In myth, King Midas is noted for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. For attorney Douglas Rosenthal, the problem appears to be that what he touches turns into someone else’s gold.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t sue to get it back.
That’s what Rosenthal, a high-profile Washington antitrust lawyer, is doing to his old firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. While a partner with the firm, Rosenthal helped secure billions for the families of victims killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Rosenthal is now a partner at the Washington office of 40-lawyer Constantine Cannon. He claims that Sonnenschein, which has more than 700 lawyers firmwide, violated its partnership agreement by underpaying him for work that brought the firm a windfall he estimates at more than $37 million.
In his breach-of-contract suit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court in September 2005, Rosenthal says he is owed more than $9 million. How he arrives at that number isn’t disclosed. But it stems from Rosenthal’s belief that he was undercompensated for his efforts in two cases. One, a $2.7 billion award he helped garner from Libya on the Flight 103 suit; the firm’s cut was $17 million. The other is a $2 billion settlement he negotiated for Sun Microsystems with Microsoft; Rosenthal says in his complaint that the firm billed $20 million.
Sonnenschein, as you might suspect, has a different take. (The firm, which is chaired by Elliott Portnoy, declined to comment on the case.) In early 2006, shortly after Sonnenschein’s motion to dismiss was thrown out by D.C. Superior Court Judge Melvin Wright, the firm filed a counterclaim against Rosenthal and Constantine Cannon, arguing that Rosenthal breached his contract with the firm by taking clients to Constantine while telling his partners at Sonnenschein that he intended to retire. Sonnenschein also alleges that Rosenthal’s work at Constantine violates his status as a retired partner. (Rosenthal, 67, “retired” from Sonnenschein and began work the next day at Constantine in August 2005.)
“This is about a duty of good faith and fair dealing that says if the firm hasn’t lived up to their end, then they haven’t fulfilled the contract,” Rosenthal says.
As a bonus to home viewers, the spat is being handled by Washington’s “legalrati”: Sonnenschein is represented by Michele Roberts of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Bingham McCutchen partner James Hamilton. Constantine’s founding litigation partner, Robert Begleiter, represents Rosenthal. The deposition list includes consulting firm Hildebrandt International and law firm Alston & Bird, which sources say also attempted to recruit Rosenthal around the time of his departure from Sonnenschein. The depositions remain under seal by court order.