The question of insurance coverage for the attorneys’ fees of Allen Stanford and his co-defendants is at issue in a three-day bench trial before Southern District of Texas Judge Nancy Atlas that began on Tuesday, August 23, 2010 in Houston.


Stanford and several other individuals have been criminally charged with financial fraud in connection with the collapse of the Stanford Financial Group. The criminal trial is set to commence in January 2011. Stanford and several of the other individuals are also defendants in an SEC enforcement action as well as numerous other civil proceedings.


Stanford Financial had $100 million in D&O insurance. The primary policy contains a money laundering exclusion that the insurers contend precludes coverage under the policies. The money laundering exclusion specifies that it does not apply "until such time as it is determined that the alleged act or acts did in fact occur."


In a January 26, 2010 opinion, Southern District of Texas Judge David Hittner entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting the insurers from "withholding payment" of defense expenses from four individuals (including Allan Stanford), as discussed here. 


In a March 15, 2010 opinion (about which refer here), the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the district court, concluding that the money laundering exclusion’s "in fact" wording required a judicial determination to establish whether or not the exclusion had been triggered, but also concluding that this determination can be made in a separate proceeding such as a coverage action.


Based upon the trial that began on Tuesday in Houston, the court will determine whether or not the money laundering exclusion has been triggered, and therefore whether the insurers have any obligations to pay the defendants’ attorneys fees or other amounts on the defendants’ behalf under the policies.


According to news reports, there were a number of interesting developments in the first day of trial.


First, the lawyer for Laura Pendergest-Holt, Stanford Financial’s former Chief Investment Officer, told the court that Pendergest-Holt had entered a settlement with the insurers. The details of the settlement were not disclosured.


Second, in response to a question from Judge Atlas as to where the policy’s unusual definition of "money laundering" had originated, the lawyer for the insurers told the court that the language had been in prior policies through several renewals, but the language originally "been brought to the contract negotiation …by Stanford’s insurance broker." The insurers’ lawyer said that the insurer did not plan to offer a witness on the origins of the language.


Judge Atlas commented: "All I can say, it’s turning out not to be such a bargain."


Third, the witnesses are unlikely to testify during the coverage trial, given the risks that would entail for the criminal case. Judge Atlas said she will not determine yet whether she will draw an adverse inference about the individuals’ guilt from the individuals’ decision not to testify during the coverage case.


Finally, the insurers revealed that to date the insurers had advanced over $15 million dollars to pay for attorneys’ fees on behalf of the individuals and other insured persons under the policy.


Think Your Commute is Bad?: According to an August 24, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, a 60-mile traffic jam near Beijing "could last until mid-September." Traffic has been backing up since earlier this month due to construction on the Beijing-Tibet highway. Traffic is now backed up "almost all the way to Inner Mongolia."