Opinion

Alison Frankel

Did Gibbs pre-empt rival investor group in BofA’s MBS deal?

Alison Frankel
Oct 3, 2011 22:23 UTC

The most dramatic moment at the Sept. 21 hearing on Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide mortgage-backed securities investors came near the end, when Gibbs & Bruns partner Robert Madden stood up to address Manhattan federal judge William Pauley’s concerns about how the settlement came to be. Tall and clear-spoken, Madden captured the judge’s attention as he explained that his clients, a group of 22 large institutional investors, hadn’t entered a sweetheart deal with BofA, but had banded together to force the bank to pony up billions to investors for claims BofA thought it would never have to deal with.

“The problem was that these repurchase claims were lying fallow,” Madden said, according to the transcript of the hearing. “No one was doing anything. None of (the investors now objecting to the deal) were doing anything. And, I’m sorry to say, the trustee wasn’t doing anything. Limitations were running on those claims, and nothing was happening.”

Or was it?

I’ve learned that in the summer of 2010, as Gibbs & Bruns began to push Countrywide MBS trustee Bank of New York Mellon to act on its assertions that mortgages underlying the Countrywide securities were deficient, another group of Countrywide MBS investors was finalizing its own notice of default to serve on BNY Mellon. Members of the RMBS Clearinghouse, run by former Patton Boggs partner Talcott Franklin, had undertaken an extensive analysis of the underlying Countrywide mortgages, and, according to two sources familiar with the Clearinghouse’s activities, were on the verge of sending BNY Mellon a notice that would trigger put-back litigation.

The asset management firms BlackRock and PIMCO were key members of Franklin’s Clearinghouse. But they were also Gibbs & Bruns clients. On Aug. 4, 2010, Gibbs & Bruns partner Kathy Patrick sent an email to her MBS clients, including BlackRock, PIMCO, the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and MetLife. In that email, Patrick made it clear that Gibbs & Bruns clients should not support the Clearinghouse’s effort.

“Since some of you were previously in the Clearinghouse, it may be that Mr. Franklin believes (mistakenly) that he is authorized to send a notice of default on your behalf,” the email said. “If you have not already done so, it is important that you promptly advise him that he is not authorized to send a notice of default on your behalf … You should also make clear that he should not include your bonds in the count of any bonds he uses to reach the percentages required to tender such a notice.”

BofA MBS settlement shocker: Grais removes case to federal court

Alison Frankel
Aug 26, 2011 23:04 UTC

There is never a dull moment in Bank of America’s attempt to resolve its Countrywide mortgage-backed securities liability. In a stunning move Friday, the law firm leading the fight against BofA’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement with Countrywide MBS noteholders removed the case from New York state supreme court to federal court. “The purpose of removal is to make sure that this proceeding is adjudicated in the proper forum,” Grais & Ellsworth wrote in a letter to lawyers for Bank of New York Mellon (the Countrywide MBS trustee) and for the big institutional investors who crafted the proposed settlement. “We believe in good faith that this proceeding is subject to federal jurisdiction as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act.” (Here’s the Grais & Ellsworth letter with the removal petition attached.)

The removal to federal court plunges the proposed settlement, at least temporarily, into more uncertainty than ever. Judge Barbara Kapnick, who is presiding over the unusual state court proceeding to evaluate the proposed deal, had imposed an August 30 deadline for Countrywide MBS investors to intervene in the case. She had also established a preliminary schedule for the discovery Grais & Ellsworth and other objectors’ counsel have demanded from BNY Mellon, BofA, and the institutional investors and their Gibbs & Bruns counsel. The removal to federal court means that Judge Kapnick isn’t in charge of the case, so it’s not clear whether lawyers are required to abide by her schedule.

