King & Spalding's longstanding ties to the U.S. soft drink industry have helped it get behind the NAACP as the organization joins those opposing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on plus-sized sugary beverages in an effort to combat obesity and encourage healthy living.
King & Spalding is representing the NAACP and The Hispanic Federation in the suit filed in October in New York State Supreme Court by plaintiffs challenging mayoral-mandated limits that go into effect on March 12 prohibiting the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.
The plaintiffs, identified in court records as the New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, are backed by powerful business groups and trade associations supported by major soft drink manufacturers, many of whom came out last May to blast Bloomberg's proposal seeking to restrict citizens from slaking their thirst with plentiful portions of sugary liquids.
At a hearing in the case last week, lawyers for those industry groupsrepresented by Latham & Watkins litigation partner James Brandt, head of the firm's New York officeasked state court Justice Milton Tingling Jr. to overturn Bloomberg's controversial ban, which applies to city-sanctioned purveyors of prepared foods such as delis, movie theaters, restaurants, and stadiums, but exempts convenience stories and supermarkets.
King & Spalding entered the case in early December when it filed an amicus brief on behalf of the NAACP and The Hispanic Federation claiming that the proposed law unfairly affects minority-owned small businesses and denies individuals in low-income communities the freedom to drink whatever they want.
The NAACP's general counsel is Kim Keenan, who became the youngest attorney and the second woman to hold the position in the organization's history when she was hired in February 2011, according to sibling publication Corporate Counsel. Keenan did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the NAACP's decision to hire King & Spalding for the case, nor did Jones Day M&A of counsel Nicholas Rodriguez, a member of The Hispanic Federation's board of directors.
Litigation partner Ann Cook in New York and Jeffrey Cashdan in Atlanta are leading a King & Spalding team working on the matter. A spokesman for the firm told The Am Law Daily that King & Spalding is pleased to be representing the NAACP and The Hispanic Federation in a case that "raises important issues for these organizations."
The claim by the NAACP and The Hispanic Federation that Bloomberg's big drink ban is discriminatorywhich the mayor has touted as a measure to improve the health of minoritieshas focused attention on the donors to those organizations.
The Coca-Cola Co. gave $130,000 in 2011 to causes supported by the NAACP, according to tax filings by The Coca-Cola Foundation, a nonprofit run by the Atlanta-based soda giant. (Katten Muchin Rosenman of counsel Richard Daley, who joined the firm in 2011 after six terms as the mayor of Chicago, is an independent board member at Coca-Cola.)
Coca-Cola is also listed as a funder of The Hispanic Foundation, but in fairness to the group, Bloomberg LP, of which New York's mayor is a majority owner, is also a donor.