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Morgan Lewis Elects McKeon Chairwoman: Business of Law

Jami Wintz McKeon was elected chairwoman of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, the first woman to hold the position at the firm.

She succeeds Francis M. Milone, who led Morgan Lewis for 14 years. McKeon, the firm’s litigation practice group leader, begins her five-year term next October, after a year of transition.

McKeon “has been an inspiring and innovative leader as head of our global litigation practice; she has been a model of success and excellence as a practicing lawyer; and she has been an effective and caring mentor to lawyers of all generations,” Milone said in a statement.

McKeon, whose practice focuses on complex litigation, including class and mass actions, and civil and regulatory proceedings, began working at Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia in 1981. As head of the litigation practice, she oversaw its expansion, particularly in London and Moscow, the firm said.

“We will continue to focus on New York, Washington and California in the U.S. and continue to focus on where our clients need us internationally -- in financial markets, energy dominated or IP,” McKeon said in a phone interview yesterday. “We will continue that focus and growth in a deliberate way.”

Under Milone’s leadership of the firm, which began in 1999, Morgan Lewis added 13 of the firm’s 25 offices. The firm strengthened its practices with a focus on energy, financial services, technology, and life sciences mattes during this time.

McKeon, who had two children as an associate at Morgan Lewis and two as a partner, said her rise to the top of management was a reflection of the firm’s inclusive culture, where issues of gender “did not seem to get in the way.”

Her position is the latest of several announcements of women taking the helm. Yesterday, Kimberly Leach Johnson took over as the head of Quarles & Brady LLP, becoming that firm’s first chairwoman. Last October, Kim Koopersmith of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP was named chairwoman, also a first for that firm. Other women leading firms include Valerie Ford Jacob of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP and Goodwin Procter LLP chairman Regina Pisa.

Morgan Lewis has more than 1,600 legal professionals in 25 offices across the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

News

U.S. Seeks Delay of Civil Cases as Government Shutdown Begins

U.S. Justice Department lawyers from New York to San Francisco are asking judges to delay civil cases as the government partially shuts down, and in Manhattan already won a halt to litigation in all but one trial.

The Justice Department made the requests in prominent cases including its bid to block the merger of US Airways Group Inc. (LCC) and AMR Corp. in Washington and others including an antitrust suit in San Francisco pressing Bazaarevoice Inc. to sell assets. Federal attorneys are seeking delays in cases such as the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp.’s suit against the Commodity Futures Trading Commission over rules for swaps data.

The scope of delays sought by the Justice Department is laid out on its website, which says criminal litigation will continue without interruption while civil litigation will be curtailed or postponed as much as possible without significantly compromising “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

If a court denies a request to suspend case, the government will continue to staff it, considering the judge’s order “legal authorization to continue” with staffing at the minimum level, Justice Department planners said.

While prosecutors say they have been immediately pinched by the government shutdown, the federal court system can run for about two weeks without furloughing staff by tapping into fees from filings and other sources, according to a statement by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Bates’ statement came before the shutdown began.

Once those funds have been spent, the court system would continue to handle most cases, according to Bates.

Federal judges would remain on the job, though it’s unclear whether magistrate and bankruptcy judges would be paid until the crisis is resolved and payments to jurors and court-appointed criminal defense lawyers might be deferred, he wrote in his statement.

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CFTC Enforcement Chief David Meister to Step Down This Month

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s David Meister, the enforcement chief who pursued investigations of MF Global Holdings Ltd. and interest-rate manipulations, plans to step down this month.

Gretchen Lowe, the enforcement division’s chief counsel, will serve as acting director after he departs, the CFTC said yesterday in a statement. Meister, who previously worked as a federal prosecutor and attorney in private practice, hasn’t announced other plans, said Steve Adamske, an agency spokesman.

The probe into manipulation of the London interbank offered rate and other benchmarks was among the widest-ranging in CFTC history. The agency began the investigation in 2008, and, on Meister’s watch, was among regulators that reached more than $2.5 billion in settlements with Barclays Plc (BARC), Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, UBS AG and ICAP Plc.

“David has brought energy, talent and experience to our critical mission to protect the public from fraud and abuse and ensure market integrity,” CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a separate statement. “He is a tough but fair former federal prosecutor who will be missed by all at the CFTC.”

