2011-01-19 How many ways has K&L Gates touched you today

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Crescent Resources is counting on K&L Gates to help it build 318 apartments on Main Street in Durham. K&L Gates is helping a Baton Rouge company build shopping centers and homes on 400 acres near I-540 in Raleigh. And in a notorious case, K&L Gates has battled Durham officials and activists so Southern Durham Development may erect a village near environmentally sensitive Jordan Lake.

The attorneys and their public relations team declined several requests for interviews with the Indy. But the firm's high-stakes cases are well documented, and so is its slick, and often aggressive, brand of lawyering. To win, the attorneys have used clever legal tactics to steamroll opponents, impugned the ethics of some government officials and singed relationships with allies.

"Even if the techniques are legal, they're not the best way to endear yourself to a community," says Durham resident Bill Anderson. He opposed the attorneys' campaign for Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which wanted to add digital displays to its many billboards in Durham. "I'd like to think we could wipe the slate clean and start all over again. But it is hard to ignore when we keep seeing the same techniques. Even if they're legal, they're not palatable."


Only the most aggressive law firms try to defeat opponents by discrediting or disqualifying them, a strategy K&L Gates used in 2009. The firm was mired in a dispute with Durham County over restrictions on the land slated for 751 South. While some Durham officials argued that 100 acres was inside Jordan Lake's protective watershed, the lawyers worked to prove it was not. First, K&L Gates demanded that Planning Commissioner George Brine abstain from voting on matters related to the project. The attorneys argued he had an unethical bias against it by forming an opinion before the vote. Even though it's Brine's privilege to form an opinion, he recused himself.


In a 2008 land-use case, property owners near Guess Road and Interstate 85 signed a petition opposing new apartments in their neighborhood. A few days later, resident Laura Suski reported, she saw Sanders knocking on neighbors' doors. "I thought it was very suspicious, that I saw Mr. Craigie walking around," said Suski, who lives on Omah Street. "And then our petition was nullified, and all of sudden no one will talk to us." Suski learned several property owners removed their names from the petition they had signed just days before. The city approved the project.

In a Raleigh case last summer, Paul, the attorney who steered the Soleil project, pitched plans for apartments near Hillsborough and Morgan streets, a gateway to downtown Raleigh and N.C. State University. Landowners near the valuable seven acres petitioned the plans, concerned the apartments wouldn't honor the area's historic aesthetic and would close a street. So the attorneys excised a three-quarter-acre corner from the rezoning request, which put just enough distance between the land in question and the property owners to void their petition.


On July 12, just a day before commissioners opened a public hearing on the 751 project, Byker headed to an N.C. Department of Transportation office. There, he persuaded staffers to accept rights to a strip of land along N.C. 751. The department would need the right of way for long-term plans to widen the meandering two-lane highway. But Byker withheld key information: By accepting the easement, the N.C. DOT would foil the petition filed by property owners across the street on a technicality.