When Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray announced this past Friday that he had entered a massive $725 million settlement on behalf of three Ohio pension funds in the long standing securities class action lawsuit against AIG, he definitely accomplished his objective –his announcement made the front pages of all the newspapers in Ohio (it was the lead story in Saturday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer).
There is only one problem. AIG doesn’t have the money to pay for the settlement. The plan, such as it is, is that AIG is going to fund the first $175 million following the settlement’s preliminary approval. Then, AIG is going to try to conduct a stock offering to raise the remaining $550 million.
As Susan Beck put it on the Am Law Litigation Daily, there have been lots of settlement over the years, but "we’ve never seen one quite like this."
As reflected in greater detail here, the plaintiffs first sued AIG, certain of its directors and officers, its auditor and certain third parties in October 2004, shortly after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer first announced his investigation of a "scheme" in connection with commercial insurance transactions involving bid-rigging and the payment of contingent commissions. Further allegations made their way into the complaint following additional revelations.
The plaintiffs’ 497-page consolidated third amended complaint filed in March 2006 included the bid-rigging and contingent commission allegations, as well as allegations that AIG falsified its financial statements, among other things, by entry into a finite reinsurance transaction with General Reinsurance Corporation, as well as of reinsurance transactions with other offshore entities. In May 2005 AIG restated five years of earnings, reducing shareholders’ equity by more than $2.7 billion.
Even before the $725 million AIG settlement announced Friday, the Ohio AG’s office had already entered settlements totaling $284.5 million in the case. First, on October 3, 2008, the Ohio AG entered a $97.5 million settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers, as reflected here.
Second, on February 2, 2009, the Ohio AG announced that Gen Re had agreed to a $72 million settlement.
Third, on August 13, 2009, the Ohio AG announced that he had entered a $115 million settlement with former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, and several other former AIG executives, as well as certain corporate entities affiliated with Greenberg. (Several of these same individuals and entities also separately settled a related derivative lawsuit for $115 million, largely funded by insurance, as discussed here.)
The sum of these settlements in the securities class action case, including the recently announced settlement with AIG, is $1.0095 billion, which, according to data from Risk Metrics (here), would rank as the tenth largest securities class action settlement amount. Indeed, the AIG settlement by itself would rank twelfth on the list.
There is the small problem of how AIG’s is going to pay for the $725 million settlement. The company, you will recall, has received over $130 billion in U.S government bailout support and is now 80 percent owned by the U.S. taxpayers. The company is struggling to sell assets to repay the bailout money.
According to AIG’s July 16, 2010 filing on Form 8-K, the settlement is "conditioned on its having consummated one or more common stock offerings raising net proceeds of at least $550 million prior to final court approval." The decision whether "market conditions or pending or contemplated corporate transactions make it commercially reasonable to proceed with such an offering will be within AIG’s unilateral discretion."
The intent is for AIG to register a secondary offering of common stock on behalf of the U.S. Treasury. AIG also has the option to fund the $550 million from other sources. If AIG fails to fund the $550 million, the plaintiffs have several options. They can terminate the agreement; they can "elect to acquire freely transferable shares of AIG common stock with a market value of $550 million provided AIG is able to obtain the necessary approvals"; or they can extend the period for AIG to complete the offering.
A securities offering conducted for the sole purpose of funding past litigation is not exactly the most attractive investment opportunity, even under the best of circumstances. But these are not the best of circumstances for AIG. Indeed, the settlement’s announcement comes at a time when the company’s leadership seems in disarray, after the company’s board chair resigned following a "board battle" with the current CEO. The company faces a daunting array of challenges as it seeks to repay the bailout money, as reflected in a July 17, 2010 Wall Street Journal article here unrelated to the settlement and the projected stock offering,
A July 16, 2010 New York Times article about the settlement quotes one commentator as saying, "There’s still a lot of question marks hanging over AIG. How would you write the prospectus for it? The document would be quite appalling when it described the risks."
The offering would, according to the article, be "rife with uncertainties" given the fact that the offering would be dilutive of the government’s ownership interest. On the other hand, as the article also points out, "taxpayers and legislators would cry foul" if the lawsuit were funded out of the $22 billion that remains available to the company.
Along with the questions of how the company will fund the $550 million settlement chunk is the question of how the company is paying for the first $175 million. Given the U.S. taxpayers’ interest in the company, it seems like there should be some explanation somewhere about the source of that money, but none of the publicly available information provides any explanation. It is possible that insurance will fund that portion, although none of the disclosure documents make any suggestion of that possibility, and in addition, significant insurance funds were previously paid to fund the derivative lawsuit settlement identified above. The settlement agreement itself might answer the question, but it is not yet available on PACER.
The lawsuit itself is a vestige of a different time and place. Though the events involved are only a half dozen years in the past, the complaint reflects a lengthy roster of individuals whose roles have long-since changed in ways that no one could possibly have imagined at the time. The alleged wrongdoing , while involving some fairly egregious circumstances, pales by comparison with the cataclysmic events that followed. Given this antediluvian aspect of this case, it does seem high time that it settled. However, only time will tell if the parties have in fact succeeded in driving a stake into the heart of this beast.
