July 8, 2008 9:17 AM
THE AM LAW LITIGATION DAILY: July 8, 2008
Posted by Jonathan Thrope
Edited by Andrew Longstreth
Countrywide Is Not Ready For Its Closeup
Countrywide, everyone's favorite subprime mortgage piñata, doesn't need any more adverse publicity. So it's no wonder that its lawyers at Goodwin Procter have vigorously opposed a motion to allow cameras in a federal courtroom in Massachusetts where the company and various entities have been sued for racial discrimination in connection with Countrywide's mortgage products.
Last month Courtroom View Network, represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner, asked U.S. district court judge Nancy Gertner to allow its cameras into her courtroom for a July 9 argument on Countrywide's motion to dismiss. Despite the opposition of the Judicial Conference (the federal judiciary's policy-making body) to cameras in federal courtrooms, the Boies team--led by Jonathan Sherman--asserts that local rules permit individual judges to make exceptions. Moreover, the Boies brief argues, the Conference's concern that televised proceedings undermine the courts' credibility is outdated. That position was first articulated during the media circus surrounding O.J. Simpson's criminal trial in 1995, but in the Internet age, when information is more likely to be consumed by targeted audience segments and less likely to be sensationalized, such fears are not necessarily warranted, the Boies Schiller lawyers argued.
Boies Schiller partner Jonathan Sherman knows a good deal about the debate over cameras in the courtroom. As a third-year associate at Cahill Gordon, working under First Amendment pro Floyd Abrams, he represented CourtTV [then a corporate sibling of The American Lawyer] in its effort to televise the O.J. proceedings in Judge Lance Ito's courtroom. Sherman recently teamed up with name partner David Boies in a failed attempt to overturn the ban on cameras in New York state courts.
In Countrywide's response last week to the Boies Schiller motion, Goodwin disputed Sherman's argument that local rules allow CVN to record the July 9 argument. "Cameras and recording equipment have never been permitted in any courtroom in this district for other than ceremonial proceedings," the Goodwin lawyers wrote. They also took issue with CVN's claims that it serves the public good, arguing that CVN, by its own admission, seeks only to provide coverage to paying subscribers. "There is no 'public interest' here, and CVN's commercial advancement...is no reason to undo this district's long-standing policy against courtroom cameras." For more on both sides' arguments, The Am Law Daily links to the Goodwin and Boies Schiler briefs.
Kasowitz Benson: Former IP Head Harassed 12 Female Employees
One dozen can be a such happy number. Of cupcakes, for instance. Or bagels. But not of alleged sexual harassment victims. Twelve victims is the explosive assertion in the latest chapter of the Jeremy Pitcock/Kasowitz Benson saga. In a defamation and breach of fiduciary duty suit filed Monday in New York state supreme court, the Kasowitz firm accuses the onetime head of its IP practice of "a pattern of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other harassment." The Am Law Daily reports that the firm, represented by Sullivan & Cromwell’s Gandolfo DiBlasi and Penny Shane, alleges that Pitcock--who was fired from the Kasowitz firm in December--"regularly targeted the most junior women" at Kasowitz and that "the harassment extended to physical contact and assault." (The PG-rated 20-page complaint is available here.)
Pitcock, meanwhile, not only denies the allegations in the Kasowitz suit but has filed a new one of his own, also in New York state court. Pitcock claims that after he left Kasowitz Benson to join the IP boutique of Morgan & Finnegan, Kasowitz defamed him when it issued a press release saying he was terminated for "extremely inappropriate personal conduct." Pitcock was subsequently dismissed by Morgan & Finnegan and is now unemployed.
Coke Settles Securities Class Action For $137.5 Million
The hits just keep on coming for Coughlin Stoia. On the heels of last week’s record breaking $895 million UnitedHealth backdating settlement came word yesterday of a $137.5 million deal with Coca-Cola in a shareholder class action alleging that Coke artificially sweetened its sales figures. Coughlin and Chitwood Harley Harnes were co-lead counsel for the lead plaintiffs, the Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity and Local 144 Nursing Home Pension Fund (now called 199 SEIU Greater New York Pension Fund). King & Spalding partner Robert Thornton defended Coke, which admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The case promises to be a nice payday for the plaintiffs lawyers at Coughlin and Chitwood. According to court documents filed in connection with the settlement, they intend to ask Atlanta federal district court judge Willis Hunt, Jr., for 26.04 percent of the settlement fund, which would amount to about $36 million. And that’s not counting expenses, which could add $7.75 million to their take.
For the Coughlin firm, that's a far nicer end to the litigation than the one sought by Coke's lawyers. Last October K&S argued in a filing with Judge Hunt that Bill Lerach's guilty plea was reason enough to deny class certification in the case, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. Instead, with yesterday's deal, Coughlin can have a Coke and a smile.
Abbe Lowell Files Appeal For Convicted Trial Lawyer Paul Minor
Long before Dickie Scruggs shocked the tort bar and admitted to conspiring to bribe a judge, federal prosecutors had already bagged Paul Minor, a big-time plaintiffs lawyer from Mississippi. Minor--unlike Scruggs--fought like hell against his 2003 indictment for allegedly providing financial assistance, in exchange for favorable rulings, to Mississippi state judges who were running for office. His first trial ended in May 2005 with a partial acquittal and a jury deadlocked on the remaining charges. The government filed a superceding indictment. Minor went to trial again--with different defense counsel but before the same Mississippi federal district court judge--and in 2007 was convicted on all charges.
Now Minor has turned to his lawyer in the first trial, Abbe Lowell of McDermott Will & Emery, for help in reversing that conviction. (Minor's lawyers at the second trial were solo attorney J. Bradley Pigott and and Dennis Sweet of Sweet & Associates, both of Jackson, Mississippi.) Last week Lowell filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit, arguing that Judge Henry Wingate gave jurors different instructions at the second trial than he did at the first. Specifically, Lowell says Wingate did not tell the second set of jurors that they needed to find evidence of a quid pro quo. Lowell also argues, the White Collar Crime Prof Blog notes, that Judge Wingate erred when he used the bribery standards to sentence Minor to 11 years.
Help Wanted: DOJ Needs Lawyer For Detainee Cases
Now that the Supreme Court has decided Boumediene v. Bush, the Department of Justice is expecting a flood of habeas cases. But DOJ is a bit understaffed, according to Legal Times. (Subscription required.) A grand total of four lawyers are currently assigned to handle about 250 detainee cases. Acting Assistant Attorney General Gregory Katsas has indicated that help is on the way in a letter to chief judge Royce Lamberth of the District of Columbia. He hopes to augment the current team to 50 lawyers, 30 of whom will come from outside the government. But after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit harshly criticized the government’s basis for holding a detainee in an opinion made public on June 30, that job might be a tough sell.
In yesterday’s edition, we incorrectly stated that a settlement had been reached in the Mental Hygiene Legal Service Director’s case against Kings County Hospital, where a surveillance video caught several people ignoring the death struggle of a 49-year-old Jamaican woman. In fact, only an injunction granting preliminary relief was ordered for the Kirkland & Ellis client.