Covington, Patton Boggs, Gibson, Nixon: Business of Law

After four years leading U.S. government efforts to prosecute financial crime, Lanny Breuer is returning to his former law firm.

Breuer, who this month left his job as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, will become the vice chairman of Covington & Burling LLP.

His return to private practice ends a term in which the division secured some of the largest criminal settlements in the department’s history, even as it faced criticism for not bringing cases against Wall Street executives over the 2008 financial crisis.

The 54-year-old Breuer rejoins Covington’s Washington office in a newly created role. As vice chairman, he said he plans to spearhead the development of a large practice covering white-collar defense, civil-litigation and crisis-management.

“I now have such an intuitive and nuanced sense of how the Justice Department, how the government, makes important decisions,” Breuer said in an interview yesterday at the firm’s Washington office. “I believe I can help companies and individuals act appropriately.”

Breuer has a two-year “cooling off” period where he isn’t allowed to set foot in the Justice Department or work on issues he oversaw while leading the criminal division. He said he’s allowed to advise clients on new matters and will have “an ethics officer on speed-dial” while navigating his return to Covington, the only place he’s worked in private practice.

Breuer’s list of clients before his time at the Justice Department included Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), Koch Industries Inc., Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), according to the disclosure forms he filed with the government ethics office in 2009.

Former Major League Baseball star Roger Clemens and former Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Office Charles Prince are also among his previous clients, according to the disclosures.

While at the Justice Department, Breuer’s division oversaw the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history: the $4 billion settlement with BP Plc over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Its investigation into the rigging of interest rates continues after settlements with two major banks, criminal charges against two traders and a guilty plea from a bank subsidiary.

Still, Breuer’s critics said there were shortcomings of his tenure, including an inability to pin cases on high-level Wall Street executives and the refusal to indict some financial institutions in connection with the 2008 crisis.

Throughout his tenure, Breuer maintained that had there been enough evidence to make a case for prosecuting top financial industry executives, his division or U.S. Attorneys offices around the country would have brought charges.

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Law Firms

Patton Boggs Names Litigator as Head of New York Office

Patton Boggs LLP appointed commercial litigator John M. Nonna as managing partner of the firm’s New York office.

Nonna currently co-heads the Patton Boggs Insurance and Reinsurance Dispute Resolution practice group. He will have primary management oversight of the New York office, Patton Boggs said in a statement.

Nonna joined Patton Boggs in April 2012 from the New York office of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP along with three attorneys from his practice group.

The addition of Nonna and his colleagues was one in a series of strategic moves by Patton Boggs to increase the firm’s bench strength, legal service offerings, and overall presence in the New York market, the firm said.

“John Nonna is an ideal choice to manage the growth and success of our New York office,” said Edward J. Newberry, managing partner of Patton Boggs. “In less than a year, he has acquired an understanding of Patton Boggs that complements his strong existing knowledge of the New York market for legal services. We are extremely pleased that he has accepted this appointment, and we will continue to support him and the entire New York-based team as he undertakes it.”

Business development for existing New York practices is Nonna’s top priority, the firm said. Practices targeted for growth include corporate finance, commercial and securities litigation, insurance and reinsurance dispute resolution, real estate investment and development, white-collar and government investigations.

Nonna is a member of the board of directors and a regional vice chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and he heads the New York State Bar Association Committee on Federal Legislative Priorities. He has also served as the mayor of Pleasantville, New York, a suburb of New York City.

News

Comcast Backed by High Court on Philadelphia Antitrust Suit

Comcast (CMCSA) Corp., the nation’s largest cable-television company, doesn’t have to defend against an $875 million antitrust lawsuit on behalf of as many as 2 million Philadelphia-area customers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The justices, voting 5-4 to reverse a lower court, said the case against Comcast was too unwieldy to proceed as a single class-action lawsuit.

The Philadelphia-based company was accused of monopolizing its hometown market. The suing customers said Comcast swapped territories and subscribers with competitors to ensure it could control the market and charge higher prices. Comcast has denied the allegations.

The high court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the customers didn’t meet requirements for outlining a common method that could be used to determine monetary damages for each of the thousands of individual parties to the lawsuit.

Proof about a common methodology for measuring damages is needed before the case can proceed as a class-action suit covering many individual claims, the court said. The customers fell short when they produced a general theory about alleged overcharges from lack of competition without more detailed information about the impact of the specific antitrust allegation in the lawsuit, the court ruled.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court found that a class should not have been certified in this case,” Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

Miguel Estrada a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, argued the case for Comcast. He said in an e-mail statement that “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed with Comcast that this case should never have been certified as a class action.”

