Jennifer Keller, the attorney who won an $88.5 million verdict against Mattel Inc. in the battle over the Bratz doll, has teamed up with three former partners at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to create a new firm based in Irvine, Calif.
Keller now represents Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC in defending claims by the U.S. government that it inflated the ratings on various mortgage-backed securities just before the 2008 financial crisis. On Thursday, she combined her firm, Keller Rackauckas, with Thomas Umberg and Dean Zipser of Manatt to create Keller Rackauckas Umberg Zipser LLP.
Also joining is Keller’s law firm partner, Kay Rackauckas; Allison Shalinsky, who had been an attorney at Keller Rackauckas; and Carole Reagan, a former intellectual property partner at Manatt.
Keller said she is in talks with several additional litigators about joining the firm, including associates. She said she has no plans to bring in more than 14 attorneys. "We like to litigate cases, try cases," Keller said. "I don’t know what the future will bring, but we don’t want to replicate big-firm life. None of us wants that."
In 2011, Keller stepped in at the last minute as trial attorney for MGA Entertainment Inc. in its copyright and trade secrets battle with Mattel, maker of Barbie, over the rights to the Bratz doll. The jury verdict was later amended to a $310 million judgment, although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part on January 24, citing an improper ruling by U.S. District Judge David Carter. The panel tossed an $172.5 million award for theft of trade secrets and allowed $137.8 million in attorney fees and costs to MGA.
In the case against Standard & Poor’s, which is owned by The McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc., Keller is co-counsel with New York’s Cahill Gordon & Reindel and San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest. The three firms moved to dismiss the case on April 22, calling the government’s claims "a stretch." A hearing is scheduled for July 8.
Rackauckas, who worked with Keller on the MGA case, is a former Orange County, Calif., prosecutor.
Before joining Manatt’s Costa Mesa, Calif., office, Umberg and Zipser worked at Morrison & Foerster, which closed its Orange County office in 2008 after the duo departed. Umberg, a former federal prosecutor, had been managing partner of that office and Zipser had headed the litigation department.
Umberg has served three times in the California Legislature.
"I’ve known Tom since he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and I was a defense lawyer," said Keller, who worked on Umberg’s first race for the California Assembly in 1990. "I was impressed with his trial skills, his fairness and his objectivity."
After serving two terms in the Assembly, Umberg, a Democrat, became chairman of President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in California in 1996. Clinton later appointed him deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Umberg served again in the Assembly in 2004 but failed in a 2006 bid for state senator. He now serves on the board of the California High Speed Rail Authority, the group planning a high-speed rail system from Anaheim to San Francisco. A colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, he tried more than 50 felony cases as a JAG officer in Korea, Italy and the United States. He was recalled to active duty in 2004 to serve as a war crimes prosecutor and in 2009 as anti-corruption chief in Afghanistan. In 2011, he was appointed co-chairman of the U.S. State Department’s Public Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan.
Zipser, former president of the Orange County Bar Association and the Orange County chapter of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, was co-chairman of the class action and financial services litigation practice groups at Manatt. He has defended clients including Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. and Cost Plus Inc. in commercial litigation and Target Corp. and Ralphs Grocery Co. in intellectual property cases.