Baker & McKenzie, Ogletree Deakins: Business of Law

Baker & McKenzie LLP will merge with United Arab Emirates 40-lawyer law firm Habib Al Mulla on July 1, to create Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla. The firm will advise clients on local and international law in its Dubai offices and, with regulatory approval, in Abu Dhabi.

This is Baker & McKenzie’s eighth office in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and North Africa region, where the firm has been active for more than 30 years. The firm opened an associated office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1979, one in Cairo in 1986, Bahrain in 1998, Abu Dhabi in 2009, Istanbul in 2011, Doha, Qatar, in 2011 and Casablanca, Morocco, in 2012. With this merger, Baker & McKenzie LLP now has more than 30 partners and 130 associates in the MENA region, the firm said in a statement.

Habib Al Mulla, who is known for being the architect of the Financial Free Zones legal framework which led to the establishment of the Dubai International Financial Centre, established the firm bearing his name. It has been operating in the UAE since 1984 with offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The firm has strong practices in dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, banking, real estate and construction, Baker & McKenzie said.

The merged office will be jointly led by Al Mulla as chairman and co-managing partner and Borys Dackiw, managing partner in Baker’s Gulf region.

“The combination with Habib Al Mulla cements our presence in the UAE as it once again experiences strong economic growth,” Eduardo Leite, chairman of Baker & McKenzie’s executive committee, said in a statement. “The merger is emblematic of our commitment to all our offices having deep local roots, allowing us to offer clients the benefits of a global platform while helping them navigate the most complex local legal issues.”

Baker & McKenzie has more than 4,000 lawyers and more than 5,800 professional staff in 73 offices in 45 countries.

Litigators Form New York Boutique Firm Binder & Schwartz

Former Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP partner Neil S. Binder and former Reed Smith LLP partner Wendy H. Schwartz founded a new litigation boutique, Binder & Schwartz LLP in New York.

The firm focuses on representing companies and individuals in complex business, capital markets and financial services litigation, and in regulatory and internal investigations, they said in a statement.

“The legal and business worlds are evolving, and we identified a need for sophisticated legal services in a small-firm setting where clients work directly with the seasoned attorneys they retain,” Binder said in a statement.

The founding partners worked together as assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York until 2003. In that role, Binder was lead counsel for the U.S. in Enron Corp.’s bankruptcy proceedings, the firm said in a statement. At Richards Kibbe, he specialized in complex financial litigation.

At the Southern District, Schwartz rose to deputy and acting chief of the civil division, where she handled the “yield-burning” False Claims Act cases, which concluded in multi-agency settlements with 17 investment banks, the firm said. She also tried NextWave Personal Communications Inc. v. FCC, a fraudulent conveyance case worth $4 billion and represented the U.S. in the WorldCom Inc.’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“Neil and I offer decades of combined experience helping clients through some of the most challenging civil lawsuits and internal investigations in and out of the news,” Schwartz said in a statement. “At our new firm we will provide our clients the same counsel and support they are accustomed to receiving in a direct hands-on setting.”

Ogletree Deakins’s 44th Office Opens in Richmond, Virginia

Labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC opens a Richmond, Virginia, office today. Jimmy F. Robinson Jr., who joins Ogletree Deakins from Troutman Sanders LLP, will be the office’s managing shareholder. Elizabeth Ebanks, formerly a partner at LeClairRyan, joins as shareholder, and another Troutman Sanders lawyer joins as of counsel.

Richmond is the second office the firm has opened in 2013 and the fifth to open in the past year. The firm opened its San Diego office in January and opened an office in New York, Berlin and Stamford, Connecticut in 2012.

Kim Ebert, Ogletree Deakins’ managing shareholder said in an interview that many of the firm’s existing clients have work in Virginia the firm wasn’t previously able to handle because it didn’t have an office there.

“We are confident that we have found the right team of attorneys to guide our entry into the market,” he said in a statement.

Robinson has traditional labor law experience. He represents employers in litigating labor arbitration cases, conducting election campaigns, and handling proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board including unfair labor practice charges, the firm said. He also represents non-unionized employers in the development of strategies to help those employers remain non-union.

