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ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Two Attorneys Handling O.C. Crisis Leave Firms to Form New Partnership

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two of the top attorneys handling Orange County’s financial crisis have left their Los Angeles firms to form a new partnership with a third lawyer.

Bruce Bennett, the county’s lead bankruptcy attorney, will leave Stutman, Treister & Glatt on May 12 and begin May 15 at the new firm, which will be called Hennigan, Mercer & Bennett, the lawyers announced Friday.

James W. Mercer is leading Orange County’s litigation efforts in connection to the fiscal debacle, spearheading its $2-billion lawsuit against Merrill Lynch & Co. Mercer and J. Michael Hennigan left the Washington-based firm of Howrey & Simon last week, re-establishing a partnership that began in 1983 and was disbanded in 1992.

Bennett met Mercer and Hennigan through the county case, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U. S. history.

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“Bruce is the most extraordinary lawyer I’ve met practicing law,” Mercer said Friday. “He’s going to add a whole new dimension to our practice. We’re going to add a dimension to his. We have a lot of similar skills, attributes, passions.”

The new firm, which will have 17 lawyers once Bennett joins, will handle reorganization cases as well as commercial litigation. It is located in downtown Los Angeles.

“We are hopeful that it will be regarded as a major player in both fields,” said Bennett, who has been at Stutman since he finished Harvard Law School in 1982. “It’s exciting. It’s interesting to be in on the ground floor.”

Attorneys at Stutman did not return calls for comment Friday. Hennigan was out of town Friday and could not be reached.

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Both Bennett and Mercer said the change would have little, if any, impact on the county case.

“The transition will be transparent to the county,” Bennett said, noting that he currently works at least four days a week out of an office at the county’s Hall of Administration in Santa Ana, and plans to continue doing so.

Lee Bogdanoff, another Stutman attorney working on the county case, declined to comment about Bennett’s move or how it might impact his own working situation. Bennett said Bogdanoff would continue to work on Orange County’s case regardless of which firm he represents.


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