Our first runners-up are Barry Berke, Dani James and their team at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel who this week knocked out the bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy charges facing former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin. U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan on Monday partially granted their motion to dismiss the indictment against Benjamin. The judge found federal prosecutors failed to allege an “explicit quid pro quo” required to bring bribery and fraud charges against a public official in a case involving fundraising for a political campaign. Benjamin was charged in April with receiving campaign donations from New York real estate developer Gerald Migdol in exchange for securing a $50,000 grant for Migdol’s nonprofit in Harlem. Two charges of falsification of records against Benjamin remain pending. The Kramer Levin defense team also includes partner Darren LaVerne and associates Andrew Baum, Michelle Ben-David, Dayna Chikamoto, Samantha Alman, Thomas Twitchell, Bridget Ansel and Rachel Czwartacky, and legal assistants Kimesha Scarbrough and Phillip King.
Runners-up honors also go to a Debevoise & Plimpton team led by the firm’s IP litigation group chair David Bernstein and counsel Jared Kagan for fending off a preliminary injunction bid for client Casa Azul Spirits LLC. The company has been making wine under the Casa Azul trademark for 15 years and recently expanded into the market for flavored tequila sodas. Casa Tradición, the maker of Clase Azul tequila, sued Casa Azul for trademark infringement earlier this year pointing to more than 30 Instagram posts where seemingly confused users tagged its products with the #casaazulspirits hashtag. The Debevoise team, however, argued among other things that the two companies make different products with radically different packaging—aluminum cans versus hand-painted ceramic decanters—and their Spanish names have different meanings—“blue house” as opposed “blue class.” In a decision delivered from the bench at the injunction hearing last week, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston denied Clase Azul’s PI motion. The Debevoise team representing Casa Azul also includes associates Marissa MacAneney, Nicole Flores, Kelly O’Reilly, Kendra Berry and Victoria Reis, with support from senior litigation case manager Marie Ventimiglia.