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Skjerven Morrill has been sued by its San Francisco landlord, creating a new wrinkle in the intellectual property boutique’s unraveling. In an unlawful detainer complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday, a subsidiary of real estate giant Boston Properties seeks to evict Skjerven Morrill from its 28th floor office space at Three Embarcadero Center. The suit also seeks roughly $142,000 in back rent from the dissolving law firm, and about $4,000 for every day Skjerven occupies the space after March 1. Skjerven’s attorneys and staff stopped occupying the San Francisco office space Feb. 14, and the firm was expected to remove its remaining furniture and assets from the space that weekend. But according to Glenn Zwang, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Boston Properties’ Three Embarcadero Center, Skjerven had not turned over the keys by the time of the filing. “I can tell you that Skjerven failed to pay its rent and we’re taking the space back,” said Zwang, a partner at San Francisco’s Bartko, Zankel, Tarrant & Miller. According to the complaint, Skjerven pays $120,569 a month on a lease that expires in 2006. It’s unclear whether any Skjerven partners personally guaranteed the lease, a common requirement among landlords entering into deals with law firms. Bruce McDiarmid, a Skjerven partner and member of the firm’s wind-down committee, did not return a call for comment. Skjerven, whose Jan. 31 decision to dissolve came the day after Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s declaration that it was closing shop, is once again tracking the Brobeck storyline. Brobeck was hit with a similar complaint by its landlord within two weeks after the firm announced it was disbanding. Equity Office Properties-One Market is seeking possession of Brobeck’s office space, $682,000 in unpaid rent, plus $20,540 per day for each lawyer occupying leased space from March 1 onward, plus damages and attorneys fees. Wednesday’s action against Skjerven by Boston Properties could be the first of many such suits. Skjerven is currently in negotiations with three other landlords for its offices in San Jose, Newport Beach and Austin. The San Jose negotiations could prove especially crucial as the lease was signed before Skjerven became a limited liability partnership. Since the lease was signed when the firm was still a general partnership, it’s possible that Skjerven’s individual partners at the time could be personally liable. According to one real estate attorney, the unlawful detainer action in San Francisco is not a sign that talks between Skjerven and Boston Properties have broken down. “I think it’s a prudent thing that any landlord would do, just in order to at least start the process. It does nothing to hinder their ability to come to a resolution,” said the attorney, who wished to remain anonymous due to potential conflicts. Mike Buckley, a bankruptcy partner at Reed Smith Crosby Heafey, said the suit could be a move by the landlord to better position itself to collect its debts. If Skjerven were to seek bankruptcy court protection for instance, the landlord’s recovery of unpaid future rent would typically be capped at one year. “There are several principles in bankruptcy that you may be able to blunt or negate if you terminate the lease at this point in time,” said Buckley. “If the lease is terminated before bankruptcy, then the lease is not property of the estate.”

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