Archive for the ‘Southern California’ Category

Last Minute: Can Milberg Ward Off Indictment?

May 18, 2006

It looked like Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman and two of its name partners were finally going to be indicted today. As of last night, the attempt to head off indictments with a non-prosecution agreement seemed dead, and the L.A. U.S. attorney announced a press conference for 12:15 this afternoon.

Then the backstage scramble started. First, the press conference was delayed until 1 p.m. Then 2 p.m.

It's not clear whether the delay is the result of last-minute haggling. [Updated: We'd heard from a "source close to the case" (term of art) that there was a last-minute conference call about the indictments. We later heard from a source closer to the case that there wasn't.] But in recent weeks Milberg has balked at prosecutors’ demands that it pay $150 million or so in fines, admit some degree of wrongdoing, waive attorney-client privilege in the ongoing probe, and adhere to restrictions on the way it handles clients to avoid an indictment that could quickly put one of the nation’s top plaintiff firms out of business.

Sources close to the case said the firm and partners David Bershad and Steven Schulman expected to be indicted today, possibly with two or more other minor players who have been negotiating plea deals in recent weeks. But that could all be up in the air if a nonprosecution deal is reached, since such an arrangement would change the track of the government’s investigation, perhaps giving prosecutors an incentive to delay indictments as they pursue new information made available by the firm.

Justin Scheck

Pellicano Name Unlocks Ire in Miller Departure

May 3, 2006

Let the mudslinging begin.

As news of Skip Miller’s departure from Christensen Miller made the rounds around Los Angeles on Tuesday, firm representative Patricia Glaser kept the reasons for his departure vague, saying only that there were longstanding circumstances surrounding the decision.

But when a source close to Miller brought up Anthony Pellicano, the tone soured. The source claimed that Miller's departure was motivated by tensions stemming from the firm's use of Pellicano, the celebrity private eye indicted for wiretapping. That's when a Christensen Miller representative decided to dish more dirty details. In an email to CalLaw.com later that day, a firm representative said the firm had asked for Miller’s resignation as co-head of the litigation department in November.

(UPDATE: CalLaw.com has learned that a major client of Miller's, billionnaire Alec Gores, has been talking to investigators in the Pellicano case.)

“It is unfortunate that someone has attempted to mask the facts by attributing Mr. Miller's departure to a completely unrelated and later-occurring circumstance,” the statement read.

But, in the he-said-she-said spirit, Miller’s spokesman fired back a statement of his own, saying Miller voluntarily relinquished management responsibilities to concentrate on his trial practice almost a year ago.

“He is surprised and saddened by the retaliatory and false characterizations by his partners,” the statement reads.

According to a firm insider, the strains between Miller and other name partners — including Glaser — are nothing new, and his departure is simply heating up long-simmering tensions.

Kellie Schmitt

Rocky Makes TV Debut With One-Two Punch

April 25, 2006

Attorney general candidate Rocky Delgadillo comes out swinging in his first television ad, a 30-second piece launched today on San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento stations. 

Although a recent Field Poll found that most Californians don’t know Delgadillo, the Los Angeles city attorney didn’t tape a traditional warm and fuzzy “let me introduce myself” spot. Instead, he accuses Democratic primary opponent Jerry Brown of flip-flopping on his support of abortion rights. 

Sitting in front of a jury box — a visual retort to Brown’s claims that he’s just a bureaucratic pencil-pusher — Delgadillo calls his opponent’s statements “disturbing” and assures viewers “I’ll protect your right to choose.” Delgadillo’s shot at Brown is a familiar one, and one that the Oakland mayor says is false politicking by a candidate 41 points behind in the last Field Poll. 

But don’t expect Delgadillo to soften his TV image anytime soon. His campaign announced Monday that it has purchased $2 million worth of ad time between now and the June 6 primary. “It’s the start of a campaign where we intend to compare and contrast the two candidates,” Delgadillo campaign consultant Steve Smith said. 

— Cheryl Miller

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

April 21, 2006

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo got a nice plug Friday when he and Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced a joint-agency $1.5 million settlement requiring PepsiCo Inc. to stop using leaded labels on bottled soft drinks imported from Mexico. Too bad the rest of the news last week wasn’t so pleasant for the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

A Field Poll released Thursday put Delgadillo 41 points behind opponent Jerry Brown, a stunning deficit given Delgadillo’s strong fund-raising and constant attacks on Brown’s record as Oakland mayor. Two out of three voters had no opinion of Delgadillo, a bad sign with the June primary less than seven weeks away.

