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Op-Ed

Smart yet dumb

April 4, 2022

If you want to get away with a crime, don't suddenly buy a lot of stuff. Also, a list of best lawyers may not be a list of "Best Lawyers."

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Have you ever wondered how some incredibly smart people can be incredibly stupid?

Case in point from a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling last week: a Microsoft software engineer smart enough to steal $8.2 million from the company and then dumb enough to buy a Tesla and a $1.675 million house. His bank account suddenly went from having less than $20,000 in it to having more than $2.8 million. It didn’t look good.

As usual, these mini morality plays offer some interesting lessons and tidbits.

Lesson No. 1: You can’t use the Ukraine as a defense. The defendant here tried to claim he got the money via cryptocurrency from his dad in the Ukraine because he didn’t want the Ukrainian government to find out about it and endanger his asylum status.

I have no idea how defrauding the Ukraine — especially these days — could be considered a defense, but the court wouldn’t allow it into evidence. Apparently, being Ukrainian is not an excuse for crimes.

Lesson No. 2: Make sure your cover story is believable. From the ruling: “At trial, Kvashuk understandably chose to abandon his story about his father transferring millions of dollars to him after the prosecution introduced evidence that this father earned only $1,150 per month in Ukraine.”

Parents can be annoyingly unreliable.

Lesson No. 3: Bitcoin may not be as safe from prying governments as you may think. The ruling mentions in passing that the feds were able to examine the Bitcoin blockchain and also grab emails showing transactions on a Bitcoin marketplace.

Your cyber fraud clients may want to know about this.

Lesson No. 4: The government can sometimes be weirdly thorough. We learn here that agents also searched the defendant’s car. This produced my favorite footnote: “Kvashuk also challenges the search of his car, but the only evidence from the car introduced at the trial was Kavshuk’s employee badge. Since it was undisputed that Kvashuk worked at Microsoft, and the evidence had no other significance, any error from the district court’s refusal to suppress it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The only explanation is that some agent really wanted to check out the Tesla.

Not the best? When is a list of best lawyers not just a list of best lawyers?

When it’s a “Best Lawyers” list.

Or a BEST LAWYERS list.

A company called BL Ranking, LLC, which does business as Best Lawyers, last week sued Washingtonian Media, Inc. in federal court in the District of Columbia for trademark infringement and unfair competition because it put out a list of “best lawyers.”

Washingtonian, allegedly, was “deliberately trading off of the extensive goodwill that Best Lawyers has developed in its BEST LAWYERS marks.”

Apparently no one was impressed by a list of best lawyers until BL Ranking came along.

Here’s an example of the infringement that was included in the lawsuit:

Does that “Best Lawyers” look like a trademark or a description to you? You can decide for yourself. Maybe capitalization is the key.

Quick fun game suggestion aside: See how many alternative lawyer list descriptions you can come up that Washingtonian could have used instead. My top suggestion is “Lawyers Who Smile.”

I also really want to see the “Better Than Mediocre Lawyers” list and the “Above Average on a Good Day” list.

And now for my mandatory dose of cynicism to explain what the lawsuit is really about. When you get to page 10, it notes that attorneys and law firms have placed ads in the Washingtonian publication “under the mistaken belief that they are placing such advertisements with Best Lawyers.”

Best lawyers will only want to advertise in the best best lawyer list.

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