ST. LOUIS — A former partner’s lawsuit against prominent attorney Jerry Schlichter and his law firm has been completely sealed from public view after Schlichter and his firm argued it contained highly confidential material.
The Oct. 14 order from St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jason Sengheiser sealed the case that Schlichter’s former partner, Roger Denton, had filed just three days before alleging he was stiffed on at least $875,000 in legal fees from Schlichter’s firm.
The entire record of the lawsuit — even the fact that it was filed — no longer appears on Case.net, the Missouri courts’ public database. There’s no way to know how many cases are completely sealed in a similar fashion, but it is uncommon.
Schlichter and his firm — Schlichter, Bogard and Denton — have earned a national profile for their suits against large 401(k) and other retirement plans over excessive and hidden fees. Schlichter has become the preeminent attorney for such suits, winning two of the cases that went as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. The firm is credited with forcing reforms in the management of retirement plans for millions of Americans, saving them massive sums by scrutinizing large and opaque management fees.
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The retirement plan litigation has been big business for the firm, which has won at least $500 million in settlements and judgments in those cases. The lawsuits have set the St. Louis-based firm up against the largest defense firms in the country and earned Schlichter more than a few enemies in the powerful retirement and investment management industry.
“Unlike our retired partner, we are battling against large companies daily on behalf of clients, including thousands of employees whose 401(k) retirement savings are being harmed by excessive fees,” Schlichter said in a statement. “Our legal duty to our clients requires that we protect their sensitive financial information and our legal strategy from being displayed publicly and to the companies that we are suing.”
“With regard to the substance of this matter, we thoroughly investigated it and there is simply no merit to it,” he added.
Schlichter is one of the region’s most generous and prominent civic boosters, founding startup engine Arch Grants, spearheading the Missouri historic tax credit litigation that helped revitalize swaths of the city and funding a recent initiative to lure more Afghan refugees here to stanch the city’s population decline.
Denton’s lawsuit against Schlichter and the firm, which the Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of before it was sealed, is a business dispute over Denton’s share of fees under the firm’s partnership agreement after Denton began winding down his partnership and involvement in the firm in 2017. Exhibits filed in the case are partnership agreements that show the share each partner in the firm would receive from various pieces of litigation filed across the country.
But a motion filed days after the suit argued the case should be closed to prevent publication of confidential work product concerning active litigation, according to a spokesperson for the St. Louis Circuit Court.
After the Post-Dispatch asked why the case was no longer public, Judge Sengheiser set a hearing for 1 p.m. Nov. 16 to address whether there is justification for continued sealing of the case, a court spokesman said.
Denton’s attorney, Kevin Cushing of Carmody MacDonald, did not respond to a request for comment.