March 12, 2015
In its battle with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory retirees who would like to return to University of California healthcare, the University has hired a law firm that knows a thing or two about fighting: Crowell & Moring LLP, which represented the Blackwater Security Co. after it was accused of unnecessarily killing Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Last week, the University terminated the law firm that had been representing it, San Francisco based Hanson Bridgett LLP.
Observers wondered whether recent court setbacks prompted the University to make the move was unclear. Rulings in Oakland Superior Court, where the class action healthcare case is being heard, have tended to favor the arguments of the retirees. The University did not explain or announce the change in law firm other than to file a required notice with the court.
UC’s new lawyers are from an international firm with some 500 attorneys and extensive experience in dealing with government contracts. Crowell & Moring is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in San Francisco, New York and London, among other major cities.
After Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a 2007 Baghdad shootout, Crowell & Moring successfully defended the company (today called Academi) against a range of accusations, including complaints worth more than $1 billion under the False Claims Act.
The False Claims defense was so successful that Crowell & Moring summarizes it on its website as a case study.
Now it will try to help UC prevail against LLNL retirees.
The retiree lawsuit, first filed in 2010, is intended to return the retirees to UC health care programs. Those programs were available to them from the time of the Laboratory’s founding in 1952 until 2008, when a for-profit consortium took over for the University as manager of the national defense laboratory.
The contract change led to industrial style health care coverage, which retirees considered a violation of promises made during their careers at the Laboratory. They formed a grass roots organization, raised funds and found legal counsel to file suit.
The University has contested the suit from the start. In rulings, the court confirmed, over UC objections, that the retirees have standing to sue. More recently, it allowed the retirees to convert their suit to a class action, which UC opposed.
As of last week, as the window closed for retirees to choose to remain in or to remove themselves from the lawsuit class, only 132 had chosen to “opt out.” That left slightly more than 4,400 retirees and surviving beneficiaries for purposes of continuing the suit.
Attorneys for the retirees last week presented a trial plan as requested by the court. University attorneys are expected to present their plan this week. The next conference with the judge is scheduled for April 1.