You remember Eugene Kerik Garfield. He founded Auto-Train Corp. and ran it for 10 years. Ran it right into bankruptcy court, where the creditors are fighting over the bones of the $25 million-a-year railroad.
Some Washington investors are still trying to put the Auto-Train back on the track, but Garfield has long since stopped waiting for his train to come in and has gone to California.
Now he's starting another innovative new business and once again preparing to sell stock to the public.
Garfield's new outfit is called The Lawyers Registry, Inc. Basically it's a marketing service for the legal profession, an advertising and referral program to match up clients and attorneys.
Subscribing attorneys will pay a monthly fee -- $500 to start with -- and will sign up to handle cases in 15 legal fields ranging from administrative law, bankruptcy and collections, to divorce, immigration, taxes and workers' compensation.
Lawyers Registry promises to "provide a comprehensive communications program utilizing all facets of media marketing," according to a draft stock offering statement dated a few weeks ago.
When a client-in-search-of-counsel calls The Lawyers Registry, an attorney employed by the company will discuss the problem and determine which category it falls into. The service will then put the client in contact with a subscribing attorney who specializes in that field and has an office in the client's neighborhood.
The service will be started in the Los Angeles area, then extended to other regions, would-be investors are told. "In view of the rapid expansion of the legal community and its requirement for additional services, the company is planning to offer similar advertising-communications programs to attorneys in other states."
Lawyers Registry hopes to go public by selling stock for $1 a share, though the first draft of the offering statement does not say how much stock will be sold. The underwriter is American Investors of Pittsburgh, a regional brokerage firm that was once involved in trying to arrange financing for Auto-Train.
Gene Garfield is chairman of the board and president of Lawyers Registry, the same twin titles he held at Auto-Train. The draft stock offering statement for Lawyers Registry identifies Garfield's former posts at Auto-Train but does not mention that Auto-Train is now in Chapter XI. Nor does the first draft tell potential investors in Garfield's latest venture that stock in his previous company is all but worthless.
Another connection between Auto-Train and Lawyers Registry also is missing from the draft offering statement. Among the "distinguished persons who will advise and counsel" Lawyers Registry is an extremely successful Florida businessman named Paul Faske. Faske happens to be Garfield's father-in-law and one of the original investors in Auto-Train, but those business and family ties are not mentioned.
The No. 2 person at Lawyers Registry is another former Washington businessman, A. Richard Heffron, who holds the title executive vice president. Once an aide to Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), Heffron worked for Xerox and the Scott, Foresman Publishing Co. and later for the Close Up Foundation, a nonprofit group that brings high school students to Washington to see how the government works.
Garfield and Heffron apparently worked together on a cooperative advertising service for lawyers before Lawyers Registry was incorporated last June. Garfield has been receiving no salary as chairman of the new venture, but will be paid $72,000 a year -- retroactive to July 1 -- once the company sells stock to the public.
In addition to paying Garfield's salary, the cash raised by a public offering "will be used to increase working capital primarily to finance initial subscription marketing to attorneys, advertising to the public, pay operating expenses" and in general get the operation off the ground, the draft offering notes.
So far, the firm has been operating on $95,000 raised from private investors, among them Garfield, the preliminary stock offering says.
The lawyers referral service has a headquarters on Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles and another office in San Francisco.
Heffron said yesterday the firm is just about to begin operation. He described Lawyers Registry as "a private company" and said it is not yet offering stock to the public. Garfield was out of town for the weekend, he added.
While the Auto-Train founder is launching his new venture in California, the federal bankruptcy court here is slowly cleaning up the remains of his last company. Prominent Washington bankruptcy attorney Murray Drabkin was appointed by the court to run the railroad shortly after it filed for reorganization in bankruptcy two years ago.
Drabkin -- who fired Garfield shortly after being named bankruptcy trustee--has long since given up trying to restart the train and has sold off most everything of value.