Locke Lord, McCarter & English: Business of Law

Two years after opening a Hong Kong office, Locke Lord LLP has expanded in the city by forming a partnership with the local law firm of Cheung & Lee.

Partners at Cheung & Lee, a firm formed recently by lawyers from several international law firms, include Balbir Bindra, who will be managing partner of the office, Wing Cheung, Alfred Lee, Tej Mahil and Matthew Wong. They have experience in banking and finance, corporate, commercial litigation and mergers and acquisitions.

“Hong Kong represents one of the true centers of the global marketplace today, and we believe we have the right team in place to be front-line participants,” firm chairman Jerry Clements said in a statement.

Bindra’s practice focuses on banking, capital markets, derivatives, leveraged finance and structured finance matters. He was previously was head of Gide Loyrette Nouel’s Asia banking and finance group.

Cheung, who handles transactional and contentious matters and Lee, who focuses on corporate finance, regulatory compliance and general corporate commercial matters, were partners at K&L Gates LLP.

Mahil previously was a member of Winston & Strawn LLP’s Hong Kong mergers and acquisitions and corporate practice.

Wong’s practice focuses on corporate finance, capital markets, foreign direct investments, and mergers and acquisitions and secondary offerings, corporate takeovers and restructurings, private equity and venture capital investments and funds and collective investment schemes. Wong was previously a partner at Stephenson Harwood Ltd.

The new partners will work with Locke Lord’s 34-member London team as well as with the firm’s 11 U.S. offices. The firm has more than 650 lawyers.


Mayer Brown Hires Restructuring, Bankruptcy Lawyer From Barclays

Former Barclays director Joel Moss joined Mayer Brown LLP in New York as a partner in the restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency practice.

At Barclays, Moss handled bankruptcy and restructuring matters in the U.S., the firm said. He was involved in the bank’s U.S. resolution plan required by the Dodd-Frank Act. His responsibilities included advising trading desks on bankruptcy issues relating to proposed and existing investments; reviewing and negotiating restructuring-related documentation, among other matters, according to the firm.

“Joel is highly regarded in the New York market for his deep experience in providing legal counsel to financial institutions on a wide range of bankruptcy matters, such as Chapter 11 representations, debtor-in-possession financings, section 363 M&A transactions and matters involving distressed debt,” Brian Trust, co-leader of Mayer Brown’s global restructuring, bankruptcy & insolvency practice, said in a statement.

“Joel’s combination of in-house and law firm experience will greatly benefit financial institution clients facing bankruptcy-related challenges.”

Mayer Brown has lawyers at offices in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

Global Patent Partner Paul Li Joins DLA Piper in San Francisco

DLA Piper LLP said Zhaoyang “Paul” Li joined the firm’s intellectual property and technology practice and patent prosecution group as a partner in the San Francisco office. He was previously a partner at Squire Sanders LLP.

Li focuses on complex IP matters, particularly involving Chinese companies, including patent prosecution, patent infringement assessment opinions, patent right licensing agreements, patentability, and IP counseling and due diligence. He also handles patent litigation for private and public companies in highly technical areas, including biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals, tissue engineering, telecommunications and electronics, among others.

DLA Piper has 4,200 lawyers in more than 30 countries throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Brown Rudnick Strengthens Its Global Corporate Practice

Brown Rudnick LLP hired Adolfo R. Garcia in the firm’s Boston office as a partner in the corporate and capital markets department. Garcia was previously a partner at K&L Gates LLP and at Ropes & Gray LLP, where he was co-founder and co-head of that firm’s international practice, the firm said.

Garcia advises clients on corporate and business transactions involving public and private clients, including closely-held and family businesses, various types of financings, private equity, securities, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, investments, restructurings and contractual arrangements, the firm said.

Brown Rudnick has 200 lawyers at seven offices in the U.S. and Europe.

Three Attorneys Join Dickinson Wright’s Columbus Office

Dickinson Wright PLLC hired three attorneys from Roetzel & Andress LPA, two of whom joins as members in the Columbus office.

