Attorney Michael Pike in the Daily Business Review “Esquire … Or Not: Palm Beach Gardens Man Accused of Impersonating Attorney”
Article published in the Daily Business Review on 4/29/2016
Christopher J. Donahue’s website describes a media guru, but a lawsuit in Palm Beach Circuit Court alleges the Liquid Communications Co. founder represented clients in court on criminal cases — and billed up to $375 an hour for his service.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday by former employee Jennifer Goldstein and client David Bouchard seeks an emergency injunction to bar Donahue from “further appearing as an attorney in Palm Beach County Court.” It is assigned to Palm Beach Circuit Judge Lisa Small.
“Donahue told Bouchard he was a licensed attorney and certainly did not advise the court that he was not a licensed attorney,” the complaint charges. “Donahue assisted in making a plea or pleas for Bouchard and even signed the conditions of Bouchard’s probation as Bouchard’s attorney in fact.”
Court documents filed Jan. 20 listed Donahue as a District of Columbia attorney representing Bouchard for an arraignment in a misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving-while-intoxicated case.
Bouchard pleaded guilty, was sentenced to probation and community service, had his driver’s license revoked and paid nearly $600 in criminal and other fines, among other penalties.
“I will challenge the validity of the stop and whether you recall being informed of the consequences of your refusal,” Donahue reportedly wrote in an email to Bouchard filed as an exhibit in the case.
The message cites case law and numerous statutes. Donahue’s signature listed him as senior partner at Liquid, a Palm Beach Gardens-based “strategic communications firm specialized in building, maintaining and protecting trust,” the company’s website said. The feature art on the homepage is a nighttime photo of the U.S. Capitol, and the site lists five offices stretching from New York to Beverly Hills.
“Much like the 18-year-old man recently passing himself off as a physician in Palm Beach County, Donahue is passing himself off as an attorney in the Palm Beach County Court system, signing legal documents affecting the civil liberties of Bouchard and amazingly deceiving judges in face-to-face legal proceedings,” plaintiffs attorney Michael Pike of Pike & Lustig in West Palm Beach wrote.
Donahue denied the allegations, telling the Daily Business Review his company “engages with many licensed attorneys on a regular basis.”
“Factual inaccuracies exist pertaining (to) plaintiff Bouchard and Goldstein that do not warrant or merit the time or attention of the court,” he wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, anyone can sue for anything. That is the nature of our judiciary.”
Donahue said his company would rigorously defend the suit. He also fired back at his accusers.
“This action is the reason that our firm exists — to resolve conflict without the involvement of the judiciary — in the interest of expediency and the best interest of justice,” he wrote. “We work with law firms frequently to provide the best crisis management services to our clients. Liquid is not a law firm but a crisis public relations firm, who deeply cares for its clients and their mission, goals and objectives.”
He said his company “very much looks forward to deposing” Bouchard and Goldstein.
“This is a waste of Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Bouchard’s time and energy as well as their counsel,” Donahue said.
The Palm Beach sheriff’s office said it has received no complaints against Donahue.
Goldstein told the DBR that Donahue started recruiting employees in November and said she started working with the company in January before signing on as an independent marketing contractor in February on a partnership track.
She claims that instead of public relations tasks, her duties morphed into billing and other services that led her to invoices for legal services.
“It seemed to be more of the practice was geared toward legal work, which wasn’t what I was told in the beginning,” she said.
Goldstein claimed Donahue said he attended law school in the District of Columbia, was licensed to practice in federal court and was working on Florida certification.
“We can’t find any evidence whatsoever of him ever going to law school or being an attorney anywhere,” Pike said.
Court records show Donahue was convicted of impersonating a private investigator in North Dakota in 2002.
“It’s not his first go-around of impersonating officials,” Pike said. “Now he’s impersonating an attorney.”
Goldstein alleged Donahue also claimed to own a $3 million house in one of Martin County’s most exclusive neighborhoods when he lives in a middle-class Port St. Lucie suburb. She claimed she confronted Donahue, who denied any wrongdoing, before resigning April 16.
“In hindsight, I feel they were setting up a scam,” Goldstein said. “They misrepresented where they live, they misrepresented their position in the company. … Every aspect of everything that was said leading up to my employment was a lie.”
The suit includes a fraud count asking the court to rescind Goldstein’s contract with Liquid. The complaint alleges fraud in the inducement and rescission by Goldstein against Donahue and seeks a declaratory judgment and emergency injunction on Bouchard’s behalf.