Berger Montague Names Sherrie R. Savett the Firm’s First Chairwoman, Promotes Two Attorneys to Shareholder
January 3, 2018. PHILADELPHIA – Berger Montague has selected Sherrie R. Savett to serve as Chairwoman of the firm in 2018. Ms. Savett is the first woman to hold the chair position in Berger Montague’s 48-year history. The firm also promoted two attorneys, Ellen T. Noteware and Caitlin G. Coslett, to shareholder status.
Ms. Savett assumed responsibility as chair on January 1, 2018, succeeding Merrill G. Davidoff. Mr. Davidoff will continue his work as Chairman Emeritus and as a managing shareholder, in addition to his positions as co-chair of the firm’s antitrust, commodities and financial instruments, environment & public health, and securities and investor protection practice areas.
Mr. Davidoff was named firm chair at the end of 2016 and was preceded by H. Laddie Montague, Jr., who served as chairman from 2002 – 2016 and now continues his work as Chairman Emeritus, a managing shareholder, and co-chair of the firm’s antitrust practice group. “Aside from being an outstanding litigator and community leader, Sherrie has been an integral participant in building our firm to where it is today,” said Mr. Montague. “We are proud to have her serve as our next chairperson.”
In addition to promoting Ms. Savett, Berger Montague also named Ellen T. Noteware and Caitlin G. Coslett firm shareholders. Since joining the firm, Ms. Noteware has successfully prosecuted a wide range of complex and class action cases, including serving on the trial team in the landmark Cook v. Rockwell International Corp. environmental class action, which recently settled for $375 million. Ms. Noteware concentrates her practice on prosecuting antitrust class actions on behalf of direct purchasers of brand name drugs who are harmed when brand companies block cheaper generic competitors from entering the market. She is also extensively involved in litigating Employee Retirement Income Securities Act (“ERISA”) breach of fiduciary duty class action cases on behalf of retirement plan participants who are charged unreasonably high fees for services.
Caitlin G. Coslett concentrates her practice on complex litigation, including antitrust, environmental, and mass tort litigation. She has worked on a variety of matters, including Cook v. Rockwell International Corp., a landmark environmental class action, and antitrust class actions such as In re CRT Antitrust Litigation, In re Domestic Drywall Antitrust Litigation, Steel Antitrust Litigation, and In re Urethane Antitrust Litigation. Ms. Coslett also represents classes of direct purchasers of pharmaceutical drugs who allege that pharmaceutical manufacturers have violated the federal antitrust laws by wrongfully keeping less expensive generic drugs off the market, including In re Lidoderm Antitrust Litigation, In re Skelaxin (Metaxalone) Antitrust Litigation, and In re Solodyn (Minocycline Hydrochloride) Antitrust Litigation.
Before becoming the firm’s Chair, Ms. Savett had long held leadership roles at the firm. She has served on Berger Montague’s Executive Committee for decades and has for many years co-chaired the firm’s commercial litigation, securities and investor protection, data breach, and False Claims Act practice groups.
Ms. Savett began at the firm in 1975, five years after it was founded. During the first two decades of her practice, she focused almost exclusively on securities litigation. At one time, she led and settled eight of the largest 100 securities class action cases ever settled in the United States. Among her most prominent cases are In re Rite Aid Corp. Securities Litigation ($334 million settlement); In re Waste Management, Inc. Securities Litigation ($220 million settlement); Cigna Securities Litigation ($93 million settlement); In re Fleming Companies Inc. Securities Litigation ($94 million settlement); Alcatel Securities Litigation ($75 million settlement); and Sotheby’s Securities Litigation ($70 million).
“This work is always fascinating because every case involves learning the industry and the business of the defendants inside and out,” said Ms. Savett. “That allows you to be successful in understanding where their practices went awry and how they committed various violations of law.”
It was through her work on a securities fraud case in the 1990’s against a company called Cascade Industries that Ms. Savett first became involved in False Claims Act litigation. During this case, Ms. Savett obtained a pre-judgment freeze on the assets of Cascade Industries’ CEO before he was able to flee the country. This impressed her local counsel, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, who invited her to join his team on the False Claims Act case entitled United States ex rel. Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys, Inc. v. Apothecon, Inc. This was part of a series of cases against various large drug manufacturers that involved a pricing scheme that defrauded Medicare and Medicaid. The cases were collectively settled for more than $2 billion. Ms. Savett and her group were a critical part of the litigation team that prosecuted those cases for more than a decade.
“I learned so much about the False Claims Act during the years that I worked on the Ven-A-Care case. Now qui tam litigation has become a principal part of my practice,” said Ms. Savett. “It’s a very productive and burgeoning practice in our firm now. It is exciting to uncover through our brave, highly intelligent, and honest whistleblower clients complex frauds against the United States and various states and to recover funds to the government.”
In addition to her work on securities and False Claims Act litigation, Ms. Savett also served as co-lead counsel in the first major data breach case, TJX Companies Retail Security Breach Litigation. Data was stolen from TJX’s computer network, affecting 45 million consumers. The stolen personal information included social security and drivers’ license numbers, and credit and debit card numbers.
