Ken Lewis Hires ‘Best in the Business’ for Cuomo Showdown

This afternoon, when Andrew Cuomo announced he filed suit against Bank of America and its former CEO, Ken Lewis, an attorney for Mr. Lewis quickly shot back.

“The decision by Mr. Cuomo to sue Bank of America, Mr. Lewis and other executives in connection with BofA’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch is a badly misguided decision without support in the facts or the law,” Mary Jo White told Bloomberg.

Ms. White, now of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York, is rather well-versed in white collar cases. For nine years, she was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a sort of top cop for Wall Street.

“Mary Jo White is the best in the business,” said David Siegal, a former Southern District prosecutor now with Haynes and Boone.

That Mr. Lewis hired Ms. White suggests he’s ready to play hardball. So will Ms. White put the AG to his proof on the charges against Mr. Lewis and make Mr. Cuomo try the case?

It would be unusual to litigate a white-collar case like this, but then, the case is already somewhat unusual. The S.E.C., in announcing a tentative settlement with BofA today, thanked Mr. Cuomo, which is usually a sign there’s an overarching deal in place to resolve all the legal issues. But Mr. Cuomo’s lawsuit didn’t sound too conciliatory, even by lawsuit standards:

“The conduct of Bank of America, through its top management, was motivated by self-interest, greed, hubris, and a palpable sense that the normal rules of fair play did not apply to them,” he wrote.

One other quirk: Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for TARP, who joined Mr. Cuomo on his conference call and issued a parallel press release praising the suit, worked for the Southern District beginning in 2000. Which means, Ms. White hired him, and she used to be his boss.

Ken Lewis Hires ‘Best in the Business’ for Cuomo Showdown