Countrywide in crosshairs as mortgage crisis fuels litigation

February 22, 2008
Sandor Samuels has, quite possibly, the least enviable in-house legal job right now in corporate America. As general counsel and litigation chief of embattled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., he's facing huge lawsuits on all fronts. Everyone from disgruntled investors and shareholders to mortgage customers and government regulators is taking Countrywide to court in a wave of suits that will probably be the litigation story for the next couple of years.
     At least Samuels, one of 20 Fortune 250 GCs who also serve as litigation chiefs, won't have to face it alone. In January, Bank of America Corp. made a $4 billion buyout offer for Countrywide, which could be a much-needed lifeline for the country's largest home lender. How the acquisition will affect Samuels' in-house litigation team was unclear at press time; he and other Countrywide executives declined to comment for this story.
     Still, the litigation could be a painful headache for Bank of America's David Onorato, another one of the Fortune 250 litigation bosses on our chart. The Charlotte-based bank will not only assume Countrywide's financial woes when the deal goes through later this year, but it will also take on the swelling number of suits against the Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide that began when the subprime mortgage market collapsed last year. Meanwhile, Bank of America faces its own lawsuits related to the subprime meltdown, and individual shareholders filed at least three class action suits against the bank in January challenging the purchase of Countrywide.