It is apparent that Volkswagen AG understands the value of having women attorneys in lead defense roles. Sharon L. Nelles, a New York partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s litigation group, has served as lead and national coordinating counsel for Volkswagen advising the German automaker on the $14.7 billion resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and also in the multi-district consumer plaintiff committee over diesel emissions.
In addition to Nelles’ involvement in the criminal case, two women partners at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s New York office – Olivia A. Radin, who focuses on white collar and complex litigation, and Linda H. Martin, a member of the firm’s dispute resolution practice – were also key players on the three-firm legal team that worked out a plea agreement to settle the DOJ criminal charges earlier this year.
More recently, Nelles and two of her partners at Sullivan helped Volkswagen AG successfully stop the DOJ’s attempt to turn 25 million pages of discovery material related to multidistrict litigation in California over to GSK Stockman, a German law firm.
At issue was whether a pretrial order in the U.S. diesel emissions civil case –Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation – bars the sharing of discovery material with attorneys litigating against Volkswagen outside the U.S. The DOJ argued that GSK Stockmann was the “model plaintiff” and entitled to see the discovery documents. However, there are 1,600 plaintiffs suing Volkswagen in Germany, making it almost inevitable that information from the 25 million pages would be made public – a clear violation of the pretrial order, according to VW’s U.S. legal team.
“In fact, there is nothing in [the order] authorizing a law enforcement or regulatory agency, including DOJ civil, to share the MDL production with non-U.S. private counsel for use in a non-U.S. private securities lawsuit against VWAG,” said the company in a statement.
On September 15, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline S. Corley, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, agreed with Volkswagen’s legal team and denied the DOJ request to share the MDL information with the German firm.
Volkswagen’s team that argued against this DOJ overreach in a civil case included Laura Kabler Oswell, a partner in Sullivan’s Palo Alto office and a group leader for the firm’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act practice, who was recently named a “Rising Star” by Law360 after two big litigation wins in other matters.
Suhana S. Han was the third Sullivan partner on the litigation team, which included three male partners. A partner in the litigation group, Han’s practice covers commercial litigation, including securities matters. It is almost unheard of for the women on a corporate defense team to equal or outnumber the men. Kudos to the women of Sullivan & Cromwell and to all the women involved in lead roles defending Volkswagen