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June 16, 2009 12:28 PM

Boies v. Wells: Battle of the Heavyweights

Posted by Brian Baxter

It might not have a catchy handle like the Thrilla in Manilla or the Rumble in the Jungle, but in legal circles, opening statements in a high-stakes case pitting David Boies against Ted Wells is a must-see event.

Although Andrew Longstreth, our chief Litigation Daily correspondent, didn't spend his weekend camped outside a federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan to score tickets, he managed to squeeze himself into a packed courtroom on Monday afternoon as others were ushered away to an overflow room.

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It was worth the fight.

During opening statements, Wells (right), of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, landed the first body blows on behalf of AIG, which is seeking $4.3 billion and control of nearly 186 million shares of AIG stock held by Boies's client, Starr International Company, led by former AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg.

Longstreth reports that Wells told jurors that every case involving corporations is really about people, and that this case will be about Maurice Greenberg.

U.S. district court judge Jed Rakoff, no stranger to high-profile cases, precluded Wells from discussing the government investigations of Greenberg that forced his ouster from AIG in March 2005. Instead Longstreth reports that Wells summed it up in one catchy phrase: "Anger, betrayal, cover-up."

At issue is a trust alleged to have been established in 1970 as part of a restructuring of AIG-affiliated companies. Starr acquired more than $100 million worth of AIG stock in that reshuffling in exchange for selling its insurance companies to AIG. Longstreth reports that although there was no agreement in writing, AIG claims that Starr was required to hold onto that stock to compensate AIG employees. (Starr claims that such a trust never existed.)

In his opening argument, Wells tried to draw a parallel between Greenberg's bitterness at his sudden departure from AIG and Starr selling off more than $4 billion in stock of the company he built into a global insurance giant. As evidence, Wells said he would introduce videos and documents showing Starr's acknowledgement of the trust.

"They said it, they wrote it, and they did it," he told the jury, coining another Wellsian catchphrase. "You don't need it in writing."

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Contrasting Wells's dramatic display was a more cerebral approach by Boies (left), founder of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, who Longstreth reports stood up in front of the jury in his signature "Lands' End look."

Boies presented a document to the jury from 1970 showing that in the event Starr liquidated, the AIG stock that it held would go to charity, not the insurer. Boies argued that trusts of more than $100 million had been put in writing in many other situations, so it made little sense why that wasn't the case with Starr.

Longstreth is down at the courthouse again today for Round 2. We'll be sure to keep you apprised of any developments.

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