Former U.S. Senator John Danforth Cuts Ties to St. Louis Law Firm Over Conflict with Banking Client

Former Republican U.S. Senator John Danforth has left the St. Louis law firm of Bryan Cave because of a high-profile case that involved a $77 million jury verdict against Wells Fargo & Company. It was an odd ending to a long relationship of a stalwart of Missouri politics and law. Danforth’s family has a long, proud history in business, law, politics and philanthropy in St. Louis and the state of Missouri.

Danforth has worked at the St. Louis-based law firm Bryan Cave for decades but left because of a dispute over a claimed conflict of interest. He testified in a St. Louis court supporting the plaintiff Barbara Morriss, who sued Wells Fargo Bank because it was claimed to have mismanaged the family’s trust allegedly costing her millions of dollars. Bryan Cave had represented Reuben Morriss, a former chairman of a now merged St. Louis bank, Boatmen’s Trust Co. Wells Fargo through two predecessors was acting a custodian of one of the Morriss trusts and a trustee of another trust fund.

Danforth testified that the bank was legally to blame for the losses of the family’s trust and thus took the side of Ms. Morriss, the plaintiff against the firm’s client, Wells Fargo. It was reported that Danforth was a longtime family friend of Ms. Morriss and her husband, Reuben Morriss, who died in 2006. The case centered on the claim that while Reuben Morriss was in a “stupor” caused by Alzheimer’s disease his son Doug Morriss in cooperation with Wells Fargo lost millions of dollars from the family’s trust. The law firm of Dowd, Bennett represented Morriss in the lawsuit. It was claimed that Wells Fargo chose not to inform Barbara Morriss that the investment strategies taken were risky and that the bank had a conflict of interest in that it loaned $40 million to Doug Morriss using the family trust as collateral.

Because of the dispute between Danforth and Bryan Cave, he was asked to leave the firm. He has since joined Dowd, Bennett. Danforth had said that Bryan Cave had requested that he leave the firm although he was advised that testifying in the Morriss case would not have a posed a conflict of interest.

As the lawsuit reached the trial stage, the Bryan Cave law firm removed Danforth as a partner and barred him from practicing while still allowing him to maintain an office late last year. Following the jury’s May 11, 2015 verdict, Bryan Cave’s chairman called Danforth to tell him that he could no longer keep an office at the firm and he had to leave.

It was obviously an uncomfortable position to take, however Danforth said he was grateful for the firm’s support during his years in political and public life.

Robert Kreisman is a member of the Illinois and Missouri bars and has been practicing law for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas. Kreisman Law Offices specializes in civil jury trials and has been representing individuals, families and businesses in Chicago, Cook County and in areas, including Libertyville, Morton Grove, Des Plaines, Chicago (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Hegewisch, Rogers Park), Orland Park, Palos Park, Blue Island and Chicago Heights, Ill.

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