By Elizabeth Amon
Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Cobbetts LLP, which has almost 500 employees in four offices, becomes the first major U.K. law firm to seek protection from creditors since 2010.
The firm, the 62nd-largest by revenue in the U.K., said the weak economy led it to the decision to appoint administrators to find a buyer.
“The appropriate course at this time is for the firm to obtain the protection of an interim statutory moratorium to enable a sale of the business,” Cobbetts said in an e-mailed statement.
“We are in an environment where the legal market across the U.K. looks pretty flat,” said Tony Williams, principal at Jomati Consultants LLP. “Winners and losers are starting to emerge and Cobbetts is a firm that was squeezed from all sides.”
Halliwells LLP went into administration in 2010 in the face of mounting debt and a number of failed merger discussions. U.S. law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP filed for bankruptcy in May after its chairman was ousted, almost all its partners quit and creditors began suing for unpaid bills.
Cobbetts, known for its real estate and midmarket corporate work, had revenue of 45.4 million pounds ($71.7 million) in the 2011-12 financial year, according to Legal Business Magazine. The firm has offices in Birmingham, Leeds, London and Manchester.
Patrick Names Former Staff Chief Cowan to Kerry Senate Seat
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appointed his former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, a former partner at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo PC, to replace John Kerry for five months, making him the only black member of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate.
Kerry, a Democrat whom the Senate confirmed as the next secretary of state Jan. 29, plans to resign his seat Feb. 1 and Cowan will fill it until a June 25 special election. A graduate of Duke University and Northeastern University Law School in Boston, Cowen most recently was a special adviser to Patrick.
“His service on the front lines in our effort to manage the worst economy in 80 years and build a better and stronger commonwealth for the next generation has given him an intimate understanding of the issues we face,” Patrick said yesterday at a news conference at the Statehouse in Boston. He called the appointment an “affirmation of the American dream.”
Cowan, 43, said there would be “no daylight” between his policies and those of Kerry, and that he won’t run for the seat. Kerry is replacing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I’m here to do the work of Kerry,” he said. “This is a temporary assignment.”
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Delaware Needs a Fifth Federal Judge, U.S. Judicial Panel Says
Delaware, home to courts that specialize in business cases, needs a fifth federal judge to help the district court keep up with increasing corporate litigation, a panel of judges concluded.
If the recommendation by a subcommittee of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. is accepted in March, Congress will be asked to create a position as the number of U.S. patent suits is rising.
“It makes sense to add capacity for dealing with this situation, which most of us expect to persist,” Frank Scherkenbach, a patent attorney at Fish & Richardson PC whose clients included Microsoft Corp., said in an e-mail. “It makes sense to add that capacity in one of the courts most affected by these recent trends.”
Delaware handles more patent cases per judge than any of the other 93 federal districts, with 179 cases filed for each of the four judges from September 2011 to June 2012, according to the Judicial Conference. During the same period, all types of cases climbed in the state, putting the load at 1,077 cases per judge, second-highest in the U.S.
The subcommittee met in December and issued a memorandum outlining its recommendation earlier this month.
Business costs rose more than fourfold since 2005 over royalty demands filed by patent owners seeking quick profits, according to a study by Boston University School of Law.
Companies face $29 billion in expenses from 5,842 claims of infringement filed in 2011 by so-called non-practicing entities, patent owners collecting license fees instead of making products. That’s up from 1,401 claims and $6.6 billion in costs in 2005, according to the study, published in June.
The court vies with the Eastern District of Texas as the busiest courthouse when it comes to new patent-infringement filings, according to an April 2012 study by James Pistorino, a lawyer with Perkins Coie LLP in Palo Alto, California.
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French Lawyers Turn Google Defeat Into Must-Have Counsel: Taxes
French tax raids against companies like Google Inc. are becoming so common that a cottage industry is springing up among lawyers.
France’s biggest law firm put together 17 pages on “Your Company in the Face of a Tax Raid” as a primer last week. Tax Executives Institute Inc. is hosting classes for members on the tax effects of cloud computing and may create a whole set of recommendations after Google lost a high-profile French case last year, Bloomberg BNA reported.
The tax administration is more and more willing to raid offices and seize proof companies have permanent establishments in France and are avoiding taxes, according to Fidal Direction Internationale, the top law firm. The government issued a report on Jan. 18 urging tighter international rules to curb ways that global Internet companies such as Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., EBay Inc. and Google limit their taxes.
