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Roberta Kaplan, legendary LGBTQ+ rights lawyer, leaves her firm amid misconduct allegations


Roberta Kaplan, legendary LGBTQ+ rights lawyer, leaves her firm amid misconduct allegations
Lev Radin/Shutterstock

From left: E. Jean Carroll and Roberta Kaplan

Kaplan, who brought down DOMA, denies the accusations and says she's leaving to start a smaller, more nimble firm.

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Roberta Kaplan, a legendary lawyer in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights and feminism, has resigned from the firm she founded “after clashing with her partners over her treatment of colleagues,” The New York Timesreports.

Kaplan, who is lesbian, represented Edie Windsor in the case that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and more recently represented E. Jean Carroll in her successful lawsuits against Donald Trump for defamation and sexual abuse.

She opened New York-based Kaplan Hecker & Fink in 2017 after 25 years with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a major corporate law firm. She once said Kaplan Hecker & Fink operated “on the principle that there always must be someone to stand up to a bully,” according to the Times.

Kaplan told the Bloomberg news service she was leaving the firm because “it grew in size and complexity beyond what I had in mind, and I wanted to get back to something nimbler.” She is starting a firm called Kaplan Martin with Tim Martin, a partner in Kaplan Hecker & Fink, and two other friends, Steven M. Cohen and Mitra Hormozi, both former federal prosecutors.

But the Times story details tensions at Kaplan Hecker & Fink. “Her departure was announced after The Times informed her personal lawyers that it was preparing to publish an article about Ms. Kaplan that would shine a light on complaints about what some employees said was an unprofessional office culture that she presided over,” the paper reports. Kaplan had been removed from the firm’s management committee, according to the Times.

“Several people whom she worked with told The Times that she had insulted employees, inappropriately commented on their looks and threatened to derail people’s careers,” the article continues. Kaplan’s lawyers said this was not the case. They also told the Times, “There is nothing more unremarkable than trial lawyers using colorful language, criticizing their peers and representing diverse clients with no expectation of ideological purity.”

Kaplan herself gave a statement to the paper, saying, “The work I do is high-stakes and challenging, requiring both toughness and precision.” Because she had fought “some of the world’s biggest bullies, there are people who don’t like me, which comes with the territory, particularly when you are a woman,” she added. “I am proud of my record as a lawyer, colleague and mentor.”

She has been involved in controversies before. In 2021, she resigned as cochair of the board of Time’s Up, an organization founded to assist survivors of sexual harassment and assault, after it was revealed that she had advised then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his response to allegations that he had sexually harassed employees. Kaplan helped found Time’s Up and its legal defense fund in 2017. Cuomo resigned as governor in 2021 after a report from New York State Attorney General Letitia James found the accusations against Cuomo credible and concluded that he and his associates had committed unlawful retaliation against one of his accusers. Both Cohen and Hormozi have “close ties” to Cuomo, Bloomberg reports.

Kaplan Hecker & Fink will be renamed Hecker Fink as of Monday. “It was Robbie’s decision to leave the firm,” partners Julie Fink and Sean Hecker said in a statement to the Times. “We wish her the very best and look forward to working with her and her new firm in the future.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.