Estrada added that “the court’s decision requires proof that damages may be established on a class wide basis and in a manner that is tied to the plaintiff’s liability theory. This will help ensure that only those cases truly suited for collective adjudication will be certified as class actions.”

Barry Barnett, a partner at Susman Godfrey LLP, argued for the consumers seeking class status. He said in an e-mail that “We respectfully disagree with the majority’s ruling. We look forward to satisfying the court’s narrow methodological concerns on remand to the trial court and to trying the case on the merits as soon as practicable.”

The case is Comcast v. Behrend, 11-864.

Focus Media Suit Over Carlyle Buyout Is Dropped by Pension

An investor in Focus Media Holding Ltd. (FMCN) dropped a lawsuit seeking to block the Shanghai-based advertising company’s $3.7 billion buyout by Carlyle Group LP. (CG)

Iron Workers Mid-South Pension Fund ended the suit without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled, according to a filing yesterday in federal court in San Francisco. The pension fund didn’t say why the complaint was dropped. A hearing on Focus Media’s request to dismiss the case had been set for April 1.

The pension fund alleged that Focus Media’s proxy statement omitted or misrepresented information about an alleged unfair sales process that locked out other buyers and undervalued the company in violation of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act.

Focus Media said the law’s disclosure requirements don’t apply to foreign private issuers and the lawsuit should be dismissed, according to a court filing. The company is a Cayman Islands corporation with executive offices in Hong Kong and operations in China. Its American depositary shares trade on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

“In this instance, foreign issuers are able to solicit the investment of United States residents through our stock exchanges and yet not be subject to the same disclosure requirements as other U.S. publicly traded companies,” Steve Oddo, a partner at Robbins Arroyo LLP representing the pension fund, said in an e-mail. “The company is able to evade regulations that govern communications with shareholders, and shareholders are left unprotected.”

Focus Media agreed Dec. 19 to be acquired by a group of investors led by Carlyle in China’s biggest leveraged buyout. The company operates networks of advertising display panels in office buildings, supermarkets and other venues in China, and began trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market in 2005. The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter, Focus Media said in December.

The pension fund alleged that Focus Media’s board didn’t conduct a full and fair sale process to get the best value for shareholders.

The case is Iron Workers Mid-South Pension Fund v. Focus Media Holding Limited, 13-cv-00827, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Blackstone’s Cohen Told to Answer Queries in McCourt Divorce

A Blackstone Group LP (BX) senior managing director was ordered to answer written questions in litigation over a divorce settlement between former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his ex-wife Jamie McCourt.

Jamie McCourt last week filed a third petition in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking an order requiring Blackstone Advisory Partners LP and the executive, Peter Cohen, to sit for depositions in the case. Justice Jeffrey K. Oing in Manhattan yesterday ordered Cohen to respond to no more than 25 written inquiries by March 29.

Jamie McCourt in September filed a request in California state court in Los Angeles claiming her $131 million divorce settlement, reached about eight months earlier, was based on fraud and should be set aside.

Cohen told Forbes Magazine that the $2.15 billion purchase price for the Dodgers wasn’t “more than he anticipated on day one,” according to the petition.

The case is In the matter of the application of Jamie McCourt, 651046/2013, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan.)

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Moves

Health-Care Lawyers Join Nixon Peabody in Albany Office

Health-care attorneys Philip Rosenberg and Laurie Cohen joined Nixon Peabody LLP as partners in the Albany, New York, office. Both lawyers previously worked at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP.

Rosenberg and Cohen will work with Nixon Peabody partner Peter Millock, a former general counsel at the New York State Department of Health, and counsel Barbara Asheld, a former house counsel at the Department of Health.

“New York state’s health-care regulatory environment is complex and rapidly changing. Navigating the environment requires not only substantive expertise of the legal framework governing the industry, but a deep understanding of the government agencies that regulate the industry,” Michele A. Masucci, partner and leader of Nixon Peabody’s health services practice, said in a statement.

Rosenberg represents health-care providers in regulatory, transactional and litigation matters. Cohen represents health- care providers in corporate and regulatory matters.

Nixon Peabody has approximately 700 attorneys worldwide.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Rosen in New York at erosen14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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