The Work

August 5, 2011 5:45 PM

The Score: Dodgers Case Could Mean a Big Payday for Bartlit Beck

Posted by Brian Baxter

Another week, another round of legal machinations in the Los Angeles Dodgers bankruptcy case.

The latest developments in Dodgerland include a state court judge canceling a planned one-day trial to determine who owns the team, a question that remains unresolved in the wake of the bitter breakup of current team owner Frank McCourt and ex-wife Jamie. A settlement between the estranged couple was scuttled a month ago after Major League Baseball nixed a media rights deal with Fox that would have provided the team with an infusion of cash.

The Dodgers subsequently filed for bankruptcy in Delaware, where this week Fox objected to a plan under which the team was to put its media rights up for sale. The week also saw MLB claim that the Dodgers' outside lawyers from Dewey & LeBoeuf and local firm Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor could be conflicted out of the matter because of diverging interests of the franchise and Frank McCourt. A bankruptcy judge cleared both firms to work on the case anyway. McCourt himself, meanwhile, is seeking to preserve his right to file a massive malpractice case against Bingham McCutchen, which drafted a controversial marital property agreement that lies at the heart of his divorce case.

As The Am Law Daily previously reported in April, Bingham struck first by filing suit against McCourt in state court in Boston, seeking a declaratory judgment absolving the firm of liability from any losses McCourt might suffer in the divorce case. Bingham assembled an all-star legal team of lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Foley Hoag, and Williams & Connolly, while Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott partner Glen Summers in Denver is representing McCourt.

Summers did not immediately respond to a phone call Friday inquiring about his firm's role in the suit. Bartlit Beck, which was named The American Lawyer's Litigation Boutique of the Year in 2009, is known for its success fee arrangements with clients. The firm does not bill by the hour, meaning that it could be in line for a sizable contingency fee in the event a malpractice suit against Bingham proceeds.

"The damages stemming from Bingham's malpractice could be relatively modest, or the damages could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars," states a court filing submitted by the firm in the Massachusetts case.

While McCourt seeks to position himself for a possible suit against his former lawyers, his team's current counsel are battling in bankruptcy court over $150 million in financing to keep the Dodgers operating in Chapter 11. Two weeks ago a judge rejected the team's request to accept $150 million from a hedge fund affiliate of JPMorgan Chase, pushing the Dodgers back into the arms of MLB, a proposition that debtor's counsel has likened to a "deal with the devil."

The week ended Friday with the two sides putting aside their differences and reaching an agreement under which MLB will loan the Dodgers $150 million. The Los Angeles Times reports the deal has one caveat: the league did not waive claims for "past or future violations of the MLB Rules and Regulations" that the Dodgers might have made.

Firms Seize Olympic Rings for Legal Roles

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are fast approaching and already several prominent international firms have landed key roles for the forthcoming festivities.

DLA Piper and British firms Charles Russell and Mishcon de Reya are among a roster of 17 firms and chambers in the U.K. to win spots on a pro bono panel for the games, according to Legal Week, which has the full list of legal advisers.

Legal Week also reports that Herbert Smith and Latham & Watkins are advising on roughly $245 million in refinancing for London's O2 Arena, a 20,000-seat facility once known as the Millennium Dome that will host the gymnastics and basketball competitions.

Among those representing the United Kingdom on the basketball court in 2012: Luol Deng, a South Sudanese-born small forward who plays for the NBA's Chicago Bulls. Deng, whose family emigrated to London when he was a child, recently received insurance coverage that allows him to compete in the upcoming FIBA world championships for his adopted country.

Winston & Strawn advertising, marketing, and entertainment chair Brian Heidelberger, who has also represented NBA star Chris Bosh in domain name litigation, helped Deng clear insurance issues regarding his Bulls contract so he could suit up for Great Britain. Since it hails from the host nation, the team is guaranteed a spot at the 2012 games.

Skadden Seeks to Score in NBA Lockout

It looks more and more like the upcoming NBA season will play out in court, rather than on the court. The league made a preemptive move this week against its locked-out players and their legal counsel by filing suit against the union on Tuesday for allegedly failing to negotiate in good faith on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The NBA's 23-page complaint, filed in tandem with an unfair labor practice charge before the National Labor Relations Board, seeks an affirmation from the court that the lockout--begun a month ago--does not violate federal antitrust laws.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partners Jeffrey Mishkin and Anthony Dreyer are representing the league in the suit against players. Mishkin, a former executive vice president and chief legal officer for the NBA, and Dreyer have advised the league on legal matters in the past. Both advised the league in connection with the Seattle SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City in 2008. Mishkin also helped the New York Knicks orchestrate the release of hometown star Stephon Marbury in 2009.