Meister said in the release that the time had come to return full time to his family in New York. He called Lowe “a gifted attorney with superior judgment, who has the respect of the staff, and who is strongly committed to executing the enforcement mission.”

Under Meister’s watch, the CFTC also joined other regulators in examining JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)’s $6.2 billion trading loss in London last year. The regulator is looking into whether the company manipulated trading in credit derivatives, people familiar with the matter said last month. The agency hasn’t yet brought claims in that case.

He was picked to run the CFTC division in November 2010 from the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where he was a partner specializing in white-collar criminal cases. He previously was an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, serving on that office’s securities and commodities fraud task force.

Skadden didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he will return to the firm.

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Firm News

NFL Free-Agent Lawyer Set to Unlock $16 Billion in NCAA Athletes

Jeff Kessler, a  Winston & Strawn LLP attorney who helped bring free agency to the National Football League, is about to focus on the unpaid athletes who generate more than $16 billion in college sports television contracts.

New York-based Winston & Strawn is starting what it describes as the first college-focused division at a major law firm to represent players, coaches, schools and conferences against what Kessler, 59, described as “the unbridled power and influence” of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“The NCAA should stand up and take notice that Jeff is involved,” said Bob Lanza, a former National Basketball Association players’ union general counsel who worked alongside Kessler and is now a partner in O’Neill & Lanza, a professional sports advisory firm. “I can’t think of anybody more qualified to start this type of department.”

Ed O’Bannon, a former basketball All-American at UCLA who is suing the NCAA over the use of his image in commercial ventures, reacted to the news by saying: “Wow! Jeff Kessler.”

College athletes, past and present, are taking increasingly vocal, visible and litigious steps against what they consider to be unfair rules set by the NCAA, which doesn’t permit athletes to be paid. The agency faces lawsuits by former players that could seismically alter the sports landscape and, according to Steve Berman, managing partner of the Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, dissolve the 107-year-old governing body of college athletics.

“What’s at stake is a lot of money -- and their survival,” said Berman, whose firm represents former University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller in a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA over the use of player likenesses in video games and promotions. “Sometimes it takes litigation to make social change.”

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said in an e-mail that the organization wouldn’t comment on Kessler or his firm’s entry into college sports.

Winston’s college group will be run by partner David Greenspan and associate Tim Nevius, who joined the firm from the NCAA, where he worked as an associate director of enforcement.

“No one has an attorney like Tim,” Greenspan said on a conference call interview last week with Kessler and Nevius.

The 33-year-old Nevius said his work at the NCAA enables him to know “what the enforcement staff is targeting in their investigations and what angle they take when looking at violations.”

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White & Case Opens Office in Kazakh Capital Astana

White & Case LLP opened a second office in Kazakhstan, in the capital Astana. The new office will be headed by Maxim Telemtayev, the executive partner in the firm’s existing office in Almaty.

“The firm has been present in Kazakhstan for nearly 20 years since we launched our office in Almaty in 1995,” White & Case chairman Hugh Verrier said in a statement. “This move demonstrates our continuing commitment to our clients investing in Kazakhstan and the international activities of our Kazakh clients.”

The firm said it expects about nine lawyers to be located in Astana by the end of the year. Office head Telemtayev, who handles mergers and acquisitions matters, has expertise in the renewable energy, mining and metals and oil and gas industries, according to his firm bio. Among his most recent legal work is handling debt restructuring and subsequent acquisition of Kazakhstan’s largest bank and an equity acquisition of a power plant in Kazakhstan.

“Kazakhstan’s business hub has been shifting steadily to Astana ever since it became the country’s capital city,” he said in a statement. “Establishing an office in Astana will ensure we’re ideally positioned to support our clients effectively while strengthening the platform from which the ongoing development of our Kazakh practice will continue.”

White & Case has lawyers in 40 offices in 27 countries.

Dentons and McKenna Long in Talks to Merge, Firms Confirm

Dentons LLP, the 2,600-lawyer global law firm formed by a merger with Fraser Milner Casgrain, Salans and SNR Denton, completed in March, is eyeing a new combination. The union could be with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, which also recently undertook a major combination. Last year the firm acquired California law firm Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps, giving the firm more than 600 attorneys at 15 offices in the U.S., Brussels and Seoul.

The two law firms both confirmed the talks in a statement but declined to announce a partnership. Both made complimentary statements about their potential merger partners.

