legal issues he is involved with that come up on a daily basis — from matrimonial, to contracts, to fraud, to defamation, to torture and war crimes and more.
But today, just for kicks, I’ll tell you how he may have been inappropriately slimed. Beating up on Trump, you see, is easy pickings. But defending him from inappropriate conduct? You be the judge.
We turn, now to one of his former lawyers, and since Trump has been involved in 3,500 lawsuits, in addition to godknowshowmany banking and licensing deals, there are many of them around.
This one is about Thomas M. Wells, who was hired by Trump for a New Jersey real estate deal regarding a mall.
On July 31st, he published a nice, juicy article in the Huffington Post with this headline:
Wah? Inside scoop? Let’s read!
This was the basic background where Wells establishes his credentials to write with authority:
In 1987, when I was 35 years old and he was 41, Donald Trump hired me to be his attorney on a major northern New Jersey project, a shopping center, which like everything else, was to bear his name, Trump Centre. It was a big deal that he picked me and a high honor for me just a couple of years after I started my law firm, which is now over 30 years old. This was at a time when Trump still built things, having recently finished Trump Tower.
OK, he was one of the lawyers. But what kind of information can he possibly spill if he was Trump’s lawyer? There is, after all, the subject of client-attorney privilege.
Well, off the bat, Wells gets right to it, giving personal stories to lede into the rest of the piece. (The rest of the piece appears to be based on public information.)
First, there is this bit about bad deals, which is odd since Wells was helping him with a deal:
He seemed to me smart, business savvy, decisive. He had a very impressive office, a fancy and very big boat, an airline, a helicopter shuttle and several casinos. Within a few years, virtually all of this would be lost because of bad business decisions.
Second is this piece about Trump claiming that women wanted him:
After the initial interview, my client contact with Donald was actually not very much. One low point I do remember (actually will never forget) is a limousine ride to a meeting with the editorial board of a New Jersey newspaper in which my married client sought to regale me with the number and quality of eligible young women who in his words “want me.” I was just plain shocked and embarrassed, but I kept smiling. I wanted and needed this client happy.
And third, Wells takes on Trump’s well-known braggadocio and lust for publicity in discussing the size of his apartment and the varying press stories on just how big it is:
While I was working for Donald, various press reports had Trump and his then-wife Ivanna living in a personal apartment in the Trump Tower of 8, 16 and even 20 or 30 rooms. Genuinely curious, I once asked him how many rooms the apartment actually had. I will never forget his response to me: “However many they will print.”
Zing! The story confirms your bias against Trump, leaving you wanting to read the rest of the piece for any other juicy tidbits.
But, but, but.
Were those three pieces fair game for an attorney to discuss? Clients, after all, share all kinds of information about themselves. Lawyers often need to know what they are, so that we can represent them the best. Sometimes the information is useful, sometimes it’s garbage.
Wells is licensed in New Jersey, and that state’s Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct would control. In this case, it would be section 1.6 relating to confidential information. With few exceptions, “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client…”
Did any of these three stories relate to his representation? I think it goes against Wells. The comments were made in the course of a client meeting. The client may reasonably expect the such communications would be privileged — even if it is Donald Trump.
I’ve written before about lawyers that want to capitalize on being associated with those in the public eye, such as Lindsay Lohan, or as part of puff pieces. This stuff is almost always verboten.
It seems to be that if an individual can’t keep a secret, then representing clients may not be the right line of work.
I’ve reached out to Wells for comment and he gave this initial response:
The only references made were to conversations approximately 30 years ago, not on business or legal matters and no legal advice was sought or given in same.
There is, of course, no part of the client-attorney privilege that simply expires based on the passage of years. There is no statute of limitations with regard to confidentiality.
As to whether the information must be strictly related to “business or legal matters” or “legal advice,” that is not an easy line to draw. Clients talk, in confidence. And they deserve to know that the confidences will be kept.
Even if a client hires a lawyer to do a closing, and then volunteers in private that she killed someone 20 years ago, or that she cheated on her husband with a few dozen others, I don’t think it means the lawyer gets to blab the stories later. The stories may not be related to the subject for which the lawyer was hired, but were still uttered within the quiet bubble representation.
If you think I’m wrong, have at it in the comments.
Update: Mr. Wells gave me a further comment by email:
this conversation did not deal with a legal or business matter and no legal advice was sought or given. There are other issues in this instance as to who the actual client was, who was present etc. but that could be argued to be confidential so I will not go there.