The Evolving Robert Costello – Steve Bannon Timeline

Robert Costello’s law firm, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, is suing Steve Bannon.

Can you blame them? According to the complaint, Bannon has stiffed the firm on $480,487.87 out of $855,487.87 they’ve billed him.

I’m interested in the complaint, though, for something other than the details of what a cheapskate Bannon is.

Here’s how the complaint describes the firm’s work for Bannon.

From on or about November 2020 through on or about November 2022, DHC provided legal services on behalf of the Defendant regarding several matters that included, but not limited to, a federal action captioned, United States v. Stephen Bannon, 20 Cr. 412 (AT) (S.D.N.Y.) which was dismissed against Defendant subsequent to a presidential pardon of him that was secured through the aid of DHC, represented Defendant with regards to a subpoena issued by the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (“Subpoena”), subsequently represented Defendant in response to a criminal contempt proceeding captioned, United States v. Stephen K. Bannon, 21Cr. 670 (CJN) (D.D.C.) regarding that Subpoena, and represented Defendant in a case brought by the former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, captioned In the Matter of the Application of Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. (collectively the “Legal Services”)

That mostly tracks what we know about Costello’s representation of Bannon. He publicly took over representing Bannon in the Build the Wall case on December 11, 2020 after Bannon’s prior criminal defense attorney, Bill Burck, fired him for threatening to execute Anthony Fauci and Chris Wray.

Costello represented Bannon in his contemptuous refusal to show up before the January 6 Committee and invoke Executive Privielge, and participated in two discussions with the government that the government treated as material to the contempt case against Bannon. There was a brief moment after Bannon was indicted on November 12, 2021, where it looked like David Schoen and Evan Corcoran would represent Bannon, alone. But on December 2, Costello filed to join the case, setting off a long discussion about whether Costello would be a witness or a lawyer on the case. That charade continued until July 2022, when Costello decided he might need to be a witness after all. See this post for some of that timeline.

It is true that Costello represented Bannon in the early period of NY State’s investigation into Bannon for the same fraud for which he was pardoned in the federal Build the Wall case. Though the November 2022 date roughly coincides with Bannon’s sentencing in October 2022.

Again, it mostly checks out.

The reason I’m interested, however, is that back in July 2022, when Costello was withdrawing from the Bannon contempt case, he gave a different timeline for his representation of Bannon, indicating that it went back two years earlier than the timeline DHC has laid out.

I am an attorney and Partner in the firm of Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron, LLP located at 605 Third Avenue, New York, New York. For the past 49 years I have been admitted to the bar of the State of New York, the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the Second and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. I have been counsel to the above listed Defendant, Stephen K. Bannon on a number of different matters for the past three years. I am admitted to the bar of this District by way of pro hac vice motion. I have been co-counsel to Mr. Bannon throughout these proceedings as well as in connection with all interactions with the Select Committee which preceded the filing of Contempt of Congress misdemeanor charges in this Court. [my emphasis]

I noted at that time that it was a different timeline than was publicly known, the timeline that DHC lays out in its complaint.

Still, there may be a ready explanation for this discrepancy too: That Costello is including the period when he played a key role in the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” operation in the time period he represented Bannon, but DHC is not.

Even so, that timeline is a bit hazy, given some variation regarding whether he reached out in 2019 or 2020 in Mac Isaac’s story.

In any case, the discrepancy between DHC’s story and Costello’s about the length of time he represented Bannon may be of interest to Abbe Lowell, as he asks the Feds to investigate — among others — Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, and Costello.

These disputes are interesting for another reason. As the Daily Beast laid out, Bannon has also been stiffing Evan Corcoran. And his third lawyer from the contempt case, Schoen, said last month he can no longer work with him in the NYS Build the Wall charges.

Even after the irreparable split in NYS, Schoen remained on Bannon’s appeal, where he has been stalling and where briefing won’t be done until May. Any appeal would be premised on Bannon’s understanding of the expectations surrounding Executive Privilege, which would seem to rely on Costello’s testimony.

I have no idea where this is going. Perhaps Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Lowell, can sort it out.

24 replies
  1. freebird says:

    The lawyers I have dealt with who took on high profile and laborious clients would take collateral, get a substantial retainer and get progress payments. Given that Bannon is a thief and would have served jail time if were not for Trump’s pardon, these lawyers should have known what they were in for.

    • Peterr says:

      Bannon, like Trump, views things in the other direction. “I am such a special client that you should pay me for the honor of being allowed to represent me. Besides, this case is going to give you and your firm such publicity that you’re going to be turning down new clients because you are so busy, and you’re going to be able to double the hourly rate you charge the clients you do accept.”

      And many, many of the lawyers who flocked around Trump and Bannon obviously agreed, at least enough not to demand collateral, a substantial retainer, and progress payments.

