Along the way to becoming one of the city's most influential figures, politically wired attorney Willie Shepherd bullied, belittled, lied, and then some. And his fellow partners at Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert failed to stop him until two junior attorneys took a stand.
V. "STIR THE POT"
During the convention, one of assistant Stephanie Estabrook's many tasks was to manage Shepherd's allocation of VIP tickets in accordance with his wishes. Managing and bartering the finite number of tickets and reconciling it all with Shepherd's expectations, according to former staffers, was nearly impossible. Estabrook was not only responsible for most of that, but Shepherd also demanded that she hold his credentials and come running whenever he needed them.
The night of Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High, Shepherd became irate that Estabrook did not get his credentials to him soon enough, even though, as Shepherd had ordered, she had been busy escorting a VIP through security. That evening, in front of a gathering of guests, Shepherd told Estabrook she was dumb and that it wasn't working out. He fired her. The next day, Friday, Estabrook went to the home of the firm's marketing manager, Terri Taylor, with whom she had been working closely, looking for support. As Estabrook informed Taylor about what had happened, one of them inadvertently called Shepherd from Estabrook's mobile phone. Shepherd overheard part of their conversation, and within a couple of days, Taylor, too, was no longer with KSR.
Shepherd's blow ups with Estabrook and Taylor became the stuff of legend at KSR, and, according to several of the firm's former attorneys and employees, unnerved the staff. Staks and Almon weren't sure if these developments made it a better or worse time to come forward. Then, the situation changed for the worse. Staks noticed that Shepherd had apparently falsified his biography on the KSR website. As far as Staks and Almon could tell, Shepherd was mischaracterizing his work experience.
There was more. Shepherd attempted to undermine one of his own clients, or so it seemed to Staks and Almon. CBS Outdoor, one of the region's largest outdoor advertising companies, was fending off a competitor's challenge to CBS' claims to some of its long-held billboards. The competitor alleged that CBS' city-approved permits to 27 signs, worth some $2.2 million in annual revenue, were out of order. In a meeting in September 2008, at which Staks was present, CBS Outdoor executive Dan Scherer discussed with Shepherd resolving the issue. Shepherd suggested calling the city and asking them to check the permits.
Scherer, as Staks would recall, was adamant that he "did not want to wake the sleeping giant," meaning he did not want such a call to be placed to the city, and Shepherd agreed KSR would explore other strategies. Nevertheless, the next day, according to Staks, Shepherd directed him to call the city agency and have the permits examined. Staks, as he would recall, asked Shepherd for clarification: did Shepherd want him, despite the client's comments, to call the city? Shepherd said to Staks, "I am telling you to stir the pot." There was no other reason for Shepherd to directly go against the client's wishes, as far as the associate could tell, other than to drum up billable hours. Staks turned to Almon, who told him what he already believed to be the case: Under these circumstances—a permitting issue—the firm had an ethical and professional obligation to follow the client's wishes.
Together, the two attorneys decided that Staks would not act on Shepherd's directive; instead he would e-mail Shepherd and ask him if he was certain he wanted the associate to ignore what Scherer had said. If Shepherd would confirm this in writing, that would add to what Staks and Almon regarded as a body of evidence they planned to take to the senior partners. On September 17, 2008, at 1:01 p.m., Staks sent Shepherd an e-mail with the subject heading "Stirring the pot," asking him to confirm the order. Weeks passed without a response.
The craziness of it all, Staks and Almon now believed, had to be addressed, and the two attorneys decided it was time to talk to another senior partner. That September, Almon went to equity partner Ray Gifford. Both Almon and Staks regarded Gifford as an upstanding attorney and a good guy. They knew also that Gifford was a close friend of Lee Reichert. Their families had shared a condo in Winter Park, and Reichert had persuaded Gifford to join KSR. In talking to Gifford, Almon figured, she could diplomatically communicate her concerns to Reichert. Gifford was deeply troubled by what he heard, and that same day set up an off-campus meeting with the two junior attorneys, himself, and Lee Reichert.