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Suits Alive And this could be just the beginning. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a racial discrimination lawsuit two weeks ago against more than a dozen subprime lenders. The class action, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, targets a swath of lenders — including Ameriquest Mortgage Co., Option One Mortgage, Washington Mutual, and the languishing Bear Stearns Residential Mortgage Corp. — in an already troubled industry. “While this is the first, we expect there to be a number of different class actions on this issue in federal and state jurisdictions across the country,” says Andrew Sandler, the attorney who leads the consumer financial services enforcement and litigation practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s D.C. office. Sandler’s team is representing several of the lenders in the suit. The firm is also special counsel on lending discrimination issues to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the trade organization for mortgage lenders. The class action alleges that the institutions engaged in discriminatory lending practices against African-American borrowers, giving them higher-rate loans than whites with the same qualifications — actions that, if proven, could violate federal law. “We have had an overwhelming number of calls, letters, and requests for assistance from African-American mortgage customers who are very concerned about their loans,” says Angela Ciccolo, the NAACP’s interim general counsel. But, according to Sandler, it has historically been difficult to prove class status for these types of cases. “Each lending decision involves a complex set of individualized underwriting and pricing considerations, and therefore these cases generally do not meet the typicality and commonality requirements to proceed on a class basis,” he says. The NAACP has already dropped its claim against Citigroup Inc. due to the company’s willingness to have “serious discussions,” Ciccolo says. But the civil rights group says it’s still actively investigating potential claims. “There may be other defendants named before we’re done,” says Richard McIntire, the NAACP’s communications specialist. “There’s any number of facts and information available that lead us to this conclusion that there is institutionalized racism in the mortgage lending process.” In addition, four African-American homeowners in Massachusetts also sued Countrywide Financial Corp. for discriminatory lending practices within days of the NAACP lawsuit.
Accounting for It McGuireWoods lured Christopher Cutler away from the Public Company Accounting and Oversight Board this month. Cutler, who officially started at the firm last week as a partner, will practice in the government investigations section of the D.C. office. Previously, Cutler was the assistant director of enforcement and investigations at the oversight board, an organization charged by Congress with keeping an eagle eye on registered accounting firms pursuant to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. “When I joined the PCAOB, the real allure of the job was because it was a startup, and I was given the opportunity to be the first employee at the Division of Enforcement,” says Cutler, who joined the board in 2003. Cutler also served as senior counsel in the Division of Enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he got to ride the Enron investigation roller coaster from the very beginning. In addition to taking Jeffrey Skilling’s deposition, he investigated the role of various financial institutions in the scandal. But, in the end, the lure of private practice won him over. “First and foremost, I really believe my experience will be able to contribute to the firm’s representation of companies and individuals,” Cutler says. And, of course, his experience with accounting firms.
Konnichiwa, D.C. The District’s got a new firm in town. Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, a Boston-based firm with more than 500 attorneys, opened up shop at the beginning of the month on I Street Northwest. Though the firm itself is full service, the D.C. office, which is still in the throes of unpacking, handles intellectual property matters and is currently staffed by four attorneys and one patent specialist. “We’re working hard to get ourselves settled and procedures in place,” says William Brooks, one of the office’s two partners. Brooks and partner James Armstrong IV specialize in Japanese patent prosecution and both have degrees in engineering. “Together we can handle just about every type of technology,” Brooks says. The two attorneys also have some intriguing hobbies. Armstrong is fluent in Japanese and builds his own kayaks. Brooks probably should have been born a pilot. Currently, he’s logged 2,300 hours of flying time and owns two airplanes: a 1959 Piper Comanche 180 and a 1946 Luscombe. He also plays the trumpet in area swing bands. Brooks and Armstrong came to the firm from Armstrong, Kratz, Quintos, Hanson & Brooks, a D.C.-based intellectual property firm which is now Kratz, Quintos & Hanson. The D.C. shop marks the 10th office Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge has opened in the United States, though the firm also has a representative office in London.
Keeping Score is Legal Times ‘ weekly column devoted to the legal business scene. Got a tip? Contact Senior Editor Douglas McCollam.

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