Emmanuel E. Ubiñas Is Headed to the Airport
The Jones Day attorney has carved out a niche in representing international corporations that are dealing with fraud matters, which has him doing a lot of traveling to Mexico and Central America. We caught up with him in his Dallas office and found out why he’s discovered it’s sometimes best to stay near the hotel
Published in 2012 Texas Rising Stars magazine on March 9, 2012
Q: You were born overseas, right?
A: Yes, I was born in Puerto Rico and I lived there until I was around 6 years old, when we moved to New Orleans and later to Dallas.
Q: How often are you called out of the country for work?
A: For various portions of my time here, I’ve been in and out of the country several times in a month. When we’re kind of heavy in the middle of a litigation matter, there have been years where I took 10 to 15 trips down to Latin America.
Q: Are you licensed to practice in these other countries?
A: I’m not, but not being licensed down there and trying to figure out what we can do has been interesting. Some of the matters that I worked on when I first got here involved litigation that had been filed in Central America and litigation that had been filed in the United States. And we were assisting in matters in the United States, but what was happening down in Latin America mattered to what was going on up here. For example, I’ve gotten to work on a few judgment-enforcement actions where a company will hire a U.S. firm to prepare for the defense of a potential judgment. So there will be a trial down in Central America or Mexico, and the company may not have assets in those countries, and they fear that a big judgment is coming down the line for various reasons, including a possible corrupt system in these countries. So they’ll hire Jones Day to help prepare for the defense of that.
While we’re doing investigations down there, we’re also assisting the local lawyers to make sure that the case is set up in a way that we will be able to defend it in the United States.
Q: Do you get much advance notice before you’re asked to head somewhere?
A: Most of the time, you have a little bit of lead time. But I’ve definitely had several instances of, “Can you be on the next flight to Mexico? Can you be on the next flight to Costa Rica?” The most recent experiences I’ve had with, “Can you get me on the next plane to Mexico,” or, “Be on the next plane to wherever,” was [with] what happens now with more and more prevalence of whistle-blowers: Someone will tip off a company or someone else that something may be going on—and sometimes nothing’s going on; sometimes it’s a jealous co-worker or someone got mad at someone else and so they’re just trying to make someone’s life miserable. But sometimes there’s some truth to it. And so Jones Day is hired to come down. Normally it happens fairly quickly because you want people to not get their stories straight; we want to get to the truth. We want to get there before any documents are destroyed and [we] want to get an answer as soon as possible, because we want to shut down whatever’s going on or figure out if certain employees will need to be asked to leave. So we normally go down there and investigate the key players and collect documents. We frequently work with our Mexico City office on things like that. We also work with outside vendors and accounting firms and investigative firms like Deloitte in Mexico City. They help us do the forensic scrubbing down of documents and things of that nature. It is frequently an initial round of interviews, and then you try to figure out what the story is. Then there are always follow-ups and different trails, that you end up having to go down, because while you uncover one, you end up uncovering other possible improprieties that are going [on] down there as you’re reviewing documents or communicating with witnesses.
Q: Have you ever felt culturally lost or even a little threatened when you’re conducting these investigations in these faraway places?
A: When you’re in some of these very rural areas you are kind of looking over your shoulder to make sure everything’s OK. Because a lot of times, we are the enemy down there—or at least we’re considered that. Lucky for me, I have not had any run-ins. There definitely have been times I’ve walked out of my hotel and said, “I’m going to go walk around this town and check it out,” and walk a block, and the bell-hop at the hotel would run after me and say, “No, no, no, you don’t want to walk around, you should eat at the hotel.” And I’ll say, “OK, I’ll follow your lead.” While I like my job, I’m not going to risk my life for it.
Q: I heard you were charged with kidnapping a witness.
A: It was bogus. We were investigating a lawsuit down in Central America relating to massive fraud. And at one point, one of the investigators was able to find a witness that was willing and able to talk to us about the fraud scheme—he was heavily involved in it. So he was flown to Dallas, and I met with him, along with a couple other Spanish speakers from some of the other law firms involved, for the co-defendants. We met with him for three or four days and got a lot of great information that was going to unravel this whole thing. On one of the last days, he just disappeared. Our investigators were able to locate him—he apparently jumped on a bus and took a bus up to New York and a flight from New York back to Central America. And when he got back down to Central America, he made allegations and filed criminal papers against several lawyers and investigators, including myself, alleging that we had kidnapped him and coerced him into giving a statement. I think I was accused of having a bag filled with money. What ended up happening is I had to go to the hotel where the witness was staying in Dallas and had to get affidavits from the front desk and the housekeeping people that would prove that he was free to go wherever he wanted, and that he was not being kidnapped, and in fact was having a pretty good time at the hotel. That was an interesting assignment: trying to explain to the housekeeper why I needed an affidavit saying that I didn’t kidnap one of their guests.
Q: Aside from the occasional trumped-up kidnapping charge, do you love all this adventure in your practice?
A: Well, when you’re a young lawyer and you’re trying to collect documents in Central America, a Costa Rican warehouse looks just like a warehouse in St. Louis. The bugs may be bigger, the bats may be bigger, but that part of it isn’t that romantic. But definitely, going to places where you can visit a rain forest is definitely a cool experience.