David Spears, a founding partner of Spears & Imes LLP, concentrates in complex civil, criminal, and regulatory litigation. In all three areas, he has had extensive trial and appellate experience and achieved notable successes.
Mr. Spears spent the early years of his career working in government, including at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., focusing on antitrust matters; as a Deputy Chief Trial Attorney in the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.; and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. During his years at the SEC and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mr. Spears tried a large number of cases involving a wide variety of charges.
In his more than two decades in private practice, Mr. Spears has tried many criminal and civil cases in federal and state courts and before the SEC, FINRA, and arbitration panels. Mr. Spears has also argued many cases in the U.S. Courts of Appeals and New York State appellate courts.
Mr. Spears has represented clients in large civil cases involving complex factual and legal issues. Many of those cases have involved hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars in claimed damages.
Notable matters include:
- In July 2014, Mr. Spears represented a hedge fund and its principals as defendants in a securities fraud case in a jury trial in the U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine. The jury returned a verdict for the firm’s clients on all claims against them.
- Mr. Spears represented a financial compliance firm as plaintiff in a copyright infringement case against a licensee in the Southern District of New York. In August 2014, the Court issued a lengthy ruling entering a default judgment against defendants for destruction of emails. Regulatory Fundamentals Grp. LLC v. Governance Risk Mgmt. Compliance, LLC, 13 Civ. 2493 (KBF), 2014 WL 3844796 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 5, 2014). That ruling is one of the most significant judicial decisions to date on the subject of spoliation of evidence by a party.
- Mr. Spears has had extensive involvement in cases involving residential mortgage-backed securities. He represented Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial in lawsuits in the Southern District of New York alleging fraud in the sale of RMBS. Those cases were thrown out on motions to dismiss. For many years, Mr. Spears has represented a large international bank as a defendant in a variety of RMBS cases involving billions of dollars in claimed damages, including cases brought by the FHFA, the National Credit Union Association Board, the Federal Home Loan Bank, and a monoline insurer.
- Mr. Spears represented a U.K. citizen in connection with a lawsuit brought against him by Chevron Corporation in Gibraltar relating to the client’s involvement in a lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador for environmental damage caused by Chevron.
- Mr. Spears represented a large German bank as plaintiff in a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the portfolio manager for a CDO, alleging that the bank lost all of its large investment in the CDO as a result of the portfolio manager’s gross negligence and willful misconduct in managing the CDO’s investment portfolio. After the District Court dismissed the bank’s case, Mr. Spears appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and argued the appeal. The Second Circuit reversed the dismissal and reinstated the bank’s case. The Second Circuit’s decision addressed important issues of diversity jurisdiction, standing, and contract and tort law as they apply to complex financial products and has been cited extensively.
- Mr. Spears represented a group of financial institutions, including Allstate, Bank Leumi, Bayerische Landesbank, International Finance Corporation, Société Générale, and Travelers, in a six-week jury trial in the Southern District of New York against a major investment bank to recover large losses related to the sale of asset-backed securities. The jury returned a verdict for the firm’s clients resulting in a judgment of $144 million, which was one of the largest jury awards in the U.S. that year. The defendant appealed that judgment, and Mr. Spears argued the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the trial judgment.
- Mr. Spears represented Google as a defendant in an intellectual property case brought against it in the Southern District of New York. The case was dismissed by the court.
- Mr. Spears represented the owner of a Spanish website devoted to international sports coverage as a defendant in a civil forfeiture action brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for copyright infringement of materials of major league sports organizations in the United States. The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped its forfeiture claim.
- Mr. Spears represented the sovereign wealth fund of the Sultanate of Oman in a civil litigation arising out of that fund’s involvement in an effort to acquire a Fortune 100 Company.
- Mr. Spears represented a major monoline insurer of asset-backed securities in multiple litigations commenced by the insurer seeking to recoup over $1 billion in potential insurance losses. As a result of the firm’s efforts, the insurer suffered no loss.
- Mr. Spears represented Columbia University in a qui tam proceeding commenced against it in the Southern District of New York relating to Medicaid charges by a University hospital.
- Mr. Spears represented Genentech in a products liability case in New York State Court relating to the patented drug Xolair. The firm succeeded in having the case dismissed.
- Mr. Spears represented a public company as a defendant in a class action securities fraud case in a jury trial in the Eastern District of New York. The jury returned a verdict for the firm’s client on all claims against it.
