Last month, Lisa Manning and her client finally heard the two words that every defense attorney strives to hear, NOT GUILTY. In a trial in the Southern District of New York, Manning, along with her partner, David Schertler of Schertler & Onorato LLP, represented Christopher Ashton, who was charged with foreign exchange market (forex) anti-trust violations, otherwise known as forex-rigging. The case was being closely watched by forex traders and criminal antitrust lawyers around the world.
Christopher Ashton, along with Richard Usher and Rohan Ramchandani, formerly of Barclays PLC, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Citigroup Inc. respectively, were accused of using a chatroom dubbed “the cartel” to conspire to fix prices and thereby suppress competition in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. But last month, a Manhattan federal jury acquitted the three British former foreign exchange traders of the forex-rigging charges. The three men were charged in January of 2017 for alleged conduct from 2007 to 2013, following worldwide investigations into banks for rigging the London interbank offered rate (Libor), a benchmark interest rate. That investigation resulted in about $10 billion in fines for large banks. Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, and other banks, entered related guilty pleas.
Prosecutors claimed that the former traders used a private, interbank Bloomberg chatroom they called “the cartel,” to coordinate their trading to rig the $5.1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The former traders would discuss their interests and open positions in the online chats before key benchmark prices were set in London. But the government claimed that they went further, to coordinate their trades and move prices in the same direction or cause a loss for others, thereby affecting daily benchmark rates (and profiting).
But after years of fighting the charges and a two-week trial, Ashton, Usher, and Ramchandani were found not guilty. Ramchandani was represented by Heather Tewksbury and Anjan Sahni of WilmerHale. Tewksbury is another woman to watch in the field, as was evidenced by her inclusion in Diversity Journal’s 2017 “Women Worth Watching” list. She is currently a partner in WilmerHale’s Antitrust and Competition Group. Usher was represented by Andrew Tomback, J. Mark Gidley and Michael Kendall of White & Case LLP.
Providing the jury a common sense explanation for the charged conduct, Manning said during the trial: “Letting off steam in a chatroom . . . does not violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.” The defense attorneys demonstrated throughout the trial that the chatrooms were commonplace in the industry; a place where interbank colleagues would share information and joke around. And while the government focused on the chatroom being called, “the cartel,” Manning pointed out that the chat room went by “dozens of silly names.” Summarizing the defense case, Manning said, “Sharing market information, trading with each other, joking around, none of it is illegal.”
A smart criminal defense attorney looks for opportunities to embrace as much of the Government’s evidence as possible and present an alternative interpretation of the facts. Why swim upstream when you can just follow the current. Clearly, that was the strategy that worked in this case.
Following the acquittal, Manning’s partner, David Schertler, stated, “We were firmly convinced of Chris’ innocence from the outset. Chris, along with Richard Usher and Rohan Ramchandani, courageously waived extradition to come to New York and defend themselves against the charges, which we believe never should have been brought.”
In contrast to the U.S. Government’s decision to file criminal charges, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office closed their investigation into allegations of forex-rigging in March of 2016, concluding that there was insufficient evidence for realistic prospect of conviction.
Manning is an experienced defense attorney based in Washington, D.C. She was recently promoted to partner at Schertler & Onorato LLP. She focuses her practice on the representation of individuals in civil and criminal litigation, investigations, and expungement. In addition to her experience as a trial attorney, she has expertise in criminal record mitigation and related issues – she recently prevailed over the federal government in a unique and highly-contested motion before a U.S. District Court to expunge a federal criminal case.
This is a monumental win for Manning and her client – and we look forward to seeing more from her. Huge congrats to all!
The case is United States v. Usher, et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-cr-19.