White House taps longtime litigator Sean Coffey for U.S. Navy GC

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New York state attorney general candidate Sean Coffey speaks during an interview at Reuters in New York, September 9, 2010. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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  • Coffey has been on New York litigation scene for decades
  • Ran unsuccessfully to serve as NY attorney general in 2010

(Reuters) - After decades shifting between roles in the defense and plaintiffs bars, John P. "Sean" Coffey is poised to return to his U.S. Navy roots.

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it will nominate Coffey - a onetime federal prosecutor, class action plaintiffs lawyer, political candidate, litigation funding pioneer and corporate law firm partner - to serve as the U.S. Department of the Navy's general counsel.

Coffey retired from the Navy with the rank of captain in 2004, after 30 years of uniformed service, both in active duty and in the U.S. Naval Reserve, according to the White House.

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He now chairs the complex litigation group at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where he's been a partner since 2013.

Earlier, as a securities class action lawyer at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, Coffey helped recover $6.1 billion for WorldCom investors who sued the bankrupt telecom company for violating federal securities law.

On the defense side, Coffey's clients have included U.S. hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management and its founder, Bill Ackman; former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer; BlackRock Inc chairman and CEO Larry Fink; and Fabrice Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs trader who was found liable for defrauding investors over a failed mortgage transaction.

"I don't consider myself a plaintiffs' lawyer or defense lawyer, I consider myself an advocate who likes to try cases," Coffey told Reuters in November 2013.

He did not respond to a request for comment on his nomination.

"We couldn’t be more proud of Sean," Kramer Levin co-managing partner Paul H. Schoeman said in a statement. "As a legal strategist and trial lawyer, he has made invaluable contributions to Kramer Levin and our clients. Those qualities, among others, recommend him highly for the position of general counsel of the Navy."

Coffey joined the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office in 1991 after working as an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison for four years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

After a four-year stint as a federal prosecutor, Coffey became a counsel at Latham & Watkins, eventually rising to partner. He joined Bernstein Litowitz in 1998, then left in 2009 to launch an unsuccessful run for New York attorney general as a Democrat, losing the party's nomination to Eric Schneiderman a year later.

He also tried his hand at litigation financing – his firm, BlackRobe Capital Partners, closed after two years in 2013.

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.