Frederick P. Furth – Partner
Frederick P. Furth, an icon of the antitrust bar, is a nationally-known attorney specializing in antitrust and business litigation. He was one of the first lawyers to successfully pursue private antitrust class action litigation on behalf of injured plaintiffs. His firm has handled business litigation on behalf of plaintiffs, including antitrust, business tort, commercial contract, employment, ERISA, insurance, intellectual property, international arbitration and litigation, RICO, unfair business practice, and unfair competition cases.
Mr. Furth opened his law office in 1966. His entrepreneurial spirit had pushed him quickly through experiences at a Wall Street law firm, a Fortune 500 company, and a stint with Mayor Joseph Alioto, Sr. in his commercial litigation firm. Intent on developing a team of lawyers capable of handling even the most complex cases, yet maintaining strict control over quality, Mr. Furth has joined with his partners over the past five decades to create one of the most successful law practices engaged in a wide variety of business litigation and corporate counseling.
Mr. Furth’s first significant case brought both a major victory and early widespread recognition. As counsel for a class of gypsum wallboard purchasers, Mr. Furth successfully tried and settled one of the first major antitrust cases brought solely by a private plaintiff without the benefit of any prior Justice Department action. In the process, the firm was instrumental in creating innovative procedures to manage class actions. Federal district court Judge Alfonso Zirpoli, who handled that case, applauded the role the Furth firm played:
“[W]ithout one iota of governmental assistance, counsel, and in particular the Furth office, by diligent and unrelenting application of their skills and their labors achieved an astounding settlement of $67,640,000 … Mr. Furth … has been the chief architect of this entire litigation. His success in the ‘dealer’ cases and his exceptional leadership, patience and steadying influence thereafter as liaison counsel for all plaintiffs let to the settlement of these cases.”
Through the five decades of its existence, Mr. Furth’s firm participated in numerous class actions on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants. In one massive nationwide price-fixing case, the firm received a similar accolade for its role as lead counsel from Judge Carl A. Muecke:
“[M]embers of Mr. Furth’s firm were involved in virtually every aspect of plaintiff’s discovery efforts . . . In all of these activities, the highest caliber of legal skill was evidenced.”
Mr. Furth’s firm developed a unique blend of the aggressiveness needed by a plaintiff with complete knowledge of the law and facts of a case to serve all of its clients, whether plaintiff or defendant. The firm’s first major defense cases involved the Federal Trade Commission’s attacks on Kellogg Company. In these cases, the firm once again took the offensive, filing federal court actions against the agency. In one of the cases, the FTC had accused Kellogg of a “shared monopoly” with the other major breakfast cereal manufacturers and sought the breakup of the company into four parts. The case had been pending for years, and a huge record had been created. The firm mastered that record, including the testimony of dozens of expert witnesses, and convinced the administrative law judge that the FTC’s case should be thrown out. The firm has represented Kellogg in a variety of intellectual property, regulatory and corporate matters.
A 1980 lawsuit arising out of Kirk Kerkorian’s attempt to take over Columbia Pictures demonstrated the diversity of the skills possessed by Mr. Furth’s firm. Representing Columbia Pictures, the firm, in just over a month, reversed a series of setbacks encountered by previous counsel, and secured several procedural victories which led to Kerkorian’s abandonment of his two-year effort to acquire control of Columbia.
The firm’s ability to temper its aggressive style with a scholarly knowledge of the law was demonstrated in its next large antitrust defense case. Three large plywood manufacturers, having lost a trial and an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, turned to Mr. Furth. The verdict, if upheld, was estimated to have a $2 billion value. After Mr. Furth’s firm successfully petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, won a partial summary judgment on damage claims, and began extensive scrutiny of the remaining damage claims, the case settled in 1982 for a small fraction of the estimated value of the judgment.
The firm’s proven ability to handle the most complex of cases was again tested in antitrust cases for Southern Pacific Company and Santa Fe Pacific Corporation. In 1983, the firm was retained to handle the private monopolization claim filed by Sprint against American Telephone & Telegraph Co., paralleling the government suit which led to the divestiture of AT&T’s local operating companies. The firm quickly developed a thorough understanding of the telecommunications industry, and effectively put that knowledge to work in arguing the case. After the Sprint cases settled, Santa Fe Pacific Corporation brought the firm in to defend it in a multibillion dollar antitrust action. The action resulted in one of the largest and most innovative trials ever conducted in the federal courts. The case settled while an appeal was pending.
