Written By: Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
A former Texas state employee who alleges he contacted Baker Botts about a potential whistleblower claim filed a negligence suit against the firm, alleging that he was fired from his job after the firm forwarded his “confidential email” to his employer.
Kent Langerlan alleges in the lawsuit that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) terminated his employment “based on his contact with a ‘Houston law firm.'” Langerlan alleges that the language in an interoffice memo recommending his termination “mimics” the confidential email he sent to Baker Botts lawyer Shira Yoshor.
Yoshor, who did not return a telephone message left on her firm voicemail on Jan. 16, is no longer at the firm. She had been a partner in Houston. She also did not return a message left at a number obtained online for a Shira Yoshor in Houston.
In response to a request for comment on the allegations in the suit, the firm confirms that one of its lawyers received an “unsolicited ‘Dear Sir'” email from Langerlan in April 2014.
“In the email, Mr. Langerlan, an employee of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, proposed to provide confidential TCEQ information to us—for use on behalf of clients having matters before the commission—if we would represent his girlfriend in an employment case against the commission,” Baker Botts’ Stephen Hastings, director of communications and media relations, wrote in an email.
Hastings wrote that after the commission learned of the email, it “investigated and decided to terminate Mr. Langerlan’s employment for violation of the commission’s ethical standards and Texas Penal Code provisions concerning the misuse of government information.”
The firm alleges that its lawyers “took the appropriate and ethical action under the circumstances” and intends to vigorously defend itself from the suit, Hastings wrote, declining to comment further.
Langerlan’s attorney, Joshua Davis of Houston, said his client’s suit is not about the legitimacy of the whistleblower allegations but instead about “the abuse of privilege.”
However, Davis, of Josh Davis Law [Group], said that Langerlan lost out on his opportunity to have his whistleblower claim evaluated.
As alleged in the petition in Langerlan v. Baker Botts, Langerlan emailed Yoshor on April 20, 2014, seeking legal representation “regarding a possible whistleblower claim” against the TCEQ. He alleges that he also asked about possible claims his girlfriend, Audra Benoit, also a former TCEQ employee, may have against the agency.
Langerlan alleges in the petition that he told Yoshor in the email that he had “confidential information that ‘discredits the TCEQ Enforcement Division.'” He alleges tat he sent the email to Yoshor’s Baker Botts email, and “expected that this communication enjoyed the privileges associated with communicating with an attorney regarding a potential legal matter.”
Langerlan alleges that on the same day, Yoshor declined representation of him and Benoit by responding to his email that Baker Botts would not represent Benoit “in this matter.”
“At some point between April 30, 2014, and May 6, 2014, Langerlan’s confidential email was forwarded to TCEQ,” Langerlan alleges in the petition.
On May 6, 2014, Langerlan alleges, the TCAQ notified him that it intended to terminate his employment “based on his contact with a ‘Houston law firm,'” and he was let go on May 20.
He alleges in the petition that Baker Botts “offers a myriad of reasons for why it was entitled to violate” his privilege. He alleges that Baker Botts claims he had “no expectation” of privilege when sending the email, but he alleges that that is not the law. Landerlan alleges that he never saw Baker Botts’ disclosure statement—which notifies potential clients that unsolicited communication is not privileged—because he did not message Yoshor through the Baker Botts website. Also, Langerlan alleges that he disputes Baker Botts’ claim that his communication is subject to the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege “and Baker Botts was required to inform on him to TCEQ.”
Langerlan alleges that he expected guidance when he sought advice from “white-shoe firm” Baker Botts on the legal issues of a whistleblower claim against a government agency.
“At the very least, Langerlan expected that his communication would be protected by privilege and not forwarded to his employer. Unfortunately these expectations were misplaced,” Langerlan alleges in the petition. “Rather than adhere to defendant’s professional duties, Baker Botts got Langerlan fired by advising TCEQ of the contents of his email.”
He alleges that Yoshor was an agent of Baker Botts, and Baker Botts is jointly and severally liable for his damages under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Langerlan brings negligence and gross negligence causes of action against Baker Botts, and seeks more than $300,000 in damages plus interest and costs.
Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, Texas Lawyer
January 20, 2015