By Thom Weidlich, Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Jody Shenn – Oct 26, 2010 12:01 AM ET
Kathy D. Patrick is a Houston lawyer who spends her Sundays teaching children about God. The rest of the week, according to one attorney who knows her, she can be “as frightening as a pit bull on steroids.”
That’s bad news for issuers of mortgage-backed securities like Bank of America Corp. Patrick represents bond investors including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and BlackRock Inc. who are seeking to force the bank to buy back bad home loans, claiming the debt failed to match contractual promises about its quality.
Her law firm, Gibbs & Bruns LLP, is a 30-lawyer outfit that says it specializes in “bet the company” litigation. This month, it reached a settlement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of Montreal stemming from an alleged fraud at a Canadian gold company. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and UBS AG settled with the firm over the sale of $550 million in mortgage-backed securities. Patrick reached that settlement on behalf of her clients just two months after filing suit.
Patrick, 50, is “fearless and tenacious,” said Dan Cogdell, a Houston criminal-defense lawyer who said she is capable of pit bull-like aggressiveness “if the need be.” If she succeeds in getting Bank of America to settle, it may trigger more calls for buybacks in the $1.4 trillion market for so-called non-agency mortgage securities, which lack government backing.
Bank costs from repurchasing mortgages in such securities may total as much as $179.2 billion, including expenses related to suits against bond underwriters, Chris Gamaitoni, a Compass Point Research and Trading LLC analyst, estimated in August.
In June 2009, Patrick got Credit Suisse Group AG and Deutsche Bank AG to agree to pay $1.73 billion to end litigation over their decision to back out of the leveraged buyout of Huntsman Corp. Her firm is suing Zurich-based Credit Suisse as bond underwriter for a now-defunct Ohio company that sold securities based on health-care providers’ unpaid bills.
“She has a deep understanding of the banking process and the constraints, motivations and incentives of the banking industry,” said Harry M. Reasoner, a partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston, who also represented Huntsman.
In the fight against Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, Patrick represents the biggest bond investors in the U.S., including Pacific Investment Management Co., which runs the world’s biggest bond fund.
On Oct. 18, she wrote Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon Corp., the trustee for $47 billion of bonds created by Bank of America’s Countrywide Financial unit. In the letter, she accused Countrywide of failing to service the home loans properly. Her clients want Bank of America, which bought Countrywide in 2008, to take back some of the underlying loans, and are questioning its servicing as a way to broaden their legal options, Patrick said the next day.
“We continue to review and assess the letter, and have a number of questions about its content, including whether these investors have standing to bring these claims,” Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Charles H. Noski said Oct. 19 on a conference call with analysts. “We continue to believe the servicer is in compliance with the servicing obligations.”
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