SEC's Coinbase, Binance cases draw big-name defense lawyers

  • Coinbase hires Sullivan & Cromwell, Wachtell lawyers
  • Gibson Dunn, WilmerHale and Latham involved in Binance case

June 6 (Reuters) – The pair of cases that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission leveled against cryptocurrency exchanges Coinbase and Binance this week have drawn in leaders of white-collar and securities groups at some of the country’s largest law firms.

The securities agency sued Coinbase in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, one day after filing claims in Washington, D.C., federal court against Binance, the world’s biggest crypto exchange. SEC enforcers also sued Binance’s CEO and the operator of the platform’s U.S. exchange.

The SEC accused Coinbase of failing to register with the agency, and the agency alleged Binance, among other things, inflated trading volumes. Both companies in statements contested the allegations, setting up what could be protracted fights in court and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees.

Neither company immediately responded to messages seeking comment about decision-making on hiring law firms.

Coinbase’s defense lawyers include William Savitt of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Savitt, co-chair of the firm’s litigation group, represented Twitter in its clash in Delaware court with Elon Musk over his $44 billion acquisition of the social media site.

Coinbase also has a former Trump-era SEC enforcement leader, Steve Peikin of Sullivan & Cromwell, as a defender.

Peikin separately is on the law firm’s team as counsel to FTX Trading in its proceeding in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware. He is billing at $2,165 an hour in that case, mirroring other veteran attorneys at the firm, according to publicly filed compensation reports.

Binance chief executive Changpeng Zhao will be defended by Latham & Watkins partner Douglas Yatter, vice-chairman of the firm’s white-collar defense group.

Yatter founded the firm’s digital assets practice, according to his online profile. He represented BitMEX cryptocurrency exchange co-founder Samuel Reed in a criminal prosecution in Manhattan that was filed in 2020.

Binance Holdings is represented by Richard Grime of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and BAM Trading Services, the operator behind Binance.US, hired William McLucas of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

Grime is the co-leader of his firm’s securities enforcement group, and McLucas is a former SEC enforcement division director.

Gibson Dunn lawyers are defending Coinbase in a civil case the company filed in April against the SEC in the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, Coinbase asked the appeals court to force the SEC to craft new rules for digital assets.

The legal team there is led by Eugene Scalia, former Trump-era U.S. Labor secretary and co-leader of the firm’s administrative and regulatory group.

Defense lawyers for Coinbase and Binance in the SEC’s cases either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Tuesday.

A representative from the SEC did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The cases are SEC v. Coinbase Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 1:23-cv-04738, and SEC v. Binance Holdings Ltd et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:23-cv-01599.

Read more:

US SEC charges crypto platform Coinbase, one day after suing Binance

US sues Binance and founder Zhao over ‘web of deception’

Coinbase files legal challenge to push SEC to write rules on crypto

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