“The authorities’ tendency to assimilate tax optimization and tax fraud should not be underestimated,” Audrey-Laure Illouz, the Paris-based tax partner who edited Fidal Direction’s guidebook, wrote in the introduction.
Her practical advice on dealing with raids authorized under article L. 16B of the French tax procedure code includes not leaving the inspectors alone “even for a short moment” and to try and limit what they take to only what seemed to be listed in the warrant.
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Attorney Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Help Rothstein Wife
A Florida attorney who represented the wife of convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pleaded guilty to conspiring to help her hide expensive jewelry from the Internal Revenue Service.
Scott Saidel, 45, admitted yesterday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that he conspired to help Kimberly Rothstein sell jewelry, including a 12-carat diamond that she was supposed to turn over to federal authorities after her husband’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme collapsed in November 2009.
“He has accepted responsibility for his actions,” Saidel’s attorney, Tama Kudman, said outside of court after the hearing.
The Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Scott Rothstein involved persuading wealthy investors to buy stakes in what he said were payouts in confidential sexual harassment and workplace discrimination lawsuits. The cases were fabricated. Rothstein used forged court documents and phony bank records to sell the scheme to investors, including four hedge funds and several wealthy South Florida businessmen.
The scheme fell apart over Halloween weekend 2009 when he was unable to bring in new investors to pay off old ones. He fled to Morocco, but returned a few days later and has cooperated with federal authorities and the trustee appointed in the bankruptcy of his former Fort Lauderdale law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler.
The case is U.S. v. Saidel, 12-cr-60204, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).
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Kinder Morgan Buys Copano for $3.2 Billion, Adds Shale
Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and Bracewell & Giuliani LLP acted as legal counsel for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, the biggest U.S. pipeline company, which agreed to acquire Copano Energy LLC for about $3.2 billion in stock to capitalize on rising natural gas output from shale basins in Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz acted as legal counsel to Copano. Vinson & Elkins LLP advised TPG, Copano Energy’s largest unit holder, in the acquisition.
Weil’s team was led on the corporate side by partner R. Jay Tabor. Other corporate partners include P.J. Himelfarb and Heather Emmel. Additional partners include Steven Newborn and Laura Wilkinson, antitrust; Amy Rubin and Michael Nissan, benefits; and Jared Rusman, tax.
Wachtell Lipton’s team is led by corporate partner Lawrence S. Makow and consists of Nelson O. Fitts, antitrust; Jeannemarie O’Brien and David E. Kahan, Executive Compensation and Benefits; Joshua M. Holmes, tax.
Bracewell’s partners included Gregory M. Bopp, W. Cleland Dade, Troy L. Harder, Mark K. Lewis, Gary W. Orloff, and Aaron P. Roffwarg.
Kinder Morgan Energy will pay the equivalent of $40.91 a share, about 23 percent more than Copano’s closing price of $33.13 on Jan. 29, the Houston-based company said yesterday in a statement. Including preferred shares and debt, the acquisition is worth about $5 billion, according to the statement.
The deal adds Copano’s interests in about 6,900 miles (11,100 kilometers) of pipelines and nine plants to Kinder Morgan Energy’s 46,000 miles of lines, according to the statement. Copano expands Kinder Morgan’s reach into the gathering and processing business, which includes pipelines that move gas from wells to delivery points and processing plants that strip out valuable liquids such as ethane and propane.
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Jackson Lewis to Open an Office in Puerto Rico
Employment law firm Jackson Lewis LLP is opening an office in Puerto Rico, its first outside the continental U.S.
“We always try to be where our clients need us and many of our major clients have substantial operations in the region,” Vincent A. Cino, chairman of Jackson Lewis, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be the first U.S. employment boutique to“plant the flag in the Commonwealth and are optimistic about our long-term prospects. This new office demonstrates our commitment to building a global presence and complements our involvement with the L&E Global Alliance which we helped launch several years ago.”
Sara Colon-Acevedo joins Jackson Lewis as a partner in Puerto Rico. Felipe Santos also will work in the office as of counsel. The two lawyers, formerly of Schuster Aguilo, will work with current Miami partner Pedro Torres-Diaz and Orlando associate Zahira D. Diaz-Vazquez who have been providing support to the firm’s Puerto Rican clients. Torres-Diaz will be the litigation manager in Puerto Rico, but will remain resident in Miami.
Jackson Lewis has 750 attorneys practice in 52 offices.
