Best Best & Krieger LLP, a full-service law firm catering to public agency and private clients that focuses on environmental, business, education and municipal law, is acquiring Miller & Van Eaton, one of the nation’s leading telecommunications law firms based in Washington, D.C., and bringing six of its attorneys aboard effective July 1, it was announced today.

BB&K will maintain a Washington office, the first out-of-state location in a 120-year history that has spawned eight offices across California and some 200 attorneys specializing in municipal, environmental, water and business law.

The new venture provides BB&K attorneys the chance to expand their legal expertise to Miller & Van Eaton clients across the country and offers a larger presence in California to the attorneys from Miller & Van Eaton who are joining BB&K.

Miller & Van Eaton attorneys specialize in a wide range of telecommunications law, including cable television, broadcasting and wireless communications for clients in the public and private sectors. The firm, which has a governmental relations practice, is active in legislative, regulatory and judicial matters and its attorneys have held high-ranking positions in the White House, the U.S. Senate and the Federal Communications Commission.

“We are pleased to be welcoming such a stellar group of attorneys who specialize in an increasingly critical area of law for our clients in California, especially the cities we serve,” said Eric Garner, managing partner of BB&K, which has one of the state’s largest municipal and public agency law practices.

Miller & Van Eaton attorneys are best known for their municipal work, having helped more than 250 municipalities nationwide with telecommunications advice, including securing a U.S. Supreme Court win for the city of Los Angeles. The attorneys provide advice to cities on cable television franchise problems, cellular tower zoning decisions and siting issues, public safety communications systems, telephone rates and contracts, municipal ownership of telecommunications networks, leases and compensation agreements for public rights-of-way and local telecommunications ordinances.

Garner said the opening of a Washington D.C. office provides a platform for BB&K attorneys to better assist many of the firm’s existing California clients, particularly on environmental issues, water rights and renewable energy.

“By virtue of being in the nation’s capital, we will be in a better position to provide representation before federal agencies that craft significant regulations impacting our clients and we’ll be closer to Congressional representatives who make important decisions that affect them,” Garner said.

BB&K works for dozens of public agencies in California, serving as city attorney to nearly 30 cities across the state and as general counsel to several water agencies, joint power authorities, fire protection districts, transportation agencies and other special districts.

The development involving Miller & Van Eaton comes on the heels of last year’s addition to BB&K of 19 attorneys from McDonough Holland & Allen in Sacramento, which more than doubled the number of attorneys at BB&K’s Sacramento office to 31.

Miller & Van Eaton is led by Nicholas P. Miller, who once served as the U. S. Senate communications counsel and as a special consultant to the White House on telephone deregulation issues, and Joseph Van Eaton, who is known for his appellate successes and work with cities in drafting wireless communications ordinances and negotiating franchises for cable and telecommunications service providers.

“We are proud to be joining Best Best & Krieger. The firm is well-respected with a wide footprint among California cities needing help as the telecommunications world develops at a rapid pace,” Miller said.

Miller pointed out that the cell tower issue alone continues to give cities a lot to contend with. According to industry statistics, there are 250,000 cell tower sites across the country and projections show there will be several million more within ten years, Miller said.

Cities and joint power authorities are being targeted by large communications companies to abandon appropriate regulation and pricing for their public rights of way, which are the most valuable land that a local government owns.

“There is a major effort within the communications industry to get unrestricted use of that property for free for cellular towers and other devices — in other words, have the taxpayer subsidize the stockholder,” Miller said. 

In addition, major California cities have started to receive large federal grants to develop modern public safety communications networks that cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. They will need independent legal advice as those projects move forward, Miller said.

Van Eaton said it will also be important to make sure public agencies in California have access to adequate broadband systems at a reasonable price. Agencies that deal with fires, floods and other natural disasters use such systems to move large amounts of mapping data and other vital information to all agencies that are responding to a disaster, he said.

Miller & Van Eaton traces its roots back to 1985 with the formation of Miller & Holbrooke. The firm became Miller & Van Eaton in 1997 and has a small office in San Francisco.

Van Eaton said his firm is in good economic health, having sustained the last few years of the nation’s recession just fine. Rather, he said, the move to BB&K was simply a way to expand business.

“We really see this as a way to open up opportunities,” he said. “The fit of the two firms makes it work, that is the real key.”

The attorneys joining BB&K and their title are:

Nicholas P. Miller, partner: A well-known expert in the law and policy governing cable television and telephone regulation, and in the legislative aspects of telecommunications law. In 1986, Miller helped argue and win a case in the U.S. Supreme Court involving the city of Los Angeles, which was accused of violating the First Amendments rights of Preferred Communications, Inc. for refusing to give it a cable TV franchise after Preferred failed to participate in a competitive bid for a cable franchise in the city. Preferred Communications had alleged the city could not control the terms and conditions of entry by prospective cable operators. In 1996, Miller worked closely with the United States Conference of Mayors in lobbying the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which greatly affects local government management and control of their rights-of-way.

Joseph Van Eaton, partner: Known for his appellate and federal policy advocacy work, Van Eaton specializes in representing municipalities on a broad range of telecommunications issues. He assists communities in protecting themselves before federal regulatory agencies and developing their own communications networks and community channels. Van Eaton has successfully defended local government efforts to establish and operate municipally owned systems.

Gerard Lavery Lederer, of counsel: A well-known advocate at Congress, federal regulatory agencies and in negotiations for the rights of public and private property owners who are impacted by telecommunications legislation and regulations. Lederer learned his skills as the general counsel of the United States Conference of Mayors and then as vice president for government relations for the Building Owners and Managers Association International. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on marketplace solutions for the integration of technology into commercial real estate. In addition, Lederer is the author of Critical Connections and Wired for Profit, two leading guides on the integration of telecommunications technology into office buildings.   

ames R. Hobson, of counsel: A former official at the Federal Communications Commission and one-time Washington D.C. counsel for GTE, the national telephone company that later became Verizon Communications in a merger with Bell Atlantic. Within the field of wireless communications, Hobson has developed a specialty in public safety communications, including 911 emergency calling and the rebanding of the 800 MHz spectrum. Hobson also is consulted regularly by local governments and citizens’ groups on the siting of wireless communications facilities under zoning codes and ordinances.

Gail A. Karish, associate: A senior attorney with broad transactional and regulatory experience in the communications and electricity sectors in the United States, Canada and Latin America. She advises local government and municipal utility clients on communications law matters involving local, state and federal regulations, and assists with contract negotiations. Formerly an in-house attorney at a major public electric utility and then at a private telecommunications company, Karish will continue to reside in California and work from BB&K’s offices in the state.

Matthew K. Schettenhelm, associate: An attorney who assists local governments and other clients with various telecommunications matters. In addition to briefing cases in state and federal courts, Schettenhelm has prepared comments to the Federal Communications Commission on a range of issues, including the National Broadband Plan, cable franchising, tower siting, Internet access service, community cable channels, cable set-top boxes and public safety communications. He has written cable, right-of-way and wireless facility ordinances, and has drafted agreements for cable franchises, municipal Wi-Fi networks and 700 MHz public safety systems.