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With a basic sense of what plays on the playground — that’s how Jerome Epstein says he faces each round of commercial litigation, no matter how complex the law or far-flung the parties. It’s “that idea of fundamental street fairness,” says the D.C.-based partner at Jenner & Block. “Boil it down to what was promised. What do those words really mean, and what did the parties intend?” That mind-set obviously served him well in his extensive work for the telecommunications giant that was MCI/ WorldCom. Epstein, 45, was lead defense counsel on a major class action in which small-business owners alleged that MCI had overcharged them. He plied his arguments before the U.S. District Court in Houston, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — and won every time. In 2004, the 5th Circuit agreed that the class action was meritless. “He definitely does appeal to that simplistic sense of fairness and what’s right and what’s a good, fair balance of things. And that often gets lost when you negotiate a delicate matter,” recalls Maureen Del Duca, once vice president of litigation at MCI and now senior vice president and associate general counsel at Marriott. “He never misses a detail.” Epstein also handled a huge piece of tax litigation for MCI while it was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Nearly 20 states filed 250 claims of tax violations and fraud, totaling $1.5 billion in claims. Epstein and his team were able to forge a consensus among the states, finally reaching a settlement with most of them in 2004 for a comparatively small $315 million. Del Duca remembers how Epstein saw the whole case — “from the smallest details to the big picture.” Over his 17 years at Jenner & Block, he has brought that same legal vision to the problems of many other clients, including Cigna, Exelon, Honeywell, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc. Currently, Epstein is representing Fannie Mae in the mortgage finance giant’s claims of accounting malpractice against KPMG. Filed last year in D.C. Superior Court, the case charges KPMG with 17 counts of negligence. Fannie Mae is seeking $2 billion in damages. Given the complexity of the suit, Beth Wilkinson, general counsel at Fannie Mae, says she’s impressed with Epstein’s comprehensive understanding of the dispute. “He was able to extract from all those details the most important themes,” she says. “I think other lawyers might have gotten lost in the minutiae of the accounting.” Epstein, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1986, got his first taste of litigation while serving as a trial attorney in the honors program at the Justice Department. But after three years at Justice, he was lured away by the carrot of complex commercial litigation and joined Jenner & Block in 1990. “[I say to myself that] the laws are out there, the facts are out there to support what I say is right, if only I look hard enough, if only I think creatively enough,” says Epstein about his approach to litigation. “It’s an absolute constant attention to a difficult balance.”

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