Navajo Nation Sues Wells Fargo Over Alleged Predatory Tactics

On behalf of the Navajo Nation, Hueston Hennigan filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank, alleging the bank deliberately targeted members of the nation’s largest tribe with predatory and fraudulent practices, and then lied to the Navajo government about its behavior. The complaint alleges that Wells Fargo employees at branches on the Navajo Nation routinely misled customers into opening unnecessary accounts and obtained debit and credit cards without customers’ consent.

Among the populations targeted by Wells Fargo, Navajo elders — some of whom do not speak English well — were purposely confused and deceived into purchasing products to help employees meet banking quotas. Wells Fargo went so far as to attend local Navajo community events, like flea markets and basketball games, in an attempt to sign Navajo people up for unnecessary accounts en masse—all to meet Wells Fargo’s sales targets. These practices were particularly harmful because Wells Fargo has such a strong presence on the reservation and in some cases, is the only banking option for residents.

“Wells Fargo’s targeted exploitation of the most vulnerable Navajo communities reflects an even darker and more insidious side to Wells Fargo profiteering schemes that have been unearthed to date.  Wells Fargo deceived the Navajo people and lied to the Navajo government, causing substantial suffering to those who trusted the bank, and subverting the government’s ability to represent the legitimate interests of the Tribe,” said attorney John Hueston.

“Wells Fargo’s exploitation of its customers has been well documented,” said President Russell Begaye. “But even so, Wells Fargo’s actions toward the Navajo people have been of a uniquely outrageous nature.”

Attorney General Ethel Branch said, “Wells Fargo must be held accountable for its unfair and unlawful practices directed toward the Navajo people. Among their other despicable acts, the bank specifically targeted our most vulnerable population – our elders.”

The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. The Navajo Nation is represented by John C. Hueston,  Moez M. Kaba, Leanne Vanecek, Stephen Richards  and Selena Galaviz of Hueston Hennigan LLP.

 

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Moez Kaba Talks Diversity, Career with Benchmark Litigation

Benchmark Q & A with Moez Kaba

Moez Kaba is the youngest partner at one of the country’s premier trial boutiques, Hueston Hennigan, a Los Angeles-based shop formed by a group of former Irell & Manella commercial litigation partners. The firm has earned considerable traction in the legal community via some high-stakes and high-profile appointments. Kaba, a co-founder of the firm, reflects both the firm’s approach as well as the cultural and generational shift in the US litigation landscape. In this Q&A with Benchmark’s Michael Rafalowich, he discusses these issues at length.

You are one of the youngest, if not the youngest, partner at your firm, yet you are one of its founders. Was the generational depth a business model mandate upon the formation of the firm or did it just happen organically?

The generational depth at our firm was both by design and by chance. A small core group of us worked together at our prior firm on the most challenging and high-stakes disputes for our business clients, and we valued each other as colleagues and friends. When we decided to launch our own firm, we focused on bringing together a deep bench of young, talented lawyers whose vision for a trial litigation practice aligned with ours. For us, that vision is to take on tough and interesting cases for commercial and public and quasi-public clients while maintaining a commitment to pro bono work. We focus heavily on training young attorneys so that everyone is prepared, and feels confident in front of judges and juries. I’m the youngest partner, but not the youngest lawyer at the firm by far. Our most senior partner, name partner Brian Hennigan, graduated law school 30 years before me. Our other named partner, John Hueston, graduated law school in the 1990’s and is one of the best trial lawyers in the country. That speaks to type of firm we are – we have tried to match vigor and new approaches with experience and perspective. Ours is a tough practice, a demanding practice, with creative, hard-working people on teams that span the generational spectrum. And I think this sort of diversity more and more mirrors the legal departments of our clients.

It seems as though your generation of litigators is not only bringing a fresh perspective in terms of age but it also seems to be a notably more diverse crop than that of 15 or even 10 years ago. Have you noticed more diversity among younger partners?

