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Denton, Dechert, Milbank, Sidley, Katten: Business of Law

The partners of SNR Denton LLP, Salans LLP of France and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP yesterday approved a three-way merger to form Dentons, a global firm with more than 2,500 lawyers in 52 countries.

Elliott Portnoy will be the global chief executive officer and Joe Andrew will be the global chairman of the merged firm. Both currently are partners at SNR Denton, and were originally with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, which merged with London’s Denton Wilde & Sapte LLP in 2010.

In a telephone interview yesterday with the two partners, Portnoy said that the three firms had been in discussions for less than a year. He said the firms had no redundancies and as a result, didn’t expect any job losses.

Integrating firms this large is inherently difficult and one of the biggest questions was the name of the combined firm, Andrew said.

“If we would have had our choice, we would have selected a new name,” Andrew said. “But in many jurisdictions, we needed some form or some derivation of the current names.”

Before deciding, “we ran through a multicultural study to ensure that the name had no negative meaning in another language. It became clear that the strongest name with no negative connotation was Denton. We added the ’s’ because it is often tradition to make a name plural,” Andrew added.

The combination is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2013.

In the Courts

Vitro Loses Appeals Court Ruling on Mexican Bankruptcy Plan

Vitro SAB, the Mexican glassmaker that has been fighting Elliott Management Corp. and other creditors over its restructuring, lost an appeals court bid to enforce its bankruptcy plan in the U.S.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled against Vitro and upheld a bankruptcy court ruling that denied enforcement of the reorganization, according to a decision filed yesterday.

Vitro was appealing a decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin DeWayne Hale in June that handed a victory to Elliott and other holders of Vitro’s $1.2 billion in defaulted bonds. Hale refused to grant enforcement of the company’s Mexican bankruptcy plan, saying it was contrary to U.S. policy.

The bondholders have blasted the plan as a “testament to audacity, brazen manipulation and greed.” They argued the plan improperly extinguishes guaranty obligations of Vitro subsidiaries even though the units haven’t filed for bankruptcy.

Vitro said in a statement that it is disappointed in the appeals court ruling and is considering “possible legal next steps in order to have our restructuring plan enforced in the U.S. as it has been in Mexico.”

Partner Allan Brilliant, along with partners G. Eric Brunstad, James McGuire, Craig Druehl, Benjamin Rosenberg and Dennis Hranitzky of Dechert LLP represented the bondholders. Jeffrey Prostok of Forshey Prostok LLP was local counsel.

According to documents in the case, Vitro is represented by Andrew Leblanc and Alan Stone from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP and David Bennett from Thompson & Knight LLP.

The appeal is Ad Hoc Group of Vitro Noteholders v. Vitro SAB, 12-10542, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

Sirius XM Subscribers Seek to Overturn ‘Unfair’ Settlement

Some satellite radio subscribers asked an appeals court to overturn a class-action settlement between Sirius XM Radio Inc. and its customers, claiming that the class won too little while lawyers were awarded too much.

Attorneys for dissenting members of the class argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan yesterday, seeking the rejection of a lower court’s approval of the settlement valued at $180 million. The judges said they would rule later.

“This settlement has no meaningful value,” Paul Rothstein, a lawyer in Gainesville, Florida, who represents the dissenting members, told the three appeals judges.

Subscribers sued Sirius XM Radio in 2009, claiming that it violated antitrust law when it raised prices after Sirius Satellite Radio acquired its only competitor, XM Satellite Radio, in 2008. They said Sirius broke promises it made in order to win merger approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

Sirius XM argued that the price increases were justified to cover higher costs.

In August 2011 Sirius XM won approval of the settlement from U.S. District Judge Harold Baer in Manhattan before a trial was to take place. The settlement provided that the subscription price remained unchanged for a five-month period ended Dec. 31, 2011, and subscribers who canceled their plans could reconnect without a fee. The deal was valued at $180 million, although no subscriber received money.

The lawyers who represented the class received $13 million in fees in a “flagrantly unfair settlement,” opposing class members said in a brief. “The award of attorneys’ fees should be reversed,” they added.

Dissenting class members, which include the investment adviser Asset Strategies Inc., also said that “the $180 million figure put forth and accepted by the district court as the settlement value is grossly inflated.”

James Sabella, a director at Grant & Eisenhofer PA who represents the class, said the $180 million was based on what subscribers would have paid during the five-month price freeze.

The case is Blessing v. Sirius XM Radio, 11-3696, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan). The lower-court case is Blessing v. Sirius XM Radio, 09-10035, U.S. District Court, District of New York (Manhattan).

For more, click here.

ACC Sues University of Maryland for Quitting Conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference sued the University of Maryland for $52.3 million in penalties after the school said its teams would leave to compete in the Big Ten, joining a recent rearrangement of collegiate sports leagues.

A member that withdraws from the conference is subject to a payment three times the organization’s operating budget, the ACC said in a filing yesterday in superior court in North Carolina. The annual operating budget for the 2012-2013 year is $17.4 million, according to the complaint.

“There is the expectation that Maryland will fulfill its exit-fee obligation,” John Swofford, the ACC commissioner, said in a statement.

Dozens of National Collegiate Athletic Association schools have announced conference moves in recent years as athletic departments jockey for financial paydays from television contracts as well as stable affiliations.

The 12 ACC teams voted in September to boost exit fees, with Maryland and Florida State University voting against the increase. Maryland, which is a 59-year charter member of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based ACC, said on Nov. 19 that it would move to the Big Ten on July 1, 2014.

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said at the news conference announcing the move that the school would discuss the exit payment privately with the ACC.

In an e-mail, Brian Ullman, a spokesman for Maryland, declined to comment on the ACC’s lawsuit.

The case is Atlantic Coast Conference v. University of Maryland, 12-10736, State of North Carolina, Guilford County, General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division.

For more, click here.

Law Firm Moves

Counsel From the Food and Drug Administration Joins Sidley

William A. McConagha has joined Sidley Austin LLP as a partner in the firm’s Washington office.

McConagha previously worked at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a variety of roles and most recently was acting as the health policy adviser to the chairmen of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

He will join Sidley’s food, drug and medical device practice.

Sidley Austin has about 1,700 lawyers practicing in 18 U.S. and international cities, including Beijing, Brussels, Sydney and Tokyo.

Environmental Attorney Joins Katten Muchin in Austin, Texas

Matt Paulson will join Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP as a partner in the firm’s Austin, Texas, office and will head the firm’s environmental aspects of energy production practice.

Paulson focuses his work on environmental permitting, compliance, internal investigations, enforcement, litigation and crisis response. He was previously a partner at Baker Botts LLP.

Katten has more than 600 attorneys in locations across the U.S. and in London and Shanghai.

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