In an order handed down today, the Supreme Court denied without comment Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s petition for certiorari in a breach of contract dispute between the firm and a former partner. The denial means that former Sonnenschein partner Douglas Rosenthal’s fight with his former firm over compensation will go to trial for a second time.
Sonnenschein, which is now known as SNR Denton following a merger with UK-based Denton Wilde Sapte, had asked the high court to weigh in on a 2005 suit filed by Rosenthal, who alleged 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 made $18 million for the firm. 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.
Rosenthal said the firm kept him at the bottom of the partner pay scale, and encouraged him to forgo the Pan Am contingency work to focus on corporate clients who would guarantee a payout.
Rosenthal, who is not related to the Rosenthal in the firm’s name, claimed in his complaint that he was owed $8.5 million. He voluntarily retired from the firm in 2005 and went to work for Constantine Cannon.
In 2008, a Washington jury determined that Rosenthal should have been paid $500,000 each year for the years 2003 and 2004, instead of the more than $400,000 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.
A D.C. Superior Court judge later slashed Rosenthal’s award to $65,639 after Sonnenschein argued that Rosenthal’s award was calculated incorrectly.
In January, the D.C. Court of Appeals granted Rosenthal a new trial for a portion of what he claims the firm owes him for the Pan Am Flight 103 work. The court also gave Rosenthal the option of accepting the jury's original decision for some of those fees without the trial judge's reductions and moving on. Rosenthal opted for the retrial.
In the petition for certiorari, filed on Aug. 17 by James Hamilton, a partner at Bingham McCutchen, Sonnenschein argued that that the appeals court made “egregious” errors in its January opinion that will have “significant and far reaching effects on our nation’s major law firms.” Hamilton declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari.
SNR Denton’s general counsel, John Koski, said in a statement, “While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not accept the case at this stage, we are confident in the outcome.”
Gary Malone, a Constantine partner representing Rosenthal, said that he “wasn’t surprised” at the Supreme Court’s decision. He said that he and his client waived their right to reply to the petition “so we could get the denial of cert. done more quickly.”
Malone said, “We knew that Sonnenschein’s petition was wholly without merit, and we’re looking forward to the trial on the issue of damages. This is the final word on the question of whether Rosenthal was treated unfairly, and it appears the Supreme Court agreed that the firm failed to compensate Mr. Rosenthal properly for the millions he brought into the firm.”