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staff reporter Washington- June 13: Acting as co-lead counsel, Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll wins a $149 million judgment in an antitrust action against foreign suppliers of vitamin B-4, an animal-feed nutrient. June 27: A New York federal judge throws out a Cohen Milstein suit seeking to recover more than $100 million from Wall Street’s Merrill Lynch. The broker and one of its analysts were accused of hyping the value of technology stocks. June 30: Cohen Milstein loses a fight to win reparations for 17 Korean women who were kept as sex slaves by occupying Japanese forces before and during World War II. A federal appeals judge says that he sympathizes with the women, but cannot agree with the firm’s reason for filing the claim in a U.S. court. On to July. Asked if the steady patter of headline-making cases was unusual, a Cohen Milstein associate replied, “We actually have a lot of months like that.” Such is life at the 17-year-old Washington powerhouse. Started in 1986 as a small antitrust and securities fraud practice that sometimes did what partner Jerry S. Cohen called “oddball” work, Cohen Milstein today is a 45-attorney firm with satellite offices in New York and Seattle. The oddball work now is an international human rights practice with cases touching Europe, Asia and Africa. The firm also handles employment discrimination and consumer and environmental claims. D.C. lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Commission, called Cohen Milstein the capital’s “pre-eminent plaintiffs’ law firm.” Six times the firm’s lawyers have appeared before him pro bono for victims of the attack. “They’re a deep-pocket firm. They’re willing to dig into their pockets and do whatever is necessary for their client,” Feinberg said. Managing partner Steven J. Toll declined to disclose the firm’s annual gross revenue, saying only that it needs more than $20 million per year to fund its all-contingent-fee caseload and pay its overhead. But, at its birth, Cohen Milstein had little money and no clients. The firm began as a breakaway faction from Philadelphia’s Kohn Swift & Graf. Securities class action lawyer Harold Kohn had opened his firm’s capital office in 1969 as a two-attorney shop staffed by Cohen and partner Herbert Milstein. They soon hired a 23-year-old associate, Michael D. Hausfeld. Hausfeld admitted that he was available only because he’d just been axed by Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn of Washington, ostensibly for taking up causes. A partner had told him “there was no room in the firm for Ralph Nader types.” Dumbfounded, he recalled telling a colleague, “I’m not Lebanese.” As a young lawyer, Hausfeld wore his hair long and sported a beard. Now 57 and meticulously groomed, he calls himself “a most conservative radical.” Hausfeld and Cohen were pioneers in the field of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act sexual discrimination suits, winning a landmark $20,000 award against the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1974 case Williams v. Saxbe, No. 186-74 (D.D.C.). Taller than Hausfeld and more animated, Toll, now 53, joined in 1979 as a third-year securities litigation associate. Seven years later, relations between the D.C. and Philadelphia offices soured, and the D.C. group declared its independence. “Harold went nuts!” Toll said. Kohn cut off phone service to the D.C. office, ordered the secessionists out of his leased space and slapped them with an injunction barring them from taking any files. He also demanded that they reimburse him for the $2 million he had advanced for ongoing cases. A mediator later ordered that any outstanding fees be split 50/50 until Kohn’s book of business was closed. “We never worked with Harold again,” Hausfeld said. Kohn died in 1999. In 1994, the firm moved into its current space, taking up the fifth floor of a marble-foyered office tower with a 12-story atrium lobby. Feeling self-conscious about the posh digs, Toll recalled thinking, “This a defense firm building.” Two years later, then-associate Cyrus Mehri got a call from an ex-Texaco executive who had secretly recorded colleagues making disparaging racial remarks about minority workers and apparently discussing the destruction of documentary evidence. Cohen Milstein was already pressing Roberts v. Texaco, No. 94CIV2015 (S.D.N.Y.), a race discrimination class action against the company. When news of the recordings got out, Texaco quickly settled the suit for $115 million plus other considerations. More headline-makers followed, including an action against Swiss banks accusing them of wrongly retaining assets belonging to victims of the Holocaust. That case was settled for $1.25 billion. Similar claims were filed against banks in Austria and Germany. Working in conjunction with its on-staff historian, the firm in April filed suit on behalf of the survivors of the 1921 Greenwood riots in Tulsa, Okla. Both the city and the state are defendants. Is it fair to hold companies and governments liable for the misdeeds of their forebears? Hausfeld said, “You can treat companies as natural persons under the law, but they’re not natural. They have an indefinite existence.” He also said, “You become a citizen or a shareholder, you accept the benefits or obligations of that government or company.” Departures and arrivals The Texaco tape made Mehri a star. Offered a partnership interest, he declined and opened his own firm, Mehri & Skalet. Mehri said he left on good terms. Looking back on his 10 years at Cohen Milstein, he noted that the firm had doubled in size during that time. It also lost Jerry Cohen, who died in 1995. Partner Glen Mason left in May 2002 to start his own practice. He too said that he left on good terms, but added that the firm’s character changed as it grew. He said that when he joined in 1990, “ L.A. Law was popular at the time and our firm was like L.A. Law. All of us could go into the conference room and have a meeting. It went from a firm like that to a firm with faces that you didn’t know.” Partner Ann C. Yahner, who originally led the $149 million vitamin antitrust action, In Re Vitamins Antitrust Litigation, MDL No. 1285 (D.D.C.), left in December after starting as an associate 22 years ago. Saying only that she “disagreed with some management issues,” Yahner added, “It was a difficult decision to make, but a good decision for me.” One lasting effect of Texaco, Mehri said, was that it prompted the firm to create a permanent employment discrimination practice, now part of its civil rights group led by Joseph M. Sellers. Sellers joined Cohen Milstein as a partner in November 1997, having been at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights for nearly 16 years. In 1992, he was the civil rights chief for the Clinton/Gore transition team. Asked if he considers the firm to be politically connected, Sellers said “I don’t think of it in those terms. We do a lot of legislative work, we make a lot of policy choices by the positions we take in cases.” Asked a similar question, Hausfeld said, “I’d be naive to say no. There are people here that are known in D.C. circles.” And “there are probably as many Republicans in the firm as Democrats.” Back to July. On the 25th, Sellers will seek certification of what would be the largest employment discrimination class action ever. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. C-01-2252 (N.D. Calif.), pits the world’s biggest retailer against a potential class of more than 1 million present and former female Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart lawyer Paul Grossman of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker declined to talk about the case. But, in his opposition papers, he argued that the nationwide and companywide class could never meet commonality, typicality and manageability requirements. Sellers dubbed that defense the “large company exception,” adding, “as far as we know, there is no such exception.” Harris’ e-mail address is [email protected]

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