DLA Piper has grabbed the remote for the Al Jazeera Media Network on its reported $500 million purchase of Current TV, the first major transaction in the United States for the Pan-Arab news channel.
Frank Ryan, chair of DLA’s IP group in New York and the deputy chair of the firm’s global sports, media, and entertainment group, is leading a team advising Al Jazeera that includes corporate partners Eric Geppert and Michael Reed, as well as associates Richard Flaggert, Sean Harrigan, and Elena Keil.
The DLA lawyers are working closely with Amin Saad Mahamaed Abdulla, group general counsel for the Qatar-based satellite television network, which last year saw its former chief legal officer Osama Abu-Dehays leave to join British firm Bird & Bird in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
DLA successfully represented Al Jazeera two years ago in fending off litigation filed against the network in the U.S. in 2010 by Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks. (DLA global corporate and finance practice chair Roger Meltzer, who also cochairs the firm’s Americas unit, is a member of the board of directors for ALM Media Holdings, parent company of The Am Law Daily.)
SNR Denton has also handled work in the past for Al Jazeera, representing the network last fall on the launch of a 24/7 news channel in the United Kingdom. Forging a U.S. presence has proved to be a tougher task for Al Jazeera, which is paying a steep price for Current, a floundering station that was conceived in 2005 with Vivendi Universal’s sale of Newsworld International to former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, a Yale Law School graduate who was briefly an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Gore and Hyatt promised a progressive channel that would win over younger viewers and provide a liberal alternative to more traditionally conservative cable networks such as News Corporation–owned Fox News Channel. But ratings never took off and Current became known more for embarrassing episodes featuring its on-air talent.
Last month Current prime-time host Eliot Spitzer, a former New York governor and state attorney general, told reporters that the channel needed to be sold because “nobody’s watching.” A year ago this month, Current’s former chief news officer Keith Olbermann engaged in a high-profile feud with his employer over his role at the network.
Current eventually fired Olbermann last March and hired Paul Weiss and Los Angeles litigation boutique Kendall Brill & Klieger to face off in litigation against the hot-tempered host and his high-powered attorney, veteran litigator Patricia Glaser of L.A.’s Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro.
This fall, the management of San Francisco–based Current decided to move forward with a sale of the network. Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian founder Robert Gunderson Jr., a corporate partner at the firm based in Redwood City, California, tells The Am Law Daily that he received a call from Current on Thanksgiving Day informing him about the decision to sell.
Gunderson says his firm has handled a number of matters over the past several years for Current. That run continued over the past month as Gunderson and fellow Redwood City–based corporate partners Brooks Stough and Michael Irvine worked closely with Current CEO Hyatt on the network’s sale. (After working at Paul Weiss, Hyatt cofounded Hyatt Legal, a low-cost legal services business that he sold to MetLife in 1997.)
Gore, who serves as Current’s chairman, reportedly received $100 million from the sale of his 20 percent stake in the station to Al Jazeera. Gunderson would neither confirm nor deny that amount, but described as overblown reports that Gore wanted the deal done before January 1 to avoid paying increased U.S. tax rates.
David Harleston serves as executive vice president for business and legal affairs at Current. Hogan Lovells and Steptoe & Johnson are also advising the company with respect to regulatory issues related to its sale to Al Jazeera. Steptoe technology partner Stewart Baker, antitrust partner Timothy Walsh, government affairs and public policy partner Stephen Heifetz, corporate partners Kevin Olson and Nancy White, and associate Theodore Nemeroff are leading a team from the firm working on the matter.
Gunderson, whose firm is also advising Jules Kroll‘s New York–based investigative and risk analytics shop K2 Intelligence on its just-announced acquisition of corporate intelligence firm Thacher Associates, adds that Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current became official on Thursday.
Al Jazeera hopes to launch a new U.S.–based news channel called Al Jazeera America later this year. But Al Jazeera itself has long been plagued by allegations that it carries an anti-American bias, and now the network faces another uphill battle: Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second-largest cable operator, terminated its agreement to carry the station following news of the channel’s sale this week.
The move could be part of a plan to renegotiate higher subscriber rates, according to The New York Times, which also reports that Gore took an active role in the negotiations with other cable operators to keep Current on their networks after its sale to Al Jazeera. Forbes reports that as a result of the deal the former vice president—who never finished law school—now has a net worth of roughly $300 million.