Litigator of the Week: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
No litigator dominated headlines over the past week like Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, whose office won the conviction of former SAC Capital Advisors employee Mathew Martoma after a closely-watched trial. The victory won't silence those who say the 45-year-old prosecutor is either too tough or not tough enough on Wall Street defendants. But it's hard to argue with Bharara's record of convictions, which stands at a stunning 79-0 in insider trading cases.
As we reported, a federal jury in Manhattan reached a verdict on Feb. 6 that Martoma made illegal profits for SAC by trading stocks in drug companies based on insider information. The conviction followed a three-week trial that pitted attorneys in Bharara's office against Martoma's defense lawyers at Goodwin Procter, led by Richard Strassberg. Prosecutors Arlo Devlin-Brown and Eugene Ingoglia took the lead for the U.S. attorney's office at trial.
A lot was riding on this trial. Bharara has called SAC—named after its billionaire leader Steven A. Cohen—the largest insider trading scheme in U.S. history. Martoma is the highest-ranking individual at SAC to face criminal charges, and his case drew special attention because Martoma reportedly worked closely with Cohen. Bharara's office also won a jury trial against SAC trader Michael Steinberg in January, while Cohen has so far evaded charges.
Bharara was born in India, reared in the New Jersey suburbs, educated at Harvard and Columbia Law School, and served stints in the 1990s at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a predecessor firm to Bingham McCutchen. He's earned a generally stellar reputation since assuming his post in 2009, but he's also taken plenty of heat from critics who say he picks the wrong battles. Some commentators question why he hasn't indicted SAC's Cohen. Even more have expressed outrage over the lack of criminal prosecutions of top Wall Street executives linked to the financial crisis.
But when Bharara does pick a battle, he tends to win. Not only is he undefeated in insider trading cases, but in October his office won a favorable verdict in a civil fraud case against Bank of America Corp. relating to the financial crisis. And three different judges have sided with his office on a crucial legal issue that's arisen in a series of bold civil cases Bharara brought against banks under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989.
In a recent interview with the Litigation Daily, Bharara said that to be effective, prosectors need to show that they're not afraid to prove their cases at trial. As Bharara looks for his 80th straight insider trading conviction and his next big win against a bank, his message is coming through loud and clear.