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The Lack of Candid Legal Advice in Russia

Law professor Ethan Burger has an interesting article on political interference in Russia’s judicial processes in Legal Times. In light of the ongoing pillaging of more and more companies and seizures of private property all while the state goes to war, the earlier reactions by Western governments to Russia’s legal free fall seem tepid, naive, and ill-advised. Excerpt below.

Western political leaders have been reluctant to take decisive steps, preferring to pursue “quiet diplomacy.” They have tended to treat the tax evasion and fraud charges brought against Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2004 as the exception — the rare case driven by politics and personality — and not the rule. Khodorkovsky was the head of the privately-owned Yukos Oil Co. At the time of its de facto seizure by the state, the company was producing about 20 percent of Russia’s oil.

In 2007, Yukos’ three main oil production units were sold at auction for a bargain basement price to the oil company Rosneft, which was seemingly acting on behalf of the Kremlin. Just last week, Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison term, was denied parole.Also last year, the Russian government repeated itself: Regulatory threats were made, tax charges were threatened, and the head of the privately-owned oil company Russneft was driven to resign. Knowing not to expect justice in the courts, he fled the country.Of course, the problem of corruption in the judiciary is not unique to Russia — it is worldwide. The situation in Russia receives the attention it does because the legal disputes often involve the country’s enormous wealth in natural resources.The money at stake may go a long way to explain why lawyers and others working in an advisory or expert capacity for foreign businesses have been insufficiently vocal in their warnings. If they were too candid about the state of things in Russia, they might lose out on their share of the large sums of money being spent on commercial and technical assistance projects. Apparently, there are many lawyers paying little heed to Rule of Professional Responsibility 2.1, which provides that the lawyer acting as “advisor” shall “exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice.”George Mason University professor Janine Wedel laid it out particularly well in Collision and Collusion, her award-winning book about the failures of Western aid to the former Soviet Union: persons working for public and private institutions don’t like to be told that their efforts are not achieving their stated goals, nor do they like having to face the possibility of finding new jobs.