Zuckerman Spaeder has chalked up big wins for clients in high-profile cases during the past year. “We are very selective about the cases we bring in and the battles we fight,” partner Cy Smith said. “It grows out of a larger emphasis to staff cases leanly. We’re accustomed to focusing on the critical part of the case to either win or lose in trial or pretrial.”

Established in 1975 by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Zuckerman, the firm has focused primarily on a complex-­litigation practice based in Washington. As a litigation boutique, Zuckerman Spaeder has always maintained a high partner-to-associate ratio. The theory is that keeping the firm lean with top attorneys allows more direct partner contact with clients and allows the firm to tackle big cases at lower cost than larger firms.

In August 2010, the 86-attorney firm won dismissal of wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges against David Wittig, dubbed the “Enron of Kansas” by the news media. In April, a Fairfax County, Va., jury awarded another client, Matthew Lawlor, the former chief executive officer of Online Resources Corp., $5.3 million in damages after he was forced out.

The firm’s largest settlement of the year was $16 million in May 2010 against the state of Maryland for underpayment or nonpayment of pre-eligibility medical expenses for the elderly poor. The win had an important human dimension. It is not uncommon for someone in need of nursing-home care because of old age, disease or disability, but not yet eligible for Medicaid, to pay for expenses out of pocket, Smith said. Often, the nursing home will welcome them into the fold with the expectation that when Medicaid kicks in, the home will be reimbursed. Maryland had failed to follow the federal government’s reimbursement guidelines.

“We felt really good about it,” Smith said. “It wasn’t just about the money, but fixing the law to make sure that they comply with the law in the future.”

The firm leveraged the precedent against the District of Columbia, which Smith called even more slipshod than Maryland. The case has been settled and “D.C. is now in significant compliance with the law,” he said. He expects future such litigation in additional states.

Zuckerman also sports a robust legal profession and ethics practice led by Thomas Mason, chairman of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee.

TERRORISM CASES

And it represents the families of Amer­ican citizens injured and killed in terrorist attacks in seeking damages from a number of banks alleged to have contributed to the harm. In Linde v. Arab Bank, for example, the defendant is alleged to have funneled money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Additional banks are alleged to have provided banking services to Hamas-fronted organizations masquerading as charities.

In another notable action, partner William Taylor III represents former International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. He was freed from house arrest on July 1 after prosecutors began to question the woman’s credibility.

A team including firm Chairman Graeme Bush represented unsecured creditors in the Tribune Co. bankruptcy who were angling for a share of $11.5 billion in senior loans used to finance the leveraged buyout of the media company. Zuckerman Spaeder obtained millions of pages of documents and took deposition testimony from buyout lenders. Ultimately, the firm filed two complaints — one to void the buyout loans as fraudulent conveyances and to subordinate them to the claims of creditors and the second to recover $8 billion worth of distributions to shareholders during the buyout. Partner Jim Sottile wrapped up closing remarks in late June and the outcome is pending.

Matthew Huisman can be contacted at mhuisman@alm.com.