Oil workers clean up a pool of water contaminated by oil in Taracoa, whose residents are part of the $6 billion class action suit against U.S. oil giant Chevron (Reuters / Guillermo Granja)
Squire Sanders partners on May 23 were voting on the firm’s proposed merger with Patton Boggs — hours after the former abruptly halted the vote. The hiatus came amid a push in the Southern District of New York to scuttle Patton’s settlement with Chevron Corp. to end the Lago Agria toxic tort litigation, a case that once posed a major obstacle to its merger hopes.
Earlier, Patton agreed to walk away from the litigation and pay $15 million to Chevron. Steven Donziger, a lead advocate for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, last week moved to intervene in that settlement and persuade the trial judge to reconsider it. The effort to intervene had the effect of putting the merger impediment back in place, at least temporarily, though Donziger said through a spokeswoman that was not his goal. “While we did not take this action to block the merger, our concern is about the plight of the Ecuadorians and their unfair treatment by Chevron in U.S. court, not about the future of two law firms,” the spokeswoman said.
The events marked a dramatic turn in what has been a roughly six-month negotiation between the financially struggling Patton Boggs, a Washington-based firm with about 325 lawyers that is known in large part for its lobbying prowess, and 1,227-lawyer Squire Sanders, a global player with roots in Cleveland.
A combination offered something substantial to both: for Patton Boggs, a fix for its fiscal woes; for Squire Sanders, a major boost for its D.C. presence. A Squire Sanders spokesman said the partner vote was expected the conclude on May 23. Patton Boggs partners cast their votes earlier in the week; the results had not been announced by press time. Check NLJ.com for updates. — Katelyn Polantz
HOLDER’S BANK BUSTING
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. on May 19 defended his record on prosecuting large banks, announcing a $2.5 billion criminal plea with Credit Suisse Group A.G. and foreshadowing additional prosecutions. Credit Suisse, charged with helping clients avoid paying U.S. taxes, was the largest bank to plead guilty in 20 years, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Holder for weeks had vowed new criminal actions against major financial institutions. The dearth of major criminal cases against big banks and Wall Street executives has long been a source of attention — and criticism — for the Justice Department. “We will never hesitate to criminally sanction any company or individual that breaks the law,” Holder told reporters at Main Justice. “A company’s profitability or market share can never and will never be used as a shield from prosecution or penalty. And this action should put that misguided notion definitively to rest.” A team from King & Spalding represented Credit Suisse, including partner Christopher Wray, a former assistant attorney general who led the DOJ Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration. Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia presided over the plea hearing. — Todd Ruger
DAVID BARRON CONFIRMED
The Senate on May 22 voted, 53-45, to confirm David Barron for a slot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The Harvard Law School ­professor’s nomination drew objections rooted in his work in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel on memos that justified targeted drone strikes against Americans abroad. “It isn’t about seeing the memos. It’s about what they say and how they dismiss the Bill of Rights,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said before a key procedural vote. These memos, Paul said, are “historic precedent for killing Americans abroad.”
The White House push for Barron’s confirmation included a concession: The administration permitted senators to see a secret Office of Legal Counsel memo regarding drone strikes. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who opposed the government’s effort to keep the drone memo secret, cited the pending public release of the document as a reason he would vote for Barron. Only Democrats and independents supported Barron. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va). were among the senators who voted against his nomination. — Todd Ruger
DONOR DISPUTE SETTLED
Georgetown University is no longer fighting in court with one of its big-dollar donors. Scott Ginsburg, a Dallas businessman who graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1978, gave millions to the school.
Last year, he sued to get his money back, claiming the school violated a contract to name a building after him.
Georgetown countered that Ginsburg gave up the naming rights after he was found civilly liable for insider trading and that he still owed the school $9 million. The two sides reached an agreement, though, and notified a federal judge in Washington on May 19 they were dropping their respective claims.
The notice of dismissal didn’t include any details, and everyone involved was staying mum about the terms of the settlement.
Ginsburg’s attorney, Graeme Bush of Zuckerman Spaeder, said in an email that his client and the school were “focusing on future partnerships.” Using similar language, a spokeswoman for Georgetown said in an email the sides were “focusing on our future partnerships.” She said Georgetown continued “to be grateful” for Ginsburg’s support of the law school. — Zoe Tillman
DOJ, FTC ANTITRUST REPORT
Antitrust lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission brought more cases than their counterparts at the U.S. Department of Justice last year, but DOJ was the clear winner when it came to dominating headlines. According the agencies’ annual merger review report, the FTC issued 25 second requests for information in fiscal year 2013 and brought 23 enforcement actions. DOJ, by contrast, issued 22 second requests and challenged just 15 mergers — but what mergers they were.
DOJ lawyers sued to block the union of US Airways and American Airlines and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s proposed acquisition of Grupo Modelo. Both cases settled with substantial divestitures. Hospital mergers were the most likely to get a close look — the agencies issued second requests in five of 44 hospital transactions. That was followed by chemical manufacturers, for which four of 74 deals got second requests. The best bet for dodging antitrust review? Deals that involved securities, commodity contracts and other financial instruments. There were 135 of them, but not one got a closer look. — Jenna Greene
PATENT REFORM STALLS
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s push for patent litigation reform has stalled, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said. Leahy, the committee ­chairman, removed the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act from the agenda indefinitely. The May 21 announcement came after weeks of negotiation and assurances from both parties that senators had reached agreements on broad parts of a bill.
“I have said all along that we needed broad bipartisan support to get a bill through the Senate,” Leahy said in a written statement. “Regrettably, competing companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement on how to achieve that goal.”
At issue are provisions on issues such as pleading requirements and shifting legal fees. “If the stakeholders are able to reach a more targeted agreement that focuses on the problem of patent trolls, there will be a path for passage this year and I will bring it immediately to the committee,” Leahy said. He said he hopes the Senate returns to the issue this year. — Todd Ruger
A LITTLE HELP FROM THE FEDS
In the escalating battle against cybercrooks, the U.S. government isn’t an enemy, according to top lawyers at private utilities. Speaking on May 21 at Georgetown University Law Center’s Cybersecurity Law Institute in Washington, Michael Mizell of Dayton Power & Light Co. and Leslie Thornton of Washington Gas Light Co. said the feds are important partners in addressing cybersecurity at their companies.
Although the lawyers didn’t discuss specific instances in which the government collaborated with their companies, they said working with the feds has benefited their businesses. Mizell said federal agencies are very interested in ensuring strong cyberdefenses and aren’t just looking to bring enforcement actions after data breaches. “They can still be very harsh to companies who don’t live up to their requirements as they should,” he said, “but they also want to focus on getting it right.”
Thornton said companies can make it clear to government agencies what they can and cannot access. Companies can create “very sophisticated agreements” with the government that prevents it from viewing customer data, for example, she said.
“The truth is they really don’t want to be in your customer data,” Thornton said. — Andrew Ramonas
D.C. BUDGET RULING APPEALED
Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and the D.C. Council are taking their fight over how to manage the city’s budget to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
A federal trial judge ruled on May 19 that the council ran afoul of federal law when it passed a law giving local officials more freedom to spend locally raised funds. The mayor, a supporter of budget autonomy for the District, nonetheless fought the law on the advice of Attorney General Irvin Nathan, who argued the council lacked authority to change the budgeting process set by Congress. The council’s pro bono lawyers at Boies, Schiller & Flexner and Mayer Brown have appealed the ruling, saying they’re “very confident in our legal arguments.” — Zoe Tillman