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Tribe Refutes Charges

Professor Denies Overcharging Clients

By Ishaan Seth

Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe '62 yesterday refuted charges made in The Wall Street Journal that he overcharges clients.

A March 17 article in the Journal quoted client Ralph Venuto, president of Lightning Lube Inc., as saying that Tribe's fee of $2.8 million was exorbitant. Lightning Lube is settling with Tribe through arbitration.

The article also accused Tribe of charging his clients "high" fees relative to his colleagues, and said this might dissuade even a Democratic administration from nominating him to the Supreme Court.

Tribe said in a telephone interview that Venuto's charges--reiterated in a letter published in yesterday's Journal--are "absolutely filled with lies."

Tribe wrote a letter to the Journal, published on March 24, which said that the Journal story was inaccurate and created false impressions about him.

The letter went on to point out specific inaccuracies in the article.

According to Tribe, the Journal's article had failed to explain that the "$2.8 million would be paid only out of any payment received by [his] client from the defendant."

While the Journal story did explain Tribe's meticulous 15-stage arrangement for payment made with his client, Tribe says the article left out an essential detail of the payment history. In his letter, Tribe wrote that while the story was quick to report that he would receive $6.5 million from Venuto if the case was won before the Supreme Court, it failed to report that Venuto originally offered him $10 million.

Tribe said he reduced that figure by $3.5 million.

The article also failed to point out, Tribe wrote, that he does more than half of his legal work for free.

In yesterday's response to Tribe's letter, Venuto said he was "shocked by Mr. Tribe's fee demand" of $2.75 million. Venuto wrote that he wouldn't sign the payment demand until his former lawyer and Tribe had assured him thatthe "fee he demanded was usual for cases likethis."

Venuto wrote that he still thinks that fee is"outrageous" in light of the quality of serviceTribe had provided.

Venuto won $11.5 million in compensatorydamages, but was refused $50 million in punitivedamages in a case which charged Witco Corp. withfraud and racketeering.

Responding to the article, Tribe said yesterdaythat "The Wall Street Journal has its ownpolitical and legal agenda." He refused to commentfurther.

Jonathan S. Massey '85, one of Tribe'sco-counsels who worked on the Lightning Lube case,also said Venuto's letter was full ofinaccuracies, but refused to comment further.

"We would love to talk," he said, "but we areunder strict orders from our lawyers not to sayanything."

Cambridge lawyer William P. Homans Jr. '41,said it was "difficult to see" how any [legal] feedivided among so few people could be that high.But he was quick to vouch for Tribe's integrity.

"Larry is anything but a person without aconscience," said Homans. "The time spent on acase, the difficulty of a case and the degree ofsuccess are all factors that decide payment, andwhen your services are in such high demand,payment are high.

Venuto wrote that he still thinks that fee is"outrageous" in light of the quality of serviceTribe had provided.

Venuto won $11.5 million in compensatorydamages, but was refused $50 million in punitivedamages in a case which charged Witco Corp. withfraud and racketeering.

Responding to the article, Tribe said yesterdaythat "The Wall Street Journal has its ownpolitical and legal agenda." He refused to commentfurther.

Jonathan S. Massey '85, one of Tribe'sco-counsels who worked on the Lightning Lube case,also said Venuto's letter was full ofinaccuracies, but refused to comment further.

"We would love to talk," he said, "but we areunder strict orders from our lawyers not to sayanything."

Cambridge lawyer William P. Homans Jr. '41,said it was "difficult to see" how any [legal] feedivided among so few people could be that high.But he was quick to vouch for Tribe's integrity.

"Larry is anything but a person without aconscience," said Homans. "The time spent on acase, the difficulty of a case and the degree ofsuccess are all factors that decide payment, andwhen your services are in such high demand,payment are high.

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