Boeing Tragedy: American Lawyer Can Be Arrested in Brazil for Soliciting Clients

Brazilian lawyers are indignant with what they see as an invasion of their territory by American lawyers trying to be hired by the families of the victims of the Boeing 737, which fell in the Amazon killing all 154 people aboard.

On Monday, November 6, two US law offices filed suits on behalf of these families in two US courts, opening with it seems like a long season of lawsuits feeding from the Brazilian tragedy.

The Espí­rito Santo state’s Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) is not taking it lightly though and decided to charge American attorney Charles B. Musslewhite with illegal exercise of the legal profession.

The OAB accuses  him of advertising his services in Brazilian newspapers, something that is forbidden by the Association’s Federal Board and by the Brazilian legislation.

The case was brought to the attention of the OAB’s national president, Roberto Busato and Musslewhite is being threatened with prison if he insists on meeting families whom he has already contacted. 

Amim Sucre Zeituni, a spokesperson for the American lawyer, says that he was not doing anything that would be considered illegal in the United States. 

"Before placing the ad, we talked to a lawyer in Brazil and he told us that this is not illegal in the country," said Zeituni, without naming, however, the Brazilian lawyer who gave them such information.

Musslewhite published ads in newspapers from Vitória (capital of Espí­rito Santo) and Cachoeiro presenting himself as representing a Law Office from Houston, Texas. The ad copy tells that his intention is "to  represent the families of the victims of Gol’s 1907 flight before the United States tribunals."

Another ad published Monday. November 6,  is an invitation from the lawyer to  10 relatives for a meeting, today, November 8, in the Plaza Hotel.

In an interview with CBN Radio, the president of OAB’s Vitória branch, Agesandro da Costa Pereira reprimanded the American lawyer for his behavior and told those touched by the tragedy to look for Brazilian professionals: 

"What this lawyer is doing is forbidden by the ethics code we have. He cannot harass any client, but should wait that the client look for him. That is called illegal client baiting and constitutes  disciplinary offense. My advice to the victims’ relatives is that they look for Brazilian lawyers, who are respected for their names, their conduct and their dignity."

According to Ertélvio Monteiro Nunes, the brother of Erthelviane Bortolozo, one of the accident’s victims, some American lawyers were staying at the same hotel where the relatives of the dead had been  put up by Gol Airlines. Nunes said the harassment was constant and  the Americans even called the private phones of some of them. 

The Gol’s  Boeing 737 collided in mid-air with a Legacy executive jet, which had been bought by ExcelAire, an air-taxi company based in New York. The Legacy’s pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, have had their passports confiscated and they are not allowed to leave Brazil. The Legacy has also been detained to guarantee payment of possible court expenses.

No Time for SOS

According to a report from TV Bandeirantes, a probe conducted on the Boeing’s black box reveals that the pilots of Flight 1907 didn’t have the time even to send a SOS after the plane was hit by the Legacy.

The aircraft’s voice recorder doesn’t show any scream or request for help from the Boeing’s crew. Investigators say that this is proof that the crew and passengers became unconscious immediately after the collision with the smaller plane, plummeting to earth in accelerated rotation.

The Boeing also didn’t execute any abrupt maneuver, what would indicate that the pilots never saw the small plane coming from the opposite direction.

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