Two of the legal minds behind one of the largest civil court settlements in Maryland's history are leaving their chief partner, Stephen L. Snyder, and opening the doors on their own law firm in Lutherville today.
Arnold M. Weiner, who made a name for himself defending prominent white-collar criminals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Robert Weltchek, who has won some of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in state history, plan to take on top business consultants in much the same way they helped Snyder take on accounting firm Ernst & Young in a precedent-setting case that netted a $185 million settlement in 1999. Weiner joined the firm about four years ago and Weltchek about three years earlier.
The move breaks up part of a relatively small but ambitious legal team that has won numerous multimillion-dollar verdicts and is renowned for its skill in captivating juries in malpractice cases. But the partners say the split was amicable and not based on any falling out at the firm of Snyder, Weiner, Weltchek and Vogelstein.
"They're two quality lawyers, and I wish them the best," Snyder said. "I know they'll do fine and so will I. I hold [them] in very high esteem."
Despite their age difference - Weiner is 67 and Weltchek is 46 - the partners in Weiner & Weltchek say they share a common vision and wanted a chance to capitalize on their unique working relationship.
"We work together almost like a team of bridge players who have been playing bridge together for many years," Weiner said. "We understand and anticipate each other's moves."
Money and quality of life issues may also have played a role in the decision, say colleagues interviewed yesterday. By all accounts, working for Snyder's firm was very rewarding financially for Weiner and Weltchek. The Ernst & Young case alone brought the firm more than $70 million in fees, and Weiner and Weltchek are credited with doing much of the heavy lifting in the case.
With financial worries out of the way, the two are free to focus on cases that provide new intellectual challenges, while also freeing up more time for family. Both Weiner and Weltchek are known for keeping long hours when preparing for trial.
"They're all in an economic position where they can take some quality time to smell the roses," said William H. Murphy Jr., a top criminal defense lawyer and former judge, who says Weiner served as a mentor early in his career. "The second thing is, they've all been so successful that they can pick and choose their cases so they can see how they want to practice law for the next five or six years."
This will be the first time Weiner and Weltchek have branched out on their own., since both have always worked for big law firms. Weiner has a long list of business and political contacts and is accustomed to high-profile trials, having successfully defended former Gov. Marvin Mandel and former Rep. Edward A. Garmatz in criminal cases. Mandel was convicted on federal mail fraud and racketeering charges in 1977 - a verdict that was overturned with Weiner's help. Garmatz was accused of taking bribes while serving in the House, but the case was dismissed in 1978 after the government's evidence was found to be questionable.
It was Weiner's relationship with Deborah Hunt Devan, a Baltimore attorney appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to liquidate Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, that led to the Ernst & Young suit. The third-largest accounting firm was hired by Merry-Go-Round to manage the bankrupt retailer's turnaround. When that effort failed, Devan and Snyder's firm went after Ernst & Young, accusing the company of giving the retailer bad advice.
The $185 million settlement was second only to the state's $4.4 billion deal with tobacco companies, and it put accounting firms on notice that they can be held liable for the failure of companies they are hired to help.
In their new venture, Weiner and Weltchek will be going after similar cases in hopes of scoring another big win. One of their principal targets will be consulting firms that advise Fortune 500 companies on what information technology to invest in to keep their businesses efficient. Oftentimes, Weltchek said, such consulting firms are using major companies as guinea pigs for unproven technology, with disastrous results when the new system doesn't work as advertised.
"There's a whole wave of potential litigation out there," Weltchek said. "That's an area we think is in its infancy."
If they succeed in finding a good test case, Weiner and Weltchek could once again be setting precedents - this time putting technology consultants on notice that they can be held liable for giving bad advice.
"We're talking about these huge cases, complex cases that are intellectually challenging and many of them are going to be novel, first-time theories," Weltchek said.