Alison Frankel

The dubious new high-frequency trading case against the Merc

By Alison Frankel
April 14, 2014

For all of the outrage kicked up by Michael Lewis’s depiction of fundamentally rigged securities exchanges in his book “Flash Boys,” there’s a giant obstacle standing in the way of punishing high-frequency traders or the exchanges that facilitate them: the blessing of federal regulators. As Dealbook’s Peter Henning wrote in his White Collar Crime Watch column on why high-frequency trading is unlikely to result in criminal charges, securities exchanges openly sell access to high-speed data feeds and to physical proximity that increases trading speed by milliseconds. Exchanges are, in the words of Andrew Ross Sorkin, “the real black hats” of high-frequency trading, since they unabashedly profit from differentiating access to trading information.

DOJ, FTC on antitrust, cybersecurity: solution in search of problem?

By Alison Frankel
April 11, 2014

Way back in 2000, the Electric Power Research Institute, a non-profit funded by utility companies, asked the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division for guidance on a proposal to help its members pool information to ward off cyber attacks. EPRI told Justice that companies across the energy sector wanted to exchange information about how best to conduct vulnerability assessments, install anti-hacking protections and formulate restoration plans in case of breaches. EPRI asked for the department’s assurance that this kind of industry-wide collaboration would not violate antitrust laws.

Credit card antitrust judge: Client marketing is ‘professional peril’

By Alison Frankel
April 10, 2014

In 1999, a couple of partners at the firm now known as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr had a fabulous idea. Businesses were just beginning to recognize the potential advantages of imposing mandatory arbitration provisions and class action waivers on their customers. In early 1998, First USA was the first credit card bank issuer to adopt a mandatory arbitration clause, followed by American Express at the end of the year. Wilmer, which had a roster of credit card clients, came up with a marketing strategy to position itself as an expert on the clauses. In May 1999, Wilmer lawyers invited big credit card issuers to attend a conference on arbitration provisions at its Washington offices “to show these folks that this was something on which we were at the leading edge,” one of the partners later testified.

5th Amendment trumps 1st in prosecution involving unnamed commenters

By Alison Frankel
April 9, 2014

When an anonymous speaker’s First Amendment rights conflict with a criminal defendant’s right to due process under the Fifth Amendment, which constitutional protection prevails?

Can SAC insider trading target Elan force hedge fund to pay legal fees?

By Alison Frankel
April 8, 2014

Elan Pharmaceuticals believes it was victimized twice over by SAC Capital, the notorious hedge fund now called Point72. The first time was when SAC obtained insider information about unsuccessful trials of the Alzheimer’s drug bapineuzumab and dumped $700 million in shares of the Irish drug company and its drug development partner Wyeth. But to add insult to that injury, Elan had to spend a small fortune, about $1.6 million, in legal fees and costs stemming from the government’s investigation of SAC’s insider trading. That is money SAC should have to pay, according to Elan. With the hedge fund due to be sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain of Manhattan, the pharma company’s lawyers at Reed Smith have submitted a letter asking Swain to recognize Elan as a victim of SAC’s crimes and order the hedge fund to pay it $1.6 million in restitution.

Mud-flavored yogurt? Chobani founder, ex-wife wage ugly ownership war

By Alison Frankel
April 7, 2014

For a scant two years, from 1997 to 1999, Hamdi Ulukaya, then a young Turkish immigrant with dreams of a business in Turkish-inspired dairy products, and Ayse Giray, a physician in New York with Turkish roots, were married. Giray believed in and supported Ulukaya’s vision, so much so that even after they were divorced, her family loaned him almost $200,000 in 2002 to keep his inchoate cheese-making business afloat. Ulukaya soon thereafter expanded from feta cheese into Greek yogurt, establishing a company called Chobani with a factory in upstate New York. Last month, Reuters revealed that Chobani is in negotiations to sell a minority stake for $2.5 billion. But Giray and Ulukaya are not jointly celebrating the company’s runaway success. Quite the contrary.

Kosher hot dog case presents a real constitutional pickle

By Alison Frankel
April 4, 2014

Who would have guessed that a consumer class action accusing ConAgra of deceiving consumers in the labeling of its Hebrew National hot dogs and salami would implicate two meaty constitutional issues? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Can banks force clients to litigate, not arbitrate?

By Alison Frankel
April 3, 2014

If you are a customer of a big bank — let’s say a merchant unhappy about the fees you’re being charged to process credit card transactions — good luck trying to bring claims in federal court when you’re subject to an arbitration provision. As you probably recall, in last term’s opinion in American Express v. Italian Colors, the U.S. Supreme Court continued its genuflection at the altar of the Federal Arbitration Act, holding definitively that if you’ve signed an agreement requiring you to arbitrate your claims, you’re stuck with it even if you can’t afford to vindicate your statutory rights via individual arbitration.

Sotheby’s shareholders defend activist investors in suit vs board

By Alison Frankel
April 2, 2014

The heat surrounding so-called activist investors — hedge funds that buy up big chunks of a company’s stock, then leverage their position to mount proxy campaigns or otherwise force boards to change the way the company is managed — could hardly be more intense than it is now. Well, okay, maybe there would be even more controversy if Michael Lewis wrote a book about a genius upstart who defied accepted deal conventions and revolutionized corporate takeover battles. But putting aside the Wall Street tizzy inspired by this week’s publication of Lewis’s new book about high-frequency trading, the deal world’s favorite topic remains activist investors like Carl Icahn, Paul Singer, William Ackman and Dan Loeb.

D.C. judge wants DOJ to justify ‘gag orders’ on Twitter, Yahoo

By Alison Frankel
April 1, 2014

For the last two weeks, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola of Washington, D.C., has been on a one-man campaign to hold the government accountable for secret subpoenas to Internet companies.