Amanda Bronstad, The National Law Journal, November 30
To defend itself in the biggest court battle in company
history, Volkswagen A.G. has gone small.
Herzfeld & Rubin, Volkswagen's choice for lead counsel to handle
more than 400 class actions filed over the emissions scandal, is
a 66-lawyer New York law firm — tiny compared with the bulwarks
Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co. hired in litigation
over recent safety recalls: Chicago's Kirkland & Ellis, with
1,576 lawyers, and Atlanta's Alston & Bird, with 759 lawyers.
But Volkswagen's move is not surprising given Herzfeld & Rubin's
long history representing the automaker, say lawyers who know
On Dec. 3, member Jeffrey Chase will argue on Volkswagen's
behalf before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict
Litigation on where to coordinate the class actions.
"He has the ear of the client," said plaintiffs attorney Adam
Slater, a partner at Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman in Roseland,
New Jersey. Slater went up against Chase in a $69 million
settlement of a class action over leaky sunroofs in Volkswagen
and Audi vehicles in 2010.
"Even though his law firm may not have enough lawyers as other
firms, they're big enough and so familiar with how the client
likes to handle things," Slater said.
In Volkswagen's sprawling emissions litigation, Herzfeld & Rubin
isn't the only firm representing the company following the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency announcement in September that
many of Volkswagen's "clean diesel" cars violated nitrogen
oxide emissions standards. Volkswagen has since said more than
11 million cars worldwide have a "defeat device" in them
designed to cheat emissions tests, including 482,000 cars in the
The automaker has turned to Jones Day to conduct an internal
investigation of the matter, and Kirkland & Ellis is playing a
role in EPA matters. Other firms, including Mayer Brown and
McGuireWoods, have appeared for Volkswagen in the class actions,
which allege it duped consumers into paying premium prices for
"clean diesel" vehicles. Those firms, many of which have worked
with Herzfeld & Rubin before, still could play a significant
role in the class actions, especially given the early stage of
But in using Herzfeld & Rubin as lead counsel, Volkswagen is
relying on a shop that has represented it for decades,
particularly in New York, where the firm was founded in 1948 by
Herbert Rubin and Walter Herzfeld, a German immigrant,
according to the Center for Jewish History in New York. Herzfeld
died in 1968.
"They've been the go-to firm for Volkswagen in New York as long
as I can remember," said Paul Napoli, of counsel to New York's
Napoli Shkolnik who represented September 11, 2001, first
responders in a settlement over respiratory claims in which
Herzfeld & Rubin member Michael Hoenig was appointed special
counsel. (Hoenig writes a regular column for The New York Law
Journal, an affiliate publication of the NLJ.)
Both Volkswagen and Herzfeld & Rubin declined to comment for
Rubin, now in his 90s, is married to retired New York State
Supreme Court Justice Rose Rubin, and is an active alumnus of
New York University School of Law and serves on the editorial
board of The New York Law Journal.
In 1980, Rubin won a significant ruling for Volkswagen when the
U.S. Supreme Court found that an Oklahoma state court did not
have jurisdiction over a defect case involving injuries
sustained in an accident. World-Wide
Volkswagen v. Woodsonis
now often cited in first-year civil procedure classes at law
The firm's eight-lawyer affiliate in Los Angeles, also called
Herzfeld & Rubin, has represented Volkswagen regularly in
products liability cases. Chase, who sometimes is listed as
working for Chase Kurshan Herzfeld & Rubin, an affiliate in
Livingston, New Jersey, has appeared for Volkswagen in federal
courts across the country for the past decade, according to
court records. One of those was a 2010 settlement of
multidistrict litigation over oil-sludge damage in the engines
of about 480,000 cars. A settlement master estimated the value
of that deal to be about $223 million.
The firm has global ties that could play a pivotal role in the
emissions scandal given that Volkswagen, based in Wolfsburg,
Germany, faces government investigations in Europe.
"This isn't just a U.S. story," said Peter Henning, a professor
at Wayne State University Law School. "Volkswagen has to think
also about European exposure."
The firm has global ties that could play a pivotal role in
the emissions scandal given that Volkswagen, based in Wolfsburg,
Germany, faces government investigations in Europe. "This isn't
just a U.S. story," said Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne
State University Law School. "Volkswagen has to think also about
European exposure." Herzfeld & Rubin has an affiliate in
Bucharest, Romania, called Rubin Meyer Doru & Trandafir with 15
attorneys. The firm also has an Israeli affiliate called Balter,
Guth, Aloni & Co. that has 74 attorneys and, in 2013, opened an
affiliate in Yangon, Myanmar, called Herzfeld Rubin Meyer &
Rose. Rubin and two other members, Ian Ceresney and Linda Brown,
represented the Association of Global Automakers and the
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Inc., an advocacy group in
which Volkswagen is one of a dozen members, in an amicus brief
before the U.S. Supreme Court in Daimler v. Bauman,
brought against Germany's Daimler A.G. over the role of its
Mercedes-Benz subsidiary in an Argentine war. In 2014, the high
court dismissed the case, making it tougher for plaintiffs to
sue foreign companies in U.S. courts.
Chase and Hoenig also are among the 350 sustaining members of
the Product Liability Advisory Council Inc., said Hugh Young,
the group's president. He said sustaining members serve as the
"go-to counsel" for the Virginia-based group's members, which
are among the world's largest companies, including Volkswagen.
"You're talking about elite attorneys," he said of Herzfeld &
Rubin. "They are just a megafirm when it comes to defending
products liability cases.
125 Broad Street, New York, New York, 10004 - Phone: 212-471-8500 - Fax: 212-344-3333©2004 -2014 Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C.