Kramer Levin Adds Group on Drone Issues: Business of Law

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP is starting a practice focused on legal issues arising from the use of commercial drones.

Brendan Schulman, special counsel at the firm, approached Kramer Levin’s management about creating the group earlier this year. Schulman represents Raphael Pirker, who in 2011 used a drone to shoot a promotional video at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a $10,000 fine against Pirker, the first U.S. enforcement action against a drone pilot. Pirker is appealing the fine before the National Transportation Safety Board, Schulman said.

“It became very clear to me that there was a big need for legal advice in this emerging technology market -- not just in litigation, but also for businesses interested in developing the technology, Schulman said in a telephone interview Dec. 23.

Drone spending is expected to reach more than $89 billion in the next 10 years with annual expenditures more than doubling from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion, as the aircraft take on more civilian tasks, according to Fairfax, Virginia-based consulting company the Teal Group Corp.

Kramer Levin’s unmanned aircraft systems practice will be based in New York and will involve attorneys from several existing groups including corporate, environmental law, insurance, government relations and regulatory, according to a statement from the firm.

Paul Pearlman, Kramer Levin’s managing partner, said in a statement that the firm saw ‘‘an opportunity to formalize a practice area led by informed attorneys who can advise clients in a wide range of industries.”

Lawsuit News

American Express to Pay $75.7 Million for Unfair Marketing

American Express Co. has agreed to pay $75.7 million to settle claims from U.S. financial regulators that it used deceptive marketing practices to sell protection services to credit-card customers.

The company must pay $59.5 million in restitution to more than 335,000 harmed customers, according to the deals announced Dec. 24 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The biggest credit-card issuer by customer purchases violated the law when it misrepresented the costs and benefits of its add-on products, the agencies said.

The agencies assessed New York-based AmEx $16.2 million in penalties for misleading customers from 2000 to 2012 and also billing them for services they never received, according to the regulators’ orders. The deal also requires the company to fix its practices, including its relationships with third-party vendors. The company didn’t admit or deny nor wrongdoing, according to the orders, which focused on multiple AmEx units.

AmEx said in a statement Dec. 24 that it has already paid most of the restitution and stopped marketing the products in the settlements more than a year ago.

“American Express has cooperated fully with the CFPB, FDIC and OCC,” the company said in the statement, adding that it “continues to conduct internal reviews designed to identify issues, correct them and ensure that its products and practices meet a high standard of quality.”

Bank of America Corp. has been negotiating with the consumer bureau to settle allegations it also deceived customers of add-on products, according to two people briefed on the talks. Including Bank of America, the CFPB’s investigation has reached all of the top six credit-card issuers, which account for 68 percent of the market by loans outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The agency also reached settlements with Discover Financial Services and JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Citigroup Inc. said in March it may face penalties from U.S. regulators over the sale of the products.

Yahoo Proposes Date to Try to Settle Privacy Suits

Yahoo! Inc. agreed with lawyers in six privacy suits to meet with mediator to try to resolve accusations that it intercepted e-mails for its own gain without getting consent.

The company faces trial before U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California, and has proposed a session by Jan. 1, 2015, with a mediator from JAMS Inc., the private conflict-resolution company.

The mediation proposal was disclosed Dec. 22 in a court filing. The plaintiffs in the case claim that Yahoo was using personal information gathered from e-mails. Koh in September ruled against Google Inc. in a similar case.

The case is Kevranian v. Yahoo! Inc., 13-cv-04547, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

Law Firm Moves

McKenna Long Adds to Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Group

Blake Ashbee will join McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP as a member of its state government affairs team in Georgia in January.

Ashbee, who will join the firm as counsel, was previously appointed by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to serve as executive director for the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development. Ashbee also has served in senior advisory roles to members of U.S. Congress and at the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as with Fortune 500 companies, the firm said.

“Blake is an exciting addition to our practice group and to the firm,” Eric Tanenblatt, who leads the firm’s national government affairs practice, said in a statement. “His extensive experience and service in the office of the governor will have an immediate benefit to our clients and add new depth to our state government affairs offering.”

In McKenna Long’s Atlanta office, Ashbee will join former Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore of the Georgia House of Representatives Mark Burkhalter, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin, and former Congressman Buddy Darden.

Covington & Burling Adds Partner to Life Sciences Practice

Adem Koyuncu is joining Covington & Burling LLP in its life sciences practice as a partner, along with associate Sabine Stute. Koyuncu and Stute, who will be in the firm’s Brussels office, will focus on issues involving German law and European Union law.

Koyuncu, who is both a lawyer and a doctor, has a life sciences practice that focuses on EU and German regulatory issues pertaining to pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other health and consumer products. His practice also involves compliance, privacy, and product liability matters.

Most recently, Koyuncu was partner and co-chairman of the global life sciences group of Mayer Brown LLP. Before joining private practice, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry and also has practiced as a medical doctor.

“Our Brussels office serves as a hub for advising clients on national and pan-European life sciences matters across the entire European Union,” Timothy Hester, Covington’s chairman, said in a statement. “Dr. Koyuncu’s arrival significantly strengthens our ability to advise a broad range of clients in the pharmaceuticals and medical devices industries on matters in Germany, the EU and Europe.”

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