The Am Law Daily’s periodic roundup of fees earned by—or owed to—Am Law 200 firms for their work on various engagements begins with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the $1 million-plus the firm is reportedly set to bill New Jersey taxpayers for its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding last September’s closing of several lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge.
The insistence by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration that Gibson Dunn’s tab won’t climb that high hasn’t stopped some critics from labeling the firm’s 344-page report—which cleared the would-be Republican presidential candidate of wrongdoing in the so-called Bridgegate affair—a waste of public money.
Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman told lawmakers Tuesday that Gibson Dunn—whose litigation cochair, Randy Mastro, agreed to give the state a 40 percent discount off his normal hourly rate when the firm took on the assignment—has yet to submit bills for its work on the matter and that the final price tag may not be known for several months. (Gibson Dunn isn’t the only firm clocking billable hours amid the bridge fray. The state’s Democratic-controlled legislature has paid Jenner & Block $201,767 and Hackensack’s Sokol, Behot & Fiorenzo $29,835 for their work on a separate investigation, according to The Star-Ledger.)
Gibson Dunn’s Bridgegate role may not be over now that some Democratic lawmakers are threatening to issue subpoenas to obtain transcripts of its lawyers’ interviews with witnesses, it has prompted public scrutiny of the fees reaped by the firm on other New Jersey engagements. The Star-Ledger reported last month that Gibson Dunn ranked second in fees earned among outside counsel retained by the attorney general’s office in 2013, earning $3.1 million for its work on a high-profile sports betting case involving the North America’s four major professional sports leagues.
Gibson Dunn appellate and constitutional law cochair Theodore Olson has led the firm’s team litigating the matter, which the Christie administration, at least, does not consider finished. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a district court ruling that banned the Garden State from giving its ailing gaming industry a jump-start by introducing sports betting. The state is appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to will hear the case.
Olson, of course, teamed up with Boies, Schiller & Flexner’s David Boies in a somewhat unlikely pairing that ultimately persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the controversial California law banning same-sex marriage. (The bipartisan legal luminaries are once again making the media rounds.)
The Washington Blade reported last month that the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the Los Angeles–based nonprofit that helped fund that litigation, paid Gibson Dunn and Boies Schiller a combined total of more than more than $6.4 million to between April 2009 and March 2012, the most recent period for which tax records are available—for their work on the case. AFER’s Form 990 filings show that the organization paid Gibson Dunn nearly $1.7 million to during fiscal 2010; $958,655 in 2011; and nearly $2.8 million in 2012. Boies Schiller, meanwhile, received $468,089 in 2011, according to the tax filings.
Gibson Dunn, which saw its gross revenue rise 7.4 percent in 2013, to nearly $1.4 billion, also continues to represent energy giant Chevron in toxic tort litigation with Ecuadorean plaintiffs. The firm’s Mastro-led team has already submitted a claim for $32.3 million in fees in a related case related that involves embattled plaintiffs lawyer Steven Donziger, according to a report last month by sibling publication The Litigation Daily.
Big Pharma a Boon to Covington
In late February, Hogan Lovells public policy partner Charles Clapton left the firm he joined a little more than a year ago to become senior vice president of federal advocacy at the Washington, D.C.–based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which, as The Deal reported last month, has been active in taking on the Federal Trade Commission in patent cases.
In January 2012, PhRMA hired former Ropes & Gray partner James “Mit” Spears to serve as its general counsel. Tax filings by the trade group, a registered nonprofit, show that Spears received $556,311 in total compensation in 2012, the most recent period for which records are available. PhRMA also paid Covington & Burling more than $2.9 million for legal and consulting work during the same period.
U.S. Senate lobbying records show that PhRMA also has a substantial lobbying payroll, with firms such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld ($320,000), Arnold & Porter ($230,000), Covington ($225,000), Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough ($120,000) and Washington, D.C.’s Williams & Jensen ($120,000) serving the organization’s needs on that front.
Covington’s lobbying ties go beyond Big Pharma. On Feb. 21, the firm filed registration papers with the Senate indicating that it will be representing an informal coalition of corporations—such as Corning, Eli Lilly, General Electric, Microsoft, Nike and Procter & Gamble—working together to safeguard their trade secrets under the Protect Trade Secrets Coalition banner.
For large firms in Pennsylvania, it pays to have ties to political interests.
Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners—the group behind a failed bid to build a Foxwoods Casino in South Philadelphia—filed for bankruptcy last week in the City of Brotherly Love. The debtors’ list of unsecured creditors includes a bevy of large firms: Cozen O’Connor (which is owed $6.46 million); Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg ($1.26 million); Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel ($940,757); Blank Rome ($812,231) and Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott ($677,930).
Cozen is also seeking bankruptcy court approval to continue representing the debtor as it tries to recoup a $50 million casino-operating licensing fee that was revoked in 2012, according to sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer. (The Intelligencer reported earlier this year on an unrelated case involving Cozen’s request to forgive $450,000 owed to the firm by current state Rep. Robert Brady in connection with his unsuccessful 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia.)
