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November 17, 2011 5:25 PM

Prominent Litigation Laterals Take on Prime New York Political Cases

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: 11/18/11, 4:15 p.m., EDT. Stroock's Robert Abrams has terminated his engagement with John Liu, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Chadbourne & Parke and Zuckerman Spaeder have both hired top litigation partners this year. In both instances, the recent arrivals are providing legal representation to high-profile New York political figures.

Less than a month after hiring former New York State attorney general—and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan partner—Robert Abrams to conduct an internal review of his campaign fund-raising operation, New York City comptroller John Liu has hired Zuckerman white-collar crime specialist Paul Shechtman amid a widening federal inquiry into his fund-raising practices. (With the federal probe under way, Liu—often mentioned as a likely Democratic mayoral candidate in 2013—has asked Abrams to suspend his review, according to The New York Times.)

Scrutiny of Liu's finances has intensified since the Times reported last month on what it described as multiple irregularities by donors to his campaign. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan dealt the comptroller a further blow when they charged Xing Wu Pan with contributing $16,000 to the Liu campaign through so-called straw donors—individuals who contributed to Liu and then were allegedly reimbursed by Pan.

Reacting to the charges against Pan, Shechtman told The Wall Street Journal that Liu has been caught up in matters beyond his control. "John Liu is not the first person in political life to have someone try to ingratiate himself by violating the campaign finance laws," Schechtman said. "There's no suggestion that Mr. Liu or his campaign staff did anything remotely wrong."

Shechtman joined Zuckerman as a partner in early October from criminal defense boutique Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman. He was the latest in a series of high-profile lateral hires by the Washington, D.C.–based firm, which has moved aggressively to beef up its white-collar litigation practice in New York.

Shechtman's move to Zuckerman came on the heels of the firm's late September hiring of Steven Cohen, who had spent the previous four years as a top aide to Andrew Cuomo in both the New York attorney general's and governor's offices. Also joining Zuckerman's New York office in October: former Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy partner Andrew Tomback. Cohen, Shechtman, and Tomback all worked together earlier in their careers at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.

While Liu's legal problems may just be starting, former New York State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno won the latest round in his own long-running legal battle this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned Bruno's December 2009 conviction on charges that he had failed to disclose conflicts of interest, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal.

The NYLJ reports that Bruno—who was sentenced in May 2010 to two years in prison but remained free on bail while appealing his conviction—will most likely be retried on charges of theft of honest services involving bribery and kickbacks.

Abbe Lowell, the head of Chadbourne's white-collar defense and regulatory investigations practice group, is representing Bruno and argued his case on appeal over the summer. Lowell has called on federal prosecutors to drop the charges against his client. (William Dreyer of Albany's Dreyer Boyajian is also advising Bruno, a veteran Republican known for his battles with former New York governor Eliot Spitzer.)

Since returning to Chadbourne in May from McDermott Will & Emery, Lowell has also been busy making the media rounds as the attorney for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former Preston Gates & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig partner now seeking to rehabilitate his image with a new tell-all autobiography.

Lowell is also representing former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on charges that he violated federal campaign finance laws. Lowell joined Edwards's defense when his former lawyers from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom withdrew in August.

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