Also representing the NBA in the suit: Proskauer Rose sports law group cohead Howard Ganz and labor and employment partner and strategic corporate planning cochair Howard Robbins. Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general who left King & Spalding for Washington, D.C.-based Bancroft earlier this year, is also advising the league.

The players union is being represented by its longtime outside counsel at Dewey, which is fronting a team led by global litigation chair Jeffrey Kessler, sports litigation cochair David Feher, and partner David Greenspan. Kessler and Dewey helped the NFL players union reach a new collective bargaining agreement last week after a five-month-long lockout by ownership.

NBA commissioner David Stern, a former Proskauer partner, took a public shot at Kessler on Tuesday, claiming that the union's talk of decertification had proved "distracting" amid the negotiations for a new labor deal. The league's complaint also cited Kessler for using an "impermissible pressure tactic" that had harmed negotiations.

Kessler responded by accusing the NBA of failing to negotiate in good faith, stating that players had not yet made a decision on decertification. The union's executive director, G. William Hunter, whose legal career was recently highlighted by ESPN's Grantland, called the NBA's suit "totally without merit."

Around the Horn

-- A class action suit filed by former college athletes against the NCAA and video game maker Electronic Arts for misappropriating their likeness gained some traction this week when a U.S. district court judge denied EA's motion to dismiss the suit. Former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller filed suit against the NCAA, EA, and the Collegiate Licensing Company in May 2009, with former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon filing a similar suit several months later. The two cases were consolidated last year and plaintiffs' lawyers led by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and Hausfeld are facing off against Keker & Van Nest and Latham (EA), Miller Canfield Paddock and Stone (NCAA), and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton (CLC). (Click here, here, and here for our previous coverage of the suit.)

-- The U.S. women's national soccer team may have lost to Japan on penalty kicks last month in the Women's World Cup final in Germany, but the team's top lawyer is convinced that the sport will benefit in the U.S. from their efforts. Ballard Spahr labor and employment chair John Langel has represented the women's national team for the past 13 years, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

-- If you're a fan of international fĂștbol, you'll enjoy this story from The Independent on Javier Faus, a lawyer and vice president of finance for Spanish soccer super team FC Barcelona. Faus, who once worked for top Spanish firms Cuatrecasas and Garrigues, is reshaping the way that Barca spends its millions.

-- The Pac-12 became the latest collegiate athletic conference to enter the television business last month by announcing its own national sports network through a partnership with several major cable systems. Proskauer chair and sports law group cohead Joseph Leccese and senior counsel Daniel Ganitsky led a team from the firm advising the Pac-12 on the deal. The firm recently represented the Pac-12 on media rights agreements with ESPN and Fox that will complement the creation of the new network. In May, Proskauer advised the Pac-10 conference on a 12-year, $3 billion TV deal.

-- Several former baseball stars are back in the legal-news headlines this week. Federal prosecutors urged a judge in San Francisco to let stand Barry Bonds's obstruction of justice conviction. Attorneys for Roger Clemens claim that prosecutorial misconduct should bar any retrial of their client on perjury charges. Another former all-star, ex-Baltimore Orioles and Anaheim Angels third basement Doug DeCinces, settled insider trading charges filed by the SEC on Thursday for $2.5 million. McDermott Will & Emery's Gordon Greenberg is representing DeCinces, who was charged with three other associates, including Irvine, Calif.-based real estate lawyer F. Scott Jackson.

-- Nixon Peabody continues to find itself on the front lines in the debate over whether the public should pay to build sports stadiums. The firm is known for its public finance expertise, having helped the New York Yankees obtain more than $1 billion in tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of a new stadium in the Bronx. Christopher Melvin, a managing director of Nixon Peabody's public finance practice who joined the firm in December, has been advising Long Island's Nassau County on its ultimately unsuccessful effort to pass a $400 million bond deal to finance a new sports arena. The firm is also in the running to represent Los Angeles on bond financing for a new football stadium, despite having what the Los Angeles Times describes as three potential conflicts of interest.

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