Members of Day Pitney's litigation team.
Members of Day Pitney’s litigation team. ()

Day Pitney’s litigation department has represented some of the best-known companies in the state.

Core clients have included national and global brands, such as Priceline.com and Wells Fargo bank, not to mention some of Connecticut’s most venerable institutions, such as Yale University.

“I think one of the real strengths of our litigation department is our diversity,” said Stanley Twardy Jr., the firm’s managing partner. “We’re split up into six areas of litigation, including torts, white collar and intellectual property, and the amount of work we have in each will vary from year to year.”

The firm keeps a close eye on its caseload so it can shift attorneys to areas of current need. “One thing that’s important is being able to respond to different developments,” Twardy said. “We have a very deep bench, and a significant number of lawyers with talent and experience in all of matters we handle.”

That depth of experience and breadth of skill sets has made Day Pitney the Connecticut Law Tribune’s 2014 Litigation Departments of the Year overall winner in the large law firm category. All told, the firm employs 139 litigators, including 62 litigation partners and 56 litigation associates. A little fewer than half of those professionals are in Connecticut offices in Greenwich, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford.

Day Pitney’s litigators keep busy: they currently have more than 160 cases ready for trial. The litigation department’s approach is to staff each case with a team consisting of key partners, counsel and associates. James Rotondo, a litigation partner, said the key first step is to identify evidence and legal issues that will benefit their clients. “Up front, we try to analyze the cases,” he said.

“We try to find out the dispositive issues, the leverage issues, and we try to drive it there,” Rotondo said. “That’s what any good trial lawyer will do. We try to use our understanding about the facts and our understanding about the law to make good choices early on. We have lawyers on the case to make good choices.”

In terms of assigning lawyers to the cases, he said, “we put together teams on a particular case based on relationships with the clients.”

Department leaders, including Dennis LaFiura, chairman of the litigation department, identify which lawyers are available with the most experience in particular types of cases. “We build from there, depending on what we need and what the lawyers’ strengths are,” LaFiura said.

The litigation team also touts its use of cutting-edge e-discovery methods, which reduce the amount of time corporate clients have to spend on document preparation and review. The firm has a lawyer, Cliff Nichols, who works full time on e-discovery matters.

In terms of significance, one of the most important cases handled last year involved a trip to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Day Pitney’s client was an insurance broker sued by the state over claims the broker violated the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act (CUIPA).

The violation, the state claimed, was based on allegations that the broker did not disclose compensation arrangements with insurance companies, which the state asserted was a violation of the broker’s fiduciary duty. When the lawsuit went to trial in Superior Court, the trial court ruled in favor of the state. That decision was overturned in August 2013 by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which found that breaches of fiduciary duty are not actionable under the statute.

Twardy said the decision “is likely to have significant impact on insurance litigation in the state. The Supreme Court ruled that since a claim of breached fiduciary duty is not among CUIPA’s list of specifically proscribed practices, such a claim could only be addressed by having the law changed by the Legislature, or by bringing a complaint to the state insurance commissioner.”

To prepare that case for argument, the litigation department put together a team of four key partners, five key counsel and five associates, Twardy said. “It was an interesting opportunity to work together in ways we don’t always do,” Twardy said. “It was a big group effort.”

Among other appellate victories, Day Pitney’s commercial litigation team won a victory for Yale University, fending off a defamation claim of $50 million brought by South Korea’s Dongguk University. The Korean school was upset that Yale had erroneously confirmed the academic credentials of an art professor eventually hired by Dongguk, even though she never attended the Ivy League school. The professor was later involved in a scandalous relationship with a South Korean presidential aide.

Dongguk said Yale’s mistake caused a situation that “severely tarnished” the school’s reputation, sparked a criminal probe, and led to a decline in donations and student applications. Yale called the error simply an administrative mistake and argued the lawsuit was without merit.

The Korean university was represented by one of the world’s largest law firms, McDermott Will & Emery. But last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the ruling of a district court judge, who had sided with Yale in granting a motion for summary judgment.

Day Pitney also won a federal court ruling dismissing a class action against Norwalk-based Priceline.com, in which plaintiffs sought recovery of millions of dollars in fees they claimed were improperly collected by the travel website when consumers reserved hotel rooms online. Plaintiffs’ claims were rejected in their entirety, and the dismissal was affirmed in 2013 by the Second Circuit.

The firm had several other notable outcomes, including a jury verdict of $23 million in favor of Wells Fargo against a shopping center developer.

In that case, Day Pitney’s commercial litigators were hired to pursue the developer of a Baltimore shopping center. In 2005, a Maryland court had ruled that several companies controlled by the developer had committed fraud in obtaining a loan from Wells Fargo for the shopping center. The developer was ordered to pay, but never did so. Day Pitney filed a federal lawsuit in Hartford on behalf of Wells Fargo, which claimed the developer had transferred assets from his companies to avoid paying the judgment.

Following a jury trial before U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson in September, a jury found the developer liable for the previous judgment. The case remains pending while Wells Fargo seeks an additional $10 million in punitive damages.

Twardy said the case was unique in its sheer volume of documents. “Discovery in the case was staggering,” Twardy said, “involving the production of approximately 1 million paper and electronic documents and more than 40 depositions.”

The matter, he said, “was a prime example of the ability of Day Pitney to handle large-scale and complex litigation from the filing of the complaint, through contentious discovery and pretrial motions, all the way through trial and posttrial motions.”•