Ebanks focuses her practice in on employment litigation and counseling, including litigating discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies in Virginia and the District of Columbia metropolitan area.

Ebert said in the telephone interview that the firm expects to open an office in London in the next month. The firm is also looking at opportunities in China.

Ogletree Deakins has more than 650 lawyers located in 44 offices across the U.S. and in Europe.

Kim Koopersmith’s Winning Legal Strategy at Akin Gump

Kim Koopersmith is as surprised as anyone by the path her career has taken, Dimitra Kessenides of Bloomberg Law reports. On April 1, Koopersmith, 53, assumed the chairmanship of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, an 850-lawyer global law firm with strong roots in Washington and Dallas. Koopersmith, a litigator, is the fourth chair in the firm’s 68-year history and the first woman to hold that position. It’s not exactly what she had in mind back in law school: “I assumed I would be working in some public interest capacity,” she says. “It was a surprise to me that I was at a law firm at all.”

After joining Akin Gump in 1994 on a four-day-a-week schedule so she could spend more time raising her daughters, then 7 and 2, Koopersmith worked her way up to the leadership table. Before her election as chairwoman last October, she spent five years as the firm’s U.S. managing partner. Now, she’s one of fewer than two dozen women leading the 100 biggest, most profitable firms in the U.S. We asked Koopersmith about her new role.

To read the Q & A, click here.


Pioneering General Counsel Hynes Joins Dentons in Chicago

Mary Ann Hynes, the first woman to serve as general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, has joined Dentons as senior counsel in Chicago. She was formerly senior vice president, counsel to the chairman and chief compliance officer of Ingredion Inc.

Hynes will work with Dentons lawyers to advise public and private corporations on governance, risk management, mergers & acquisitions and international ventures, the firm said. She has experience in the mining and minerals, aerospace, food and industrial products, natural resources, commodity and media/software industries, the firm said.

Hynes joined the legal department of CCH Inc., of Riverwoods, Illinois, in 1971, established the law department in 1978 and served as vice president and general counsel from 1979-95, becoming the first woman to serve as general counsel of a major corporation, the firm said.

She has also worked as senior vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer for IMC Global Inc., senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for Sundstrand Corp. of Rockford, Illinois, and general counsel/chief legal officer for Wolters Kluwer U.S. Corp.

“We are thrilled and honored to welcome one of the leaders of the legal profession to Dentons,” Mary Wilson, head of the Chicago office said in a statement. “The standard Mary Ann has set as a general counsel, businessperson and advocate for women’s empowerment has raised the bar for all of us.”

Dentons was formed in March 2013 by the combination of Salans LLP, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and SNR Denton. Dentons has more than 2,500 lawyers and professionals in 79 locations in 52 countries across Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada, Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the CIS, the U.K. and the U.S.

Vivero Joins Haynes & Boone New York’s Corporate Practice

Haynes & Boone LLP added Frank Vivero as a partner in the firm’s corporate practice group focusing on international transactions. He joined the firm from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP.

“Frank’s in-depth experience with corporate securities transactions is an advantage for our Latin American and other clients in need of cross-border transaction support,” Ken Bezozo, New York managing partner said in a statement. “His exceptional understanding of the international capital markets, especially in Latin America, will greatly enhance our capabilities.”

The firm’s New York office now has more than 60 lawyers. Haynes & Boone has more than 525 attorneys at 12 offices in the Americas.

Shearman & Sterling Adds Structured Finance Partner Bjerke

Shearman & Sterling LLP added to its structured finance capabilities with the addition of Bjorn Bjerke, formerly of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, who will join the firm as a partner in New York.

Bjerke has experience advising clients on secured financing, financial products, and derivatives across a broad range of asset classes, including receivables, securities, fund interests, airline miles, subscription commitments, whole loans, collateralized debt obligations and collateralized loan obligations, the firm said. He also advises on Dodd-Frank implementation and other regulatory matters.