Definitely. There are so many lawyers within and outside of my firm that represent every nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. For me, personally, it’s really exciting to see so many terrific lawyers who look different and have different experiences but share in their passion for the law and excel in advocacy. I think that’s also a product of law schools and the firms themselves, both of which are fostering a more diverse recruiting environment. This is also driven by client demand. Clients are increasingly putting their money where their mouths are and holding firms accountable for assembling diverse teams. You see the same thing at the U.S. Attorney’s office. What’s most promising to me is that these are the people who will get jobs in government and be appointed to the bench. Diversity in law firms today results in more diverse public leadership tomorrow. I am proud, however, that Hueston Hennigan’s partnership itself is majority diverse.

Click here for the full interview.

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Hueston Hennigan Delivers Report on Interference with State Audit

From the Los Angeles Times: University of California regents meeting on Thursday admonished UC President Janet Napolitano for agreeing to a plan that led to interference in a state audit on the operation of her office.

Her approval of a plan in which top aides would preview campus administrators’ confidential survey responses “reflected poor judgment and set in motion a course of conduct that the Board of Regents finds unacceptable,” board chairman George Kieffer said in a statement after the regents met behind closed doors for nearly five hours.

But the regents quickly and unanimously agreed to support Napolitano’s continued leadership, Kieffer said after the meeting.

The regents asked Napolitano to acknowledge responsibility and apologize, which she did in her own statement right after Kieffer read his. Later, she reiterated that she “exhibited poor judgment in approving an ill-advised approach” to the state auditor’s survey and “deeply regret this mistake.”

The regents, meeting in San Francisco, were responding to an independent investigation that found Napolitano’s top aides had sought to suppress campus criticism of the central office in confidential surveys from State Auditor Elaine Howle.

Napolitano approved a plan to review the surveys about her office’s operations and services before they were sent back to the auditor.

After Howle publicly alleged that Napolitano’s office improperly interfered, the regents commissioned the investigation by former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno and the Hueston Hennigan law firm. The investigation found that Napolitano’s chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and deputy chief of staff, Bernie Jones, had pre-screened campus responses “with the specific purpose of shaping the responses to be less critical of” the UC Office of the President.

In a conference call with campus administrators, the aides said the surveys were “not the time and place to air dirty laundry,” and they also tried to hide their interference from the auditor, the investigation determined.

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Alec Baldwin Reaches Major Settlement in Art Fraud Case

Alec Baldwin has dismissed his fraud suit against art gallery owner Mary Boone, after reaching a seven-figure settlement, an amount that represents a full trial victory.  Hueston Hennigan represents Alec Baldwin in the suit.

Baldwin sued Boone in September 2016 in the New York Supreme Court, after discovering that she had delivered a freshly-painted facsimile of a painting to him instead of the original, authentic work he agreed to purchase. Baldwin had paid Boone $190,000 for a painting by noted contemporary artist Ross Bleckner, but became suspicious after the piece he received appeared brighter and smelled of fresh paint. Instead of revealing that the painting was a copy by Mr. Bleckner, Boone attempted to deceive him, alleging she had had the painting cleaned as a courtesy.

The settlement, which also includes additional works of art by Bleckner, was reached after Hueston Hennigan undertook aggressive pre-trial discovery and prepared for trial, which was set for 2018.

Representing Alec Baldwin were John Hueston, Moez Kaba and Steven Feldman.

News Coverage:

Law360

New York Times

Daily Journal

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Federal Judge Tosses Trademark Suit against Kmart on Summary Judgment

A California federal court entered judgment in favor of Hueston Hennigan clients Kmart Corporation, Sears Holdings Management Corporation, and Risewear, LLC in a trademark action filed by Rise Basketball Skill Development, LLC, seeking to disgorge profits and enjoin sales of the popular “Risewear” line of athleisurewear.

Acting on a motion for summary judgment filed by Hueston Hennigan, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick held that although courts “sparingly grant summary judgment in trademark cases because they are so fact-intensive,” the evidence here tilted so heavily in favor of the defendants as to make summary judgment appropriate.

“There is no evidence that consumers are likely to believe that Risewear was either the source or sponsor of Rise Basketball’s goods, and no plausible reason to think that such evidence exists,” the judge wrote.

Kmart, Sears, and Risewear were represented by Robert N. Klieger and Tristan Favro.

Click here for news coverage in Law360.

 

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