Lawyers for Argentina have spent a decade before same judge

, Daily Business Review

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Two lawyers have spent much of the past decade defending Argentina in front of the same U.S. judge in dozens of lawsuits arising from the South American country's 2001 default on $95 billion in sovereign debt.

Jonathan Blackman and Carmine Boccuzzi, partners at New York's Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, have represented Argentina in litigation that began in 2002. The two share a history with U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa, the New York jurist who has presided over the fate of billions of dollars of Argentine debt over the same period.

The work, on behalf of a government that has criticized and ignored Griesa, has put the lawyers in a difficult position with the 82-year-old judge who oversees litigation over the defaulted bonds.

Their conflict with opposing counsel and even the judge may only intensify as the landmark case heads toward a dramatic hearing before a federal appeals court early in the new year.

At a Nov. 9 court conference, Griesa asked Boccuzzi about statements by Argentine president Cristina Fernandez De Kirchner and Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino that the country wouldn't pay what it called the "vulture funds" that are trying to collect on the defaulted bonds.

"Is that the position of the president of the republic?" Griesa asked. "Is that the position of the economic minister, Mr. Boccuzzi?"

Boccuzzi made several attempts to argue Argentina's officials weren't publicly announcing their defiance of Griesa's court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. After questioning Boccuzzi for several minutes, Griesa gave up.

"I don't think there is any utility in me going back and forth with Mr. Boccuzzi further," he said. "Obviously, Mr. Boccuzzi does not really want to say that the republic is saying what is reported in the press."

A spokeswoman for Cleary Gottlieb didn't respond to voicemail messages seeking interviews with Blackman and Boccuzzi.

The litigation also has drawn in Ted Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general, and David Boies, who represented the U.S. government in its antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. Olson and Boies opposed each other in the litigation that decided the 2000 U.S. presidential election — Olson for Republican George W. Bush and Boies for Democrat Al Gore. More recently they joined forces to challenge California's Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that banned gay marriage and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

NML Capital

Olson represents Elliott Management Corp.'s NML Capital Ltd., which is trying to collect on its defaulted bonds in a case involving $1.3 billion of debt and interest. Boies represents a group of investors who traded their defaulted bonds for new ones at a discount when Argentina restructured its debt.

Argentina issued the bonds beginning in 1994. Since the 2001 default, its government has refused to make any payments on principal or interest.

In 2005 and 2010, Argentina offered an exchange to holders of the defaulted bonds. The investors could trade for new exchange bonds at a discount of as much as 75 percent. Holders of more than 91 percent of Argentina's defaulted debt participated, according to the appeals court. Argentina has made all required payments on the exchange bonds while continuing to refuse payment to the holdout bondholders.

Some of the holders of the defaulted bonds bought them before they were repudiated by Argentina and have held them since. Others, including Paul Singer's Elliott Management and Aurelius Capital Management, bought the bonds later as distressed debt. They are the investors Argentina's officials call "vultures."

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