The State of Pennsylvania has also been a Cozen client, with Harrisburg television station WHTM reporting in late March that the firm was paid $631,129 to represent Gov. Tom Corbett’s office in a short-lived suit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association over penalties levied against Penn State University as a result of the sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. A federal judge dismissed the suit last summer.
Other firms being paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers include: DLA Piper (nearly $3.4 million) and Blank Rome ($200,000) for their work on an ill-fated state lottery privatization plan; and Drinker Biddle & Reath (nearly $1 million) for serving as outside counsel on a controversial voter identification case. Sibling publication Corporate Counsel notes that the legal services contracts have alarmed some critics, who claim they’re awarded after political considerations are taken into account.
Elsewhere in the Keystone State, a federal judge in Pittsburgh recently added $366 million to Carnegie Mellon University’s $1.17 billion patent award in a technology dispute with Marvell Technology, according to The Legal Intelligencer. The ruling was a boon to university’s lawyers from K&L Gates, which a 2011 Carnegie Mellon tax filing shows has been paid more than $4 million for its services.
Bonkers About Bitcoin
What to make of bitcoin, which has stirred controversy and confusion in everything from the identify of its mysterious creator to its effect on financial markets, and has now established a beachhead around the corner from The Am Law Daily’s headquarters near Wall Street?
Efforts by regulators in the U.S. and abroad to figure out how to handle bitcoin have gained new urgency in the wake of the stunning collapse of bitcoin exchange operator MtGox, which has retained Baker & McKenzie to represent it in bankruptcy proceedings in Tokyo and Dallas. A federal judge in Chicago has frozen the assets of MtGox CEO Robert “Magical Tux” Karpeles over the company’s loss of roughly $400 million of customer funds. (Baker & McKenzie helped Karpeles acquire a trademark to the bitcoin name in Europe.)
As a result, bitcoin is trying to clean up its image. The Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group that seeks to promote the crypto-currency’s mission worldwide, recently hired Harvard Law School graduate Jim Harper—a former director of information and policy studies at libertarian think tank the Cato Institute—to become its new global policy counsel. Harper will remain a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, which tax filings show paid Polsinelli $782,359 to for legal work in 2013.
—Brendan Eich recently stepped down as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation—the Mountain View, Calif.–based nonprofit behind the popular Firefox browser—amid an outcry over his opposition to gay marriage. Mozilla’s 2011 tax filing shows it paid Washington, D.C.’s Caplin & Drysdale $107,493 for legal services. No law firms are listed among its top five outside contractors for 2012.
—The U.S. Department of Commerce announced tlast month hat it would seek to cede some of its control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit that manages the world’s Internet domain name system. ICANN is in the midst of rolling out new domain names, a process for which it has relied on Jones Day for counsel. ICANN’s 2011 tax filing shows it paid the firm $1.9 million for legal services.
—Hogan Lovells, which recently helped a German client prevail in a first-of-its-kind trademark dispute involving ICANN, won a $167,000 judgment last week in a fee dispute with former client People Express Airlines, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. The firm had sued its former client in D.C. Superior Court in December in a bid to get paid for unspecified legal work. (Hogan Lovells also received more than $1.5 million from March 2013 through January of this year for its work representing Colorado Springs in an unrelated pension benefits battle with public employees, according to a recent report by the Colorado Springs Independent.)
—The ongoing shareholder activism debate that has prompted venerable Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz’s founding partner Martin Lipton to once again weigh in with his thoughts in late March piqued The Am Law Daily’s curiosity about the firms doing work for the Managed Funds Association, a Washington, D.C.–based trade group for the alternative investment industry. The organization, which recently partnered up with Latham & Watkins to release a new glossary aimed at demystifying hedge fund jargon, revealed in a 2011 tax filing that it paid Hogan Lovells $344,899; Williams & Jensen $295,000; and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck $259,985. Senate filings show that Williams & Jensen received another $100,000 from the MFA in 2013 to lobby on hedge fund legislation.
—The Motion Pictures Association of America is backing a copyright infringement suit filed this week by six major movie studios against file-sharing service Megaupload, which was shut down by the Justice Department in 2012. The Sherman Oaks, Calif.–based MPAA’s 2011 tax filing shows it paid Jenner $4.4 million; Australian firm Gilbert + Tobin $2.2 million; Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp $1.8 million; and London’s Wiggin LLP $955,760. U.S. Senate filings show the MPAA also paid Akin Gump $240,000 last year for lobbying work.
—Fish & Richardson has added another $525,018 in legal fees to its tab representing Westfield State University in Massachusetts in an employment dispute with former president Evan Dobelle. In March the university’s trustees approved up to $1.5 million in payments to the firm over the next few months, according to a report by The Republican.