In an unusual move for white-collar criminal defense lawyers, Tom Brown and Kenneth White, two top lawyers at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, have left the firm to form their own boutique in downtown Los Angeles.


Brown & White LLP, which focuses on defending executives accused of crimes, expects to grow to eight or 10 lawyers.


"Being in our own firm gives us more flexibility in representing clients," said Brown, a partner for 10 years who headed the 22-lawyer white-collar practice group at Sheppard Mullin. "There are fewer conflicts, and we're able to cut through a lot of the bureaucracy and just focus on practicing law."


Brown, a former federal prosecutor, has represented John Powell, former principal of Rockbridge Securities, in an investigation by the SEC and U.S. Attorney's Office, and URS Corp. in a federal investigation of city contracts in Los Angeles.


White, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who joined Sheppard Mullin two years ago, had worked for three years at Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP.


Fuming
Three powerhouse plaintiff's firms are the latest to sue the welding industry, claiming that workers were exposed to dangerous fumes that caused neurological damage similar to Parkinson's disease.


L.A.'s Greene Broillet & Wheeler LLP and Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, along with San Francisco firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, sued on behalf of 18 welders in California who claim they would not have worked in the industry had they known they were exposed to fumes containing manganese, a chemical known to cause neurological damage. They are seeking an undetermined amount of damages.


"There is a wealth of knowledge that goes back where this was well known," said Browne Greene, partner at Greene Broillet. "These defendants knew about it, and they took steps, like the tobacco industry, to hide the information concerning its effects."


The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is the latest of about a dozen similar lawsuits filed in recent years against the nation's largest manufacturers and distributors of welding products.


Among the dozens of defendants in the recent case are Unocal Corp. and California Welding Supply Co.


The welding companies deny the allegations.


"It's turned into a situation where somebody who used to be a welder who gets sick blames it on welding fume," said John Beisner, a partner at O'Melveny & Myers LLP in Washington D.C. who has represented the welding defendants in other big cases. "There is no causal link between mild steel welding and the ailments they allege."


Legal Costs
As Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. re-launches a bigger version of its television programming guide, the company faces rising legal costs associated with a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry of its former officers.


Several former officers, including founder Henry Yuen, are under investigation by the SEC for inflating licensing revenues. The trial has been put on hold as both sides battle over whether their severance payments may be frozen.


Meanwhile, legal bills are being paid for by the Los Angeles-based company, which noted in its second quarter report that its "legal expenses in the second half of 2005 are likely to increase significantly over the levels incurred in the first half of 2005."


For the April-June period, Gemstar reduced legal expenses by $5.8 million to $600,000. But the company also filed a complaint last month against its former insurance carriers, alleging they have failed to pay claims filed under its policies.


*Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .


Pro Bono Scorecard
Most lawyers gave up some billable hours to
provide free legal services last year.
-66% gave free legal assistance to the poor or organizations serving the poor
-The average lawyer performed 39 hours of free legal services
-46% provided at least 50 hours of free legal services
-70% said they offered pro bono services as a professional responsibility
-69% said the biggest challenge in providing pro bono services is finding the time
Source: American Bar Association survey of 1,100 lawyers

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