Reviewing 5 of April’s top stories

The Dewey & LeBeouf saga, big oil lawsuits, age discrimination and more

Delayed Deal

Last week marked the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a long-awaited legal settlement may finally be nearing completion. In early March, oil company British Petroleum (BP) agreed to pay $7.8 billion to victims who suffered economically or physically as a result of the spill.

The deal hit a snag, however, when Florida’s Attorney General asked a federal judge to postpone approval of the settlement. Pamela Bondi argued that “the settlement may be preliminarily approved before this office and other interested stakeholders have a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on its terms.”

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier apparently wasn’t convinced by Bondi’s argument, saying this week that he is “leaning in favor” of approving the settlement. Even with Barbier’s support, though, the deal may not be approved until November.

Discouraging Discrimination

It’s not easy going gray. At least, that’s what one Kelley Drye partner discovered when the firm “de-equitized” him because of his age, adversely impacting his salary. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) brought a lawsuit on behalf of Eugene D’Ablemont, who charged that the firm’s policy of de-equitizing lawyers when they turned 70 violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

After two years, D’Ablemont settled with the firm last month. Though Kelley Drye did not admit wrongdoing, it did agree to pay D’Ablemont half-a-million dollars for his work between 2001 and 2011. D’Ablemont, who is still a partner in the firm, will also earn 12 percent of the annual fees collected for certain matters.

Perhaps in light of the Kelley Drye case, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) urged law firms to end similar age-related discrimination. Instead, NYSBA president Vincent E. Doyle III said that “retirement policies of law firms should be governed by flexibility and consideration of the needs of the firm and the individual partner.”

Floundering Firm

At this point, it’s hard to keep track of all the defections from Dewey & LeBoeuf. The New York law firm has been bleeding partners since the beginning of the year amid reports of financial trouble and compensation disputes (last week, the Wall Street Journal tallied at least 67 partner departures).

The firm has made several attempts to stem the tide of defections and recoup lost revenue. After a management shakeup proved ineffective, the firm hired noted bankruptcy attorney Albert Togut, prompting speculation that it may be headed towards a “prepackaged bankruptcy” involving a merger with another firm.

Now, reports have surfaced that Dewey will sublease the executive floor of its Manhattan headquarters. At $50 per square foot, the 470,000 square foot space could earn up to $2 million each year for the struggling firm.

Chevron Case

When Chevron Corp. reportedly leaked 2,400 barrels of oil into Brazil’s coastal waters, the country’s government acted swiftly, suing the company for $10.6 billion. Public prosecutors also are seeking to ban Chevron—and oil rig operator Transocean Ltd.—from doing business in Brazil, saying that the spill was “evidence of a lack of planning and environmental management by the companies."

Thus far, prosecutors have been unsuccessful in their attempts to suspend the companies’ operations.

On April 16, a federal judge in Brazil transferred a civil suit against the companies to a Rio de Janeiro court to determine if the case is linked to the first lawsuit. This transfer may lead to both civil cases being taken away from the original federal prosecutor, Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, who would still lead the criminal case against the oil giants.

Tech Tussle

After two years of build-up, Oracle’s patent infringement lawsuit against Google has finally made it to a courtroom. Oracle first filed suit against the Internet giant in 2010, alleging that Google’s Android software—used on many mobile devices—infringed on Java programming language developed by Sun Microsystems Inc. (Oracle acquired the latter company in 2010.)

This week, Google chairman Eric Schmidt testified that, after his company’s negotiations with Sun Microsystems failed, Google was careful to build its Android software using only those aspects of the Java platform that did not infringe on anyone’s intellectual property.

Oracle is seeking $1 billion in damages and an order to block the sale of Google’s Android devices. This battle is just the latest installment of the patent infringement litigation sweeping the tech world.

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