Tourre Defender Sean Coffey to Join Kramer Levin
Sara Randazzo writes for sibling publication The Am Law Daily.
John "Sean" Coffey, the former securities class action lawyer, litigation funder, and New York attorney general candidate, is joining Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. A longtime partner at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, Coffey most recently served on the defense team of ex–Goldman Sachs bond trader Fabrice Tourre, who was found liable of civil securities fraud by a jury in August.
Coffey confirmed Wednesday that he will join Kramer Levin as a partner in New York as of Dec. 1 and will also hold the newly created title of chair of complex litigation. The Kramer Levin partnership voted him into the firm Wednesday.
Coffey has been working on his own since BlackRobe Capital—a litigation funding operation he ran with Timothy Scrantom, a veteran of the litigation funding industry, and Michael Chepiga, a former Simpson Thacher & Bartlett executive committee member—began to disband in May.
At the same time that news emerged of BlackRobe's demise, Coffey joined Tourre's legal team, which was led at the time by Allen & Overy partner Pamela Chepiga (who is married to Michael Chepiga). The white-collar defense role was a departure from Coffey's decade of plaintiffs-side work while at Bernstein Litowitz.
On Aug. 1, a jury found Tourre liable on six of seven civil charges filed against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission for deceiving investors in a synthetic collateralized debt obligation backed by mortgage securities. Coffey and Chepiga rested their defense during the trial without calling a single witness, and the jury returned a verdict after a day and a half of deliberations.
Coffey says that seven or eight Am Law 100 firms approached him about joining them following the Tourre verdict, but that his two-decade relationship with Kramer Levin litigation cochair Barry Berke contributed to his decision to join the firm over the others.
"I knew early in my time on the Tourre case I had to go back to being a trial lawyer," Coffey says. "I loved every bit of it except of course the jury verdict." Coffey says he's currently working on a motion seeking a new trial in the case but is unsure about whether he will continue working on Tourre's defense once he joins Kramer Levin.
At his new firm, Coffey says he expects to do a mix of plaintiffs and defense work in the commercial civil litigation context: "I’m very excited about the blue-chip clients they have here and my ability to bring that 360-degree view to bear on their behalf, whether offense or defense."
In 2012, Kramer Levin recorded gross revenue of $319 million and profits per equity partner of $1.68 million, both modest bumps from the prior year, according to The American Lawyer's most recent Am Law 100 reporting.
While at Bernstein Litowitz, Coffey's achievements include securing more than $6 billion in settlements for former investors in now-defunct telecommunications company WorldCom, which went bankrupt in 2002 amid a massive accounting scandal.
A former U.S. naval officer, Coffey began his legal career in 1987 as a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. His next stop was the Southern District of New York, where he served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1991 to 1995. From there, he went to Latham & Watkins as counsel before becoming a partner.
Coffey jumped to Bernstein Litowitz at the end of 1998, staying there until his departure in 2009 to run for New York attorney general. "I see a real need for a fresh voice in New York politics," he told The Am Law Litigation Daily when he announced his candidacy. Coffey ultimately came in third in the September 2010 Democratic primary behind Eric Schneiderman, who went on to win the race. Coffey founded BlackRobe within a year. (Kramer Levin's Berke chaired his AG campaign, Coffey says.)
At the time of BlackRobe's formation, Coffey told Lit Daily that he planned to take a more proactive role in suits that the firm chose to fund than his competitors in the still-nascent litigation funding industry. "It will certainly be amenable to classic litigation funding 1.0," Coffey said at the time. "But I think we'll be creating a niche where we provide more value than simply writing a check."
As The American Lawyer reported in a September 2013 feature story, one case that the fund chose to invest in ended painfully. BlackRobe was one of three funders that sank a collective $43 million into a $1.65 billion case brought by Excalibur Ventures against a group of oil companies. The dispute, initially intended to be settled via arbitration, spiraled into a cluster of court cases on both sides of the Atlantic that ended in a major loss for Excalibur.
Coffey said Wednesday he still finds litigation funding interesting but that the past few months have taught him that "what I need to do is be front of a jury."