Lawyer Mistakenly Sent SEC Memo to Reporter

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 28, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If Homer Simpson were a lawyer, he'd have said 'd'oh' and that would've been the end of it.

But among the many mistakes Homer has made, he never sent a confidential email to a Wall Street Journal reporter. That's why this lawyer story is not going away.

WilmerHale accidentally sent an email about its client undergoing an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. D'oh!

Oops, They Did It Again

It's not the first time, and it won't be the last, that an attorney has blown it with email and accidental disclosures. Wells Fargo's attorney did it, leading to a New York Times scoop about the bank's wealthiest clients.

More recently, President Trump's private attorney made the mistake of sending profanity-laden emails to a public relations professional. That story is still making headlines.

But the WilmerHale story is news today. According to reports, the government is investigating whether PepsiCo Inc. fired its top lawyer in retaliation for her handling of potential wrongdoing in Russia.

"PepsiCo did not engage in any retaliatory conduct and any allegations to the contrary are untrue," the company said. "The company is cooperating with the SEC investigation."

$6 Million Question

Maura Smith, who was PepsiCo's general counsel from May 2011 to June 2012, received a severance payment of nearly $6 million when she left. Smith was subpoenaed by the SEC this year as part of an investigation into employment contracts that discourage whistleblowers.

A WilmerHale attorney was working on the matter, and mistakenly emailed a memo and other documents to a Wall Street Journal reporter. The memo said the SEC "now appears to be focused on allegations by Ms. Smith that she was retaliated against in violation of the SEC's whistleblower rules."

After the story came out, the law firm said it was "disappointed" with the newspaper. "We are taking additional measures designed to ensure that emails are not misaddressed to unintended recipients," the firm said.

No word from PepsiCo about its attorneys, but a big "d'oh" would do.

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