Standard & Poor's hires top defense attorney for $5 bn 'defraud investors' lawsuit

SP rating

Standard & Poor's (S&P's) has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight a $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week.

Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm.

"John Keker is one of the great trial lawyers in this country," Abrams said.

Keker did not return calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for his firm, Keker & Van Nest, confirmed that Keker and another partner, Elliot Peters, were on the case.

The U.S. government sued Standard & Poor's in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday, accusing the McGraw Hill Cos Inc unit of a scheme to defraud investors in mortgage-related securities that collapsed in the financial crisis.

Standard & Poor's has said the lawsuit is "without legal merit and unjustified" and that it will "vigorously defend" itself against the erroneous claims.

Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer who has defended S&P in dozens of lawsuits over its ratings, said this week that freedom of speech may not be a defense in this case.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Abrams said bringing Keker onto the team was an indication that "we are going to be more than ready, if necessary, to have a trial."

Keker, known as a combative defense attorney, won credit from legal experts in 2006 when Fastow, considered the mastermind of Enron's fraud, was sentenced to only six years in prison.

Keker also helped Armstrong fend off a U.S. Justice Department investigation into doping last year. Armstrong admitted doping earlier this year, raising questions over whether the investigation could be reopened.

Keker also represented ex-Citigroup banker Brian Stoker in a case brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over his role in a mortgage bond deal that collapsed. Stoker was cleared of wrongdoing.

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