The Grais & Ellsworth filing was a surprise tactic. The firm has been in the state court litigation since early July, filing its initial petition to intervene only days after Bank of New York Mellon, as Countrywide trustee, filed a suit asking for court approval of the settlement of investors’ claims. David Grais even appeared before Judge Kapnick at an August 5 hearing on objectors’ requests for expedited discovery. Grais & Ellsworth apparently waited to remove the case to federal court until Judge Kapnick granted the firm’s motion to intervene in the state court case on Monday. (Grais, who was not in the office Friday, didn’t respond to my e-mail; his partner Owen Cyrulnik, who signed the letter to opposing counsel, didn’t respond to an e-mail and phone message.)

Gibbs & Bruns comes to NY to sell investors on $8.5bl BofA deal

Alison Frankel
Jul 16, 2011 03:05 UTC

Kathy Patrick wants to set the world straight.

The Gibbs & Bruns partner, who represented 22 major Countrywide mortgage-backed securities investors in the negotiations that led to the June 29 proposed $8.5 billion Bank of America deal, has come East from her home office in Houston to sell Countrywide MBS noteholders and anyone else who will listen on the settlement she and her partner Scott Humphries negotiated with BofA and Countrywide MBS trustee Bank of New York Mellon.

In the face of questions about the deal from six Federal Home Loan Banks, the New York State Attorney General, and a North Carolina Congressman, Patrick and Humphries spent Thursday in Washington and Friday in New York, meeting with MBS investors and “other interested parties” they declined to identify. The Gibbs lawyers’ message: The proposed BofA settlement represents a far better outcome for noteholders than continued litigation of loan-by-loan breach of contract claims against Countrywide. In that scenario, they insist, there would be no guaranteed outcome, no assurance investors can obtain a judgment against BofA as Countrywide’s successor, and none of the mortgage loan-servicing provisions that are a big part of the proposed deal. (The Gibbs & Bruns lawyers and some of their institutional investor clients argue that the servicing component of the deal, in which Bank of America has agreed to outsource loan servicing to specialists tasked with renegotiating troubled mortgages, could end up being as valuable as the cash part of the settlement.)

Patrick is particularly exercised that one objector to the proposed settlement has asserted that the deal “fails to address” securities claims pending against Countrywide. The settlement agreement specifically states that securities fraud claims are not part of the deal, and even if BNY Mellon, as trustee, wanted to give away investors’ right to sue for securities fraud, it has no power to do so. Patrick said she was so determined to preserve her own clients’ securities law claims that Gibbs & Bruns very nearly walked away from late-stage negotiations when Bank of America’s lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz demanded a release. “We said not only no, but hell no,” Patrick said, adding that she was ready to leave $8.5 billion on the table.

BoNY releases expert reports backing $8.5bl BofA MBS deal

Alison Frankel
Jul 14, 2011 20:52 UTC

Faced with a barrage of investor criticism (see here, here, and here) of its proposed $8.5 billion mortgage-backed securities settlement with Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, the MBS trustee, has released the expert reports underlying the agreement. The reports—in particular the valuation report by Brian Lin, the managing director of RRMS Advisors—provide an extraordinary window into how this deal got done. They may not change anyone’s mind about the fairness of the settlement proposal, but they answer a lot of the questions that challengers of the deal have raised.

Let’s start with the numbers that were on the table when Gibbs & Bruns and its group of 22 major Countrywide MBS investors sat down across from Bank of America and its lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The outside range of the investor group’s demands was $52.6 billion, according to Lin’s report. At the low end, the investors asked for $27 billion. Bank of America, according to the Lin report, calculated that investors could claim no more than $4 billion.

Lin began his evaluation of the investors’ Countrywide MBS claims by reviewing the presentations that the Gibbs group and BofA made to one another. (His company, RRMS, is a mortgage-backed securities consultant that advises MBS investors, packagers, and issuers. BoNY and its Mayer Brown lawyers selected Lin’s firm to provide an expert opinion after beauty contest interviews with several candidates, which had to have MBS expertise but couldn’t have a significant relationship with Bank of America.) Interestingly, Lin’s report indicates that the valuation methodology employed by both the investors and BofA was almost the same, although the two sides obviously plugged different assumptions into the basic formula.

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