Shearman & Sterling has about 900 lawyers in 20 offices in 12 countries around the world.

Former Nationwide Deputy General Counsel Joins Nelson Levine

Insurance law firm Nelson Levine de Luca & Hamilton LLC announced that Thomas W. Dietrich has joined the firm’s insurance regulation practice in its Columbus, Ohio, office as of counsel.

Most recently, Dietrich spent nine years as senior vice president-deputy general counsel at the Nationwide Insurance Cos., where he managed legal services for Nationwide Cos. and almost 1,000 associates. He oversaw property and casualty to life and financial services matters as well as regulatory, litigation and legislation, the firm said in a statement

Nelson Levine has offices in the U.S. and London.

Carter Ledyard Hires Squire Sanders Partner in New York

Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP announced that Avinash V. Ganatra, formerly a partner at Squire Sanders LLP, joined the firm as partner in its corporate department in New York.

Ganatra’s practice concentrates on U.S. and international capital markets, securities and domestic and cross-border leveraged finance transactions.

Carter Ledyard has about 100 attorneys and is based on Wall Street.


Chevron’s Lawyers at Gibson Dunn Get Tough in Ecuador Case

Bit by bit, the largest environmental verdict in history--a $19 billion judgment pending against Chevron for polluting the rainforest in Ecuador--is disintegrating. The collapse threatens to cause collateral damage to a major Washington law firm and a Colorado scientific consultancy that counts state and federal agencies among its clients, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Paul M. Barrett writes.

On April 17, the hedge fund Burford Capital, which had invested millions of dollars to bankroll the long-running litigation on behalf of poor farmers and indigenous villagers, leveled accusations of fraud against the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven Donziger, and his allies at the large Washington-based law firm Patton Boggs LLP. Burford renounced any potential profit from the case because of what its chief executive, Christopher Bogart, described in a sworn declaration as “mounting evidence of fraud and misconduct” by Donziger and Patton Boggs. Bogart said his $300 million litigation-finance outfit had been misled about dubious lobbying of Ecuadorean judges and the ghostwriting of expert findings.

Six days earlier, on April 11, Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colorado, disavowed and apologized for its role in the case. The firm, a frequent litigation adviser to public-sector agencies, earlier had provided scientific analysis damaging to Chevron’s defense. Now it says that it, too, was misled by Donziger. The New York-based activist had won what he portrayed as a David-vs.-Goliath battle to compensate those living near oil operations in the rainforest in northeastern Ecuador.

Chevron’s campaign to obliterate the pollution judgment has been engineered by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a law firm in Los Angeles that the company retained in 2009 when it appeared to face defeat in Ecuador. Fueled by Chevron’s copious legal fees, Gibson Dunn shifted the field of legal battle from Ecuador to the U.S. and the focus from contamination to attorney ethics.

Donziger and Patton Boggs have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. They vow to continue fighting Chevron and Gibson Dunn. “Patton Boggs is fully confident that it has acted appropriately and ethically,” said partner James Tyrrell. Bill Hamilton, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, condemned “Chevron’s nonstop big-money attempt to intimidate and malign” his clients and their lawyers. “It has no bearing on what happened in Ecuador.” Stratus said it “deeply regrets its involvement in the Ecuador litigation.”

Chevron hired Gibson Dunn after the law firm rescued Dole Food Co. from billions of dollars in judgments based on allegations that pesticide used in the 1970s caused harm to banana workers in Nicaragua. Gibson Dunn revealed that some of the plaintiffs never worked for Dole and others were coached to lie. American judges refused to enforce the verdicts. On its website, Gibson Dunn marketed its skill in defending corporations “with more than a series of defensive tactics, but rather an affirmative strategy to ultimately end the litigation.”

For more, click here.

Bank Frey Official, Swiss Lawyer Charged in Tax Conspiracy

The head of private banking at Bank Frey & Co. in Switzerland and a Swiss lawyer were charged with conspiring to help U.S. clients use offshore accounts to hide millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service.

