Goldman's top lawyer lays low but packs punch

Tue Apr 20, 2010 7:00pm EDT

* Richard Klapper seen as a tough advocate

* Klapper has represented Barclays, Bank of New York

By Dan Margolies

WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - He keeps a low profile, but Richard Klapper, the lead lawyer defending Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) against civil fraud charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is no pushover.

Former colleagues say he shies away from trumpeting his achievements, despite an impressive record of courtroom victories on behalf of some of biggest financial firms in the world, including Barclays Plc (BARC.L) and IntercontinentalExchange Inc (ICE.N).

They say he is a fearsome litigator -- a trait that could help Goldman if the firm moves ahead with its vigorous denial of the charges and goes toe-to-toe with an army of SEC lawyers in Manhattan federal court.

"He knows how to make a sharp point without it going over the line," said Paul Mahoney, dean of the University of Virginia law school and an alumnus of Sullivan & Cromwell, where Klapper has been a partner since 1987.

In his three-decade-long legal career, Klapper, a 1979 graduate of Yale law school, has repeatedly -- and successfully -- represented the interests of big banks.

Earlier this decade he won a case for the Bank of New York, which was facing a shareholder action accusing it of money laundering.

He was also part of the team of lawyers in 2007 that represented Barclays in a class action suit by Enron Corp shareholders against the banks that advised Enron before its implosion in 2002. Klapper successfully argued on appeal that the link between the shareholders' claims and the banks conduct was tenuous.

But Klapper does not just cater to the world of banking and Wall Street, which tend to lean Republican.

He is a contributor to Democratic causes, giving $2,300 to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2007 and $1,000 to Barack Obama's campaign a few weeks later.

"It's certainly fair to say that 'formidable' is the right word for him," said Charles Whitehead, a securities law professor at Cornell University and a one-time attorney at Sullivan & Cromwell.

"He's diligent and very, very focused," Whitehead said, while also noting there is a reason Klapper does not have a lengthy biography on the firm's website. He does not brag.

Goldman also has tapped Gregory Craig, a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama, to assist on political and legal matters, website Politico reported on Monday. Craig now practices with the Washington, D.C. office of mega-law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.

Vince DiBlasi, a Sullivan & Cromwell attorney who has represented numerous individuals in SEC investigations, will also be part of Goldman's defense team, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Like Klapper, DiBlasi is no stranger to thorny, highly publicized financial cases. He represented David Duncan, the lead partner of Arthur Andersen's Enron auditing team, after the accounting firm was indicted for obstruction of justice in 2002.

Klapper and DiBlasi did not respond to requests for comment.

Their firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, is considered one of the top corporate go-to law firms in the country and has had a long-standing legal relationship with Goldman Sachs.

Goldman's legal team is expected to mount a fierce defense against the SEC complaint, which alleges Goldman did not disclose the role played by a hedge fund in selecting subprime mortgages for an investment packaged and marketed by Goldman.

The hedge fund, Paulson & Co, bet against the investment, a so-called synthetic collateralized debt obligation, and pocketed $1 billion when the subprime mortgages soured, according to the SEC. Investors in the instrument, meanwhile, lost $1 billion.

In responding to the SEC's "Wells notice" to Goldman last year that it was considering taking legal action against the bank, Klapper and his colleagues conceded no ground.

They argued that all the participants in the transaction were highly sophisticated institutions and that the SEC was acting "with the benefit of perfect hindsight." (Reporting by Dan Margolies with additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in New York; editing by Andre Grenon)

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