How BofA was Forced to Settle $2.43 bln Merrill Class Action

How BofA was forced to settle $2.43 bln Merrill class action

Brad Karp of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Max Berger of Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann share an elevator bank at 1285 6th Avenue in New York City. Bernstein Litowitz, a 50-lawyer plaintiffs’ firm, has space on the 36th and 38th floors. Paul Weiss’s 750 lawyers occupy much of the rest of the office building. Karp and Berger are also old frenemies: In 2004, they negotiated Citigroup’s $2.65 billion settlement of shareholder claims in the WorldCom accounting fraud case. Over the last several months, with Karp representing Bank of America and Berger one of the lead counsel for shareholders suing over the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2008, the two have spent a lot of time riding the elevator between Berger’s office on the 36th floor and Karp’s on the 30th, discussing a resolution of the class action.

With an Oct. 22 trial date looming and no sign from U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel that he would end the case by granting summary judgment to either side, those elevator rides (and sessions with mediator Layn Phillips of Irell & Manella) led to the $2.43 billion settlement that Bank of America announced Friday. It’s the fourth-largest-ever securities class action settlement by a single defendant (behind Tyco’s $2.975 billion deal in 2007; Cendant’s $2.83 billion settlement in 1999; and the Citi agreement in 2004) and the largest in a case that involved no accounting fraud or criminal convictions. The settlement is vindication for Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who launched the litigation on behalf of two Ohio pension funds back in 2009, before he was voted out of office as Ohio’s attorney general, and for the three shareholders’ firms that litigated the case for almost four years: Bernstein Litowitz; Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check; and Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer.

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