An Aspen attorney has sued a former partner firm in what he alleges is a case of wrongful termination and illegal retaliation in Denver County District Court.
David Bovino merged his trial firm with Kasowitz Benson Torres, referred to as KBT in court documents, in November 2018 — but less than a year later, the following April, Bovino was fired almost immediately without cause, per the allegations in the suit, according to the initial complaint filed by Aspen-based Peter Thomas of Praxidice PC.
While the firm itself boasts such clients as Google, Comcast and the state of Hawaii as clients on its website, Marc Kasowitz is perhaps best known for his role as President Trump’s personal lawyer through the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.
It was that connection to the federal administration that Bovino accuses Kasowitz of using to lure him into merging firms, according to the lawsuit filed June 29.
Though headquartered in New York City, Kasowitz Benson Torres boasts locations in nine other cities across the nation, from Miami to Washington, D.C., to Denver to San Francisco. Bovino’s lawsuit alleges that Kasowitz approached him about merging firms in order to expand his legal presence into Aspen in 2017, but a personal relationship between the two started years before.
“In 2014, [Bovino’s] success and advocacy skills caught the attention of Kasowitz when the two men met as adversaries on a high-profile case. Kasowitz was impressed by Mr. Bovino and began inviting him to social events,” the complaint says. “On numerous occasions, Kasowitz mentioned that he wanted KBT to expand into the Aspen market.”
Bovino established his Aspen firm in 2010, and in the first five years of operation, Bovino & Associates LLC, saw average annual profits grow to between $2 million and $3 million. By 2016, however, Bovino had ingratiated himself into Kasowitz’s “inner circle,” the suit alleges, and Kasowitz, during a visit in New York, floated the idea to Bovino that he could potentially arrange ambassadorships for his clients.
“At one point, Kasowitz asked Mr. Bovino: ‘How much do you think someone would pay to become an ambassador?’ While these comments troubled Mr. Bovino to the point where he expressed concerns to Kasowitz, he was assuaged by Kasowitz and ultimately decided to proceed with the merger with KBT based on his trust in Kasowitz and the myriad business opportunities he believed the merger would produce,” the lawsuit continues.
The relationship started as mostly one hinging on professional referrals, and the two firms occasionally served as co-counsel in particularly high-profile cases, per the complaint.
But in 2017, the two began formalizing what a merger could look like. Bovino, leaning into his Young Presidents Organization membership — which his attorney’s filed complaint describes as “an elite global network comprised of approximately 25,000 high powered executives and entrepreneurs spread across 120 countries” — estimated to Kasowitz that a merger with his firm could bring an additional $3 million to $5 million in revenue, based on his contact list.
That’s according to the timeline as presented in the lawsuit.
“Kasowitz continued to share salacious secrets with Mr. Bovino in the summer and fall of 2018 in order to impress and woo Mr. Bovino into partnership with KBT,” the complaint says. “By way of example, in or about August of 2018, Kasowitz bragged to Mr. Bovino that Kasowitz had quarterbacked the termination of a senior official in the justice department of the executive branch of the federal government.”
By October of that year, Bovino signed an employment offer from Kasowitz Benson Torres and in November announced the merger and firm’s presence in Aspen. His first-year, promised compensation, the lawsuit alleges, was $1 million. Additionally, it continues, there was a paragraph guaranteeing that a partner impacted by an involuntary, temporary absence would be largely protected.
But when Bovino — going through a divorce and feeling underpaid in his first several months in the new partnership — reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder that he attributed to a 2006 incident with his then-fiancee in South Africa in which the two were burglarized, shot and left for dead, the professional relationship was at risk, the suit alleges.
Ultimately, after an email from Bovino to Kasowitz allegedly asking to talk in person over lunch but threatening legal counsel should more formal proceedings occur, Bovino was terminated, according to the lawsuit.
In statements to Law.com and other legal publications, Kasowitz Benson Torres representatives have stated repeatedly that the claims in Bovino’s case are erroneous. Bovino’s lawsuit is the third this year from former employees in the New York-based legal empire, each with similar claims of underpayment and wrongful termination.
Bovino, for his part, is no stranger to litigation beyond the scope of his legal practice. In 2017, about one year before officially merging with Kasowitz Benson Torres, Bovino found himself the defendant in a Pitkin County District Court slander lawsuit filed by developer Nikos Hecht.
In that suit, Hecht claimed that Bovino told multiple people that Hecht was a rapist, and asked, or directed other lawyers to ask, highly inappropriate and irrelevant questions during depositions, including whether Hecht’s father believed in the Holocaust — knowing that Andrew Hecht’s grandparents were killed in a concentration camp.
Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin dismissed two of the three claims against Bovino in that case, however.