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September 22, 2011 5:46 PM

Wilmer Makes Big Hires in New York and D.C.

Posted by Brian Baxter

CORRECTION: 9/23/11, 11:35 a.m., EDT. The original version of this story included incorrect Am Law 100 figures for Wilmer in the last paragraph. That paragraph has been revised to include the correct figures. We regret the error.

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr scored two big hires this week, snagging a prominent federal prosecutor and an Obama administration insider.

Boyd Johnson III, deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Thomas Strickland, a former chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are set to join the firm in New York and Washington, D.C., respectively.

Strickland, a former partner at Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who also once served as managing partner of Hogan & Hartson's Colorado offices, told The Denver Post that he became acquainted with Wilmer through his previous work at UnitedHealth Group, where he served as chief legal officer for a little less than two years.

Wilmer worked closely with Strickland on reaching an options backdating settlement between UnitedHealth and the SEC in December 2008. Strickland left the UnitedHealth post in January 2009 to serve in the Obama administration as chief of staff to Salazar, a former attorney general for Colorado who also represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 2005 until 2009.

Strickland previously served as U.S. attorney for Colorado from 1999 to 2001—being sworn in the day after the massacre at Columbine High School—and ran unsuccessful campaigns as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Colorado in 1996 and 2002.

At the Interior Department, Strickland helped manage the department's response to last year's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Strickland stepped down in February as Salazar's chief of staff, a move he denied was in response to criticism of the department's handling of the mess.

The Denver Post reports that Strickland vowed to abide by ethics rules and not work on BP–related matters at Wilmer. The firm was retained by the British oil giant to manage the legal fallout from the spill. The Justice Department sued BP and eight other defendants in December.

Meanwhile in New York, Wilmer picked up a veteran prosecutor in Johnson, the second-in-command at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan behind top Southern District of New York prosecutor Preet Bharara. The Wall Street Journal reports that Johnson, a former associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, joined the government in 1999 and has served under five different U.S. attorneys.

Johnson's notable prosecutions included handling the federal government's investigation into a prostitution ring that ultimately resulted in the resignation of former New York governer Eliot Spitzer. Johnson also served as head of the Southern District's international narcotics unit, where he obtained the conviction of former Syrian arms trafficker Monzer Al-Kassar.

The New York Times reports that Jonathan Kolodner, chief of the Southern District's complex frauds unit, will replace Johnson as acting head of the criminal division. Another attorney in the office, chief of the criminal division Richard Zabel, is in line to succeed Johnson as the top lawyer under Bharara, according to the Times.

Zabel is a former cohead of the litigation practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who left the firm in October 2009 for public service. Zabel immediately recused himself from all office matters related to Bernard Madoff. His father—Schulte Roth & Zabel founding partner William Zabel—represented late Madoff investor Jeffry Picower. (The Picower estate reached a $7.2 billion settlement in December 2010 with a bankruptcy trustee and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.)

Wilmer has been making headlines in recent months. The firm found itself in a dustup last week with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren over the potential benefit the firm could reap from the recently enacted federal patent reform bill. Wilmer also won accolades over the summer for its pro bono representation of Dewey Bozella, who the firm worked to have released from prison in 2009 after 26 years behind bars on a wrongful murder conviction.

According to the most recent Am Law 100 financial data, gross revenue at the 890-lawyer firm increased 2.2 percent to $962 million in 2010, while Wilmer's profits per partner increased 17.2 percent to $1.3 million.

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