Mr. Spears specializes in criminal cases involving sophisticated business and financial dealings and complex legal issues. Mr. Spears was named by Chambers & Partners as a “Leading Individual” in White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations. Chambers noted that Mr. Spears “enjoys an excellent reputation in the market for his strong white-collar expertise” and reported praise from sources that he is “tenacious with an amazing success rate” and has the “ability to anticipate problems and come up with solutions for his clients.” Mr. Spears is also named as a leading individual in Who’s Who Legal: Business Crime Defence.
Mr. Spears has represented defendants in criminal cases in federal courts around the United States and in New York State court, and he has obtained dismissals and acquittals for many clients.
Notable matters include:
- Mr. Spears represented the lead defendant in a case in the Southern District of New York in which 19 KPMG accountants and lawyers were charged with federal tax crimes based on their involvement with tax shelters that the government alleged to be fraudulent. In a groundbreaking ruling, the District Court threw out the indictment because the government had forced KPMG to terminate the payment of legal fees for the defendants. Mr. Spears argued the motion that resulted in the order of dismissal. United States v. Stein, 495 F. Supp. 2d 330 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); United States v. Stein, 541 F.3d 130 (2d Cir. 2008).
- In a criminal jury trial in Houston, Mr. Spears represented an investment banker charged with fraud for his involvement in a complex financial transaction entered into between Merrill Lynch and Enron shortly before Enron’s demise, which was called at the time the “Nigerian barge case.” Following trial, the indictment against the firm’s client was thrown out on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.
- In a criminal jury trial in Dallas, Mr. Spears represented a corporate lawyer from a large New York City law firm who was charged with money laundering based on his handling of escrow funds from a client who was subsequently charged with running a Ponzi scheme. The jury found the firm’s client not guilty on all the charges against him.
- In a criminal jury trial in New York County Supreme Court, Mr. Spears represented a graduate student from the Columbia School of Social Work who was charged with multiple felonies for fleeing in her car from two undercover police officers who sought to detain her without identifying themselves as police officers. The firm’s client was found not guilty on all of the charges against her.
- In 2017, Mr. Spears represented a former top government official from Honduras as a defendant in a criminal proceeding in the Southern District of New York, in which the defendant was charged with money laundering for a drug cartel.
- In 2017, Mr. Spears represented a Houston businessman as a defendant in a criminal proceeding in the Southern District of New York, in which the defendant was charged with crimes relating to the unauthorized access of a competitor’s electronic data.
In addition to defending clients who have been indicted, Mr. Spears has been very successful at persuading prosecutors not to bring criminal charges against other clients. In particular, in recent years Mr. Spears has represented many residents of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries who came under criminal investigation in the U.S. in connection with conduct those clients engaged in abroad that had effects in the U.S., and in those representations Mr. Spears successfully argued that no criminal charges should be brought against the firm’s clients.
Mr. Spears has represented scores of individuals and entities in investigations before, and proceedings by, the SEC, the NYSE, the NASD, FINRA, the New York State Department of Banking, the New York State Department of Insurance, the U.S. Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Bank. While many of these representations have resulted in no charges being filed against the firm’s clients, Mr. Spears has also tried numerous cases against the SEC in federal and administrative courts and against FINRA before its own hearing panels.
- Mr. Spears represented an executive from a large investment bank against charges by FINRA alleging wrongdoing in the purchase and sale of auction-rate securities for corporate cash management clients. Following a two-week trial in February 2012, the FINRA Hearing Officer overseeing the case issued a lengthy decision rejecting all of FINRA’s charges and exonerating the firm’s client of all charges against him. Dep’t of Enforcement v. Morrison, FINRA Disc. Proceeding 2008013863702 (2012). A published article by Mr. Spears discussed important legal and policy issues raised in that proceeding. See David Spears & Mónica Folch, “A Bad Enforcement Policy at FINRA,” New York Law Journal (Nov. 14, 2012).
- In an investigation by FINRA and a civil proceeding in London, Mr. Spears represented an individual who had been in charge of due diligence for a European investment fund that had more than $2 billion invested with Bernard Madoff at the time when Madoff’s fraud was revealed to the public.
Mr. Spears is a member of the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association, the New York Council of Defense Lawyers, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
• J.D., Columbia University School of Law, 1977; Board of Editors, Columbia Law Review
• B.A., Northwestern University, 1974
• New York
• District of Columbia
• Southern and Eastern Districts of New York
• U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
• U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
• James Drake & David Spears, “Obtaining Evidence in England for U.S. Proceedings,” New York Law Journal (Apr. 15, 2014)
• David Spears & Mónica Folch, “A Bad Enforcement Policy at FINRA,” New York Law Journal (Nov. 14, 2012)