David W. Harleston has served as the general counsel and executive vice president of business and legal affairs for Al Jazeera America since at least 2013, handling internal disputes and leading major cases against DirecTV and Al Gore.
But there’s no record that Harleston—who says he attended Yale Law School and clerked for a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge—was ever licensed by any state.
“According to court officials, there are no records that indicate Mr. Harleston is licensed to practice law in New York State, where Al Jazeera America has its headquarters,” the Times reports. “He has also not been admitted in any other jurisdiction, according to research by The New York Times.”
Still, he’s managed to maintain a long and illustrious legal career.
Harleston’s LinkedIn page has since been deleted, but according to his Al Jazeera profile he started out as an litigation associate at Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, an ultra white shoe law firm in New York City. From there, he reportedly served as counsel to Sony Music Entertainment “where he negotiated agreements for the services of major global artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey.”
After Sony acquired an interest in Def Jam Records—a deal Harleston says he helped negotiate—he was reportedly installed as president. He was serving as general counsel for Current TV when Al Jazeera purchased the network in 2013.
If he was able to fake being a lawyer for so long, it may be because he came pretty close: the Times reports he passed the 1986 New York State bar exam but never obtained his license through the Committee on Character and Fitness.
Al Jazeera America announced Sunday that Harleston has been suspended, pending an investigation by the law firm Skadden Arps. As the Times points out, Harleston’s non-lawyer status would make irrelevant attorney-client privilege—meaning previously confidential communications could be ruled discoverable.