Berkshire Museum art-sale litigators not always on opposing sides
PITTSFIELD — They don't usually sit at the same table when they see each other at work, but for legal amigos William F. Lee and Michael B. Keating, the respect runs deep.
And they aren't always battling each other.
Lee and Keating, two of Boston's top lawyers, represent clients on opposite sides of the dispute over the Berkshire Museum's proposed sale of art — a fight that comes to a head with the expected release of a report Monday by Attorney General Maura Healey.
On Nov. 1, they dueled at a hearing in Judge John A. Agostini's courtroom in Pittsfield. That day went Lee's way, when he and other lawyers with WilmerHale were able to fend off Keating's effort, joined by another lawyer and the Attorney General's Office, to block planned art auctions.
At one point in that hearing, sale critics gathered in one section of the Berkshire Superior Court began to murmur as Keating grew passionate, his voice climbing in pitch.
Behind him, Lee sat listening.
When it was Lee's turn to speak, he zinged Keating with a comment to the effect that a raised voice doesn't improve a legal argument.
"I thought he was probably correct when he said that," Keating, a partner with the firm Foley Hoag, said last week. "I raised my voice because I felt strongly about what I was talking about."
Though they faced off in Pittsfield, Keating and Lee are co-counsel on a pro bono case recently argued before the Supreme Judicial Court.
The two A-list lawyers joined in 2015 with Paul Ware of the firm Goodwin Procter to challenge the state's cap on the number of charter schools. They lost in a Suffolk Superior Court decision, when a judge rejected the trio's argument that the cap violates the Education Clause of the state Constitution.
Keating said the team is now waiting for the state's high court to rule.
In the meantime, when he and Lee meet on the field of legal battle, they pull no punches.
"We're fighting hard in this one," Keating said of the museum litigation.
But as they did after the Pittsfield hearing, they shake hands and leave as friends.
"He's a very good lawyer and a good guy," Keating said of Lee. "We're good friends and have a lot of personal and professional respect for each other."
Lee, who is considered one of the top intellectual property lawyers in the country, returns the compliment.
"Mike is a terrific lawyer and a better friend," Lee told The Eagle. "He is truly a credit to the profession."
On their way to current legal quests, both men have seen many corners of the profession.
In the late 1980s, Lee was associate counsel to Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel who ran the Iran-Contra investigation. Later, he helped the Attorney General's Office probe racial bias in state courts. He is believed to be the first Asian-American to lead a major American law firm, when he served as WilmerHale's co-managing partner from 2004 to 2011.
As a litigator, one of Lee's biggest wins came in 2012 when a jury awarded his client, Apple Inc., more than $1 billion in a patent-infringement case against Samsung.
According to Keating's formal Foley Hoag biography, he's been the firm's lead trial lawyer for over three decades, handling cases ranging from alleged marketing fraud to trademark and trade secret litigation. He's a past president of the Boston Bar Association and has advised the Supreme Judicial Court on how best to administer its operations. In 2011, the Massachusetts Bar Association cited his "distinguished public service."
Keating said he's made it a personal goal to preserve a sense of civility, even as members of his profession battle over high-stakes cases, including the Berkshire Museum art sale.
"People seem to think you have to be meanest dog in the junkyard," Keating said. "I think that's the wrong conclusion to reach. It's a myth that's taken hold."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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