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BROBECK CHIPPING AWAY AT ITS CITIBANK DEBTS Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison may be breathing a bit easier after shedding more than half its debt load. Former partner Stephen Snyder, the head of Brobeck’s liquidation committee, said last week that the defunct firm had collected almost $30 million in outstanding bills. “We have another $30 million in receivables to collect on accounts with a face value of $30 million,” he said. When Brobeck shut down operations in February it had a $56 million tab with Citibank. Getting rid of the remaining debt may prove difficult, however, as some clients are disputing Brobeck’s bills. One of those clients, Tickets.com, has taken its dispute with Brobeck to arbitration before the Bar Association of San Francisco. “Tickets.com’s position is that it owes nothing,” said Donald Carlson, of Carlson, Calladine & Peterson who is representing the online ticket seller. Carlson said Brobeck tried to change its contingency fee arrangement with Tickets.com to an hourly rate fee after the firm’s dissolution. Brobeck defended Tickets.com in a copyright infringement and unfair competition suit brought by competitor Ticketmaster Corp. In a February memo to Citibank, Snyder said Brobeck anticipated receiving $10 million from Tickets.com in October. Tickets.com is apparently not the only discontented former client. Carlson said that while no claims have yet been filed, he has “several other cases pending against Brobeck” in which former clients question whether the representation they got was appropriate. Snyder said the fee disputes are a consequence of Brobeck’s dissolution. “Some people just see an opportunity there,” he said. — Brenda Sandburg CLIMB FOR A CAUSE Every Saturday, a team of Pillsbury & Levinson lawyers and staffers meets to prepare for an imminent showdown. On July 11, after months of rigorous training, the six-person group will strap on 40-pound backpacks and climbing gear and attempt to reach the summit of icy, 14,161-foot Mount Shasta. The firm’s mountaineering expedition is part of an event organized by the American Liver Foundation to raise money to fight hepatitis and other liver diseases. Pillsbury & Levinson, a San Francisco insurance coverage litigation boutique, is one of several institutions fielding a corporate team backed by thousands of dollars of pledge money. “We think that it’s a great opportunity for people that have been touched by the disease to either participate monetarily or join in the effort,” said Joann Piccardo, a Pillsbury & Levinson paralegal who is spearheading the effort. Piccardo got involved with the foundation after her husband died from hepatitis C. Last year, she and managing partner Philip Pillsbury Jr. (an avid climber whose resume includes Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier and Mount Whitney) signed on to the Mount Shasta fund-raising ascent. Treacherous weather, including reports of 80-mile-an-hour winds at the top, forced the pair to turn back just shy of the peak that time. But the firm decided to make the climb an annual tradition, and is dedicated to reaching the summit this year. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s worth the hard work to get up there,” said Piccardo. “It’s so beautiful.” – Alexei Oreskovic NAME GAME Local attorney Terry Gross is in the middle of a Hollywood donnybrook. Gross, of Gross & Belsky, is lending his legal muscle to help Spike Lee in a battle with Viacom Inc. Gross, along with Johnnie Cochran and lawyers at New York’s Van Lierop & Burns, is trying to block Viacom from renaming one of its cable networks “Spike TV.” In a suit filed with the New York Supreme Court they claim Viacom intends to capitalize on Lee’s name recognition. Last week Justice Walter Tolub issued a preliminary injunction against Viacom’s use of the Spike TV name pending the outcome of a trial. The new name was to be launched today. “This case is about a media giant trying to steamroll over other people in its way,” said Gross. “I see this as an abuse of the First Amendment.” The legal brouhaha began in April when “TNN: The National Network” — a division of Viacom subsidiary MTV Networks — announced it was morphing into a network for men and changing its name to Spike TV. The network denies it intended to profit off of Lee’s name. But the complaint says that in announcing plans to launch Spike TV, TNN President Albie Hecht said Spike Lee was one of his role models for the name. Viacom attorney Victor Kovner, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, referred calls about the case to his client. David Sussman, general counsel of MTV Networks, could not be reached for comment. But in a court document Viacom argues that there are numerous other “Spikes” in the entertainment world, such as film director Spike Jonze, the 1930′s musician Spike Jones, and the late British comedian Spike Milligan. “The notion that the common word ‘spike’ is so universally and inextricably associated with the director Shelton Jackson Lee, p/k/a Spike Lee, that viewers of a cable television network named ‘Spike TV’ will automatically assume that the word ‘spike’ in that title is a reference to him, or that he is sponsoring that network, is so far removed from reality — let alone the basis for litigation — that defies reason,” Viacom states in its court filing. Gross said that under New York’s Civil Rights Law more than a negligible number of people must perceive an association between a name and an individual for there to be a claim of misappropriation of reputation. Eleven people — including actors Edward Norton and Ossie Davis and former Sen. Bill Bradley — submitted declarations backing Lee’s claim that in the entertainment arena “Spike” evokes Spike Lee. Gross got pulled into the high-profile case through his previous work with Cochran, who gained national prominence defending O.J. Simpson. Gross represented Simpson in an unsuccessful attempt to block distribution of a movie about the trial, claiming it violated attorney-client confidences. For Gross, who specializes in media, intellectual property and constitutional law, working for Lee has been rewarding and fun. Walking with Lee to court one day, Gross recalled, a man at a pastry truck shouted out to Lee: “Whatever we have here is on the house for you.” “He evokes the real feeling and real heartbeat of New York,” Gross said. “It was neat to feel that as we were walking along.” — Brenda Sandburg

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