While the popularity of drones continues to soar, a practice group dedicated to unmanned aircraft systems at Morrison Foerster is also taking off.

This year is poised to bring even more growth, especially now that the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled its drone registration plan last month, said Bill O’Connor, a partner at the firm’s downtown L.A. and San Diego offices who leads the group.

“We’re really busy and now we’re expanding into intelligence, robotics and technology beyond just unmanned aircrafts,” he said. “It’s definitely a growth area because of the unique legal and regulatory issues.”

O’Connor helped launch the group, which mostly caters to commercial clients in the drone industry, nearly two years ago. It now includes more than a dozen lawyers from Morrison Foerster’s offices around the country, he said.

But that number, he said, could soon grow because more regulations – such as the ones from the FAA – likely mean more business.

“Every time an issue like this comes up, we’ll have a number of clients come up seeking guidance,” O’Connor said. “It’s becoming an increasingly important subject matter to understand all the legal considerations and regulatory uncertainties. It’s a similar thing you see with Uber and the sharing economy.”

End-of-the-Year Gift

Christmas came early for Carisa Janes, founder and chief executive of popular Venice makeup brand Hourglass Cosmetics, when a panel of judges in London dismissed damaging discrimination claims filed against her and the company.

The decision, issued early last month, was in response to complaints filed by three former Hourglass employees in the United Kingdom who accused Janes of racial discrimination.

The allegations had potential to damage the reputation of Hourglass, which became extremely popular after word got out that its cosmetics line was worn by the likes of Angelina Jolie and other A-listers.

“When you have been falsely accused of something that is so against your personal values and principles, it’s not only disturbing but stressful and traumatizing,” Janes told the Business Journal. “It’s hard to believe that someone would intentionally try to smear Hourglass, our dedicated employees and my reputation just for financial gain.”

Janes, who founded the company in 2004, was vindicated when the three judges agreed that her former employees lacked sufficient evidence to prove they had been victims of discrimination.

“My first reaction was relief,” Janes said. “These accusations were especially offensive to me because we are a highly diverse company where we are all expected to treat each other with respect. I knew I had to stand up for myself and for my company.”

Janes was quick to update her employees after the panel’s decision. She sent a companywide email to share her good news before the holidays.

“When we won the case, it was important to let my company and the public know that the truth prevailed,” she said. “It was a relief, but I was always confident that the claims and allegations were baseless and would be dismissed.”

New Judges

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed four new judges to serve in Los Angeles Superior Court, his office announced late last month.

Francis B. Bennett II, 50, is set to fill a vacancy created when Judge Patricia M. Schnegg retired from the court. He’s a Republican who has served as a deputy alternate public defender at the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender’s Office since 1995.

Joel L. Lofton, 44, will take the place of retired Judge Rand S. Rubin. He has been a public defender at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office since 2005. Lofton is not registered with a party preference.

Thomas D. Long, 58, partner in the downtown L.A. office of Nossaman, is a Democrat poised to take over for retired Judge Ronald H. Rose.

David A. Rosen, 59, managing partner at Rose Klein & Marias in downtown Angeles, is a Democrat who will succeed retired Judge Patrick J. Hegarty.

Partner Promotions

Downtown L.A.’s Munger Tolles & Olson has elected Erin J. Cox, E. Martin Estrada and Heather E. Takahashi to the firm’s partnership, effective Jan. 1. Cox and Estrada focus on complex litigation and Takahashi specializes in intellectual property matters. … Sidley Austin has promoted Courtney Rangen, who focuses on real estate, and Michael L. Rosenfield, who works in the firm’s insurance practice, to its partnership. Both lawyers are in the firm’s downtown L.A. office. … O’Melveny & Myers has admitted Don Melamed, who’s based in the firm’s downtown office, as well as Cassandra Seto and Silvia Vannini, who are both in Century City, as partners to the firm. … Westwood’s Liner has promoted Adam T. Cain, Shaun H. Crosner and Alexandra “Ali” S. Kelly to partners.

Staff reporter Cale Ottens can be reached at cottens@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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