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The Never Discussed Impact Of Net Equity Question, Impact of Discovery on SIPC's Position. Part III

By       Message Lawrence Velvel       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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<Washington area) have an economically good, not terribly stressful life that they have enjoyed for years and would like to maintain. (Thus, even two "annual pay periods" ago, in 2007, Harbeck's annual salary was $435,876, and his deferred compensation was $103,357, while Wang's was $295,490 and $146,901. This is pretty good in the D.C. area for anyone who is not, say, a major partner in a major law firm or a big time lobbyist. And they probably make more now, in 2009.) They want to continue the cushy life, I was told -- who wouldn't want to? -- and to do this they want to stay on the good side of SIPC's membership, comprised of the brokerage industry. One stays on the brokers' good side by minimizing payouts to victims and thereby, as has been the case for many years, minimizing the annual assessments on brokers, who for years had been paying only $150 per year even if the company was Goldman Sachs. So all of this could also have played into the decision to use cash in/cash out as the definition of net equity in the Madoff matter, and any competent interrogator should have a field day with it in depositions of such as Harbeck, Wang, Picard, SIPC's Board of Trustees and so on.

So, to reiterate, I think Helen Chaitman was exactly right in saying she would be able to prove various claims through discovery. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum (so to speak). In early July, Chaitman proposed a rapid briefing schedule to the court, a schedule that left no time for discovery. It would be my speculation this likely was done for two reasons. One would be that she has clients, and there are also scores, hundreds or even thousands of others, who are hurting so badly that they had to get money from SIPC as quickly as possible; they cannot abide the delay that will be caused by discovery. I would estimate that the delay could be as long as six months or even a year. Lawyers make discovery a painful and time consuming process by a host of infamous stratagems, and that is what one could expect here from SIPC.

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The other reason, I would speculate, is that Chaitman likely thinks the case against the Picardian/SIPCian version of net equity is so strong as what lawyers call a matter of law -- is so strong based on the legislative history, congressional motivations, past SIPC practice and pronouncements, and the New Times case -- that discovery is not needed to win, so let's have the issue decided as soon as possible.

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Now, I don't really disagree with such assessment of the strength of the case, even though I recognize that certitude about the rightness of one's own side of a case is forever an occupational hazard of lawyers (not to mention clients). Nonetheless, while I don't disagree with the assessment of strength here, I do think it a major mistake to try to elide discovery. For, as indicated, I think discovery is going to hammer nail after nail in SIPC's coffin, is going to show that a desire to escape huge payouts and brokerage industry wrath, not principle or justice or congressional intent, was the driving force behind the adoption of cash in/cash out. And, even though our side of the case is already very strong, you always want to have all the powerful facts you can adduce in order to fare as well as possible before trial courts and courts of appeal. Discovery will produce those facts -- I think discovery might even produce facts that could even cause SIPC's purported legal position to be looked at derisively by the courts. Derision is deadly.

It turns out that just a few days ago, I am informed, Judge Lifland rejected the rapid briefing schedule proposed by Chaitman. I do not know why he did so, and some of the potential reasons which come to mind are not happy ones. But be this as it may, I would urge all the lawyers -- Brian Neville, Jonathan Landers and Helen Chaitman to demand discovery in this case. Just as I urged people not to forget the impact of net equity on recovery from the estate as well as from SIPC, so too I would urge people to be cognizant of the benefits that can wrought for our side by discovery, and the possible havoc it might wreak on the SIPCian/Picardian side. The results of discovery at least in my judgment, are likely to be very favorable to us, since I believe the cash in/cash out net equity position was used in Madoff -- but not with regard to people who thought they had bought securities which existed in the real world in New Times -- strictly in an effort to avoid massive payouts in Madoff.*

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.

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