High-priced Chicago firm handling Durham’s appeal pro bono

Scott Olson
February 20, 2013
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Just because Tim Durham isn’t paying a lawyer to handle the appeal of his 50-year federal prison sentence doesn’t mean he’s getting shortchanged.

Durham, sentenced in November on criminal fraud charges relating to the collapse of Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance Co., has the firepower of one of the nation's largest law firms behind him.

James H. Mutchnik, a white-collar criminal defense attorney at Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, revealed in court documents earlier this month that he’ll be representing Durham without charge during his appeal.

Durham filed in December to appeal his conviction to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, but said he had no money to hire an attorney.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted his request to proceed with his case as an indigent after Durham told her that his multimillion-dollar home is in foreclosure and his financial assets are tied up in bankruptcy proceeding of the companies he used to control.

It’s unclear why Mutchnik chose to represent Durham pro bono. He didn’t return a phone call from IBJ, and a firm spokesman declined to comment beyond issuing a statement confirming that Mutchnik is in fact leading Durham’s federal appeal.

Durham’s previous counsel, Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer John Tompkins, is no longer involved in the case.

“I know that Kirkland takes pro-bono cases on a regular basis,” he said. “This hit their radar somehow.”

It’s not uncommon for certain law firms to handle white-collar criminal appeals without expecting to be paid. Their fees often are too expensive for many defendants to afford, and handling an appeal pro bono gives their lawyers additional experience.

Only a small percentage of federal appeals are heard orally by judges, as most are addressed in written rulings.

Having Kirkland & Ellis representing Durham spares Magnus-Stinson from appointing a public defender.

With 1,442 lawyers in 10 global offices, Kirkland & Ellis is the world’s 13th-largest law firm, according to the National Law Journal’s latest ranking of the 250 biggest firms.

Mutchnik earned his law degree in 1989 from the Northwestern University School of Law. His biography on the firm’s website says he represents individuals and corporations in antitrust and white-collar criminal defense cases.

His legal work includes appearances before various investigative agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.   

A jury convicted Durham of securities fraud, conspiracy and 10 counts of wire fraud for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme that swindled 5,000 Ohio investors out of more than $200 million.

Unlike state prisoners, federal inmates must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, meaning Durham would have to live to 93 to survive his sentence.

Last month, Fair Finance bankruptcy trustee Brian Bash, charged with recovering funds for Fair investors, alleged in a court filing that National Lampoon Inc. funded Durham’s defense during his trial.

Durham was CEO at National Lampoon from 2008 until stepping down in January 2012. Bash is suing the Los Angeles-based company and is seeking to recover $9 million that Durham provided it over the past decade.

Fair Finance co-owner Jim Cochran received a 25-year sentence and Rick Snow, the company’s chief financial officer, received 10 years.

All of IBJ's coverage of Tim Durham and Fair Finance can be found here.



  • Suitcase full O' Money
    I agree there is a suitcase full of money. Where is Tim's father/dentist? How does the sister who's business is deeply behind on taxes still afford a Geist Mansion? How does his mother stay afloat when Tim said on TV that she lost everything. SUITCASE! Why isn't Mr. Bash looking at those places for the suitcase? Or going through their yards looking for fresh holes! The only proof they don't have money is they aren't flashing it. Durhams love money!
    Timmy has a follower iris who of course thinks she does everything up to snuff with her investments?One fool believes another everytime thats how crooks operate.
  • Of course he gets a pro bono lawyer!
    Mr. Mutchnik has a lot of incentive to represent Durham. Durham paid $1 Million for a defense, with money stolen from Nat'l Lampoon and was convicted. If Mutchnik can spring him or even reduce the sentence by 20 years he becomes a miracle worker! Mutchnik also gets free publicity like this article. The crimes are deep but the penalties are as harsh as if Durham had murdered a baby. There may be some room for a negotiation. I think Durham's guilty too. It was a terrible crime but it wasn't rape or murder. His investors were greedy and stupid to expect close to 10% interest in this climate. They could have put the same money in a low risk investment. I don't think what Durham did was right. I also think it was pretty obvious for a long time! If people were still getting their ponzi payments they wouldn't question if they were ponzi payments!
  • Carlito Brizzi
    Carlito hasn't made it out of the woods just yet. Page is behind closed doors telling the FBI many of his dirty deeds. His cooperation is expected to last up until March or April. It's an almost certainty that Carl will be indicted. It will most certainly be over this year. My guess is he will be headed to the slammer in the summer
  • Carlito escaped another one
    I noticed Cochran has been sentenced to the prison east of St Louis in Greenville, Illinois. Durham, however, remains in limbo not knowing where he is going despite having high priced firepower. HIs Kirkland attorney should sue John Tompkins if it's true JT was paid $1M but then again maybe not because if JT gets sued no more immunity for Timmy. Classic chess game but the bottom line is Tim ain't getting out of prison and even if he did on a technicality he can still be indicted by the state of Ohio which has much worse prison conditions than any federal prison anywhere.
  • Agreed
    My exact first thoughts upon reading......
  • Pro Bono?
    Timmy's got to have a suitcase full of cash stashed somewhere for just such an occasion.
    • Waste of time
      How in the world came you steal all that money and think you deserve an appeal or believe you did not do anything wrong? What about the lives he ruined they don't get an appeal or their money back...50 years to me wasn't long enough!
    • good luck!
      He already burned through some really good law firms, so I don't know why this one would have any better luck. If your client won't follow your advice and still doesn't think he did anything wrong (when he clearly did), it's a losing battle.
    • Riddle??
      What do you all a group of attorneys at the bottom of the Chicago River? A Good Start! (ah, fame, bright lights, big city!)

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