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Tipsheet

Complaint Filed with New York State Bar Against Biden's Nominee for Navy General Counsel

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While Saule Omarova became the third high-profile Biden nominee to be pulled from consideration on Tuesday, there are still more controversial nominees who ought to be on the radar. Recently, the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) filed a complaint against John P. "Sean" Coffey with the New York Bar. The White House in August tapped Coffey for the U.S. Department of the Navy's general counsel.

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The complaint requests that the New York Bar open an investigation into Coffey for violations of Rule 7.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that: "A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or obtain employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in employment by a client." 

Specifically, the complaint "does not maintain that Mr. Coffey violated laws per se but rather violated the higher standard of professional conduct attorneys in New York are held to."

The complaint does claim that Coffey as an individual, and as a co-managing partner at  Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP (BLB&G), took part in "pay-to-play" schemes that went on for years. The nearly 100 page complaint with exhibits lists out campaign donations, charitable contributors, and other benefits to elected officials to whose agencies Coffey and the firm were soliciting for business or seeking representation in pension shareholder suits. 

"Mr. Coffey’s behavior reflected poor judgement and brought discredit upon the legal profession and the government and is worthy of sanction by the Grievance Committee," the complaint read.

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Examples include Coffey donating to a group associated with Detroit's former Democratic Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Kilpatrick Civic Fund (KCP), with Kilpatrick taking $200,000 from the fund for personal expenses.

While Coffey is based in New York, he and BLB&G had also donated to campaigns and state parties in Ohio, as well as candidates in Minnesota, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Mississippi. 

In the complaint's conclusion, it claims that "Mr. Coffey, both personally and through his law firm, was using campaign contributions to secure and retain highly lucrative pension fund representational business, a practice prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct." The complaint also suggests that [w]hether Mr. Coffey and his firms would have secured these contracts with state pension funds but for their political contributions is unknowable because Mr. Coffey has so polluted and perverted the process with illicit donations." 

Coffey resigned from BLB&G in October 2009 to run for the position of New York's attorney general as a Democrat for the 2010 election, though he lost in the primary to Eric Schneiderman.

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"Over the last few years, the Navy has been rocked by procurement scandals, so now it is more important than ever that the Navy leadership be of the highest ethical character," AAF's founder, Tom Jones, said in a statement for Townhall. "Unfortunately, Sean Coffey's history of trading campaign contributions for business at his law firm shows he is the wrong man to right the ship at the Navy.  That's why we filed a complaint with the New York Bar and why the Senate should reject his nomination."

Coffey had a hearing on October 19, 2021 with the Senate Committee on Armed Services. 

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