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In an Illinois state court filing last week, Kirkland & Ellis is being sued for legal malpractice by a former client that blames the law firm for the loss of a patent case that cost the company $18.75 million. Magnetek Inc., a Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based maker of digital power and motion-control systems, filed the lawsuit against Kirkland on Aug. 14 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Magnetek v. Kirkland, No. 2008L008970. The company alleges that the law firm failed to investigate and discover prior art and misconduct related to the patent that was the focus of a lawsuit brought by Ole K. Nilssen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Magnetek in 1998. Nilssen v. Magnetek, No. 98-C2229. Kirkland spokeswoman Kate Kortenkamp declined to comment on the case or to say which law firm her firm will hire to handle the case. Magnetek has hired Mitchell Katten of Chicago-based Katten & Temple, a three-attorney firm that was formed in April, and Martin Washton, a former Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorney who is now at Los Angeles-based Towle, Denison, Smith & Tavera. Magnetek holds Kirkland responsible for leading it into an $18.75 million settlement that might have been avoided if the company had discovered the prior art and misconduct earlier. After Nilssen won a 2005 arbitration award of $23.35 million, Magnetek “independently discovered” the prior art and misconduct, some of which had been used in other litigation in which Nilssen’s patents claims had been found invalid. The company hired Gibson Dunn, including Washton, as new counsel as well as Mayer Brown to seek to vacate the arbitration judgment in the Northern District of Illinois, but Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan denied the request, saying Magnetek or Kirkland should have been able to get those facts for the arbitration proceeding, the state lawsuit says. Magnetek planned to appeal the decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but dropped the appeal as part of the $18.75 million settlement agreement in June. After the settlement, Magnetek brought in Washton’s new firm plus Katten & Temple to pursue the malpractice lawsuit against Kirkland. Washton, who worked at large firms for 35 years before joining his daughter at his new firm, said it would have been tough to find a large firm to take on the case. “Even though I might like to have another big firm involved, other big firms don’t like to sue big firms,” Washton said in an interview.

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