Sidley on the back foot as judge okays civil lawsuit

A civil lawsuit against US law firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood concerning the firm’s alleged involvement in tax sheltering arrangements is to proceed after a judge declined to dismiss the claim.

US Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said the case of Seippel v Sidley Austin Brown & Wood could proceed because the complainant had sufficiently alleged fraud.

The case centres on the involvement of Sidley, along with co-defendants Deutsche Bank and former Sidley lawyer RJ Ruble, in the currency options bring reward alternatives (Cobra) tax strategy, which has since been declared improper by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Telecommunications executive William Seippel alleges that the defendants sold him the Cobra tax strategy in 2003 knowing the IRS would reject it. A later IRS investigation resulted in Seippel and his wife paying more than $5m (£2.8m) in taxes, penalties and fees.

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling to allow the case to continue came after motions to dismiss the second amended complaint in the case. The first complaint, which alleged racketeering and malpractice, was dismissed last year.

Partners Blair Fenterstock and Maureen McGuirl from Wall Street commercial litigation specialists Fensterstock & Partners are representing the Seippels.

McGuirl said a conference with Judge Scheindlin was scheduled for January when a trial date was expected to be set.

Sidley has instructed Aaron Marcu, coordinator of New York law firm Covington & Burling‘s white collar practice, and litigation partner Brad Brian from Los Angeles law firm Munger Tolles & Olson.

Private client specialist Stuart Frankel of Park Avenue law firm Frankel & Abrams is advising RJ Ruble, while head of Dewey Ballantine’s tax controversy and litigation group Lawrence Hill is leading the team advising Deutsche Bank.

Sidley did not return calls for comment.