Dentons said it’s interested in McKenna because of its “industry-leading government contracts practice, premier insurance sector work, and enhanced California team from legacy Luce Forward.”

In a statement from McKenna confirming the discussions, the firm said it was exploring possibilities for expansion with several firms. “Dentons, with 75 locations in more than 50 countries and a commitment to delivering creative, dynamic business and legal solutions, is one such firm,” according to the statement.

Moves

GE Litigator Noga Joins Jenner & Block’s New York Office

Jenner & Block LLP said Joseph L. Noga has joined the firm in the complex commercial litigation practice in New York. Noga was most recently the deputy chief of litigation for GE Capital, the financial services unit of General Electric, the firm said.

“With extensive experience at a Fortune 50 company, Joe brings a valued in-house perspective that will benefit our clients,” Susan C. Levy, Jenner’s managing partner said in a statement. “We recognize that our corporate clients are increasingly focused on driving their outside litigation counsel to be efficient and add sensible value. The discipline and rigor that Joe practiced at GE will help us satisfy our client’s business objectives in managing the litigation process.”

At GE Capital, Noga managed teams handling hundreds of litigation and investigative matters, including matters that Jenner attorneys worked on with Noga.

Jenner’s New York office was established in 2005 and has grown to more than 50 attorneys across litigation and transactional disciplines. The firm has approximately 480 attorneys at offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

Former WTO Deputy Director General Joins King & Spalding

Alejandro Jara, former deputy director general of the World Trade Organization, has joined King & Spalding LLP as senior counsel in the WTO and international trade practice in the Geneva office.

Jara was the deputy director general at the WTO since 2005. He was Chile’s ambassador to the WTO from 2000 to 2005.

“Alejandro’s substantial WTO expertise, his unique experience in the global trading system and the broad scope of his knowledge of trade and investment issues further strengths our international trade team,” Daniel Crosby, managing partner of King & Spalding’s Geneva office said in a statement.

King & Spalding’s WTO and international trade practice has more than 40 lawyers and trade professionals. The firm has 800 lawyers in 17 offices in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Health Care and Employment Partners Join Epstein Becker

Epstein Becker Green PC announced the addition of two new lateral partners, both in Newark. Mollie O’Brien, former in-house counsel in the health care industry, joins the firm as a member of the health care and life sciences practice. Jeremy M. Brown, formerly of Proskauer Rose LLP, joins the labor and employment practice.

O’Brien previously served as a senior vice president, legal affairs and general counsel at Emergency Medical Associates in Parsippany, New Jersey, a group of 400 emergency medicine providers. She was also general counsel and chief operating officer of Superior Insurance Company, also in Parsippany.

Brown’s practice concentrates on complex employment litigation, including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims; whistle-blower claims; defamation, breach of contract, and other matters.

Epstein Becker has approximately 275 lawyers in nine U.S. offices.

Bankruptcy

New York City Opera Lawyer Expects Bankruptcy Filing Today

New York City Opera, created 70 years ago as the “people’s opera,” expects to file for bankruptcy protection today and either liquidate in court or be sold to another institution, its lawyer, Kenneth Rosen of Lowenstein Sandler LLP, said.

The nonprofit organization, which this year produced “Anna Nicole,” about the late tabloid celebrity, failed to reach its fundraising goal of $7 million, Rosen said Sept. 30 in phone interview.

“There have been many, many generous donors -- a lot of people appreciate what the New York City Opera does, and it does a wonderful thing,” said Rosen, who has worked with the opera for two years. “But right now we don’t have the $7 million that we need to go forward with the season.”

The opera company last week posted an “urgent” notice on its website seeking donations to help raise $20 million, including the $7 million it said it needed by Sept. 30 for the current season. Just $291,952 was pledged by 2,027 people as of Sept. 30 in an online Kickstarter campaign.

“The opera has obviously been trying to avoid this,” Rosen said. “Over the past several years, it has been doing everything conceivable to reduce overhead, reduce expenses,” including moving from Lincoln Center to City Center.

George Steel, the artistic director and general manager since 2009, wrote in a mass e-mail on Sept. 26 that the opera “is on the verge of canceling its season and filing for bankruptcy.”

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To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Amon in Brooklyn, New York, at eamon2@bloomberg.net.

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

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