Sheila Birnbaum, co-head of Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom LLP’s mass-torts and insurance group, is joining Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, where she will co-head the global product-liability and mass-torts practice. Skadden product-liability lawyer Mark Cheffo also joins Quinn Emanuel as a partner.
“We have worked with both Sheila and Mark for a long time and we have the greatest admiration for their skills,” Faith Gay, co-chairwoman of Quinn Emanuel’s national trial practice, said in a telephone interview. “Their counseling and strategic advice in mass torts will take our practice to a new level.”
Birnbaum was national counsel for Dow Corning Corp. in breast-implant litigation and for Aventis CropScience in several class actions and multidistrict litigation over biogenetic corn. More recently, she was appointed special master of a 9/11 victims’ compensation fund.
“The opportunity to join Quinn Emanuel was an offer I could not refuse,” Birnbaum said in a statement. “Its pure litigation model is a more natural fit with my practice.”
Cheffo has represented defendants in product-liability, insurance and mass-torts litigation during the past 23 years, the firm said. His clients have included drugmakers Pfizer Inc., Endo Health Solutions Inc. and Amgen Inc., as well as medical- device manufacturers and designers of bioengineered agricultural products. Cheffo has served as lead counsel in multi-district proceedings.
“Sheila has been a trailblazer both in the legal profession in general and at Skadden,” Eric Friedman, Skadden’s executive partner, said in an e-mailed statement. “We thank her and Mark for their contributions, and we wish them well in their next chapter.”
The Quinn Emanuel additions follow on the heels of two other high-profile lateral partner hires for the firm. Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP litigators Michael Lyle, the firm’s Washington office manager, and Eric Lyttle, are joining Quinn Emanuel, though a start date hasn’t been determined yet.
“Mike and Eric have deep expertise in the products area. With the accretion of the new hires from Skadden and Weil, plus our existing lawyers, we are a contender if not the best products liability practice in the country,” Gay said.
A Weil spokeswoman didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment on Lyle and Lyttle’s departures.
Littler Hires Seven Shareholders from Ogletree Deakins
Littler Mendelson PC hired seven Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC shareholders at several offices, led by labor and employment lawyer Don Prophete. Prophete, who will be a shareholder in Littler’s Kansas City, Missouri, office, was formerly vice president of Olgetree Deakins and a founding partner of its Kansas City office.
The group joining Littler includes Damon Hart, Boston; Irene Gallagher, Denver; Nikki Hininger Howell and Nicholas James Walker, Kansas City; Anjanette Cabrera, New York; and Robert Ortbals Jr., St. Louis.
“Littler is in a unique position with its vast geographic reach and deep resources to attract high quality, sizeable lateral groups as part of its growth strategy,” Thomas Bender, firm co-president and managing director, said in a statement. “This is a win-win move, with Don bringing an impressive team and client roster to Littler.”
Prophete focuses his practice on employment litigation. He also gives employment counseling to executives at multinational companies at several industries.
Littler Mendelson has more than 970 attorneys and 57 offices in the Americas.
Corporate/M&A Lawyer Hans Diekmann to Join Allen & Overy
Allen & Overy LLP added to its German corporate/mergers and acquisitions practice with the appointment of Hans Diekmann as a partner in its Dusseldorf office. He was previously at Shearman & Sterling LLP, where he has been a partner since 1999.
Allen & Overy employs about 5,000 people, including about 512 partners at 42 offices worldwide.
White House Lawyer Anne Small Returns to SEC as General Counsel
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said yesterday that White House legal adviser Anne K. Small will become the top market regulator’s general counsel.
Small has served as a special assistant and associate counsel to President Barack Obama, and worked for the SEC as deputy general counsel from March 2011 to October 2011, when she joined the White House, the SEC said in a statement.
Small’s hire shows how new SEC chairman Mary Jo White, who took over April 10, is moving quickly to build her team of top advisers and managers. White announced yesterday that George Canellos and Andrew Ceresney will co-direct the SEC’s enforcement division. The general counsel oversees regulatory developments and provides legal advice to the commission.
“I’m delighted that Annie will be returning to the agency at a time when our rule writing is in full swing and our enforcement program continues to pursue cases involving some of the most complex transactions,” White said in a statement. “The commission will benefit from her experience, judgment, and tremendous talent.”
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Blackstone to Buy Credit Suisse’s Strategic Partners Unit
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is representing Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, on its agreement to acquire Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN)’s Strategic Partners unit, which buys stakes in other private-equity funds.
Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed. Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP served as counsel to Credit Suisse on the deal.
