When William C. Ford Jr. wanted to know more about billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's initial offer to boost his stake in Ford Motor Co., he knew whom to call: Los Angeles litigator Terry Christensen.
Christensen may be facing a high-profile trial July 16 on federal conspiracy and wiretapping charges related to the criminal activities of private investigator Anthony Pellicano, but he's still a big player in business and legal circles.
After all, it was the 67-year old Christensen who guided Kerkorian's mid-June deal that upped the billionaire investor's ownership in the Detroit automaker from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent.
Certainly, not all is rosy at the Century City-based law firm he co-founded, Christensen Glaser Fink Jacobs Weil & Shapiro LLP, where he remains managing partner. Recruiting lawyers to work at the firm can be difficult, for example, since he is the only lawyer facing trial related to the lingering Pellicano case. (The government indicted Christensen in March 2006 on charges that he paid a minimum of $100,000 to have Kerkorian's ex-wife, Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, wiretapped during a child support dispute.)
But morale at the firm hasn't suffered, said Patricia Glaser, the partner who will be defending Christensen. "People are being totally appropriate and supportive.
It's wonderful. Terry is my friend and partner of many years, and I expect him to be vindicated."
Many high-profile clients, including Kerkorian and real estate developer Edward Roski Jr.'s Majestic Realty Co., have remained loyal to the firm.
"Christensen Glaser still does our real estate work," said Reon Roski, vice president and managing director of Majestic. "We are happy with them, and look forward to continue using them."
But in addition to serving clients such as Majestic, Christensen Glaser lawyers are preparing to defend their high-profile name partner.
Glaser, who has a Southern accent from her West Virginia roots and a reputation as a tough-as-nails litigator, became the second name on the firm's letterhead in May 2006 after former partner Louis "Skip" Miller left the firm. She will make the opening and closing arguments at Christensen's trial.
Christensen also called on well-known white collar criminal defense attorneys Terree Bowers and Mary Cater Andrus to represent him in the case. Bowers and Andrus are both partners at Washington D.C.-based Howrey LLP and former federal prosecutors."For Christensen, his entire career and legacy is on the line," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor.
Christensen began his legal career in 1966 after graduating from USC's Gould School of Law. He started as an associate at the now-defunct Los Angeles law firm Wyman Bautzer Finell Rothman & Kuchel LLP, where he formed what would become a longstanding relationship with Kerkorian.
In 1987, Christensen left Wyman Bautzer and became president of Tracinda Corp., where he helped form MGM Grand Inc. In 2000, MGM Grand merged with Mirage Resorts Inc. and became MGM Mirage. Kerkorian and Tracinda are the majority owners of MGM Mirage.
Christensen returned to private practice in May 1988 and founded what is now known as Christensen Glaser Fink Jacobs Weil & Shapiro. The firm launched with 14 attorneys, and has since grown to 110.
In February, Christensen Glaser opened a Las Vegas outpost with nine lawyers, partly to better serve MGM Mirage and its $7 billion resort. Christensen Glaser has represented a wide variety of clients, including the City of Los Angeles and Sitrick & Co., the prominent L.A. crisis PR firm. But Kerkorian remains the firm's most high-profile client.
Not all of the firm's clients have been as loyal as Kerkorian and Roski. In March, Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle dropped Christensen Glaser from representing him in a dispute with ex-Disney executive Michael Ovitz.
Burkle sued Ovitz in February 2005 over a business agreement turned sour, and lost after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that a legal partnership between the two former friends never existed. Russell Sauer, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins LLP, is now representing Burkle in the case.
Christensen Glaser also represented Los Angeles-based Kilroy Realty Corp., but the real estate development firm no longer uses Christensen Glaser as their outside counsel.
It is unclear whether these severed relationships are a direct result of Christensen's legal woes, but legal insiders said the firm's lawyers, including high-profile litigator Glaser, have been busy with Christensen's defense. Christensen faces a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.
In June, Christensen's lawyers filed a slew of motions, including a request for the trial to be severed from co-defendant Pellicano. The private investigator was convicted in May, but facing additional counts in the Christensen case.
Christensen's team also moved to suppress key evidence of recorded conversations between Christensen and Pellicano. The tapes allegedly reveal the pair discussing details of the wiretaps on Bonder Kerkorian's telephones.
Last week, the court issued a ruling denying Christensen's request to suppress the tapes.
As the prosecution and defense continue to battle it out during the pre-trial phase, former prosecutors don't see it as likely that Christensen would strike a deal with the government.
"Sometimes these cases are hard to settle," said Marc Harris, a white collar criminal defense attorney in the Los Angeles office of Mayer Brown LLP who is not involved in the case. "The government is probably not in the ballpark that Christensen could live with."
Loyola Law School professor Levenson said the likelihood of Christensen making a plea deal with the government is slim.
"Both sides have too much to lose and are pretty entrenched," Levenson said. "The prosecution feels that it is reprehensible when a lawyer breaches the law."
Although the firm isn't formally charged with any wrongdoing, legal observers said Glaser's representation of Christensen also brings greater risk to the firm.
"With Christensen choosing to be represented by Glaser, it puts the firm more on the line," Levenson said.
And Christensen's current legal situation also makes the firm less desirable for job-hunting associates and partners.
"If you are a partner at a law firm contemplating a move, you have many options," said Lyndon Parker, a Los Angeles-based legal recruiter with Mestel & Co. "And if a firm is in the midst of some troubling times, it doesn't make sense that Christensen Glaser would be on your target list during their time of difficulty."
Christensen Glaser has lost some partners and associates since Christensen's indictment.
The most recent of those departures is former partner Nabil Abu-Assal. A business and intellectual property litigator. Abu-Assal left to join boutique firm Cypress LLP.
And one of the most high-profile departures has arguably been Miller, who started Miller Barondess LLP in July 2006 with Mark Barondess, former of counsel at Christensen Glaser; and Daniel E. Park, a former Christensen Glaser associate. Miller has refused to comment on the reasons for his departure.
The spotlight is now on Christensen and his defense team who will be facing Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Lally and Daniel Saunders.
Lally and Saunders may have gotten a dry-run for Christensen's case in May when they successfully tried the government's case against private investigator Pellicano and co-defendants Mark Arenson, a former Los Angeles police sergeant; Ray Turner, a former Pacific Bell employee; Kevin Kachikian, a software engineer; and Abner Nicherie, a former Pellicano client. All were found guilty of various charges.
Harris said the first trial against Pellicano could serve as a benefit to Christensen.
"The conventional wisdom is that it helps the defense more than the government," Harris said. "They could see the witnesses testify, and have transcripts under oath of some of the witnesses, which is valuable for the defense."
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