Partner Reflection: Vince McKnight

By Vince McKnight, Washington, DC Partner | June 2024

For the past thirty years I have represented whistleblowers, courageous people who expose corporate malfeasance to support the government’s efforts to achieve corporate compliance and protect the public. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers first proved their value to the government by bringing claims under the False Claims Act. They successfully helped the Government recover billions of dollars from government contractors who cheated on their government contracts. The success of this program spurred Congress to enact several additional whistleblower programs managed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In addition, DOJ supervises whistleblower programs under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) and DOJ is developing a pilot whistleblower program to recover monies connected to criminal forfeitures. Whistleblowers are now critical to government enforcement efforts in procurement, taxes, Wall Street shenanigans, cybersecurity, banking, and money laundering.

It has been gratifying to develop this practice with my son, John. He started working on whistleblower cases while he was studying law at the University of Maryland Francis Carey School of Law. He graduated in 2011, and he has become a recognized expert in this area.

My first whistleblower case was Totten v. Bombardier. Mr. Totten, who worked at Amtrak, alleged that there were several irregularities associated with the procurement process to acquire the Acela trains. Ultimately, I lost the case after two trips to the D.C. Circuit. After my second trip, Chief Justice John Roberts, then a judge on the DC Circuit, penned the opinion against me, but Attorney General Merrick Garland, also a judge on the DC Circuit at the time, wrote a dissent that supported the position that I was advocating. Eventually, Congress amended the FCA and embraced the logic of Garland’s dissent.
When I attended my first TAF Conference in the mid-1990’s, I was the only African American attorney in the room. Indeed, there were only about 50 lawyers present! Now, TAF has grown to almost 500 lawyers, and I am proud to say that earlier this year I was elected to serve as Chair of TAF.

David Sanford and I met in the early 2000’s when we collaborated on a case. He handled the client’s wrongful discharge claims, and I handled the FCA whistleblower claim. We worked exceptionally well together, and this was the catalyst for us to merge our firms in 2014. Our professional and personal relationship has grown stronger with each passing year.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with many talented government attorneys from DOJ, SEC, and the OCC on whistleblower matters. It’s fair to say that we have battled in the trenches together on significant fraud matters. Strong relationships are forged between allies fighting for a common purpose. We trust each other and know what to expect from each other. Clients who seek my advice benefit from the strength of these working relationships and my experience in navigating the complexities of overlapping agency enforcement actions.

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