Strange Omission of the Month

COURTROOM WATCHERS WERE SURPRISED BY what was not said in a recent Dallas Morning News story on a ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harold C. Abramson. The judge ruled that the huge Dallas law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and two of its partners had committed legal malpractice and ordered them to pay Dallas businessman Grady H. Vaughn III $8 million. The award included $4 million in actual damages, $1 million in exemplary damages against the firm, and $1 million apiece against Akin, Gump partners J, Stephen Hatfield and Allen P. Miller, and $500,000 against their respective professional corporations.

Judge Abramson’s 37-page ruling was released Nov. 3, but The News didn’t write about the order until Dec. 8, more than a month later. And throughout the story, the News referred 11 times to the central figure in the case-Malcolm Kelso, president of a Dallas company called Legal Econometrics Inc.-as an “adviser” or “crisis manager” without ever mentioning him by name. It was Kelso who brought the Akin, Gump lawyers into the affair.

Though Abramson’s order blasts Kelso, The News’ coverage would leave those without knowledge of the case completely in the dark about this “self-styled crisis manager” and his way of doing business. By contrast, Texas Lawyer divulged Kelso’s name in its Dec. 4 story about Judge Abramson’s ruling, and The National Law Journal, published on Dec. 18, mentioned Kelso five times.

Speculation is that The News was afraid of expensive litigation. (In the Vaughn bankruptcy case alone, Kelso and his lawyers have filed 52 separate appeals.) Accurate reporting of court records, of course, is protected by libel laws. It should make readers wonder what else they’re not reading in The Dallas Morning News.

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