Jeffrey S. Braun and Scot C. Crow have joined the firm as members along with a legal consultant.

Braun focuses his practice on real estate law, including cases involving sales and acquisitions, joint ventures and partnerships, syndications, financings, receiverships and workouts, property management, tax deferred exchanges, and leasing and development matters.

Crow focuses his practice on tax, corporate and business law. He has handled mergers and acquisitions, hedge fund formation, private equity fund formation and structuring and general corporate matters.

Dickinson Wright PLLC has more than 350 lawyers in 12 U.S. offices.


Chinese Vitamin C Makers Broke U.S Antitrust Law, Jury Told

A lawyer for American dietary supplement companies asked a jury to find that Chinese suppliers conspired to fix prices for vitamin C.

Chinese firms propped up bulk prices of the nutrient and were not compelled to do so by their government as they claimed, Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP partner William Isaacson, the attorney for the U.S. firms, said yesterday in closing arguments at an antitrust trial in Brooklyn, New York.

During about two weeks of testimony, the Chinese companies sought to show they couldn’t be held liable for price-fixing because they were following the instructions of regulators.

“They needed an excuse,” Isaacson said. “They needed to point the finger.”

Companies facing claims included Hong Kong-based China Pharmaceutical Group Ltd., its Weisheng Pharmaceutical unit, North China Pharmaceutical Co. and its Hebei, China-based unit Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co.

Before the arguments began, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan announced that Weisheng and China Pharmaceutical were “no longer in the case,” without providing more details. A lawyer for the companies didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment about whether a settlement had been reached.

Initially, Aland Jiangsu Nutraceutical Co. and Shenyang, China-based Northeast Pharmaceutical Group Co. were also sued. They settled out of court.

Altogether, the companies supplied about 80 percent of the vitamin C in the U.S., according to Isaacson.

Animal Science Products Inc., a livestock-supplement firm based in Nacogdoches, Texas, and Ranis Co., a food company based in Elizabeth, New Jersey, filed complaints in 2005 alleging the Chinese firms met regularly and agreed to constrict their supplies in order to manipulate prices.

Over the course of a scheme lasting from about 2001 to 2006, the companies were able to increase prices to as high as $15 a kilogram ($6.82 a pound) from about $2.50 a kilogram, the plaintiffs alleged.

The conspiracy cost U.S. businesses $54.1 million in damages, Isaacson said when the trial began Feb. 25.

Baker & McKenzie partner Charles Critchlow, a lawyer for Hebei Welcome and North China Pharmaceutical, told jurors that exports were Hebei’s “lifeblood” and that it couldn’t risk breaking rules enforced by Qiao.

The case is In re Vitamin C Antitrust Litigation, 1:06-md-01738, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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Heller Ruling Means Firms Lawyers From Failing Firms a Liability

Hiring a lawyer from a failing law firm who has a large stable of clients means taking on a liability as much as an asset, as a result of a decision this week in the liquidation of the defunct firm Heller Ehrman LLP.

A bankruptcy judge in San Francisco spent 39 pages explaining why law firms that take on lawyers from a failing legal practice are automatically liable to the failed firm for profits on business lawyers bring to their new firms. Whether the same liability will attach to failed New York law firms is on appeal.

Partners at California-based Heller Ehrman voted to dissolve in September 2008. At the same time, they voted in favor of a so-called Jewel waiver. The term refers to a California appellate decision in a case called Jewel saying that when a lawyer moves from a failing firm to a new firm, the new firm and the lawyer must pay the failed firm any profits on unfinished engagements taken to the new firm.

The Heller Ehrman Jewel waiver provided that the failing firm wouldn’t hold the lawyers or their new firms liable for profits on unfinished business.

Heller Ehrman filed under Chapter 11 in December 2008. A reorganization plan was court approved in August 2010. The administrator under the plan sued law firms that took on former partners. Most settled. Four that didn’t were Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Foley & Lardner LLP, Jones Day and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

The four firms came up as losers when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali in San Francisco wrote his opinion on March 11.

