This year has been an interesting one so far for Sullivan & Cromwell. There has been happy news, like firm chairman H. Rodgin Cohen — banking M&A god, and a contender for a top Treasury Department post, before he withdrew — being named Dealmaker of the Year. There has been tragic news, like the killing of one S&C secretary (and the wounding of a second).
This latest piece of news, like the pushing back of start dates to November 2 for incoming associates, falls somewhere in between. Above the Law has learned that John O’Brien — a corporate, er, “general practice” partner at S&C, where he handled “mergers and acquisitions, investment management, [and] corporate and securities matters” — has left the firm. He joined the firm in 1992 and made partner in 2001.
Multiple sources report that O’Brien’s departure was involuntary. Apparently he was removed from the building by security personnel, sometime last week. His removal came as a shock to many. According to one S&C tipster, O’Brien was known around 125 Broad Street as “a well-respected attorney and incredibly nice individual” — one of the nicest people at S&C.
(That may not be saying much, given the firm’s reputation for hiring folks like the infamous DB. But O’Brien was also highly esteemed for his legal skills at the uber-prestigious, super-successful firm, home to many great legal minds.)
Regardless of the exact reasons for John O’Brien’s departure — if you have information, please email us — it is confirmed that he is no longer with the firm.
He no longer appears on the external S&C website. Nor is he on the firm intranet, sources at the firm inform us. We called his former direct-dial number and received no answer. We called the main S&C switchboard and asked to speak with him. After placing us on hold for a long time, the receptionist returned to inform us that O’Brien “is no longer with the company” (and that she had no forwarding information for him).
It was all very reminiscent of the Carlos Spinelli-Noseda situation. As you may recall, Spinelli-Noseda — like O’Brien, a young, highly regarded, very well-liked corporate partner at S&C — mysteriously disappeared from the firm. Several months later, it came to light that Spinelli-Noseda defrauded clients and the firm (to the tune of $500,000, through submission of fraudulent travel and entertainment expenses).
Last night, we reached out to H. Rodgin Cohen and to a firm spokesperson for comment. Neither has gotten back to us yet; if and when we hear anything, we’ll let you know. If you have inside info, please email us, or call (212-334-1871, ext. 9).
More about John J. O’Brien and Sullivan & Cromwell, including cached versions of his firm and Martindale-Hubbell bios, after the jump.
This is not the first time John O’Brien has been mentioned in ATL. As longtime readers may recall, he was mentioned in Aaron Charney’s complaint, in Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (lawsuit filed by gay M&A associate against the firm, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation). From the New York Law Journal:
Charney also accuses an openly gay M&A partner, John J. O’Brien, of participating in the alleged retaliation by trying to have the associate assigned to a matter with him. The suit claims O’Brien was trying to “delegitimize” Charney’s discrimination claims and provide Sullivan & Cromwell with a potential defense.
One commenter was skeptical of Charney’s claim against O’Brien:
o’brien is the one of the nicest guys i’ve ever met. honest and straightforward too. there’s no way he would engage in any retaliatory action against charney or anyone else. which probably explains why the claim against o’brien is so convoluted.
Given O’Brien’s reputation for being a
straight gay-and-honest shooter, the possibility that he was discharged from the partnership for cause has generated more than a few whispers around the firm.
P.S. For cached professional bios, which showcase John O’Brien’s glittering credentials (Princeton / LSE / NYU Law), see below.