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A Law Firm Without a Home
Between 2006 and 2007, three major state contracts would be awarded; two for the Garretson Steele firm for Zyprexa and Vioxx and an AWP contract to the Alabama firm of Beasley, Allen & Crow, et al. The contracted firms appear a step removed from Siegfried & Jensen. Yet somehow, Siegfried & Jensen attorneys managed to not only take part in the Zyprexa and Vioxx cases via senior partner Joseph Steele, but documents show its founding partner Mitch Jensen also appeared on court filings for the AWP case as an attorney for the state. What seems unclear is what role the various firms (Garretson Steele; Siegfried & Jensen; Beasley, Allen & Crow) have in the cases. The address of the Garretson Steel firm, for example, is listed as the same address for Siegfried & Jensen.
But state incorporation records indicate an uncertainty about whether the Garretson Steele firm even exists.
The AWP cases have been picked up by attorneys general across the country seeking compensation for allegedly overpriced prescription drugs. The cases are being brought almost concurrently with the Zyprexa and Vioxx cases, even though they are unrelated.
Yet, on one of the first AWP cases that Utah brought—on Nov. 19, 2007—Garretson Steele is named as one of the special assistant attorneys general along with David Stallard of the Utah Medicaid Fraud Unit, and the Alabama law firm.
Hintze explains the Alabama firm must have sought to contract out to Garretson Steele so it could sponsor the Alabama firm as out-of-state counsel. Local sponsorship allows out-of-state attorneys to practice in a state where they haven’t passed the bar.
It’s perfectly legal for firms contracted with the state to subcontract with other lawyers. But, according to the contractual agreement Garretson Steele and the Alabama firm signed, any subcontracting has to be approved with written consent from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. While documents show Garretson Steele worked at sponsoring the Alabama firm to work in Utah, there are no filed consent forms with Shurtleff’s office.
“Well, that’s not a big deal,” Hintze says. “We can generate [the paperwork] now if you’d like.” Since these documents were never created or signed, it becomes difficult to track down who else would share in the financial outcome of the cases.
In an interview, Steele actually cited another firm of his, Steele & Biggs (a partnership with Siegfried & Jensen attorney David Biggs) as also working the Zyprexa case. But this firm has no authorized consent forms, either. Hintze notes that because Steele & Biggs were affiliates of Garretson Steele, they could act “of counsel” to Garretson Steele without consent forms for taking on part of the workload.
There’s a problem here. In order for one firm to be affiliated with another, the other firm must exist. Steele says Garretson Steele is based in Salt Lake City and is registered to do business in Utah. But, as of press time, according to the Utah Division of Corporations, there are no business entities registered in Utah under the name Garretson Steele.
A filing exists under the name the “Garretson Law Firm” in Cincinnati, yet this entity does not name Joseph Steele as a principal and had only reserved a name in October 2006. The name was never authenticated and consequently, had its filing cancelled in 2007.
Garretson Steele, LLC, actually exists nowhere on paper, other than on the Zyprexa and Vioxx contracts with Shurtleff’s office and the lawsuits where they are listed as special assistants to the attorney general. This might explain why the order filed in a third matter—the November 2007 AWP case to sponsor the Alabama firm—was signed not by Garretson or Steele but by Mitch Jensen, of Siegfried & Jensen. Jensen is also listed in the AWP court documents as one of the attorneys representing the state. Steele was surprised to find his firm was not registered. “I called a former paralegal of mine to find out [why Garretson Steele] wasn’t registered,” he says. “I’ll get back to you on that one way or another.”
While Siegfried & Jensen’s name may not be on the state contracts inked by Shurtleff, at least two of Siegfried & Jensen’s senior partners, Steele and Jensen, have been involved in the Zyprexa, Vioxx and AWP cases. In an interview, Shurtleff says he wasn’t aware that Garretson Steele had a hand in the AWP cases.
As deputy special assistants to the attorney general, Garretson Steele may be off to a rough start as a law firm if it managed to overlook incorporating as a business before it started litigating.
When asked how the state signed contracts with a law firm that appears not to exist, Shurtleff’s Deputy Hintze chalks it up to a clerical error on the attorneys’ part.
“Sometimes the cobblers wear the worst shoes.”