Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP may be a big beneficiary behind the recent dissolution of Coudert Brothers LLP, whose managing partner in Los Angeles just joined the firm.


The 152-year-old Coudert announced plans last month to dissolve its 20 offices worldwide, including a Los Angeles office with 10 partners and 13 associates.


David Huebner, the former managing partner of Coudert's local office, said a portion of "the team" may be joining him soon at Sheppard.


"It is likely other Coudert partners from Los Angeles and elsewhere will be coming to Sheppard," he said. "It's a very strong and attractive platform for those of us from Coudert."


Huebner, who handles international technology and pharmaceutical disputes, will be a partner in the business trials practice. He said he is creating an international arbitration sub-practice team at Sheppard.


Sheppard has attracted Coudert's former partners in other cities. Last month, Kevin Goering, who was head of Coudert's litigation group in New York, joined Sheppard's New York office.


Storm Report
Hurricane Katrina impacted only a few local lawyers and law firms.


Fisher & Phillips LLP, an Atlanta-based firm with an office in Irvine that serves Southern California, sent its 28 people in the New Orleans office to temporary space in Atlanta, Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.


James McDonald, managing partner of the 26-lawyer Irvine office, said the firm's 200 lawyers used emergency phone numbers to reach everyone in the New Orleans office.


"We have clients in the Gulf area that have a lot of questions about employment issues related to the rebuilding process," McDonald said. "We thought it was important to get back online as soon as we could in order to serve our clients."


Several local firms established charitable funds to raise money for relief efforts. Foley & Lardner LLP, a Chicago firm with several offices in Florida, agreed to match up to $100,000 in contributions made by the firm's employees, including those in Los Angeles.


Locally based Loeb & Loeb LLP upped its matching contributions to $2 for every $1 it receives and expects to raise more than $100,000 as of this week, said Ron Yano, chief financial officer of the firm.


Other local lawyers contributed whatever they could.


"If any attorneys have temporarily located to California, my law firm in Los Angeles has a number of vacant offices available without charge," wrote Jon Gallo, a partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella LLP, on the Louisiana State Bar Association's Web site. The site has posted an online chat room for clients looking for lawyers, lawyers looking for clients and lawyers seeking office space.


Meanwhile, all the federal cases involving Merck & Co. Inc.'s Vioxx drug many of which are being handled by local plaintiff's attorneys were temporarily relocated to Houston from New Orleans.


Revving Up
A $24 billion trial begins later this month to resolve whether Sempra Energy conspired with El Paso Natural Gas to fix the price of natural gas during the first years of deregulation.


The case, filed in 2000, was brought by various businesses, the State of California, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Burbank, Glendale, Culver City, Vernon and Upland, on behalf of 13 million California customers.


A San Diego County Superior Court judge initially set a trial date of Sept. 12, but lawyers in the case anticipate that the trial would be delayed until later this month.


The plaintiffs say that customers paid excessive energy costs because the executives of El Paso and Sempra Energy, including its subsidiaries Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric, conspired to restrict output in order to drive up wholesale prices.


Specifically, top executives of both companies met in an Embassy Suites Hotel in Phoenix in September 1996 to formulate the plans, according to court papers.


In December 2003, El Paso paid $1.7 billion to settle its portion of the case.


Although Sempra has denied the allegations, the company may consider settling the case before it goes to trial. "Losing the case would be colossally unfair and have a severe impact on the company," said Bob Cooper, a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, representing Sempra.


Comings & Goings
Pamela Johnston, a former deputy chief at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, has joined Foley & Lardner as a partner in the white collar defense practice group. Johnston, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney for 14 years, was most recently deputy chief of the criminal division's major frauds section Fulbright & Jaworski LLP has hired a new head of its four-person labor practice in Los Angeles. Marcus Torrano has joined as a partner of the firm, along with Michael Chamberlin, who will become senior counsel in the labor department; both come from Morrison & Foerster LLP Francie Gorowitz, who created O'Melveny & Myers LLP's trademark prosecution practice, has joined Katten Muchin Rosenman's Los Angeles office as a partner. Gorowitz becomes a member of the firm's intellectual property, and entertainment and media practices. She started her career as a trademark examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


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

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