Christopher Milito, who is 37, joined the law firm Morrison Cohen almost a year ago and quickly got swept up in one of the most prominent real estate deals of the year: the Domino Sugar factory. Mr. Milito represents the Katan Group, which owns the Domino site in partnership with the Community Preservation Corporation, and he has led the company’s efforts to block CPC’s efforts to sell the site—including a deal with Two Trees—for what it claims are below-market prices. Mr. Milito spoke to The Commercial Observer about why winning in the courtroom isn’t always the goal of a good litigator and his time learning the ropes of litigating while starting out in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The Commercial Observer: That’s a great watch you’re wearing. A Rolex, that’s the standard watch of any lawyer’s lawyer, right?
Mr. Milito: It is, I guess. It’s my first and only nice watch; when I proposed to my fiancé, we didn’t have any money, so I used my mother’s diamond, which is like less than half a carat—my dad was a cop, but they got divorced. There was an Italian tradition: when you get engaged, the woman’s family buys you a nice watch, and so I told my wife’s family this, half in jest. They’re from Korea, but they know someone in the jewelry business, and next thing I know I have a Rolex. It’s the nicest thing I own, literally.
You’re involved in litigation, but do you do transaction work?
I think some people get better at one versus the other. Make no mistake, 90 percent of what I do is litigation. But because we service businesses, there’s always a business or a deal component to it, to the litigation. Ninety percent of the time you’re working out a settlement that’s a business transaction. It may come through as a legal document, but underneath it’s a business arrangement.
So in your cases, the litigation often blends with transaction work, essentially?
Yes. The more transactional guys probably have less experience with the litigation side of it, but the litigation guys always almost get wound up in what the business deal was, and if you’re not going to trial, you’re structuring a new transaction, in the case of a settlement. We have a corporate department that does the labor of drafting those documents. But in negotiating that settlement the litigators, we have to understand what the business goal is and how it needs to be structured, which I think is an overlooked thing that litigators often wind up doing.
You’re the lawyer representing the Katan Group on the Domino Sugar Factory site. That turned into a huge story. What has that done for your career?
Well look, part of it is luck, I was the attorney put on it here. There is an element of luck in any success professionally. I would like to think we’ve handled it well.
It seemed like Katan lost in the first round of litigation that you launched earlier this year. What is the status now?
It’s not over yet. The status is there is a motion pending for a preliminary injunction enjoining the sale to Two Trees.
So, stopping that transaction?