A Washington, D.C., jury Friday awarded a former Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal partner at least some of the compensation he claims is owed to him by the firm. The verdict marked the end of a bitter two-and-a-half-year battle over the firm’s partnership agreement and compensation policy.
Jurors in the D.C. Superior Court trial stemming from Douglas Rosenthal’s suit against Sonnenschein determined that Rosenthal should have been compensated $500,000 each year for the years 2003 and 2004, instead of the more than $400,000 in compensation that he received from the firm. For 2005 and 2006, the jury decided that Rosenthal should have received $1,365,000 instead of the more than $1 million offered by the firm for each of those years.
The decision, however, was not a complete victory for Rosenthal (who is not related to the Rosenthal in the firm’s name). Jurors also ruled that Rosenthal and his new firm Constantine Cannon interfered with Sonnenschein clients when Rosenthal left in 2005. The jury awarded Sonnenschein $300,000.
It is now up to Judge Melvin Wright to calculate how money should be paid to Rosenthal. He must use a compensation formula that is calculated based on the jury’s award and Sonnenschein’s profitability during the years in question.
After hearing the decision, Rosenthal phoned his daughter, a lawyer in Chicago. In an interview with Legal Times, Rosenthal said during the conversation he couldn’t help but get “choked up.”
The former Sonnenschein antitrust partner filed his suit in 2005, alleging that he was not fairly compensated for representing the families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. That contingency work brought the firm a windfall of nearly $17 million. Rosenthal also claimed he was owed origination credit for Sonnenschein’s representation of Sun Microsystems against Microsoft Corp. That work generated $20 million for the firm. Despite his collections, Rosenthal says the firm kept him at the bottom of the partner pay scale, and encouraged him to forego the Pan Am contingency work to focus on corporate clients who would guarantee a payout.
In an e-mailed statement, Sonnenschein’s public relations manager, Linda Butler, said, “We stand fast in our belief that Mr. Rosenthal was fairly compensated.”
In its counterclaim, Sonnenschein asked for reimbursement of attorney fees it incurred while litigating a separate dispute with Rosenthal in New York federal court. In that dispute, Sonnenschein claimed Rosenthal attempted to credit $1.6 million in fees from a Sonnenschein client to Constantine Cannon.
From the start of the trial on March 11, the jury was taken on a comprehensive tour of Sonnenschein’s compensation policies. Despite the complexities involved, Rosenthal’s attorney, Gary Malone of Constantine Cannon’s New York office, said he was confident in the jury’s ability to see that Rosenthal had been wronged. “We thought the basic story was simple,” he said. Constantine’s Robert Begleiter and Ankur Kapoor also represented Rosenthal.
Jury member J.B. Collier, though, who works at the World Bank, said the case was “very difficult.” “It was not black and white,” he added.