New lawyer steps in for sanctioned Russian bank in Jewish texts case

A view shows the logo of VEB.RF state development corporation at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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  • Summary
  • Law firms
  • Related documents
  • Connecticut-based Wesley Whitmyer seeks to represent Russian state development bank VEB
  • International law firm Freshfields wants to exit case

(Reuters) – With a major international law firm seeking to drop Russian development bank VEB as a client because of the Ukraine invasion, the sanctioned, state-owned lender has turned to a lower profile Connecticut lawyer in a U.S. court battle over religious documents.

Lawyers from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have been defending VEB since 2020 in the Washington, D.C., lawsuit. The case was brought by a U.S. Jewish organization to enforce a $150 million judgment against Russia over its failure to return Jewish letters and texts that ended up in the country after World War Two.

Freshfields on Thursday told a U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth that attorney Wesley Whitmyer of the Stamford, Connecticut-based Whitmyer Group is seeking to take over as counsel for VEB.

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Lamberth ruled Friday that Whitmyer, who is not admitted to practice before the D.C. court, cannot take over without first following the usual process for lawyers applying for special permission to represent clients there.

Whitmyer and a Freshfields attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Freshfields is one of several international law firms that cut ties with certain Russian clients following the invasion of Ukraine in February. The firm said it will no longer work for entities tied to the Russian state.

VEB had asked the court to admit Whitmyer quickly to respond to a motion recently filed by lawyers for Agudas Chasidei Chabad of United States, the group seeking the return of the Jewish texts. The $150 million judgment stems from a daily $50,000 fine that Lamberth imposed in 2013 for Russia’s failure to hand over the documents.

Russia initially participated in the litigation, but later withdrew. VEB sought to quash a subpoena seeking information on its assets, arguing it could not be considered a stand-in for Russia, but Lamberth rejected that effort.

The website for Whitmyer’s law firm says he handles international cases involving intellectual property, technology and trade, as well as mediations, arbitrations and litigation before federal district and appellate courts.

His clients have included Oracle Corp, Kmart Corp and the German medical device company Karl Storz, according to court records.

If admitted, Whitmyer will face the Chabad organization’s bid to seize assets from VEB that have been frozen by U.S. sanctions over the Ukraine invasion. The group also wants a judicial lien be placed on any assets VEB has in the U.S. so they can be seized in the future.

Steven Lieberman, an attorney for Chabad, told Reuters that they “don’t really care who’s representing VEB,” and their focus is now on seizing Russian assets that can be used to obtain the Jewish texts.

The case is Agudas Chasidei Chabad of United States v. Russian Federation, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 05-1548

For plaintiffs: Robert Parker and Steven Lieberman of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck

For VEB.RF: Timothy Harkness and David Livshiz of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

(NOTE: This story was updated to include a ruling from the judge on Friday.)

Read more:

Russian bank loses bid to pause U.S. case over sacred Jewish texts

Global law firm to drop Russian bank client in sacred Jewish texts case

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Jacqueline Thomsen

Thomson Reuters

Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at jacqueline.thomsen@thomsonreuters.com.

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