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Gibson Dunn & Crutcher lawyers Peter Alexiadis and Miranda Cole were last week (28 September) celebrating a moral victory for MCI, a client they brought with them from former firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey.
The European Commission blocked the merger of MCI (formerly WorldCom) and Sprint in 2000, but financial scandal hit MCI and it spent from 2002 until April this year in US Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings after the company admitted inflating its profits.
MCI, Alexiadis and Cole have been fighting to get the Commission’s ruling overturned since 2000. Four years later and the European Court of First Instance (CFI) finally ruled last Tuesday that the Commission did not have the power to block the merger.
Last October Alexiadis and Cole launched a Brussels practice for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, joining as partner and senior associate respectively. According to Cole: “When we moved across we took all the clients who worked with us at Squire Sanders.”
The CFI decided the issue on a technicality. WorldCom and Sprint withdrew their merger notification in June 2000, stating that they no longer had plans to implement the merger under these terms.
However, the next day the Commission decided to prohibit the merger regardless, claiming that the letter sent by WorldCom did not amount to a formal withdrawal of the agreement.
Cole said: “[At the oral hearing] the Commission was a little bold in suggesting that the letter was a sham and that the company’s lawyers were spinning a line.”
In a robust judgment, the CFI said: “The Commission should have found that it no longer had the power to adopt the decision.” It said under the Commission’s ordinary working practice, WorldCom’s letter should have been sufficient.
On the result, Cole said: “WorldCom’s [Los Angeles-based] general counsel asked to be woken up and given the result.”
The ruling is a further blow to the Commission, which has suffered a series of merger reversals under outgoing Competition Commissioner Mario Monti.