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This Way to the Lifeboat A key player in the ouster of eight U.S. attorneys from the Justice Department has landed in private practice. Michael Battle, who headed the department’s Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys until earlier this year, will join the Washington office of Fulbright & Jaworski. Battle’s resignation was effective March 16, just as the furor over the firings reached a fever pitch, though friends have said he’d been planning to leave for some time. Battle is the official who made the calls on Dec. 7 to seven of the U.S. attorneys firing them (an eighth was fired earlier). E-mails and testimony about the firings indicate Battle had a relatively limited role in deciding which prosecutors would be canned. Indeed, when some of the fired U.S. attorneys asked Battle why they were being sacked, he told them the decision had been made “on high,” so he was unable to provide any explanation. The public-relations staff of a major law firm typically trips over itself to promote new hires. But in this case, Fulbright is trying to walk a thin line by issuing a release touting Battle’s hiring but asking reporters to “note that he is unavailable for interviews at this time.” By the end of last week, Battle and the firm still weren’t talking. Could his reticence have something to do with the Senate Judiciary Committee having authorized a subpoena for Battle? Before heading the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys (the coordinating office for the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys), Battle was U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, where he won guilty pleas from the terror cell known as the Lackawanna Six. Defense lawyers say the men were forced to plead guilty after the government threatened to declare them “enemy combatants” and strip them of legal rights. In its press release, which makes no mention of Battle’s role in the U.S. attorney scandal, Fulbright says Battle was drawn to the firm through his friendship with the late Michael Shelby. Shelby had been a U.S. attorney in Houston and joined Fulbright in 2005. Battle was one of just a handful of African-Americans to serve as U.S. attorney in the current administration, and until his resignation, he was the highest-ranking African-American lawyer at the Justice Department. At Fulbright, Battle will practice civil and commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense.
Sweet Suit The companies that own Equal and Splenda, the country’s leading artificial sweeteners, dueled in federal court in Philadelphia last week over whether McNeil Nutritionals, the company that markets Splenda in the United States, is misleading consumers with its “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar” tag line. A team of Kirkland & Ellis lawyers, led by D.C.-based partner Gregg LoCascio, is representing Equal’s manufacturer, Chicago-based Merisant Co. Equal claims that McNeil Nutritionals has misled consumers into thinking that Splenda either contains sugar or is a natural product, even though all sugar used in the manufacturing process evaporates and the final product is as synthetic as any other artificial sweetener. “Merisant lost customers who switched from Equal to Splenda because they had received false information and messages about Splenda,” LoCascio says. The company is seeking an injunction to put a stop to what it claims is false advertising and damages to compensate it for lost profits, he adds. Fort Washington, Pa.-based McNeil Nutritionals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, owns and markets the Splenda brand for its U.K.-based manufacturer Tate & Lyle. McNeil, which is being represented by Steven Zalesin, a New York-based partner with Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, claims that the real reason behind Merisant’s suit is the fact that Splenda now outsells Equal 4-to-1. Other lawyers from Kirkland’s D.C. office involved in the case are Gene Assaf, Karen Robinson, Jonathan Brightbill, Jeff Landis, Ken Clark, and Valerie Gutmann. . . . Meanwhile, another D.C.-based group of Kirkland lawyers was busy with a different high-profile case unfolding in a Vermont federal courtroom, about whether states have the right to regulate automobiles’ carbon-dioxide emissions. Partner Andrew Clubok is leading a team of Kirkland lawyers, which also includes D.C. partner Stuart Drake and litigation counsel Stacey Bennett, in representing the auto industry in a suit challenging a Vermont law aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, DaimlerChrysler, and General Motors, along with a number of local auto dealers, filed suit against Vermont over the rule, which calls for a 30 percent cut in the carbon dioxide released by cars by 2009. The automakers claim that federal law largely prohibits states from regulating emissions. Vermont is one of at least nine states that has adopted standards first passed by California in 2004 to limit greenhouse gases. A number of other states are considering similar measures. Kirkland is also representing the auto industry in lawsuits that have been filed challenging the rule in California and other states, but the Vermont case is the first to go to court. Interestingly, the trial got under way one week after the Supreme Court ruled, in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, that greenhouse gases meet the definition of pollutants and told the EPA to take a fresh look at its refusal to regulate them.
Revolving Door Former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele joined LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene, & MacRae last week as a partner in the firm’s D.C. office. Last November, Steele was the Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, which he lost to Benjamin Cardin. The firm says Steele will focus on corporate securities, government relations, and international affairs, with an emphasis on Africa. He will also counsel elected officials and executives testifying before Congress. Steele isn’t a stranger to the law-firm world: Before entering public life, Steele headed his own public-affairs firm, the Steele Group, where he advised institutional and individual clients on legal, business, and political issues. And Steele began his legal career as a corporate securities associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. . . . Senior Arnold & Porter partner Eli Whitney Debevoise II started his new job as the U.S. executive director at the World Bank. Debevoise, whose appointment was confirmed by the Senate at the end of March, was sworn in by Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmit on April 6. Debevoise’s practice at the firm focused on international financial transactions, including sovereign lending, arbitration, and international trade.
Keeping Score is Legal Times ‘ weekly column devoted to the legal business scene. Senior reporter Jason McLure contributed to this report. Got a tip? Contact Business Editor Anna Palmer at [email protected].

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