Law firm says Dentons must remain in $50 mln Okada legal fee fight

Dentons offices in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Bartlit Beck says Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada now owes it $63 million and is juggling lawyers to evade discovery
  • Dentons says attorney-client relationship with Okada has broken down

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(Reuters) – Chicago-based litigation firm Bartlit Beck wants a judge to stop global law firm Dentons from withdrawing as counsel for a Japanese pachinko billionaire from whom it’s seeking to collect millions of dollars in legal fees.

With accrued interest, Kazuo Okada now owes Bartlit Beck more than $63 million stemming from a legal battle between his Universal Entertainment Corp and Wynn Resorts, the firm said in a Tuesday filing. Bartlit Beck originally sought $50 million in fees from Okada from the Wynn case, which ended in Wynn paying a $2.6 billion settlement.

Bartlit Beck said it has been able to conduct little discovery on Okada’s assets in U.S., Hong Kong and Japanese courts, and has only been able to collect $392,377 in outstanding fees.

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“Mr. Okada has done everything in his power to avoid paying Bartlit Beck the fees he owes them since May of 2018,” the firm said. “His latest efforts to avoid discovery — parting ways with yet another set of lawyers — should be denied at least until Bartlit Beck is able to take the discovery it is entitled to.”

Dentons on Dec. 17 asked U.S. District Judge John Kness to allow the firm to withdraw as Okada’s counsel, citing “an irretrievable breakdown” in their relationship. Dentons did not say why the relationship soured but said Okada consented to the firm’s withdrawal.

Bartlit Beck last month said Dentons was “further enabling Mr. Okada’s strategy of delay” by withdrawing as his counsel. Dentons said Bartlit Beck was engaged in “unfounded speculation” about its motives.

A hearing on Dentons’ motion to withdraw is slated for next week before Kness in Chicago federal court.

An arbitration panel awarded Bartlit Beck $50 million by default in 2019 after Okada stopped participating in the proceedings. Kness approved the award last March.

Dentons appealed Kness’ decision, but the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals appeared skeptical during November oral arguments. The appeal is still pending.

The 7th Circuit on Dec. 21 approved Dentons’ withdrawal as Okada’s counsel in the appeal.

Attorneys representing Bartlit Beck and Okada did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is Bartlit Beck LLP v. Okada, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 1:19-cv-08508.

For Bartlit Beck: Joshua Ackerman and Adam Hoeflich of Bartlit Beck; and Sean Berkowitz of Latham & Watkins

For Kazuo Okada: Alex Gude and Meaghan Klem Haller of Dentons Bingham Greenebaum; and Robert Richards of Dentons US.

Read more:

Dentons wants out of Japanese billionaire’s $50 million fee fight with law firm

Japanese billionaire squares off with Bartlit Beck in $50 mln fee fight

Billionaire ex-client must pay boutique Bartlit Beck $54 mln, court says

Wynn Resorts to pay $2.6 billion to settle lawsuit with Japan’s Universal

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Reporting by David Thomas

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.