Photo: Mark WempleBrian Albritton
Of Counsel - Florida Law
Lawyer goes full circle: From defense to prosecution and back again
Attorney Brian Albritton is back to defending corporate clients.
In 2008, when he became the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Brian Albritton set aside his 18-year specialty of white-collar criminal defense and embraced the prosecutor’s role.
He oversaw the district’s push against white-collar crime, particularly mortgage and health care fraud. In 2009, the office brought charges against more than 100 defendants charged with more than $400 million in lending fraud. The same year, WellCare Health Plans agreed to pay $80 million to resolve health care fraud allegations.
“I really wanted to put the emphasis on white-collar prosecution,” he says, “because if the U.S. Attorney’s office doesn’t do it, it often won’t get done. It’s not that the states don’t prosecute those cases. They do. But the U.S. Attorney’s office is uniquely suited to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime.”
As much as he enjoyed being U.S. Attorney, the 54-year-old Tampa native is now back where he started, defending corporate clients against the same assistant U.S. attorneys he used to lead.
Albritton became a partner at Phelps Dunbar shortly after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office in October 2010. He only recently got beyond a moratorium that prevented him from handling certain cases, including any case he had even minimal involvement with when he supervised the district’s 117 assistant U.S. attorneys in 35 Florida counties. He says the hard part about his transition has been getting used to standing on the other side of the courtroom from former colleagues.
“I very much liked and respected the people I served with,” he says. “I have a personal relationship with many of them. Litigation invariably involves some kind of conflict, but I don’t want to be involved in personalities. I’m a law guy. I ask, ‘What does the law require?’ Then, I act accordingly. I expect the same of my opponents no matter what side I’m on.”
Albritton picked up his “stick-to-the-law” philosophy from William Terrell Hodges, a judge who served in the Middle District of Florida from 1971 to 1989. After graduating from Boston College Law School in 1988, Albritton went to work as a clerk for Hodges, who always stressed to his clerks: “Fidelity to the law. Fidelity to the rules.”
Albritton’s fidelity these days focuses on defending companies against False Claims Act accusations. The law, designed to protect federal programs against fraudsters, includes a provision that allows whisleblowers to collect a portion of recovered damages. The federal government recovered $4.9 billion in False Claims Act damages last year, which Albritton says will likely motivate more whistleblowers — some with legitimate cases and some not — to step forward.
“We’re also going to see more of it with Obamacare, the expansion of the federal government’s role in health care as a payor,” he says. “You’re going to have fraudsters. You’re also going to have businesses that make mistakes. In some instances, the government will go too far and go after legitimate businesses.”