It may be harder in these chaotic days to discern what’s right. For the personal injury firm Colson Hicks Eidson, which does a robust business in aviation disaster litigation, this is my opinion; follow the example set by other companies that have severed their association with alleged sexual predators.
When airplanes crash, Colson Hicks Eidson enjoys the services of Manuel von Ribbeck and his sister Monica Ribbeck Kelly. One or the other of the two, using the name Ribbeck Law Chartered, arrive at the scene of the disaster, hold press conferences, meet with victims and survivors of air disasters in order to sign them up for the legal services of Colson Hicks Eidson. Undoubtedly, this helps the small Miami-based law firm reap millions. I can’t speak to the firm’s revenues, but a South Florida real estate publication reports partner Mike Eidson sold his Coconut Grove home last fall for $12 million.
What is clear from the public record is that the Ribbeck siblings have a checkered past; accused of violating laws designed to protect victims of air disasters from ambulance chasing lawyers, failing to file documents in time, so that clients lost their ability to sue, and in a case that wound up costing the duo $75,000, a judge in Chicago ruled that Ribbeck Law Chartered made false and harassing legal claims against Boeing in an attempt to garner publicity and drum up clients.
All of which might cause some head shaking. But as bad behavior goes I think it pales next to the sexual assault complaint filed against von Ribbeck with the Miami Beach police in 2009. What does it say about Colson Hicks Eidson that it chooses to have as its agent, a man who tangled twice in court with women who have accused him of poor conduct and even sexual violence?
In the 2009 police report filed against von Ribbeck (the name of his accuser was redacted) von Ribbeck is accused of forcible rape. The Miami Beach police declined to prosecute, so the victim, let’s call her Sue, sued him instead.
In the lawsuit, filed in Dade County Florida in 2010, the woman claimed she’d met the controversial aviation lawyer on e-Harmony, a dating site. They had two dates which went without incident. On their third outing, the two went to Miami’s Club Mynt, which bills itself as having “one of the strictest door policies in the area” and while there, the woman claims von Ribbeck slipped something into her drink that knocked her out. She awoke in a cab, her head in von Ribbeck’s lap. They were on their way to von Ribbeck’s apartment in Portofino Tower, a swank residential highrise on the tip of Miami’s famed South Beach.
(It may be unrelated but it is certainly notable that the apartment is owned by Marianna Olszewski, of New York, whose name appeared in the Panama Papers. The New York Times reported the leaked financial records of the Panamanian company, Mossack Fonseca show Olszewski was a client in trying to hide her financial assets. In text and phone messages, Olszewski said she did not know Manuel von Ribbeck and was unaware of the alleged rape in her apartment.)
In the apartment that summer of 2009, Sue told the police she suffered several periods of incapacitation, which she attributed to having been given some chemical by von Ribbeck. At one point she awoke naked in a bed in the apartment and von Ribbeck was raping her.
“von Ribbeck intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, wantonly, and willfully assaulted and battered the plaintiff by performing non-consensual intercourse upon her,” the complaint reads. The civil suit dragged on for years and was finally closed with a non-disclosure agreement in 2015. While that case was proceeding through the justice system in Miami, von Ribbeck was also defending himself in a paternity case that went on for two and a half years in Chicago.
A criminal complaint, even though not pursued by prosecutors, a civil case involving an allegation of violence, a paternity case and numerous complaints by former clients, fellow lawyers and unprofessional behavior, the list of eyebrow-raising activities by the principals of Ribbeck Law Chartered goes on and on and is troubling to say the least. And by troubling I mean significantly as far as Manuel is concerned. That said, bad behavior by the Ribbeck siblings isn’t news. What remains unexamined except on the pages of this blog is the relationship between the Ribbecks and the well-established and well-known Colson Hicks Eidson.
Partner Patrick Montoya, a tri-lingual, University of Miami cum laude graduate boasts of his deep involvement with his community. Last fall he forced a runoff for a seat on the Florida Bar Association’s Board of Governors and lost by a slim margin.
Partner Dean Colson, with 30 years experience, was a law clerk for the late-Justice William H. Rehnquist and a Miami “Citizen of the Year.”
Then there is Mike Eidson, a practicing lawyer for 45-years, he was once president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
It is Eidson, other lawyers tell me who brought von Ribbeck into the sphere of Colson Hicks Eidson. This came even after another aviation lawyer who had also worked with the siblings warned Eidson that von Ribbeck didn’t know boundaries and his ethics-be-damned approach to procuring clients would one day come back to bite.
A partial list of questions I have put to every single partner at Colson Hicks Eidson is below. Despite repeated emails and phone calls, I’ve never received a single reply. The reason is no mystery to me. Colson Hicks Eidson profits by letting Ribbeck engage in misconduct on its behalf. That may have worked for over a decade on dozens of cases. But when the women at Colson Hicks Eidson and other women in the legal profession start to see the #metoo connection, perhaps then, the Ribbecks will be too hot to touch.
Note: The following list of questions was sent to the partners at Colson Hicks Eidson on December 31, 2018, including three women partners. As of this date, I have not received a reply.
- Was Colson Hicks Eidson aware of these cases at the times they were filed, (XXX v. Manuel von Ribbeck) sexual assault in Miami) and (Daly, Michelle v. Manuel von Ribbeck paternity in Chicago)?
- Was your firm aware of the criminal investigation in the XXX date rape case?
- Was anyone from Colson Hicks interviewed in either the civil or criminal date-rape investigation?
- Does Colson Hicks believe it should revisit its business relationship with von Ribbeck and Ribbeck Law Chartered in light of the increased awareness and sensitivity to the sexual victimization of women and the #metoo movement? Why or why not?
- How long has Colson Hicks been using von Ribbeck to procure plaintiffs in aviation disaster cases?
- How many cases filed by Colson Hicks include Ribbeck Law Chartered?
- At any time, did other ethical and malpractice allegations against von Ribbeck or Ribbeck Law Chartered (read more here or here or here) cause your firm to reconsider its business relationship with him or Ribbeck Law? Why or why not?
- Does the fact that Ribbeck Law Chartered is not on record as having malpractice insurance mean that Colson Hicks Eidson carries Ribbeck Law Chartered on its malpractice policy?
- Is Colson Hicks Eidson responsible for any of the travel or business expenses of Ribbeck Law Chartered in getting to Indonesia, making its presentations there or restarting its website following the Lion Air crash?
- In speaking with potential clients in Indonesia following the Lion Air crash, von Ribbeck was quoted as saying that the cases “couldn’t lose” and that the cases were worth many millions of dollars per passenger. Does Colson Hicks endorse comments like this?
- In your opinion is von Ribbeck acting responsibly in making this presentation to potential clients?
- Are you aware of or behind letters sent by Ribbeck telling other lawyers and journalists that criminal defamation charges have been filed against them?
- Does Colson Hicks endorse the sending of chilling letters to American citizens and U.S. and international journalists?
- How many clients does Colson Hicks now represent in the Lion Air case?
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.