Baltimore Office Profiled in Maryland's Leading Business and Legal Newspaper
Alisa Bralove; Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer, Maryland Daily Record
June 25, 2002
If they weren't so successful, some people might accuse the lawyers in the Baltimore office of Zuckerman Spaeder of having trouble focusing. But the firm, whose practice includes white-collar criminal defense work, complex civil litigation, and corporate representation, appears very comfortable doing such a broad range of work. As an example, it recently added a shareholder-derivative suit for nearly $700 million against Allfirst Financial Inc. to its list of high-profile cases. Zuckerman Spaeder represents Tomran Inc., a Jarrettsville company that owns 4,800 shares in Allied Irish Bank, Allfirst's parent company, in the shareholders' suit filed against the bank this month. "The basic idea here is that the board of directors is responsible for making sure that internal controls of the company are in place and functioning effectively," said Cy Smith, the partner who filed the suit. "They have to anticipate the possibility that some employees will act in dishonest or foolish ways. That's what internal controls are designed to handle." In the complaint, Tomran alleges that the bank's failure to properly supervise John M. Rusnak, the former foreign currency trader who was indicted on June 5, resulted in the $ 691 million loss. "What we see in the Allfirst case is a situation where the employee was dishonest but the losses never would have happened, or would have been detected, with better internal controls and basic risk management decisions by the board and senior officers," Smith said. Smith said that shareholder suits, in general, have the potential to become quite complex. "You're trying to do the right thing for the company even though the board of the company may sometimes be resistant to that. That's difficult," he said. "Sometimes the board will recognize where the true interests of the company are." Zuckerman has three attorneys from the Baltimore office working on the case, joined by Charles J. Piven and Marshall N. Perkins of Piven's firm. "I think we'd all like to have one case that we just have to show up in the morning and work on it, but each of us probably has two dozen things of varying sizes," Smith said. "This is one of the two or three more substantial things. "These things ebb and flow, so there will be moments I'm sure when it will be all-consuming and moments when it's relatively dormant," he said. "Right now it's somewhere in between." In an interview after the suit was filed, Allfirst spokesman Philip Hosmer said the suit "is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously."
The Allfirst litigation is just one in a string of attention-getting cases that Zuckerman's Baltimore office has handled. The list includes the post-conviction appeals for businessman Paul Luskin, found guilty of setting up the unsuccessful contract killing of his wife. Another client is New Jersey tobacco-litigation pioneer Mark Edell, who is suing the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos. Edell, who assisted Angelos in the state's tobacco litigation, wants a percentage of the $ 150 million Angelos recently agreed to take in attorney's fees. The firm also is involved in the battle over the estate of real estate mogul Victor Posner, believed to be worth at least $ 200 million. Posner, born to Russian immigrants in 1918, dropped out of school at 13 and became a millionaire by his 20s. His death earlier this year in Florida has sent his four children each scrambling for their share. The firm represents Troy Posner, one of the sons. "This is one of the biggest will contests in Florida history. I mean, it's on the level of Anna Nicole Smith," Smith said. "It's an exciting case because you're learning about the Posner family. This guy is a Baltimore legend. "What happens in that case is going to be fascinating," he added.
The Washington-based firm got its foothold in Baltimore in 1987, when Herbert Better left the U.S. Attorney's Office after 14 years to open the local office. Smith and Martin S. Himeles Jr. both signed on in 1990. "I would say that my most important contribution to the firm and to this office was hiring Cy and Marty," Better said. Each of the three partners had his own reasons for joining the firm. Smith was looking to get away from the aggravations of living in Washington. "I wanted a better quality of life, less commuting hassles, and to be in slightly smaller city than Washington that still had a sophisticated legal community. That's what Baltimore offered," he said. Himeles, also a former prosecutor, was looking for a place where he could do both criminal and civil law. "I enjoyed the contest that is inherent in any litigation," he said. "When I left the U.S. Attorney's office, what I was looking for was a place where I could do both criminal and civil work and do them with people who did them well. "I found that the criminal process is filled with challenging issues with a personal dimension that is very compelling and that doesn't exist in cases where the battle is about money. I found that very exciting as well." Better, too, said he was interested in "the benefit of being able to do both things and not become pigeon-holed as a criminal lawyer or a civil lawyer." Gregg Bernstein of Martin, Snyder, and Bernstein, who has worked as co-counsel alongside Himeles on several cases over the years, called the firm's practice "eclectic." "That is not the easiest kind of practice to maintain," he said. "Often lawyers tend to specialize in specific areas for a certain reason. I think as a firm, Zuckerman is one of the outside firms that has a done a great job of getting a foothold here in the Baltimore legal community." In addition to the three partners, the Baltimore office has one associate and is looking for another. The firm has a total of about 80 lawyers. "What's exciting about our practice is that we're operating on a national level and at a high level in white-collar criminal defense, complicated plaintiff's work, on a contingent fee basis -- including one where we're representing one plaintiff's lawyer against another plaintiff's lawyer," Smith said, as well as corporate representation. "You don't see a lot of firms that do all three of those at a high level, and that's kind of exciting."
Reprinted with permission from the Maryland Daily Record.