Milbank Adds Capital Markets Partner in New York
Capital markets partner Stuart A. Morrissy joins Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP’s global securities practice in New York. He was previously at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
Morrissy represents commercial and investment banks in financing mergers and acquisitions for corporate issuers and private equity sponsors. He also has experience representing several Milbank clients, including Barclays Capital Inc., Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and Goldman, Sachs & Co, the firm said.
Morrissy has also represented corporate issuers, including GE Capital, Sanofi and Dave & Buster’s, in debt, equity and equity-linked offerings and liability management transactions, the firm said.
Milbank is based in New York and has 575 lawyers at 11 offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Skadden Hires Corporate Lawyer von Bernuth in Sao Paulo
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP hired corporate lawyer J. Mathias von Bernuth as a partner in its Sao Paulo office. He was previously with Shearman & Sterling LLP.
Von Bernuth focuses his practice on mergers and acquisitions and capital markets matters in connection with cross-border deals as well as registered and private securities and financing transactions, the firm said.
Among his past work, von Bernuth represented Equatorial Energia SA on the international aspects of its acquisition out of bankruptcy of a majority interest in Centrais Eletricas do Para-CELPA from Rede Energia SA, Skadden said. He also represented the underwriters in the $2 billion IPO of BTG Pactual SA, the first IPO by a Brazil-based investment bank, the firm also said.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mathias to our Latin American team,” Paul T. Schnell, chairman of Skadden’s Latin America practice said in a statement. “Latin America has a great future and we remain committed as a firm to our long-standing strategic plan of expanding in the region.”
Duane Morris Chicago Office Adds Intellectual Property Partner
Duane Morris LLP hired Kevin M. Nelson in the firm’s intellectual property practice group as a partner in the Chicago office. He was previously at Locke Lord LLP.
Nelson focuses his practice on complex pharmaceutical patent litigation. For the past 12 years, he has represented generic-drug companies in patent litigation brought under the Hatch-Waxman Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the firm said.
Duane Morris has more than 700 attorneys at 24 U.S. and international offices.
BP Plea Waived Privacy of Attorney Spill Records, U.S. Says
BP Plc’s exploration unit no longer has legal grounds to withhold from the U.S. documents detailing its calculations for the oil flow rate during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, prosecutors said.
The company’s guilty plea to criminal charges means it can’t assert attorney-client privilege to keep the information confidential, prosecutors said yesterday in a filing in federal court in New Orleans. Since BP’s lawyers were “intimately involved” in aiding the company’s criminal conduct, the customary shield over their work is eliminated, the U.S. said.
BP Exploration & Production Inc. on Jan. 29 won final approval of its plea to 14 criminal counts related to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and sparked the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Among those charges was a count for obstructing justice by lying to the U.S. Congress about the size of the spill, which the government said dumped more than 4.1 million barrels of crude into the gulf.
“Because BP used its attorneys to aid in its wrongdoing, it can no longer claim privilege with respect to communications related to developing the flow-rate information and communications forming the basis of BP’s false and misleading statements,” prosecutors said in the filing. This applies even if the lawyers were unaware they were aiding criminal conduct, the government said.
BP previously admitted in court papers “that the preparation of the false and misleading documents in question were attorney-directed efforts,” according to the filing. BP’s fraudulent statements were “drafted in a collaborative process led by Wilmer Hale and involving both in-house and external lawyers,” government lawyers said.
Wilmer Hale Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, a 1,000-lawyer corporate defense firm based primarily in Boston and Washington D.C., had no immediate comment on the government filing, Molly Nunes, a firm spokeswoman, said today.
BP initially told the government and the public that the flow rate was from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day, when internal estimates pegged the rate as high as 96,000 barrels a day, prosecutors said.
“Nothing in the plea deprives BP of the right to invoke the core protections provided under federal law,” Scott Dean, a spokesman for London-based BP, said in an e-mailed statement. “We will respond to the government’s motion on a schedule set by the court.”
BP agreed to pay $4 billion in fines and penalties to resolve all criminal charges tied to the fatal explosion and spill. BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of felony seaman’s manslaughter and two counts of violating federal environmental protection laws.
Separately, BP entered a consent judgment with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to pay an additional $525 million for lying about the size of the spill.
Prosecutors yesterday asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans to force BP to turn over copies of “all previously withheld documents” related to flow-rate estimates BP executives provided Congress and the SEC during the first months of the spill, according to the filing.
The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010; 2:10-md-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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