The firm’s flexibility with regard to any legal problem enabled it to respond quickly to the call from producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber when Sony hired them to run Columbia Pictures. With the studio facing a preliminary injunction motion filed by Warner Bros., the firm mobilized the resources necessary to begin discovery and position the case for a quick settlement.
Mr. Furth’s firm also expeditiously mastered complex issues involved in a representation of Chrysler Corporation when called in to fend off Lee Iaccoca and Kirk Kerkorian’s efforts to seize control of Chrysler. After Mr. Furth’s firm appeared in the case and quickly won some significant pretrial motions, Iacocca and Kerkorian abandoned their efforts to take over control of Chrysler. Shortly after Mr. Furth’s firm filed its complaint against Mr. Iacocca, the case settled.
The Kellogg and Chrysler matters exemplify Mr. Furth’s proficiency in successfully working with in-house counsel. His firm has also been adept at working as a team with other lawyers representing similarly situated or identical clients.
The firm served as co-counsel for plaintiffs at the Sullivan v. National Football League trials involving a former football franchise owner’s antitrust claims. In the first trial, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs of $114 million, after trebling.
The firm served on the steering committee of lawyers in In re Brand Name Prescription Drug Antitrust Litigation, a case in which the major pharmaceutical companies paid $716 million in settlement for the class of pharmacist plaintiffs.
On December 22, 2005, after a three-and-a-half-month jury trial in Alameda County Superior Court, Mr. Furth obtained a class action verdict on behalf of 115,919 California hourly Wal-Mart workers. The jury awarded $57,268,673 in compensatory damages for Wal-Mart’s failure to provide meal breaks, and $115 million in punitive damages. The National Law Journal, in its issue dated February 20, 2006, ranked this verdict as the tenth largest of 2005 and the largest verdict in an employment case in 2005. This groundbreaking verdict is believed to be the largest in history against Wal-Mart, and the first time a California jury awarded punitive damages in a wage and hour class action.
Mr. Furth’s law firm was Class Counsel for the Food Purchasers Class in this class action brought on behalf of direct purchasers of microcrystalline cellulose, or MCC, a substance made from wood pulp and used as a food ingredient (for texturizing, emulsifying and fat replacement) and in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and vitamins. The plaintiffs alleged that the two defendants, FMC Corporation, a Philadelphia-based corporation, and Asahi-Kasei Corp., a Japanese corporation, violated U.S. antitrust laws (Section 1 of the Sherman Act) by conspiring to divide markets for MCC, such that FMC agreed not to compete in Asia-Pacific markets and Asahi agreed not to compete in Europe and the United States. The complaint alleged that the conspiracy gave FMC an artificial monopoly in the United States between 1984 and 1997 that allowed FMC to charge supra-competitive prices for MCC. On November 17, 2006, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania gave final approval to a $25 million settlement with FMC; the court had previously approved a $25 million settlement with Asahi, bringing the total settlements to $50 million.
The firm was among the counsel for plaintiffs in a nationwide class action brought on behalf of consumers that purchased “department store cosmetics products” made by, or sold by, numerous defendants including Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks, Target, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Christian Dior and Chanel. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants conspired to fix the prices of department stores cosmetics products. The defendants agreed to settle this case by making available to consumers free department stores cosmetics with a total retail value of $175 million.
The court appointed Mr. Furth’s firm interim co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in a nationwide class action against the defendant auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s for violation of U.S. antitrust laws. The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in illegal price fixing of the fees and commissions on non-internet auctions of, among other articles, fine and decorative art, antiques, furniture, collectibles, paintings, wine, jewelry, coins, stamps, vintage automobiles, sports and celebrity memorabilia and books. The defendants settled for $412 million in cash and an additional $100 million in auction certificates.
Mr. Furth is also the Founder and Chairman of the International Judicial Conference (IJC). The IJC is a unique annual gathering of justices from supreme courts, constitutional courts and courts of cassation from around the world to discuss ways of promoting the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
The first IJC was held in Strasbourg in1993, when 40 justices from the high courts of Europe and the former Soviet Union met to discuss efforts to strengthen the independence of their respective court systems. Building on a close network of annually participating justices and with support from sponsors including the Council of Europe, the Center for Democracy and the University of Michigan Law School, the conference has expanded its participation to include judicial leaders from Asia, Africa, and North, Central and South America.