A statement issued by Delgadillo’s campaign said the candidate will continue to campaign “no matter what the odds.” In the coming days, Delgadillo will speak at seven Democratic club events in Southern California, where he does better in the polls against Brown. But he’ll have to return to Sacramento next weekend for the state Democratic Party convention, where he’ll likely be asked to unplug his campaign so Brown can focus on the probable Republican nominee, state Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno.

— Cheryl Miller

Pellicano Periphery: A Dead Dog, a Frisky Fighter & the FBI

March 27, 2006

Make enough phone calls asking about Anthony Pellicano and you’ll eventually come to Seth Ersoff, a show-biz agent who had little — if any — interaction with the celebrity private eye, but whose story nonetheless reinforces what the rest of us already knew about Hollywood: Everybody’s a little nuts there.

Ersofff’s seemingly normal dispute with a client — normal for L.A., given that it involved a famous boxer’s apparent extramarital affair — turned fatal for his wife’s lap dog after Pellicano’s name was invoked. And then there was the alleged novel litigation tactic by an opposing lawyer. “He tried to scare me by initiating a raid on my house with the FBI,? Ersoff said last week.

Ersoff’s suit against the lawyer, Michael Plonsker, Ersoff’s former agent, and boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard was plodding along quietly until the Pellicano scandal blew up; since then, Ersoff’s been talking with reporters from Vanity Fair, the Daily Journal, and various other publications. “It’s so crazy that I never really said anything, and then I lost touch until I found out about all these Pellicano things,? he said.

The full story is up at CalLaw.com.

Justin Scheck

‘So, What’s This About an Indictment?’

March 9, 2006

A key part of reporting on the Los Angeles U.S. attorney’s ongoing probes of big shot lawyers is the “So … I hear you’re going to be indicted? phone call.

They’ve become a rather common occurrence over the past few weeks, as federal prosecutors step up their inquiries of entertainment lawyers connected with celebrity private eye Anthony Pellicano.

When the rumor mills turn, reporters have to follow, even if it results in blindsiding lawyers who may not be involved.

While some hard questions can be couched, there’s really no way to subtly ask someone if they’re going to hauled into court.

The general reaction to such phone calls is a denial. But those denials take many forms, ranging from the high road (“That’s not true, I face no exposure?) to the low (“don’t call me again?) to the full panic (“click?).

Sometimes the necessary follow-up question (“Well, everyone’s saying you’re under investigation. Why is that??) is seen as an attack on someone’s integrity.

“I am honest,? one defensive partner countered.. “I am not a liar.?

When another partner was presented with the question, he responded with shock (but at the charge, or that we found out?). “Uh … no.? Then proceeded to go on a rant about his private investigator preferences and why he has never worked with Pellicano. Nervous much?

Of course, we get awkward questions too … most often a panicked, “You’re not going to print that, are you??

Kellie Schmitt & Justin Scheck

More Salary News, More Associate Grumbling

March 1, 2006

The most popular e-mail forward this week among associates at top Los Angeles firms? Salary complaints.

One memo that was making its way through terminals across the city calls on the partners of Latham & Watkins, O’Melveny & Myers and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to match the $145,000 starting salary and $20,000 increases that some New York firms have adopted.

“My office is usually the last to hear about things like this, but this memo got around the office pretty quickly,? writes one associate in an anonymous e-mail to The Recorder. “Considering the mileage these ‘Memos to Partners’ are already getting in the L.A. law firm community, a certain sense of bitterness and disdain is bound to follow if the ‘Big 3’ doesn’t up the ante fairly soon.?

Another “open memo? posted on message boards hit the e-mail circuit last week. It highlights increasing law school debt, high salaries for counterparts in investment banking, and soaring profit-per-partner numbers.

“In short, when you give $5,000 raised to all but first-years and fail to match modest $20,000 raises (which I believe I have shown are inadequate), you decrease moral [sic] and make me (and many others) want to leave a job that has been at least tolerable and at most satisfying,? according to the memo, signed “anonymous.?

Salaries were also a hot topic at an alumni event for Ivy League schools held in Hollywood this week. When one second-year law school student learned of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges jump to 145K, word spread around the swanky bar faster than a fresh bowl of pretzels.

Explained one unknown law student as she sipped her coconut mojito: “Why not go with the firm that’s adding $10,000 more? Are they really that different??

— Kellie Schmitt

L.A. Firm Pursues Hollywood-Level Technology

February 23, 2006

In the city that brings you “CSI,” “Alias” and a dozen sci-fi movies a year, maybe it’s no surprise that a law firm wants fingerprint scanners on its attorneys’ laptops. Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory, a 200-lawyer Los Angeles firm, is deploying the biometric security measure in its new IBM Thinkpad Tablet PCs.