Stefan Buck, the banker, and Edgar Paltzer, the lawyer, opened and managed undeclared accounts on behalf of U.S. taxpayers at Swiss banks, according to an indictment released April 16 in federal court in New York. While the indictment and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara didn’t identify either man’s employer, the bank confirmed yesterday that Buck is the head of private banking and an executive board member.

Bank Frey “is currently reviewing the legal situation that derives from the indictment brought against a member of its executive board and will comment further in this matter in due course,” the Zurich-based bank said in a statement.

Bank Frey also confirmed that it was referred to in the indictment as Bank No. 1. The bank hadn’t previously been implicated in a U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion that led prosecutors to charge at least 88 people since 2008, including more than two dozen bankers, lawyers and advisers.

UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, avoided prosecution in 2009 by paying $780 million, admitting it fostered tax evasion and handing over data on thousands of clients. Wegelin & Co., the oldest Swiss private bank, pleaded guilty in Manhattan in January to conspiring to help hide more than $1.2 billion in assets from the IRS while opening undeclared accounts for at least 70 U.S. taxpayers who were former UBS clients.

Paltzer, 56, a dual U.S.-Swiss citizen, and Buck, 32, a Swiss citizen, both reside in Switzerland. Neither defendant has been arrested, Bharara said in a statement. Each faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted.

“I am unfortunately not allowed to comment,” Paltzer wrote in an e-mail. “All I can say at this point in time is that I have always tried to do my best. I take the opportunity to thank all of those who support me in these difficult times.”

The case is U.S. v Paltzer, 13-cr-00282, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

For more, click here.

Texas Prosecutor Shooting Suspect Charged With Murder

Texas police said they have arrested a woman in connection with the slayings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.

Kim Williams was arrested yesterday and charged with capital murder in connection with the killings, Justin Lewis, a spokesman for the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office, said yesterday at a televised press conference. She’s being held on $10 million bond, he said.

Kaufman County Jail records show that her husband, Eric Lyle Williams, 46, was arrested and jailed April 13 on a charge of making a terroristic threat and is being held on a $1 million bond. He isn’t charged in connection with the three killings.

McLelland, who promised to catch Hasse’s killer in January, was found shot and killed along with his wife, Cynthia, at the couple’s home near Forney, Texas, on March 30. Hasse was shot and killed in his car near the county courthouse.

Deutsche Bank Appoints Weber-Rey as Chief Governance Officer

Deutsche Bank AG, continental Europe’s biggest bank by assets, hired Daniela Weber-Rey from law firm Clifford Chance LLP to be chief governance officer and deputy global head of compliance.

Weber-Rey, 55, who focused on financial institutions at Clifford Chance, will join the bank in Frankfurt on June 1, the lender said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. She will report to Deutsche Bank management board member Stephan Leithner in her governance role and serve as deputy to compliance chief Andrew Procter, according to the statement.

Deutsche Bank recently lost at least three female bankers, potentially setting back its effort to boost the representation of women in management. The firm, which has no women on either of its two highest executive committees, intends to increase the number of female senior executives it employs to 25 percent by the end of 2018 from 18 percent in 2012, company filings show.

Deputy finance chief Charlotte Jones is leaving this month, Deutsche Bank said April 3. KKR & Co. said April 8 that it hired the firm’s Sydney-based head of leveraged finance, Diane Raposio. Sofia Sool, head of markets coverage and origination at the German bank’s unit in Moscow, will join UBS AG as co-chief of investment banking for Russia, two people familiar with the matter said this month.

Bafin, the German banking regulator, has criticized Deutsche Bank’s general counsel, Richard Walker, for not speaking German and being based in New York, Der Spiegel reported on April 14, without citing anyone.


Intuitive Lawyer Says Warnings in Robot Surgery Were Ignored

A lawyer for Intuitive Surgical Inc. told jurors that a doctor who used the company’s robot in surgery on a morbidly obese patient who later died ignored warnings that the operation shouldn’t be performed.

Allen Ruby, a partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, defended Intuitive against a lawsuit claiming that the company’s robotic da Vinci surgical system training was compromised by aggressive marketing, and led to errors in removing a patient’s prostate gland, and eventually caused his death four years later in his opening statement yesterday to jurors in state court in Port Orchard, Washington.

