Robert A. Johnson retired from the partnership in June 2018 after having been engaged primarily in commercial litigation for nearly 30 years.
Practice & Background
Mr. Johnson practiced as a litigator in a wide range of legal matters, with particular depth in complex commercial and financial disputes. He tried cases and appeared frequently in court to argue motions and examine witnesses. With an M.B.A., as well as a J.D., Mr. Johnson has been known as a well-rounded business advisor.
Many of Mr. Johnson’s cases involved companies in bankruptcy proceedings. During the financial crisis, Mr. Johnson devoted much of his practice to the representation of the official committee of unsecured creditors of Washington Mutual, Inc., the holding company of Washington Mutual Bank. The case involved the interplay of commercial bankruptcy issues and FDIC failed bank receivership issues, as well as contested setoff arguments regarding the debtors’ cash deposits at another financial institution. Litigation tasks included extensive discovery, motion practice, and appeals; securities litigation involving highly unusual financial instruments; and three contested confirmation trials. Mr. Johnson also played a central role on the Akin Gump team in the negotiation of a multiparty settlement agreement, the plan of reorganization and plan-related documentation. In the late phases of the case, Mr. Johnson led the committee’s litigation regarding the priority of payment of mortgage-backed securities.
Subsequently, Mr. Johnson represented the official committee of unsecured creditors of Nortel Networks, Inc. in litigation to allocate intellectual property sale proceeds among related companies in the United States, Canada and Europe. After 130 fact witness depositions and more than 30 expert depositions, a six-week trial was conducted simultaneously by courts in Delaware and Ontario, linked by video. Following decisions by the courts, there were multiple appeals in both countries, as well as mediation. Mr. Johnson also was involved in a Nortel litigation involving a software vendor that sued for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets, alleging that the Nortel companies had improperly transferred source code to purchasers.
Many of Mr. Johnson’s other litigations have also involved intellectual property. In a multi year litigation, Mr. Johnson defended a commodities exchange facing allegations that its electronic system for commodity futures trading infringed a business methods patent. The case required defense of many of the exchange’s board members, traders and staff in depositions, as well as expert depositions. Ultimately, the dispute was resolved in court-ordered mediation. In other matters, Mr. Johnson represented a food manufacturer accused of trade dress infringement in its retail products and a gasoline retailer accused of trademark infringement.
Mr. Johnson also has been involved in counseling clients on issues of shareholder activism, both activist and defense. Other business litigations have included breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, corporate veil-piercing, and director and officer litigation. His experience also includes product liability litigation and insurance coverage disputes.
In 2017 and 2018, Mr. Johnson was deeply involved in amicus curiae briefing on the challenges to the 2017 presidential orders regarding Muslim travel and refugees. The core client group included the Korematsu Center for Law & Equality at Seattle University School of Law; Karen Korematsu, Jay Hirabayashi and Holly Yasui; and the coram nobis teams who worked in the 1980s to overturn the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui convictions. On June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the third iteration of the travel ban, but expressly overruled Korematsu.
Mr. Johnson’s representations include:
- advising the official committees of unsecured creditors of Washington Mutual, Inc. and Nortel Networks, Inc., described above
- analysis and counseling regarding brokerage issues in connection with the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy and SIPA proceedings
- investigating facts and negotiating with the Madoff SIPA Trustee regarding fraudulent conveyance issues
- litigating against the Enron bankruptcy estate regarding termination and netting of energy trading contracts
- prosecuting and defending fraudulent conveyance actions in bankruptcies
- defending a commodity futures exchange in a patent infringement suit regarding the electronic trading of commodity futures, described above.
- Johnson regularly represented applicants for asylum in the United States and supervised junior lawyers handling these cases. Many of the applicants were referred through Immigration Equality or Sanctuary for Families.
- Johnson remains a volunteer for the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter and services for homeless LGBTQ youth, and he has co-chaired its annual premier fundraising event for several years. He also served as treasurer and board member of Stanford New York Alumni, a local club of the Stanford Alumni Association.
Awards & Accolades
- Johnson has been recognized by New York Metro Super Lawyers in the area of business litigation, 2013-2017.
- Johnson was named Akin Gump’s New York Partner of the Year for pro bono in 2013.