Somehow it seems fitting that just this past week there were news reports that during a recent lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where Greenberg was having lunch with former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill, Spitzer approached Greenberg, stuck his hand out, and asked Greenberg if he would appear on Spitzer’s CNN show. Unsurprisingly, Greenberg declined. Can you imagine the look on Greenberg’s face? The world is a very strange place sometimes. Or, at least there are some strange inhabitants.
It is also entirely fitting that Cordray’s and Spitzer’s names should be linked in connection with this story. Cordray has definitely borrowed several key pages out of Spitzer’s political play book. Playing the role of Wall Street Scourge definitely worked for Spitzer, at least until his extracurricular activities earned him some extended gardening leave followed by his current rehabilitation assignment on CNN. It also seemed like it was working for Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal until it turned out he had oversold his credentials as a veteran.
Cordray is playing the angle for all it is worth. His website has a separate page devoted to securities class action litigation activities, including a June 1, 2010 summary of the current cases. (The document is headed "Holding Wall Street Accountable.") However, it is probably worth noting that many of the cases on Cordray’s list were actually launched by his predecessors, although Cordray did demonstrate his own initiative with the action he recently filed against the rating agencies, about which refer here.
The New Homogeneity: If, as seems likely, Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court is confirmed, the Court’s make-up will, at least in certain respects, reflect unprecedented levels of diversity. Three women will be served on the Court for the first time. The Court includes a Hispanic and an African-American. There will be six Catholics and three jews, although, curiously, no Protestants.
But in another respect, Kagan’s arrival will make the Court even less diverse. As detailed on a July 16, 2010 post on the Economix blog (here), with Kagan’s addition, eight out of the nine justices will have attended one of two elite East Coast, Ivy League law schools. The only exception, Justice Ginsberg, graduated from Columbia Law School, but she started at Harvard and transferred after her first year to be in New York with her husband. According to data cited in the blog post, for the first time in the Court’s history, every sitting justice will have a law degree from the Ivy League.
The immediate question is whether this matters. There has always been a healthy representation of Ivy League graduates on the Court. Such luminaries as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis immediately come to mind.
But even if the Ivy League has always been well represented on the Court, it has never been quite so dominant, and a wider diversity of educational backgrounds was always present. William Rehquist and Sandra Day O’Connor were classmates at Stanford Law School. Earl Warren attended Boalt Hall at the University of California. Warren Berger attended the William Mitchell College of Law. Indeed, Robert Jackson, usually cited as one of the Court’s finest writers, did not even graduate from law school, but rather apprenticed for a lawyer in Jamestown, New York.
Nor is the Court is the only branch of government that has been captured by these same two schools. The last four occupants of the White House, including the current President, all have at least one educational degree from one of these same two schools. (George W. Bush had one of each.)
When and how did this very peculiar form of elitism get instituted?
To be sure, no one could claim that the current justices or the recent Presidents are cookie cutter copies of each other. But the concentration of power and authority in the hands of a few persons sharing the same elite background seems highly antithetical to some of the most basic notions of American self-government. Or to put it another way, if ethnic and gender diversity are desirable goals, at the same time shouldn’t we be taking care that we are not undermining the benefits of diversity by concentrating power and authority in the hands of a small elite?
The Court’s peculiar narrowness actually takes several forms. Not only do the current justices share a common background of higher education, their careers have all followed similar and similarly narrow paths. Their individual resumes consist largely of service in the judiciary and academia, with the occasional service as a government lawyer or prosecutor thrown in. None of the current justices has ever had to make payroll or struggled to try to make a profit. None has ever had to establish a political coalition or get themselves elected. None has served in the military. Even their legal experience is narrow – none has been a criminal defense attorney, for instance.
Some may argue that I am making too much of the necessarily limited demography of a very small population. But I do think the slender reach of the Court’s collective education and experience has practical consequences. For example, the Court has recently shown a predilection to take up securities cases, but none of the justices seem particularly motivated by a concern for the financial markets or to have a vital appreciation of the importance of the financial markets for the country’s well being. Instead, the cases seem to represent challenging intellectual problems, detached from their deeper significance.
All I am saying is that before everyone puts their arms out of joint congratulating each other about the increasing diversity on the Court, perhaps the question should be asked whether one kind of uniformity is simply being replaced with a different kind of homogeneity.
Why do so many young bloggers sound like hyenas laughing in the dark? Maybe it’s because there’s no old hand at the next desk to turn to and say, "Son, being an enraged, profane, unmoderated, unmediated, hit-loving, trash-talking rage money is no way to go through life."
Poor old Peggy, her memory must be going. Clearly she has forgotten that the surest way to show that your sell by date has passed is to start fulminating about "young people these days" and the things that somebody ought to tell them. On the other hand, she could use somebody to tell her that attempting in a single paragraph to portray her bêtes noires as both laughing hyenas and rage monkeys hardly sets an example of restraint. Perhaps the rage she detects is her own.