It’s not the first time Allen Matkins has been a law firm leader when it comes to introducing cutting-edge technology, asserts Frank Gillman, the firm’s IT director.

“What’s rare is for a corporate real estate firm to be a leader in new types of technology,? Gillman explained. “What forces most law firms into technological change is that they have to. Otherwise, they tend to be risk-averse and conservative.?

Riverbed Steelhead Appliances even did a case study on the firm’s recent implementation of its wide-area data services technology, which uses a distributed network to allow faster remote access for its attorneys and clients. Even if firms increase bandwidth, there are often latency issues when running a product from another location. With WDS, the software uses block-size distribution to send data in parts. When a document is changed, it only sends the changes, much like a Web page loads faster if it has already been loaded previously.

“From an attorney’s productivity standpoint, it means the ability to provide local access, regardless of location, without having to invest in a ridiculous amount of bandwidth,? Gillman explained.

(more…)

Sing Your Praises, or Hide Your Raises?

January 21, 2006

The way firms have handled news of the recent salary wars has ranged from assertiveness to secrecy. While some firms have publicly announced the raises and their strategy behind them, other firm leaders have refused to discuss the increases.

The first Los Angeles-based firms to announce the raises — Irell & Manella and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges — were open about the decision. Several months later, larger Los Angeles firms such as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers were tight-lipped about the pay hikes.

Quinn partner Bill Urquhart said it was an easy decision to be forthcoming, especially since the word was already out that Irell was lifting starting salaries.

“With the advent of the Internet, once something becomes public, it seems everyone finds about it relatively quickly,? he said last month. “We didn’t want that firm to have a competitive advantage over us in the middle of recruiting season.?

While Urquhart acknowledged that clients pay attention, he said that, for the most part, they understand why.

“All of them exist in a competitive environment — when they go out and hire, they know what is going on in the marketplace,? he said. “What we’re dealing with is no different — it’s just a different industry.?

Consultant Peter Zeughauser agreed. “I don’t think it will be a client issue this time around. It was in the dot-com era when there were several years of increases, then the Gunderson raise. But now, they’ve been frozen so long.?

Consultant Richard Gary pointed out that some of the first firms that upped the salaries may have been keeping quiet to preserve the competitive advantage, even though, “you can never keep things like that secret for long.?

The tight-lipped approach could also be a response to internal debates on whether to up the salaries, Gary said last month.

“Who wants to be the market leader in associate salaries?? he said.

— Kellie Schmitt

Firms Abuzz Over Salary Rumors

December 16, 2005

Rumors of associate salary increases at big L.A.-based law firms were swirling around Internet message boards this week, but so far there’s been no official confirmation. Message boards such as “Greedy LA” and “The Monkey Scribe” posted claims by purported Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher associates that first-years would see a $10,000 increase, from $125,000 to $135,000. That would put them on par with firms like Irell & Manella that announced salary hikes earlier this year. In dozens of postings, subscribers debated the alleged numbers for other Gibson classes.

Charles Woodhouse, Gibson’s executive director, said he was unaware of any such news.* Managing Partner Kenneth Doran would not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

One associate reached at the firm Friday said he’d heard first-years were getting a $10,000 raise and all other associates were getting a $5,000 raise. Compensation is being addressed in individual associate reviews, not in a firm-wide memo, he said — which could explain the fast-churning rumor mills. Another Gibson associate said Friday that she hadn’t heard official confirmation and wasn’t sure whether it was true: “Rumors are floating around, but we haven’t heard anything from management.?

Other law firm leaders around Los Angeles said they’re keeping their ears to the ground.

John Sherrell, chairman of Latham & Watkins’ associate committee, said his firm was still evaluating associate compensation. “One of the factors you always look at is the market,? Sherrell said. “We are very sensitive to being sure our associates receive top compensation. It’s obviously a fluid situation.?

At O’Melveny & Myers’ Los Angeles office, Managing Partner Seth Aronson said he’d also heard murmurings of associate hikes at Gibson. “We’re continuing to study the market,? he said. “We look at variety of factors, not any one. We continue to strive to be competitive in the market.?

* UPDATE: The Dec. 20 Recorder confirms that Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is raising first-year salaries to $135,000. A few smaller firms, such as Irell & Manella, boosted first-year salaries to $135,000 earlier this year. But Gibson, Dunn is the first major California-based firm to do so, and experts expect it will force other large firms to follow suit after years of holding the line.

— Kellie Schmitt, Marie-Anne Hogarth