Baker Botts, Gibson, Sheppard Mullin: Business of Law

Baker Botts LLP, the fourth-biggest adviser on North American oil and natural gas deals this year, is expanding to Brazil as Petroleo Brasileiro SA and rivals prepare for the 15 billion-reais ($6.5 billion) auction of an offshore lease.

Baker Botts is opening an office in Rio de Janeiro, its first in Latin America in almost 50 years, the Houston-based firm said yesterday in a statement. The company, founded in 1840, has more than 700 lawyers operating in 15 offices worldwide and has been working with Brazilian clients for at least seven years.

Brazil in May held its first oil block auction since 2008, with Total SA, BP Plc and BG Group Plc among the winners. In October, the government is scheduled to auction the offshore Libra oil field with a signing bonus set at 15 billion reais. State-controlled Petrobras will operate and hold at least 30 percent of the field, which the country’s oil regulator says holds from 8 billion to 12 billion barrels of oil. An auction of gas blocks is scheduled for November.

“It’s a historic moment for Brazil -- after a hiatus, the bid rounds are coming quick and fast,” John White, one of two resident partners at the Rio office, said in a phone interview. The office will focus on infrastructure as well as the oil and power business, he said.

Baker Botts has a 13 percent share in the market for North American oil and gas deals this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The firm’s market share for Latin American deals during the past five years is 0.1 percent, the data show.

Gibson Dunn Names Los Angeles and Century City Office Heads

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP litigation partner Christopher Chorba and land use partner Amy Forbes were named co-partners-in-charge of the firm’s Los Angeles and Century City offices. They replace Karen Bertero and Christopher Dusseault, who will continue their corporate and litigation practices.

Chorba was co-chairman of the firm’s class actions practice group. Forbes’s practice is concentrated on land use planning issues, and she has handled matters that involve zoning, planning, the California Environmental Quality Act and municipal law. She was lead counsel to Madison Square Garden Co. in its successful effort to acquire and renovate the live-concert venue, the Forum, in Inglewood, California.

“Gibson Dunn’s Los Angeles and Century City offices embody the firm’s core values of excellence, professionalism, and collegiality,” Chorba said in a statement. “These qualities have helped our lawyers succeed in major matters that make nationwide headlines, such as successfully challenging and overturning California’s Proposition 8 and representing Vivendi in the sale of the majority of its interest in Activision Blizzard.”

Gibson Dunn has more than 1,100 lawyers at 18 offices in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.


AMR-US Airways Antitrust Suit Seen as Difficult to Settle

AMR Corp. and US Airways Group Inc. will have difficulty resolving U.S. objections to their proposed merger, antitrust lawyers said.

The challenge brought by the U.S. Justice Department can be compared with its lawsuit seeking to block AT&T Inc.’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA Inc. in 2011, said Allen Grunes, an antitrust lawyer with GeyerGorey LLP. AT&T eventually dropped its bid for T-Mobile.

“My take is that the deal is dead,” Grunes said. “Based on the complaint, this merger doesn’t look like it can be fixed with divestitures or slot sales.”

The Justice Department, in a complaint filed in federal court in Washington, said the proposed American Airlines-US Airways tie-up would hurt competition in the industry and raise prices for consumers. The government is seeking to permanently block the merger “or any other transaction that would combine the two companies.”

Richard Parker, an attorney for US Airways Group Inc. and a partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, and Joe Sims, an attorney representing AMR Corp. and a partner at Jones Day, told Bloomberg News the government’s suit challenging the $14 billion merger of the airlines is wrong.

Six states and the District of Columbia joined the lawsuit, making settlement prospects even more complex.

That also makes the case less like the division’s January challenge against Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s purchase of Grupo Modelo SAB, which ended in a settlement after InBev agreed to sell a brewery in Mexico along with rights to Modelo’s brands in the U.S. to assure continued downward pressure on beer prices.

“Typically, the government will have already had extensive settlement discussion with the parties,” said Craig Wildfang, an antitrust lawyer with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP in Minneapolis. “The decision to sue only comes after settlement discussions have failed, although that doesn’t mean they can’t come back and take another shot at it.”

The antitrust case is U.S. v. US Airways Group Inc., 13-cv-01236, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The bankruptcy case is In re AMR Corp., 11-bk-15463, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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Ex-Jets Linebacker Thomas Sues Alabama Lawyer Over Investment

A company owned by former New York Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas sued an Alabama attorney and several of his businesses, claiming he was defrauded of a $1 million investment in a waste-to-energy company.

Thomas is the principal and managing member of Thomas Global Group LLC, which sued Donald V. Watkins, a Birmingham attorney who owns Watkins Pencor LLC, according to a complaint in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Thomas, a Birmingham native, invested $1 million in Watkins Pencor in March 2009 after Watkins gave him “highly optimistic representations regarding the profit potential and low risk of the investment opportunity,” according to the complaint filed Aug. 13.

Watkins represented that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had joined the board of a Watkins Pencor affiliate and Martin Luther King III was politically promoting Watkins’s business interests. Four years later, Thomas “has not received back one dollar” and “has not been provided with any information or detail of any kind,” according to the complaint.

Watkins didn’t immediately return a call yesterday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The Jets released Thomas, 34, last year after he had played with the football team since 2002.

