On Saturday, January 13, 2024, Reuters reported that prominent bankruptcy law firm Kirkland & Ellis is facing a lawsuit alleging it profited from an undisclosed romantic relationship between a former Houston bankruptcy judge and a local attorney.
Plaintiff Michael Van Deelen filed an amended lawsuit by adding Kirkland & Ellis as a defendant. Van Deelen claims the firm received favorable treatment and fees in cases before former U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Jones due to his romantic involvement with attorney Elizabeth Freeman of Jackson Walker LLP.
According to the complaint, Kirkland & Ellis served as lead counsel alongside Jackson Walker in 19 bankruptcy cases in Judge Jones’ court since 2018. Van Deelen alleges Kirkland deliberately concealed the Jones-Freeman relationship to continue having their cases heard by the favorable judge. As a result, the suit states Kirkland received over $162 million in attorney fees from those cases.
Kirkland & Ellis strongly denied the allegations, stating they “did not make any misrepresentations to the court, or fail to make any required disclosures, or violate any of our ethical responsibilities.”
Judge Jones resigned from his position in November 2022 after acknowledging he lived with Freeman for several years without disclosing the conflict of interest. His relationship with Freeman is at the center of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice bankruptcy watchdog seeking to return millions in legal fees.
The amended lawsuit against Kirkland & Ellis expands the allegations surrounding undisclosed conflicts of interest that have roiled the Houston bankruptcy world since details of the Jones-Freeman relationship emerged last October.