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Blowing the whistle

Blowing the whistle

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From left: Cranfill Sumner Partners Patrick Mincey and Stephen Bell, along with Phil Brewster of Brewster Law, work in
the field of representing whistleblowers. Photo/Provided

Patrick Mincey enjoyed his time doing heavy duty criminal law work, a period which included death penalty cases and those involving major stints in prison.  

“It is an awesome responsibility to stand up at the defense table and represent individuals who are facing the loss of liberty,” said Mincey, 41. “I did not think it was possible to find a more fulfilling aspect of my profession.”  

However, after nearly a decade at Cranfill Sumner, the Pinehurst native thinks he’s found one. Mincey and fellow partner Stephen Bell, 35, now work in the challenging and sometimes high-profile field of representing whistleblowers. In fact, one of their recent clients is Will Wilkerson, who filed a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint regarding activity at Donald Trump’s media outfit.  

Wilkerson, a co-founder of Trump Media & Technology Group, alleged that the former president retaliated against another co-founder, Andy Litinsky, after the latter refused to give some of his shares to Trump’s wife Melania. The case has earned the two North Carolina attorneys recent mentions in the New York Times, the Washington Post and ABC News.  

“It is not the only case that we have of this nature but it is one of our cases that is indicative of something that is not just important to those involved,” he said. “This is a case that is important for the public. That’s why you do whistleblower work. These cases and the issues they concern are larger than all of us.”  

Bell said that such work involves complex representations that often lie at the nexus of government investigations, public relations crises, regulatory activity and civil and criminal action. He and Mincey call it “asymmetric litigation.”  

“We address every need of the client because these clients are never in normal situations or simple situations,” noted Bell, a native South Carolinian who joined Cranfill in 2020.  

Mincey agrees, noting that clients often arrive at their doorstep in confusion over their own situation after having spoken to a number of other lawyers.  

“Typically, they are discovering that they have been a part of a broader enterprise that is not what they believed it to be,” said the Mercer Law graduate. “They are set about on doing the right thing but it is not always obvious what the right thing is.” 

If the path forward is sometimes murky, the size of the stakes involved are crystal clear. Mincey said that about a third of the whistleblower matters at the firm involve amounts in controversy exceeding a billion dollars. At any given time, he may be dealing with four-to-six whistleblowing cases.  

“We are involved in matters that are both great in scale with respect to financial value, prison exposure and criminal enforcement but also are great in scale with respect to geographic scope,” he said.  

Such was the representation of Mark Coffey, a compliance officer whose whistleblower disclosures became part of a government investigation over billions of dollars allegedly laundered by a Venezuelan oil minister. The story landed Mincey coverage in the Wall Street Journal along with co-lead counsel Phil Brewster of Brewster Law, an Illinois firm that is also working on the Trump matter.   

Bell said it is important to be selective about which cases to take. Indeed, laying the groundwork just to determine the merits of the case can take many months while the matter itself will likely drag on for years as government investigations wind their way through the bureaucracy of regulatory agencies and law enforcement. The attorneys note that the Trump matter is currently the source of three parallel probes from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, the SEC and United States Senate.  

“These are personal representations,” Bell said. “This is not a client that you deal with once every few months. We get down into the weeds with our clients. We form strong personal relationships with them.”  

His partner agrees.  

“What they are signing up for routinely is years of engagement, without the ability to get satisfactory answers,” concurs Mincey, “because so much of what ultimately may transpire is an investigation or an enforcement proceeding led by the government. It is not led by us.”  

They also have to gauge the client’s willingness to deal with the public fallout and level of life disruption involved.  

“That’s part of the critical due diligence we have to conduct before we engage in this,” Mincey said. “Before we take a client down this path, we’ve really got to assess their ability to withstand that. Not everyone is prepared to do this and it speaks to the courage that our clients have when they take this route.”  

Moreover, not all such cases see Cranfill representing the whistleblower – or “relator” as they are sometimes known. The White Collar Government Investigations and Special Matters Practice Group which Mincey leads sometimes defends enterprises being accused of wrongdoing by the filer of a complaint.  

He said it is an unusual combination to do both kinds of representations but it emphasizes that there is no overriding ideology at work.  

“We want to do excellent work for clients in cases that are challenging and that are fascinating,” he noted. “If they take us to interesting places and involve interesting issues and are high stakes, that’s what we want to be a part of.” 

He said it also sharpens their skill as attorneys.  

“I think when you operate involved in both, you are a better defense lawyer,” he said. “You are a better relator lawyer when you know both sides of the investigation, both sides of the coin.”  

Regardless, Mincey is firm in his admiration for those who take on large entities by revealing what they know.  

“These people are remarkably courageous,” he said of whistleblowers. “Speaking truth to power, as cliched as that may be, is real.”

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