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How Responsible Is Kamala Harris For What Goes On At Husband's Firm On Scale Of Not At All To Hell, Naw?

2020 democratic primary

Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner at DLA Piper, has accused one of the law firm's top deal makers of sexual assault. Guerrero charged in a complaint that Louis Lehot attacked her at least four times since she joined the firm in September 2018. Lehot is the co-managing partner at DLA Piper's branch in Palo Alto, California. He's also (allegedly) an asshole who Guerrero claims "regularly" told her "she was a successful lawyer only because men were attracted to her."

This case is gross and awful, but it's also larger news because Kamala Harris's husband, Douglas Emhoff, is a partner at DLA Piper. Of course, Emhoff isn't Lehot, not even if you rearrange the letters in his name. But people who've watched "Ally McBeal" or "Boston Legal" think big firms have just three partners who know each other and make all the decisions. DLA Piper has 1,246 partners and 3,702 total employees. Emhoff is also based in the Los Angeles, California, and DC offices. The press still treated us to the following headline:

NBC News


Damn, my girl just can't catch a break. Guerrero's lawyer, Jeanne Christensen, published an open letter to Harris on Medium yesterday. Christensen asked the California senator for help getting her client released from DLA Piper's mandatory arbitration rules. Arbitration agreements require "employers and their employees to resolve any differences in front of a private arbitrator" instead of through a lawsuit in civil court. Guerrero has charged Lehot with repeated sexual battery, so it's absurd that co-managing partner Sang Kim suggested the best way to handle the matter was for her to "talk it out" with her alleged assailant and three other (all male) senior partners. It reminds me of the "Star Trek" episode when a bunch of men are aggressively questioning Yeoman Rand after Captain Kirk's evil twin tried to rape her. 1960s television doesn't offer the best practices for addressing sexual assault charges.

No One Believes Yeoman Rand Until Random Dude Shows Up youtu.be

Christensen asked Harris for her assistance. She didn't and couldn't force the senator to do anything. "Forced" also has an involuntary, kicking-and-screaming connotation. The Gotham Gazette headline Batman Forced To Address Joker's Latest Murder Spree doesn't make the caped crusader seem very heroic.

In her Medium post, Christensen writes:

"Given the press [Guerrero] received and your support for victims' rights (including a prohibition of confidential arbitration regarding these matters) I hope that you either read about the open letter yourself or that your husband Douglas Emhoff, a partner at DLA Piper, shared it with you."

Christensen is assuming a lot here. Harris is busy contending with a deranged president and pretending to enjoy spending time in Iowa. It's also not obvious that Emhoff would even know about Lehot's repulsive actions. He works in a different office. We can hope for all sorts of things, but it doesn't make them plausible. DLA Piper might have serious problems with its management and how it handles sexual harassment claims, but there's no evidence Emhoff is a fellow bad actor. Even if he were involved, Harris isn't accountable for his actions. It's just slimy to bring her husband into this. She's a US senator who strongly supports victims' rights. You don't have to guilt trip her into action. Harris's communication director, Lily Adams, issued a statement yesterday.

"Senator Harris has been and continues to be a staunch advocate for survivors and believes all people must be guaranteed their day in court. She has long opposed forced arbitration agreements and that position has not changed and she does not believe this is any exception."

Comics artist (and unfortunate nut job) Dave Sim once said that no company "will ever pay you enough to sue them successfully." Guerrero has asked DLA Piper to "voluntarily" release her from mandatory arbitration, but there's no obvious gain in the firm doing so. Bad press might be the only weapon Guerrero has against DLA Piper. If so, we're only glad to help. This is from Guerrero's open letter:

"Less than two weeks into my new job working for Mr. Lehot, I suffered his first sexual assault. This happened in his hotel room on a business trip to Shanghai. I suffered the second assault several weeks later during a business trip to Brazil. By November 2018, I had endured two more sexual assaults, one in Chicago and one in Palo Alto. Having moved my two toddlers and husband that I support financially from Hong Kong to California for this job, I was petrified to believe what was happening to me, much less tell anyone. Mr. Lehot's extreme temper and angry tirades that include shouting and clenching his fists are common knowledge at the office. Lawyers, staff and admin assistants do everything possible to avoid his wrath. My many attempts to fend off Mr. Lehot's sexual advances failed. Mr. Lehot controls my work and my ability to advance. When I dared to tell him to stop, Mr. Lehot would refuse to speak to me for weeks, threaten to take me off of client deals, and accuse me of underperformance. Horrifically, I later learned that he suggested to numerous men at the Firm, and to certain clients, that he and I were involved in a consensual relationship. After months of Mr. Lehot's relentless campaign and physical advances, I began experiencing panic attacks and stress-related medical conditions that landed me in the emergency room several times."

Arbitration at DLA Piper might be mandatory, but Louis Lehot's continued employment is not.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.

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