SAN FRANCISCO More than a dozen plaintiffs firms are jockeying for lead counsel appointments in shareholder litigation spurred by Hewlett-Packard Co.'s $8.8 billion write down of its acquisition of British software firm Autonomy.
At least seven derivative actions and three shareholder class actions have been filed in the Northern District of California and consolidated before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco.
Serving as lead counsel is a coveted position because it provides greater control over litigation strategy and ultimately a greater share of attorneys fees. Often, parties named as lead plaintiffs also receive financial bonuses for their contributions.
Burlingame-based Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, counsel for a Silicon Valley investment advisor, is among firms eyeing the lead role for derivative litigation, where investors take action on behalf of the company.
The lawyers, led by principals Joseph Cotchett and Mark Molumphy, emphasized their experience trying large fiduciary duty cases in the Northern District and pledged an inclusive approach.
Cotchett's primary competition comes from San Diego-based Robbins Arroyo, counsel to the City of Birmingham retirement system and the first firm to file a derivative lawsuit following the Autonomy write down.
Birmingham is the only institutional investor among the plaintiffs and has the largest financial stake in the litigation, the Robbins Arroyo lawyers asserted in their pitch to share lead counsel ranks with Saxena White, a Florida-based firm.
"Plaintiff Birmingham is precisely the type of sophisticated institutional investor, with a large financial stake in the litigation, that Congress envisioned leading shareholder-initiated actions," the Robbins Arroyo lawyers wrote.
The suits, filed from late November through January, contend HP executives paid too much for Autonomy and covered up problems with the deal.
On the shareholder class action side, several more firms are maneuvering for position, with San Diego's Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd asserting the firm's pension fund clients suffered the greatest hit with estimated losses in the tens of millions of dollars.
Robbins Geller, previously lead counsel in securities litigation related to Enron Corp., has teamed up with Philadelphia's Barrack, Rodos & Bacine.
Under federal securities laws, a plaintiff with the largest financial interest has a presumptive claim to the lead plaintiff spot. But the status of biggest loser in the HP-Autonomy deal is hotly contested.
Lawyers from Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check and Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman insist their clients lost the most by some calculations as much as $119 million. The two firms represent public retirement funds in Oregon and Oklahoma and PGGM Vermogensbeheer, the Dutch pension fund manager.
The pension funds have experience managing litigation and can draw on state government resources, argued Kessler Topaz partner Ramzi Abadou, who heads the firm's San Francisco office.
"The significant resources available to the funds ensure that proposed lead counsel's prosecution of this action will be overseen by attorneys and other professionals who are highly experienced in conducting and supervising complex litigation," Abadou wrote.
Other firms gunning for lead counsel positions include Kaplan Fox; Pomerantz Grossman Hufford Dahlstrom & Gross; Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro; Newman Ferrara; and Berman & DeValerio.