Without needing a trial, Montali concluded that the firms were recipients of fraudulent transfers for obtaining the benefit of the Jewel waiver without giving Heller Ehrman anything in return. Montali said the next order of business is to decide how much should be paid for profits on unfinished business.

Montali knocked down numerous defenses raised by the four firms. He said, for example, that a client’s right to select a lawyer provides no defense, even if the lawyer might otherwise refuse to continue handling the business at the new firm.

The bankruptcy judge explained at length why the Jewel waiver was a fraudulent transfer. Montali concluded that the new law firms were the indirect recipients of the waivers originally given to benefit departing partners. He said the new firms gave nothing of value in return and thus had no defense to the fraudulent-transfer claims.

The Jewel question is the subject of an appeal in New York arising from the bankruptcy liquidations of Coudert Brothers LLP and Thelen LLP. In Coudert, a federal district judge ruled that Jewel is good law in New York. In Thelen, a different Manhattan judge said Jewel isn’t correct. The appeal pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan stems from the Coudert opinion.

Once Montali decides the amount of damages to be paid by the four firms, the lawsuits will go to a district judge who won’t be bound by Montali’s conclusions. In a decision in December 2011, a district judge ruled in the Heller Ehrman case that Montali can’t make final rulings in the fraudulent-transfer cases. To read about the decision, click here for the Dec. 15, 2011, Bloomberg bankruptcy report.

One of the lawsuits is Heller Ehrman LLP v. Jones Day (In re Heller Ehrman LLP), 10-bk-03221, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). The Chapter 11 case is In re Heller Ehrman LLC, 08-bk-32514, in the same court.

Bogus Asbestos Claims Cheat Companies, Liability Lawyer Says

Fraudulent claims for asbestos exposure are shortchanging companies and legitimate victims, former judge and McCarter & English LLP attorney Peggy L. Ableman planned to testify yesterday in support of legislation aimed at curtailing false claims on an estimated $30 billion in assets.

Under the current system, people claiming harm from asbestos can seek damages from trusts set up by bankrupt companies and simultaneously sue non-bankrupt companies, using inconsistent information about how and when they were exposed, Ableman said in prepared testimony to be presented at a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law.

Companies are “often led to believe -- erroneously -- that their products were far more responsible for the plaintiff’s disease than what may have been the case, because they have no way of knowing the substance of an individual plaintiff’s claims,” Ableman said in her prepared testimony.

The proposed rules would affect non-bankrupt companies being sued under tort law as well as trusts for bankrupt companies that hold $18 billion in assets today, with as much as $12 billion that may be added once current bankruptcies are resolved, according to testimony from Marc Scarcella, an economist with Bates White LLC in Washington.

A wave of asbestos bankruptcies from 2000 to 2004 included companies such as Owens Corning, Fibreboard Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., Pfizer Inc.’s non-operating Quigley Co., Armstrong World Industries and United States Gypsum Co. All followed the example of Johns-Manville Corp., which pioneered the concept of an asbestos trust in its 1982 bankruptcy.

By settling on an amount to be set aside for all current and future asbestos claims, companies could reorganize and exit bankruptcy free of lawsuits, leaving a trust and a trustee to manage distributions to alleged victims.

Ableman was a judge on the Delaware Superior Court for more than 29 years and joined McCarter & English in February as special counsel in product liability. She supports legislation called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2013, which she said would limit fraud by requiring such trusts to file quarterly reports on their claims in bankruptcy court. Reports would include the name and exposure history of plaintiffs and the basis for any payments that were previously made to them.

Elihu Inselbuch, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale in New York, which represents asbestos victims’ rights, said the proposed legislation is an attempt by large corporate defendants to “add a new time-consuming burden” to bankrupt trusts.

The bill would “slow down the trust process such that many victims could die before receiving compensation since victims of mesothelioma typically only live for four to 18 months after their diagnosis,” Inselbuch said in his prepared testimony. There is no evidence that fraud is widespread, and large corporate defendants not in bankruptcy can already get details about a plaintiff’s past claims under state law, he added.

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