The case is Thomas Global Group LLC v. Watkins, 13-cv-04864, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).


Sheppard Mullin Hires Four Partners in California, New York

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP hired three Bay area California partners and a New York corporate partner from four law firms to bolster its corporate and intellectual-property practices.

Peter H. Carson, who was formerly with Bingham McCutchen LLP, where he was co-head of the health-care industry group, joins the firm’s San Francisco office as a member of the finance and bankruptcy practice group.

Lorna L. Tanner, formerly of Foley & Lardner LLP, and Stephanie L. Zeppa, from Dentons LLP, join the firm’s Palo Alto office as members of the intellectual-property practice group and corporate practice group, respectively.

Corporate partner Tom Devaney also joined Sheppard Mullin in the firm’s New York office from Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Carson’s practice is focused on secured and unsecured debt financing, including senior syndicated, asset-based, acquisition, mezzanine, second lien, credit enhancement, recapitalizations and restructurings.

Tanner counsels pharmaceutical, life science and medical device clients on strategic issues relating to the development and management of their global intellectual property portfolios. Her practice focuses on preparing and prosecuting patents, due diligence analyses on patent portfolios for financings, mergers, and acquisitions, and she renders opinions on infringement, inventorship and freedom to operate, the firm said in a statement.

Zeppa has experience in corporate finance and securities matters, such as mergers and acquisitions, capital-raising transactions and strategic commercial transactions. Her primary focus is on emerging growth and technology companies. She also works with investors and financial institutions on capital-raising transactions for emerging growth companies.

Devaney specializes in counseling sponsors and the management teams of private funds, with experience with hedge funds, opportunity real estate funds and core infrastructure and renewable energy funds. He has handled work for clients through the entire spectrum of a private fund’s life cycle, from fund formation and fundraising and related U.S. securities laws and regulations, to investment, operations and administration.

Sheppard Mullin has 630 attorneys in 15 offices in the U.S, Europe and Asia.

Sutherland Adds Two Partners in Team of Four From Dow Lohnes

Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP added four attorneys, including two partners, to the Atlanta office. Matt Block joined the firm’s corporate group as a partner, and Jason S. McCarter joined the litigation group as a partner. All were previously with Dow Lohnes PLLC.

“Their exceptional knowledge and experience with the media, communications, technology and automotive services sectors further enhances our corporate and litigation practices,” Mark D. Wasserman, Sutherland’s managing partner, said in a statement.

Block counsels clients in mergers, stock and asset purchases, divestitures, auction transactions and joint ventures. He also advises on other strategic corporate, governance and compliance matters, the firm said.

McCarter counsels automotive, utility and educational enterprises in business disputes and regulatory investigations. He represents clients facing lending, Uniform Commercial Code, privacy, licensing and contracting-related issues in state and federal courts, as well as alternative dispute forums, the firm said.

Sutherland Asbill has 425 attorneys at seven offices in the U.S. and London.

Katten Adds Charlotte Real Estate Attorney John W. Domby

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP announced that John W. Domby will join the firm as a partner in the Charlotte, North Carolina, real estate practice. He was previously at Winstead PC.

Domby concentrates his practice on commercial real estate financing transactions, with an emphasis on closing new originations of commercial mortgage-backed securities loans, the firm said in a statement.

Katten Muchin has more than 600 attorneys in 13 offices in the U.S., London and Shanghai.

Wilson Elser Adds Dean Rocco to Employment and Labor Practice

Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP added Dean Rocco, formerly a partner with Jackson Lewis LLP, to its employment and labor practice in Los Angeles.

Rocco’s employment litigation practice covers breach of employment contract, discrimination and harassment, violations of disability and medical-leave laws and wrongful-termination matters. He also litigates individual, representative and class-action lawsuits asserting wage-and-hour violations.

“Dean’s extensive and varied background in employment law complements and enhances our growing employment practice in Southern California and nationwide,” David S. Eisen, regional managing partner of the Los Angeles office, said in a statement. “He is highly regarded by clients and colleagues for his proactive risk mitigation work through the advice and counsel part of his practice, and the aggressive and effective manner in which he handles litigation.”

Wilson Elser’s employment and labor practice in Los Angeles and San Diego now has more than 20 attorneys who advise clients on workplace issues and defend employment litigation.

Wilson Elser has almost 800 attorneys in 23 offices in the U.S.

Laura E. Vendzules Joins Blank Rome in the Litigation Group

Blank Rome LLP added Laura E. Vendzules as a partner in the commercial litigation group in Philadelphia. She was previously a partner at Dilworth Paxson LLP.

Vendzules focuses her practice on commercial litigation including derivative and class-action cases. She has experience in contract disputes, fraud and other business torts, director and officer liability, shareholder and partnership issues, special litigation committees, defamation and media law matters, and health-care issues, the firm said.

Blank Rome has lawyers at 12 offices in the U.S. and Asia.


Butler Says U.S. ‘Got It Wrong’ Suing Over AMR Deal

John “Jack” Butler, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and an attorney for the creditors’ committee in AMR Corp.’s bankruptcy, talks about the U.S Justice Department’s lawsuit to block the merger between AMR’s American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc.

Butler speaks with Sara Eisen and Erik Schatzker on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.” Click here for video.