U.S. wants one trial in $5 billion fraud case versus S&P

Tue Apr 8, 2014 11:20am EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - The United States said its $5 billion civil fraud lawsuit against Standard & Poor's should be tried all at once, rejecting the credit rating agency's insistence that a single trial would be too big, confusing and unfair.

S&P, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc, was accused of causing losses for federally-insured banks and credit unions by inflating ratings to win more fees from issuers, and being too slow to downgrade debt backed by souring mortgages, contributing to the 2008 financial crisis.

Last month, S&P proposed holding two trials, with the first focused on just 17 securities out of the roughly 160 at issue, where Citigroup Inc was alleged to have suffered losses.

In a Monday court filing, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte in Los Angeles said "mini-trials" would "severely prejudice" the United States by preventing it from showing "the full and complete nature of S&P's alleged fraud" to a single jury.

He said this would include "great swaths" of evidence that S&P intended to defraud investors that, unlike Citigroup and Bank of America Corp, were not involved in the issuance of securities it rated.

Holding one trial "is particularly necessary to counter S&P's efforts to focus on isolated employee actions at an individual security level," Birotte wrote.

He also said two trials would likely violate the 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, by allowing different juries to review many of the same overlapping issues in a single case.

S&P has argued that a single trial would force it to present "overwhelming" amounts of evidence to counter the government's claims, perhaps more easily grasped by jurors, that its ratings lacked "independence" and "objectivity."   Continued...

A man walks past the Standard and Poor's building in New York's financial district February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid