Argentina debt fight is magnet for top U.S. lawyers

NEW YORK Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:04am GMT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The fight coming to a head in U.S. courts over Argentine government debt has attracted some of the biggest names in the U.S. legal business.

The latest big gun to enter the fray is celebrated attorney David Boies, whose appearance is the latest sign of escalating stakes in the case. Boies, a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, represents holders of Argentine bonds who agreed to two rounds of restructurings in which Argentina issued new debt at a steep discount.

His appearance also sets up a potential rematch between Boies and another top-flight attorney, Theodore Olson, who is representing an opposing group of investors. Olson represented former President George W. Bush at the Supreme Court in a case that decided the U.S. presidential election in 2000. Boies represented Democratic candidate Al Gore, who lost the election.

Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a former solicitor general under Bush, represents investors who refused to participate in the restructurings, the so-called holdout bondholders.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa issued a ruling in favor of the holdouts, ordering Argentina to pay $1.3 billion into an escrow account for them by December 15. He also ordered Argentina not to pay bondholders who agreed to the haircut until it pays the holdouts.

Boies appealed the order on Monday night, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional taking of his clients' property. If the decision is not overruled, Boies said it could trigger a default by Argentina and prevent payment to his clients.

"Telling a sovereign country what it does in its own nation raises a lot of issues that I think in the long run are not productive for the United States remaining a commercial financial center," Boies told Reuters on Tuesday.

Olson did not respond to requests for comment.

Argentina, represented by Jonathan Blackman and Carmine Boccuzzi of the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, also appealed Griesa's order on Monday. Blackman and Boccuzzi are among the foremost experts on the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, one of the laws at issue in the Argentina case.

If the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agrees to hear the case, oral argument could feature Boies and Argentina's lawyers on one side and Olson on the other.

Most big-name partners at prestigious law firms bill nearly $1,000 an hour. But Olson is even more expensive. According to court filings made this year, Olson's hourly rate is $1,800. Boies's firm, meanwhile, is known for making fee arrangements with clients such as charging a "success fee."

Boies is just the latest lawyer to join the litigation, which has spawned dozens of cases and has featured lawyers from dozens of law firms.

The biggest role in the nearly 10-year-old battle has been played by lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb, which has long specialized in representing sovereign nations in financial crises. In addition to Argentina, Cleary has represented Greece, the Republic of Congo, Iceland and Iraq.

The holdout bondholders, which include NML Capital, an affiliate of Elliott Management, and Aurelius Capital Management, have called on a variety of firms in addition to Olson's Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. These firms include Simpson Thacher & Bartlett as well as Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Bondholders have also used the firm Dechert.

Since facing off in the case known as Bush v. Gore, Boies and Olson have made headlines for working together on behalf of gay and lesbian couples challenging the constitutionality of California's ban on same sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court will meet on Friday to consider whether to take that case.

Boies joked about appearing in so many cases either opposite or alongside Olson. "We're trying to work it out so that either every client hires both of us or each client hires one of us on one side and one on the other side," he said.

(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Eddie Evans and Lisa Shumaker)