Opinion

Alison Frankel

Will there be fireworks at Friday’s BofA MBS settlement hearing?

Alison Frankel
Aug 4, 2011 22:42 UTC

The hearing scheduled to take place tomorrow before Manhattan state supreme court judge Barbara Kapnick could turn out to be a straight-forward affair. The judge could simply hear brief arguments on whether to expedite discovery on Bank of America’s proposed $8.5 billion settlement of Countrywide MBS noteholders’ breach-of-warranty claims, issue a ruling, and call it a day. Given that this will be the first time that the architects of the deal — Mayer Brown for Bank of New York Mellon, the MBS trustee; Gibbs & Bruns for a group of 22 major institutional investors ; and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz for BofA — will be gathered in the same room with the small but feisty group of lawyers opposing the settlement, I’m hoping for some heated rhetoric, at the very least. Remember, this hearing is the first chance for these lawyers to register their positions with Judge Kapnick. It’s going to be very interesting to see what each of them make of that opportunity.

The nominal issue before the judge comes from a July 27 order to show cause, filed by Scott + Scott on behalf of a four public pension funds. The show-cause order argues that the schedule suggested by BNY Mellon (and approved by Judge Kapnick) doesn’t offer investors a chance to reach an informed decision about whether to oppose or endorse the proposed deal. Noteholders are supposed to file intervention notices by August 30. Scott + Scott says investors need to conduct expedited discovery before then.

“Document discovery is needed to evaluate the reliability of the expert opinions and the reasonableness of the settlement,” the filing says. “The [self-styled] public pension fund committee also believes that discovery bearing upon the interests and potential conflicts of the negotiating parties, the adequacy of the development of the facts, as well as the basis of the expert reports, is warranted.”

Scott + Scott has already been in consultation with lawyers for other opponents of the proposed settlement, including David Grais of Grais & Ellsworth. Grais has been the most prolific intervenor in the BofA MBS proceeding. Early on he filed an objection on behalf of a group of unidentified investors operating under the name Walnut Place who were already deep in MBS litigation against BofA at the time the global settlement was announced. Since then Grais has moved to intervene on behalf of six Federal Home Loan Banks and three other Countrywide noteholders, including a motion Wednesday on behalf of a new investor group called Cranberry Park. (Walnut Place and Cranberry Park? What’s up with that?)

The intervenors’ side of Kapnick’s courtroom will probably also include two other firms representing Federal Home Loan Banks in MBS litigation: Keller Rohrback and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, both of which signed Grais’s brief on behalf of the FHLBs. There’s also a new intervenor group of six insurance companies, which is represented by Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch.

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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