Aviation lawyer Manuel von Ribbeck, often accused of being an ambulance-chaser, has of late been threatening reporters writing about the less-seemly practices of Ribbeck Law Chartered. Those journalists may have something new to question him about. While they’re at it, they might want to question his enablers.
von Ribbeck arrived in Jakarta shortly after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea killing all aboard on October 29th. The Boeing 737 MAX was brand new and sporting a new software system that may have played a role in the disaster. With an enthusiasm that borders on gleeful, von Ribbeck told Lion Air family members that if they signed retainer agreements with the American law firm with whom he was working, Miami-based Colson Hicks Eidson, they’d be poised to make millions.
“The passenger never loses,” he told a reporter from Indonesia’s Kompas TV, notwithstanding the obvious fact that all 189 passengers did lose in the most profound sense since they are dead. Unfazed, von Ribbeck suggested the legal awards could run between five and ten million dollars per passenger.
When asked by Kompas, and an Australian television reporter to explain reports that von Ribbeck and his law partner/sister Monica Ribbeck Kelly were treading the far edges of the lawyers’ code of conduct, he threatened to sue them for defamation.
“It’s all fake news,” von Ribbeck told the Indonesian reporter who asked him about various episodes in the rich history of Ribbeck Law Chartered that have been detailed in this blog, on ABC News, in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes and elsewhere.
Indeed, the claim that he impersonated a Red Cross worker in an attempt to cozy up to relatives of victims of a Chalk Airways flight in 2005 may not be accurate. At least that’s what the Chicago Sun-Times learned when it reported the claim of Miami attorney John Ruiz, who said von Ribbeck’s disguise gave him an opportunity to try and steal Ruiz’s clients. von Ribbeck sued the Chicago Sun-Times for reporting this and he sued the lawyer, Ruiz as well.
Court documents in Florida’s 11th judicial district show after filing the cases, von Ribbeck did not pursue the one against Ruiz. The case against the Sun-Times also did not proceed.
Less than a year later, von Ribbeck was back in court in Florida, only now as the defendant in a sexual assault case. In 2010, a woman living in Florida who knew von Ribbeck only briefly accused him of sexual assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case dragged on for 5 years. I contacted the woman to ask about the case, now settled but was told the agreement required her silence.
I’m sick of writing about von Ribbeck and his equally mendacious sister. They wouldn’t be flying around the globe from one accident scene to another if there weren’t lawyers willing to pay them for the retainer agreements they gather. Because ladies and gents, the tall tales are the building blocks to a bait and switch operation.
Neither Manuel nor Monica are going to try these cases, they’re selling them to established law firms who plan the strategy and do the legal work.
In the Lion Air case its the lawyers at Colson Hicks Eidson, with their polished shoes and thickly carpeted offices that encourage the kind of shenanigans the Ribbecks have elevated to an art form.
John Ruiz, who was one of the first to start complaining about von Ribbeck for attempting to poach his clients in the Chalk Air accident says that kind of behavior impacts the reputation of all lawyers.
“I didn’t find that his actions were on par with what I would expect from a lawyer,” Ruiz told me of von Ribbeck. “I wouldn’t conduct myself in that fashion. It’s a little disparaging to the profession.”
But it doesn’t seem to offend Ruiz’s fellow lawyers, who I am told pay Ribbeck Law Chartered a fee in the neighborhood of 25 percent of the settlement for each retainer agreement acquired.
My repeated attempts to speak with lawyers at Colson Hicks Eidson have been in vain. Emails and calls go unanswered. I can only conclude this means they’re not particularly concerned about the behavior of their agents’ at Ribbeck Law – even after an allegation of sexual assault against von Ribbeck.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.