Simpson Thacher partner Brian Stadler is leading the team for Blackstone. SRZ’s team was led by M&A partner Christopher S. Harrison, investment-management partners Steven J. Fredman and Joseph A. Smith and tax partner Philippe Benedict, and included employment and employee benefits partner Laurence M. Moss.
Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP is advising Strategic Partners’ senior management. The Davis Polk team includes partners Leor S. Landa, investment management/private funds group; Edmond T. FitzGerald, executive compensation advice; Frank J. Azzopardi, intellectual property advice; and John D. Amorosi, mergers and acquisitions advice.
Strategic Partners manages about $9 billion in assets, New York-based Blackstone said April 22 in a statement. The firm expects to complete the purchase in the third quarter.
Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, in July said it planned to sell two private-equity units in its asset- management division to exit more illiquid businesses after regulations such as the Volcker Rule sought to limit risk-taking by financial companies.
The purchase of Strategic Partners is Blackstone’s first foray into the secondaries business and will add to an array of businesses it manages that includes traditional leveraged buyouts, real-estate private equity, hedge fund-of-funds and mergers and restructuring advice.
Blackstone managed $218 billion in assets as of March 31. Strategic Partners will operate as a separate new unit within Blackstone, Oriane Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for the firm, said in a telephone interview.
Chesapeake Assails BNY’s ‘Incoherent’ Reading of Bond Terms
Chesapeake sued BNY Mellon, the bonds’ issuing trustee, last month in federal court in New York after the bank said the gas producer’s planned notice of early redemption, which it sent to investors on March 15, would miss a deadline in the notes’ indenture paperwork allowing it to call the bonds six years early at 100 cents on the dollar. BNY Mellon said the redemption had to be completed by that date, with notification to investors a month earlier.
“Like Caesar, Chesapeake was forewarned that March 15 was a drop-dead date,” Ascher, a lawyer from Jenner & Block LLP, said yesterday in his opening statement in a nonjury trial of the dispute. “BNY Mellon said no, beware the Ides of February.”
Chesapeake, the second-biggest natural-gas producer in the U.S., has said it would pay about $400 million in interest over the life of the 6.775 percent notes due March 2019. At stake is the Oklahoma City-based company’s bid to refinance the debt and save about $100 million by tapping lower interest rates.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, who is overseeing the case on an emergency basis, has said he’ll aim to rule on the three-day trial by May 9, less than a week before the early call is scheduled to be formally executed.
Chesapeake on April 11 lost a pretrial request for BNY Mellon and investor River Birch Capital LLC, which initiated the challenge, to hand over e-mails showing the motive behind the bid to block the notes’ early redemption.
Bank of New York Mellon initially agreed with Chesapeake in February that the early redemption would meet the deadline. The trustee changed its position after River Birch argued Chesapeake had started the process too late, Chesapeake said.
Chesapeake made the early call after the lawsuit was filed because Engelmayer said he didn’t think the investors had a strong argument for a demand they made -- that the gas company should pay a “make-whole payment” of $400 million for the notes if Chesapeake lost its lawsuit over the deadline. Chesapeake said it will cancel the early call if it loses the case, and BNY Mellon later dropped that argument.
Chesapeake contends the March 15 deadline stated in the indenture was for the notice of early redemption to be sent to noteholders; BNY Mellon claims that the call should have been formally completed by that date, and that the notice should have been sent to investors a month earlier on Feb. 13. Both sides argue the language in the indenture documents backs their respective interpretations of the March 15 deadline.
“BNY’s interpretation is not only unreasonable, it is incoherent,” Ascher said yesterday.
Steven Bierman, an attorney for BNY Mellon who is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, said that under New York law, any ambiguity in a contract should be interpreted against the party that drafted it and not against investors who weren’t represented in negotiations.
“March 15 is a bright line between redeeming the notes at par and redeeming at the make-whole price,” Bierman said. Chesapeake’s view “is completely unsupportable,” he said.
Engelmayer in earlier hearings called the language in the indenture “ambiguous” and said he needed to see evidence and hear testimony from people who worked on negotiations for the notes and helped draft the indenture about how the language was chosen to determine the meaning of the deadline.
Employees from the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, which advised Chesapeake on the notes, and Morgan Stanley, which was an underwriter, will testify at the trial, as will Chesapeake Chief Financial Officer Domenic Dell’Osso, Richard Ziegler, the company’s lawyer, said in an April 21 court filing.
The case is Chesapeake Energy Corp. v. Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co., 13-cv-01582, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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