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Robert McCaffrey didn’t attract much attention when he worked nights doing document processing at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s San Francisco headquarters. But McCaffrey — through his online alias Broke Beck — has been one of the brightest stars of the post-Brobeck collapse. For six weeks, Broke Beck rallied his fellow staffers and fought to ensure they got the vacation pay and severance they had coming to them. McCaffrey was unmasked Monday when he was named as lead plaintiff in a suit by former Brobeck employees filed in San Francisco Superior Court. They are seeking 60 days’ severance from their former employer and from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which took over most of Brobeck’s operations. “Robert’s my hero,” said Jayne Loughry, a former senior counsel at Brobeck and one of the plaintiffs in the suit. “It was a courageous thing that he did.” McCaffrey is on vacation in New York and didn’t return an e-mail message to his Broke Beck address asking for comment. Loughry said McCaffrey’s night-shift work didn’t put him in contact with many of his fellow employees. “That makes what he did even more extraordinary,” she said. “There were rumors as to who Broke Beck was. Robert is probably the last person that anyone would have guessed.” Even McCaffrey’s attorney, Reno-based employment lawyer Mark Thierman, said he doesn’t know much about his client. Thierman said he wasn’t even sure what McCaffrey’s job was at Brobeck. Ex-Brobeck partners didn’t return calls seeking comment on McCaffrey or the suit Tuesday. In their suit, McCaffrey and his fellow workers contend that the money for vacation and paid time off didn’t cover the financial burden that Brobeck’s dissolution has inflicted on them. The complaint, McCaffery a/k/a Broke Beck v. Brobeck, 03-418426, is seeking 60 days’ severance pay from Brobeck and Morgan, Lewis. The complaint says Morgan, Lewis, the Philadelphia-based firm that took over much of Brobeck’s operations in February, is an alter ego or successor to Brobeck. Loughry, a senior counsel and 15-year veteran of Brobeck, said she joined the complaint to show support for Brobeck staff. She said she was upset by the behavior of the partners following the announcement that the firm was to disband. “The image that I think of is the Titanic, the romantic image that the officers stood on the deck to make sure the weaker got on life boats,” said Loughry, who is still looking for a new job. At Brobeck, “I saw the officers, the partners, knock people down on the deck to make sure they got on the most comfortable life boats they could.” Loughry — who spent five years on Brobeck’s hiring committee — said she was convinced that Brobeck partners “had no intention of paying vacation and paid time off” and that without McCaffrey’s activism “they could have gotten away saying ‘we’re really sorry, the bank said no.’” The Broke Beck campaign started even before the firm’s final dissolution on Feb. 14. At that time, the firm was sending mixed messages to employees about whether they would receive reimbursement for their accrued vacation and paid time off. McCaffrey — using the Broke Beck alias — went public with the firm’s indecision, alerting employees and the media. A few days later, Brobeck — and its bankers at Citibank — agreed to pay $5 million for vacation time. In an e-mail to The Recorder on Feb. 19, Broke Beck wrote: “Brobeck hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about anything, which is what made my mailing list so unexpectedly popular with both staff and associates. When there is a dearth of information, people will find an alternative means of communication. The wonders of the Internet.” Despite the vacation payout, McCaffrey and his fellow staffers say Brobeck failed to abide by state law that requires 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ severance pay in lieu of notice as a result of a plant closing or mass layoff. McCaffrey hired Thierman, who sent e-mails to Brobeck staff and attorneys, asking if they were interested in joining a suit. “As I’ve said before,” Broke Beck wrote a few days later, “it is now in the hands of God and the attorneys.” McCaffrey and his fellow staffers are just the latest litigants in the ever-widening legal tangle around Brobeck’s collapse. In one of the newest suits to surface, Brobeck’s landlord at its high-profile East Palo Alto offices is seeking nearly $100 million in back rent, damages and attorneys fees. The suit was filed Feb. 18. The complaint, University Circle Investors v. Brobeck, 429321, seeks at least $1 million in unpaid rent, plus damages of at least $97 million and attorneys fees, which currently total $6,225. The suit notes that Brobeck amended the 12-year lease, originally signed in February 2000, four times. The most recent amendment was on Dec. 31. At that time, Brobeck reduced the amount of office space from 142,000 square feet to about 119,000 square feet. The amended lease also included several financial covenants, similar to those in Brobeck’s San Francisco lease with Equity Office Properties-One Market. The San Francisco landlord has also filed suit against Brobeck. University Circle attorney Richard Shapiro, a partner at Thelen Reid & Priest, said his client has filed two suits. One is an unlawful detainer to gain possession of the office space and the other is a claim for damages. Noting that a judgment can be obtained for repossession in about 60 days, while damages can take a year to recover, Shapiro said, “We didn’t want to clog up the unlawful detainer with how much money is due.”

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