Long-Running Embezzlement Case Yields 'A Legal Perfect Storm'

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 12:00 am  

Little Rock attorney Pat James is defending Garret and Katherine Sorensen in the civil case filed against them by Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., the parent company of USA Drug.

It's come to this: Little Rock attorney Pat James has notified the federal court that he is willing to urinate outdoors, just not in the most prestigious residential neighborhood in town.

Being barred from the bathroom at drugstore scion Jason LaFrance's $2.5 million house on Edgehill Road after spending hours taking his deposition in a "dirty" garage was the last in a long list of complaints James made to U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson earlier this month.

LaFrance's attorneys, Ryan Solomon and David Martin of the Rose Law Firm, have defended their honor vigorously against James' narrative, which they insist is mostly untrue.

"David Martin and Ryan Solomon are fine lawyers and fine people with high ethical standards, and I think the evidence will show that Pat James has mischaracterized what has happened," Steve Joiner, managing partner of the Rose Law Firm, said last week.

There is no question, however, that they - and particularly Solomon - tried the patience of the colorful mule-raising judge.

"You're being hot-headed, and I am - I've had a belly full, I have had a belly full," the judge told Solomon during a telephone conference.

Next week, Solomon, Martin, LaFrance and even the U.S. Attorney's Office will have the chance to talk Wilson out of finding them in contempt of court, slapping them with sanctions and/or reporting them to the state Supreme Court for disciplinary action.

The Nov. 28 "show cause" hearing is a sideshow in a long-running case that resembles nothing so much as a three-ring circus: Garret Sorensen, his wife, Katherine Sorensen, and her sister, Shannon Walters, are accused of embezzling some $525,000 from the USA Drug pharmacy chain in a case that has been pursued simultaneously in federal criminal court and in civil court, both state and federal.

The case started as a straightforward question of right and wrong: Did the defendants illegally route commissions from Garret Sorensen's employer to an advertising placement business they set up without his employers' knowledge? But it has metastasized to include allegations ranging from simple theatrics to unprofessional conduct to deliberate misuse of the courts.

"This is a legal perfect storm," commented a Little Rock lawyer who knows the attorneys involved in the case.

In Dispute and Indisputable
The events that culminated with James driving in the dark to use the men's room at the Waffle House on Old Cantrell Road are very much in dispute. The legal question that brought the parties to that point is this: Is a defendant who has no right to depose witnesses in his criminal case entitled to depose the same witnesses in a related civil case?

Shortly after the Sorensens and Walters were charged in June 2009 with federal crimes for their dealings with USA Drug, the pharmacy chain's owner, Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., compounded the defendants' legal problems by filing a civil complaint in Pulaski County Circuit Court.



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