Fred Taylor was 5 feet 11 inches tall, and weighed 280 pounds, giving him a body mass index of 39 -- a measurement that should have precluded robotic surgery, according to the training Intuitive provided to Scott Bildsten, the doctor, Ruby said.

“Morbid obesity is not a criticism, it is a medical fact,” Ruby told jurors. Bildsten was asked in a deposition what Intuitive taught him “in regards to the physical size of the patient relative to using the da Vinci.”

“Yes, there were suggestions not to do overly obese patients in your initial procedures,” Bildsten said, according to Ruby.

Bildsten, who is expected to testify as a witness at trial, was warned by Intuitive that for his early procedures with the da Vinci -- at least the first four to six surgeries -- he should choose simple cases and patients with a low body-mass index, Ruby said. “He was taught not to do this in his early cases,” Ruby said.

The case, brought by Taylor’s widow, Josette Taylor, is the first to go to trial of at least a dozen lawsuits filed against Sunnyvale, California-based Intuitive since 2011 alleging injuries tied to its da Vinci surgical system. The robots were used in more than 300,000 U.S. operations last year.

Richard Friedman, a lawyer for Josette Taylor who finished his opening arguments April 16, claimed Taylor was a victim of training Intuitive provided for the robotic surgery. After Intuitive won regulatory approval for its da Vinci robot the training was diluted in an aggressive marketing campaign to increase sales, Friedman claimed.

Intuitive designed a training program to get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its robot that, starting in 2000, was simplified and “watered down so much that nobody’s ever failed -- ever,” Friedman said April 16.

The case is Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc., 09-2-03136-5, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County (Port Orchard).

For more, click here.


BofA’s Countrywide Agrees to $500 Million MBS Settlement

Bank of America Corp.’s Countrywide unit agreed to pay $500 million to settle a lawsuit over billions of dollars in residential mortgage-backed securities that were downgraded to junk.

The accord will end a class action, or group lawsuit, led by the Iowa Public Retirement System, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Toll of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC said yesterday in a statement. The settlement, which couldn’t immediately be verified in court records, requires a judge’s approval, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“This settlement will bring closure to investors who were misled about the quality of the mortgages that Countrywide securitized,” Toll said.

The consolidated lawsuit filed in 2010 sought damages over $351 billion in downgraded Countrywide mortgage-backed securities after the 2007 subprime collapse. The lawsuit was the largest in terms of securities at stake among dozens of cases brought against lenders and underwriters.

U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer in Los Angeles narrowed the case to $2.6 billion in bonds and dropped Bank of America as a defendant.

The case isn’t covered by the $8.5 billion settlement between Bank of America and 22 institutional investors in Countrywide mortgage-backed securities. Investors’ rights to receive trust distributions upon final approval of that accord won’t be affected by the Los Angeles settlement, the bank said.

“After five years of hard-fought litigation, this record-breaking recovery is a tremendous result for MBS investors misled by Countrywide,” Spencer Burkholz, a partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP who represents the Maine State Retirement System, said in an e-mail.

Pools of home loans securitized into bonds were a central part of the housing bubble that helped send the U.S. into the biggest recession since the 1930s.

After the market for the securities evaporated, bankers and underwriters being sued argued that offering documents for those bonds adequately warned of risks. They claimed the securities performed as intended and investors were paid what they were owed from underlying mortgages.

The settlement announced yesterday is expected to resolve about 80 percent of the unpaid principal balance of Countrywide-issued mortgage-backed securities over which claims have been filed or threatened, Bank of America said. It will resolve about 70 percent of the unpaid principal balance of all such securities over which claims have been filed or threatened against all Bank of America-related entities, the company said in its filing.

Goodwin Procter LLP’s Brian Pastuszenski led for Countrywide. The firm declined to comment on the settlement.

The Los Angeles case is Maine State Retirement System v. Countrywide Financial Corp., 10-cv-00302, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

For more, click here.

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