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Chicago judge allows United to end pensions A federal bankruptcy judge approved United Airlines’ plan to terminate its employees’ pension plans last week, clearing the way for the largest corporate-pension default in American history. The ruling, which carries broad implications for U.S. airlines and their workers, shifts responsibility for United’s four defined-benefit plans to the government’s pension agency. That will save cash-strapped United an estimated $645 million a year, part of the $2 billion in annual savings it says it needs to line up enough financing to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as soon as this fall. But the cost will be painful to its employees, who stand to lose thousands of dollars annually off their pensions when they are assumed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. United’s pensions are underfunded by an estimated $9.8 billion, of which the government would guarantee only about $5 billion. The previous largest U.S. pension default was Bethlehem Steel’s $3.6 billion in underfunding in 2002. N.Y. is tops in wiretaps The Queens district Attorney’s Office reported many more wiretaps in 2004 than any other prosecutor in New York state, and more than all but two states, according to an annual report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Nearly half of the state’s 444 reported wiretaps came from the New York City borough of Queens. Besides New York state, only California, with 233, reported more wiretaps than Queens. The Queens office reported starting and completing 136 wiretaps in 2004. It reported an additional 80 wiretaps from 2003, bringing the total last year to 216. The New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office documented 76 wiretaps, the second highest in the state. The Manhattan district attorney’s office by contrast had far fewer wiretaps: 15. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the usefulness of wiretaps “has been proven time and time again.” Rand study: Asbestos price tag is $70 billion The Rand Institute for Civil Justice, a public policy group, released a new study that puts a $70 billion price tag on asbestos litigation, in costs to business and insurance companies. More than 730,000 people have filed asbestos claims between the early 1970s and late 2002. Claimants have received about 42 cents of every dollar spent on asbestos litigation, with another 31 cents going for defense costs, and 27 cents to plaintiffs’ attorneys and litigation costs. The number of claims rose sharply through the 1990s into 2002, driven by claims for noncancerous injuries that now account for 90% of new claims. Gibbons opens in Philly Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione-the 180-attorney Newark, N.J., firm-has opened a Philadelphia office, with former U.S. Attorney David W. Marston joining the firm as a partner. Marston joined on May 1, but the firm is still moving into its new office. Gibbons Del Deo managing director Patrick C. Dunican Jr. said the firm plans to employ the same strategy it did in 1997 when it opened its New York City office: Grow rapidly by building on its core practice strength of litigation. Dorsey grows in Calif. Dorsey & Whitney is expanding its Northern California presence with the acquisition of Ritchey Fisher Whitman & Klein, an old-line Palo Alto, Calif., boutique specializing in corporate, employment, tax and estate planning matters. Ritchey Fisher, which over the years has provided Palo Alto with three of its mayors, is celebrating its 40th birthday this month with a letter of intent to merge with the national firm of more than 600 lawyers. About 15 lawyers are expected to join Dorsey within three months. Dorsey came to the San Francisco Bay area three years ago by acquiring intellectual property firm Flehr Hohbach Test Albritton & Herbert; it already has 30 lawyers in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

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