There have been so many comebacks in the 40-year career of mercurial attorney Pierce O’Donnell that spectacular reversals of fortune are almost expected.

Charged with campaign finance law violations – twice – he served time and his law license was suspended. But just in the last year, he got a new job with a national firm, brought in Shelly Sterling as a client and helped broker the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers. Then, only days later, he filed for personal bankruptcy.

Now, due to get a $2.3 million payday for his role representing Sterling in the Clippers deal, O’Donnell has seen all but $200,000 claimed by the bankruptcy trustee managing his case. A hearing next week will determine whether $2.1 million of his Clippers bonus will be used to help pay his creditors, who are owed nearly $7.5 million.

“I won the greatest cases of my career while I was under this dark cloud,” O’Donnell said in an interview last week.

Indeed, O’Donnell’s career has been marked by dark clouds that have cast a shadow over what otherwise would be a shining array of professional accomplishments. And the drama that has swirled around him has pulled in large swaths of the L.A. legal community.

The bankruptcy hearing slated for early next month is expected to confirm that most of his Clippers bonus will go toward repaying creditors, many of whom are fellow L.A. lawyers O’Donnell hired after he was charged with violating campaign finance laws – once by the Department of Justice, once by the Los Angeles County district attorney.

The DA charged O’Donnell in 2004 with making illegal contributions to former Mayor James Hahn’s campaign in 2000 and 2001. He pleaded no contest in 2006, paid a $155,200 fine and was prohibited from contributing to any political fundraiser for three years.

The federal charges stemmed from violations for reimbursing then-employees for contributing to the 2004 presidential campaign of John Edwards. Those violations sent him to prison for two months – he was released in July 2012 – and saw him barred from practicing law for six months, a suspension that ended a year ago.

Big name, big problems

With his legal troubles seemingly behind him, O’Donnell began 2014 by trying to resurrect his career.

“When I was reinstated in January, I started going around looking for jobs in L.A.,” he said. “Basically, I didn’t get any interviews because people were worried about the controversy of my legal problems.”


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