The vast majority of lawyers practice their profession with the highest possible ethical standards, righting wrongs, defending the accused, and providing a much needed service to the public. Then you have the Diamond Doctor case, which was recently a front page story in the Sunday, May 22 edition of The Dallas Morning News.
As reported by business columnist Cheryl Hall, the case involves a dispute between Nashville attorney Brian Manookian and a group of independent jewelers around the country he has accused of fraudulently upgrading the quality of their diamonds prior to sale. Diamond Doctor is the simply the Dallas-area jeweler he has targeted. Diamond Doctor is now the subject of an extensive advertising campaign made to look like an effort to uncover customers wronged by what Manookian claims is a jewelry scam.
He took out ads on Facebook and on the dallasnews.com home page. He had fliers hung on front doors in some of the more upscale areas of the city. And he bought electronic billboards on Dallas North Tollway asking residents if they wanted to sue Diamond Doctor.
The attorney is quoted as saying he is a consumer crusader fighting to expose “a long-running scam” by retail jewelers. David Blank, the owner of Diamond Doctor, maintains this is all a ruse, a shakedown to get the jewelers he targets to hire Manookian’s firm to handle their legal matters. If they will hire Manookian, at considerable expense, he stops advertising because he is then conflicted out of representing customers against his clients.
The Morning News story indicated that an Atlanta jeweler gave in and hired Manookian’s firm for $20,000 a month for five years, or a total of $1.2 million, to stop the attorney’s campaign against him. Blank also maintains that he negotiated a similar arrangement, but decided at the last minute that he could not, in good conscience, agree to what he called “hush money.”
This led to a lawsuit by Diamond Doctor and threats of a countersuit by Manookian. While researching her newspaper story, Mrs. Hall asked Johnston Tobey Baruch managing shareholder Randy Johnston to give an opinion on the case. She is familiar with the firm’s extensive work pursuing legal malpractice and fraud claims against lawyers over the past 20 years. She quoted Randy for the story as follows:
“You can’t go into an agreement that says, ‘If you pay me a million dollars, I’ll never sue you again,’” said Johnston, who is not involved in this controversy. “So what lawyers try to do is say: ‘I can’t do that but you can hire me and conflict me out. Just pay me a million dollars for me to sit on my butt and do nothing.’ The ABA has said: “That’s a fraud. You’re coming in the back door when you can’t get through the front door. And you can’t do that.’”
Randy reviewed the claims and concluded the type of legal arrangement Blank and Manookian discussed, if consummated, would have violated ethics rules of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas. These rules were written to give lawyers guidance on how to remain above reproach.
It is hoped that when litigation is exhausted, someone will get justice on some level. Johnston Tobey Baruch’s experience in such cases already tells us the main casualty of cases like this – further loss of public confidence in the legal profession.