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U.S. law firm mergers are up from last year U.S. law firms completed 34 mergers in the first half of 2005, according to data collected by law firm consultancy Hildebrandt International. The number is up from the same period last year, when 30 mergers took place, and 2003, when there were 25 mergers in the first half of the year. The two biggest mergers between firms so far this year have been Piper Rudnick’s combination with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and British firm DLA, which created a firm with more than 2,600 lawyers, and Pillsbury Winthrop’s merger with Shaw Pittman, the result of which was a 900-lawyer firm. Law school accredited Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., has received full accreditation from the American Bar Association. The school opened in 2000 with 77 students in its first-year class and had 147 students in its 2004 incoming class. The ABA, which has granted accreditation to 191 of the nation’s 224 law schools, requires new schools to operate for five years before it bestows accreditation. The ABA House of Delegates approved the school at its recent annual conference in Chicago. Judge rules for Disney The directors of the Walt Disney Co. did not violate their fiduciary duties in approving a $140 million severance payment to Michael Ovitz in 1996, a Delaware judge ruled last week. In a 174-page opinion, Delaware Chancellor William Chandler III rejected a suit brought by Disney shareholders who claimed that the company should have fired Ovitz for cause rather than approve the payment sealing a parting of the ways between the erstwhile Hollywood superagent and Disney CEO Michael Eisner 14 months after Ovitz joined Disney as president. “Many aspects of [Disney directors'] conduct fell significantly short of the best practices of ideal corporate governance.” Chandler wrote. But, he held, such standards are not those of Delaware common law, which requires only that directors are informed and act in good faith in making decisions. Class status denied in tax shelter lawsuit A federal judge in Arkansas has turned down class certification in a lawsuit against Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Big Four accounting firm KPMG accusing the firms of selling illegal tax shelters to former clients. The decision is a setback for Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann of New York. Bernstein Litowitz, along with Texas firm Patton, Roberts, McWilliams & Capshaw, was trying to become lead counsel, a move the judge also rejected. Wire fraud charges for ex-Greenberg lobbyist U.S. prosecutors last week announced wire fraud and conspiracy charges against Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and partner Adam Kidan for their roles in the purchase of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based SunCruz Casinos LLC in 2000. An indictment unsealed on Aug. 11 charges them with using a fake wire transfer to dupe lenders into financing their $147 million purchase of the fleet of gambling ships from entrepreneur Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis. Abramoff, a former lobbyist in Washington for Greenberg Traurig, is also a key figure in investigations involving House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Allegations surrounding overbilling of Indian tribe clients by Abramoff, while he was with the firm, also have sparked the biggest lobbying scandal in recent memory. Abramoff and Kidan each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud, said the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, R. Alexander Acosta. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $60 million, the amount the two men allegedly bilked from the lenders. The Fort Lauderdale indictment does not address any of the issues raised by investigators and lawmakers in Washington. Abramoff’s criminal defense attorney, Neal Sonnett of Miami, said that Abramoff was not involved in any fraud.

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