While the bankruptcy of Waltham, Massachusetts–based electric car battery maker A123 Systems may have given Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney another green energy arrow to fire at President Barack Obama, it’s also enlisted the efforts of several Am Law 100 firms.
A123 filed for Chapter 11 protection Tuesday in Delaware, listing nearly $460 million in total assets against debts of more than $376 million. The company specializes in producing lithium ion batteries used by the electric and hybrid vehicle industry, which has been hit hard by soaring costs and struggling sales. (The Wall Street Journal touched on the sector’s problems in the context of an in-depth look at A123′s collapse this week.)
Latham & Watkins global insolvency cochair D.J. “Jan” Baker, restructuring partners Caroline Reckler and Rosalie Gray, and counsel Adam Ravin are leading a team from the firm serving as lead bankruptcy counsel to A123. Baker came to Latham in 2009 as a high-profile lateral hire from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Mark Collins, chair of the bankruptcy and corporate restructuring practice at Delaware’s Richards, Layton & Finger, is serving as local counsel to the debtor. Neither Richards Layton nor Latham have yet filed billing statements with the bankruptcy court.
A123′s bankruptcy filing represents a steep fall from grace for the company, which raised $371 million through a September 2009 initial public offering that ended up as that year’s largest stock debut in the United States.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr advised A123 on that Nasdaq offering, according to our previous reports, while Ropes & Gray represented underwriters led by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Legal fees and expenses associated with the IPO were $1.8 million, according to an SEC filing at the time by A123.
A123 has also been represented on occasion by Skadden, which received approximately $970,000 from the company for lobbying work from August 2007 through April 2009, according to U.S. Senate lobbying records. In August 2009 A123 received a $249.1 million grant to build a manufacturing facility in Livonia, Michigan, as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package.
Skadden environmental and climate change practice head Don Frost Jr. is listed on a final environmental assessment issued by the U.S. Department of Energy that year detailing loan and grant funding to “retrofit several existing facilities” and build new ones to support lithium battery manufacturing operations.
Federal court records also show that Skadden litigation partner Thomas Dougherty and counsel Christopher Lisy in Boston are representing A123 David Vieau in securities litigation filed against the company earlier this year in federal court in Massachusetts.
James Brandt, the managing partner of Latham’s New York office, and securities litigation cochair Jeff Hammel are also representing A123 and other company executives and board members in two class action shareholder suits filed as the company’s financial situation worsened. (Eric Pyenson serves as A123’s general counsel.)
In May, A123 hired outside advisers to help evaluate its strategic options as orders for its lithium batteries plunged. The company raised $50 million in June, the same month that an SEC filing shows a special meeting of A123′s shareholders was held at Latham’s Boston office. Latham corporate partners John Chory and Roderick Branch, as well as technology partner Susan Mazur, have been advising A123 over the past few months, according to securities records.
Prior to its bankruptcy filing, A123 was hopeful that Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang Group would rescue the company with a $465 million takeover offer. But that bid fell through, Reuters reports, and now Milwaukee-based auto and truck parts maker Johnson Controls (JCI) is poised to take control of A123 via a $125 million section 363 sale in bankruptcy court.
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz corporate partners Andrew Brownstein and David Lam, restructuring and finance partner Joshua Feltman and of counsel Philip Mindlin, antitrust partner Joseph Larson, executive compensation partner David Kahan, and tax partner T. Eiko Stange are leading a team from the firm advising JCI, whose general counsel is Jerome Okarma. (Dennis Archer, a former mayor of Detroit named by The American Lawyer as one of its Lifetime Achievers in 2009 through his role as chairman emeritus of Dickinson Wright, is a member of JCI’s board.)
Bankruptcy court records show that Sidley Austin corporate reorganization partner Bojan Guzina in Chicago is advising Hangzhou-based Wanxiang, which still has interest in buying bankrupt A123.
While A123 has spiraled into bankruptcy, other companies in the electric and hybrid vehicle industry continue to sputter along. The New York Times recently reported on the cash flow issues plaguing Palo Alto–based Tesla Motors, a Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati client that produces electric cars. Earlier this year, fellow environmentally friendly vehicle maker Fisker Automotive began experiencing financial problems, according to our previous reports.