      See also Franklin, Ben: “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

      • bmaz says:

        You don’t really take “collateral” on civil cases, and only very rarely is it done on criminal cases anymore. They can hock their own shit and bring you money.

            • joel fisher says:

              “There are ways things should be done.” And then there’s Steve Bannon. There’s certain irony in Bannon being charged with stealing from scum–something which I approve of–and subsequently not paying his moron lawyers who might know where the best coffee in the courthouse can be found, but can’t figure Bannon for the thief he so obviously is.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Not a close call. Cash in hand is far better than a lien on any property. With a retainer, you’re holding the ball, not the client. You control your rights to access the funds based on the services you provide.

            A lien only gives you the headache of a collection action, surviving legal challenges to it (including potential bankruptcy defenses), and reducing the asset to cash, all of which cost money, take a long time, and create unwanted negative publicity.

        • bmaz says:

          Good lawyers do not need “benefit from notoriety” and, in fact, abhor that. They practice where it counts, in court. Pay them, that is all they really need.

          • PJB2point0 says:

            It does seem weird to me that these lawyers would let a client like Bannon get so far behind on payment of legal fees. I would have expected them to demand a large retainer and either hold it until the final bill like a security deposit on a rental apt or bill against it but monitor closely and obtain replenishment. I have a small law firm and my partners would tie me to a spit and slow roast me if I let a client owe us $800k!

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Indeed. Lawyers abhor suing their own clients. It’s bad publicity, suggests inattentive management. It further delays payment and exposes the firm to a potentially non-collectible client, which is why many lawyers get it up front. Why they didn’t here is a mystery.

            It’s bad for the client, too. It vitiates a-c privilege where necessary to prove the fees are owed and the client agreed to pay them. It’s further evidence of how out of control Bannon is, and how much of a chaos-driven narcissistic prick he is – as if the latter required more evidence.

            • bmaz says:

              Don’t know about other places, but you cannot even sue them without going through a State Bar arb/mediation process here. [I think that is still so, but not positive]

            • John Colvin says:

              In addition, the client often responds to a suit by a law firm for the collection of fees with a counterclaim for malpractice. Legal insurers indicate that a healthy percentage of malpractice claims are brought by clients who are being sued by their former lawyers. Our experience is that insurers ask if the law firm sues clients for fees when evaluating the law firm’s level of malpractice risk.

              • theartistvvv says:

                Yes, collection against a client is a specific question on professional liability insurance applications here, which if answered positively requires further disclosure of details, at least by my current and last carrier over the last 10 years or so.

                Addressing retainers, and as mentioned above, I always try to get a relative-to-the-case high retainer with a lower replenishment requirement such that there is always money in trust for fees – if that goes to near zero for too long, I start the withdrawal process – because of timing I don’t always get fully paid by the date I’m allowed out, and that’s when collection has to happen. (“try to get a relative-to-the-case high retainer” sometimes can’t happen, or I give someone a break – those are the cases where I end up in collection.)

                FWIW, for me, it’s only really an issue in domestic cases as the criminal cases I’m involved in are generally for a liquidated up-front amount (although there may be a payment plan, but then collection is much easier), and hourly jobs in civil cases are for a corporate client, or an individual whose exposure is serious enough to them that they don’t want to lose/change lawyers (*e.g.*, intentional tort defense).

  2. David F. Snyder says:

    Nice noticing there. I hope Lowell can help take these a—holes down a notch or two. The fascist attack did not end with J6, as McCarthy proved yesterday.

  3. Alan_1944h_23DEC2022 says:

    There’s a pretty damn good reason that in order to come on to the Trump team, Christopher Kise demanded and got $3M in advance. Unlike too many other lawyers he didn’t seem to drink the kool-aid and come to believe that the Trump-orbit conferred some sort of righteous unstoppability, and there will be plenty of money around to pay the bills no matter what happens.

    We like to think of lawyers as the ultimate professional cynics but there you go. Not all of ’em apparently.

    And then, already paid, Kise is taken off the Mar-a-Lago documents case. I don’t have any information as to why, but probably he was asked to do something unethical or illegal with regard to the case and refused. Probably because he couldn’t be threatened with non-payment of invoices unlike all the other attorneys on the team.

    In the Bannon case, same deal except there don’t seem to be the resources Trump has. Except the kool-aid.

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    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      My understanding is that Kise came off the documents case(s) in part because his (legal and informed) approach was being pitted internally against that of Tom Fitton. Fitton is not a lawyer, but Trump still finds his arguments attractive because they offer an “aggressive” alternative to boring old Kise and Trusty with their precedents and legal standing.

      Then there is the Boris Epsteyn angle, which seems more often to reinforce Fitton than the real lawyers.

  4. John Lehman says:

    Bannon seems to be an anarchist hoping manipulate the kayfabes into his half-baked vision of Arnold Toynbee’s cycle of rising and falling of civilizations, emphasis on falling.

    Doomed to fail even though he’s had some limited success.

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