“We settled that case by giving those whose social security numbers were stolen through the data breach two extra years of credit monitoring insurance,” said Ms. Savett. “We also created cash funds for people who had actual out-of-pocket damages and established the principle that time expended in trying to mitigate and clean up a potential or actual identity theft or theft of credit card information could be compensated. Those elements became the template for most subsequent data breach settlements.”
Prior to joining Berger Montague, Ms. Savett graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 – summa cum laude with Distinction in English Literature – and Penn Law School in 1973. Her interest in the law began at a young age and stemmed from her father, who owned a food market in North Philadelphia and attended Temple University’s law school at night.
“I was 10 years old on the day of my father’s first law school exam at Temple University. My sister was born that night,” said Ms. Savett. “I had to babysit for my two brothers, and I put my mother in a taxi to go to the hospital. I wanted to be just like my father. I attended his law school graduation in 8th grade, and I still remember it. I was so proud of my dad. He inspired me to become a lawyer.”
It was at law school that Ms. Savett met David Berger, who founded the Berger firm. “He came to give a talk about complex litigation. I was attracted to his dynamism and to the concept of the David and Goliath battle that these cases present,” she said. “We represent the investors, consumers, and smaller businesses against corporate behemoths. I wanted to do this kind of work.”
“David Berger mentored and empowered me to succeed,” Ms. Savett continued. “He was a tremendous role model. I was so fortunate to have had a mentor of such stature and open-mindedness.”
Ms. Savett learned just how much faith the firm had in her when she was five or six years out of law school and working on a securities fraud case with David Berger. They faced two dispositive motions in an important federal court class action. One was a motion to dismiss, and the other was the motion for class certification. After preparing David Berger for several days for this major argument, Ms. Savett recalls that at the last moment, Mr. Berger turned to her and said, “You argue one, and I’ll take the other.”
“After almost fainting, I composed myself and argued,” said Ms. Savett. “We both won that day. That experience propelled my career. It was thrilling, it empowered me tremendously, and it gave me a lot of self-confidence.” Mr. Berger died in 2007, but his legacy of excellence and mentorship lives on at the firm.
Ms. Savett believes that Berger Montague is unique compared to other firms that do high-stakes litigation because the firm almost always represents plaintiffs. “Most firms that specialize in this kind of litigation are smaller than we are. We’re one of the largest in the country,” she said. “We pride ourselves on being able to match our adversaries on the defense side toe-for-toe in the most complex and prolonged litigations.”
An example of this is Cook v. Rockwell International Corp., which lasted 27 years, involved a jury trial won by plaintiffs in Colorado, two appeals to the 10th Circuit, and a Certiorari Petition to the Supreme Court. The case was headed by Mr. Davidoff, who also served as lead trial counsel, and David F. Sorensen, also a managing shareholder of Berger Montague, who was co-trial counsel. It settled in 2017 for $375 million.
Ms. Savett also pointed out that once attorneys begin working at the firm, they tend to stay. “I think it’s the camaraderie combined with the common goal of bringing justice to our clients that drives us” she said. “We feel that our cases are noble and just. I think the mission and the goals are very strong motivators.”
Ms. Savett felt that camaraderie early on in her career at Berger Montague. “I was just on the cusp of women coming into their own in the law,” she said. “The more senior lawyers in the firm always acted with respect toward me. I was given tremendous opportunity. I did not feel like I was held back at all by my gender.”
“Unfortunately, most women in the law have not grown up in such a Utopian environment,” Ms. Savett continued. “Even though attitudes toward women were always fair and positive within the firm, when I had babies in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there were no maternal leave policies in place at all. I rushed back to work in eight weeks. I regret that now since those early months are so special. Now Berger Montague has a four-month, fully paid pregnancy leave available to every woman.”
Today, 30 percent of Berger Montague’s attorneys and 34 percent of the firm’s shareholders are female, a percentage that is increasing. “The firm has created a very positive atmosphere enabling women to advance,” said Ms. Savett.
Ms. Savett does not limit her energies to the law. She has always maintained active involvement in the community. From 2011-2014, Ms. Savett served as President and Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which she considers one of the greatest honors and privileges of her life.
“I am very passionate about the mission of that organization, which provides for tens of thousands of people each month through a broad safety net and engages Jewish children and adults in educational and identity building activities,” she said. “The firm was generous in allowing me to take that position, which involved a significant amount of my time during my three-year term. The firm was very supportive, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
In addition to her work at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Ms. Savett is also a board member of the National Museum of American Jewish History, The National Liberty Museum, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, as well as a member of the Union League and Germantown Cricket Club. She is an avid tennis player who competes on several USTA teams, and she just completed a ride from Jerusalem to Eilat, biking 175 miles over six days.
“One thing I have been able to do well over the years is to compartmentalize my work, my family, and my leisure time,” said Ms. Savett. “Having a physically, intellectually, and emotionally active life makes you a better lawyer.”