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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Astigarraga Davis

05 March 2012

2011 saw the Miami disputes boutique win an important enforcement decision and promote two female lawyers to the partnership

Founded in Miami in 2000 by lawyers with a background in commercial litigation, Astigarraga Davis has capitalised on the growth in arbitration across Latin America. Over 12 years, the firm has worked on numerous complex, high-value arbitrations and litigations across multiple jurisdictions in the region, often with little or no Florida law component. The majority of its 15-strong team is bilingual in English and Spanish. GAR’s sister publication, Latin Lawyer, calls it “small but prestigious” and “more than able to hold its own among renowned global firms, with which it often finds itself in competition.”

The arbitration practice is led by José Astigarraga, an advocate with 33 years’ experience. In addition to his client work, Astigarraga is an active figure in the wider arbitration community. He was one of ten US delegates appointed to a three-country NAFTA committee that advises on international arbitration issues. As well as being a serving vice president of the LCIA court and a former vice chair of the IBA’s international arbitration committee, he is a founder and board member of the recently established Latin American Arbitration Association. He is spearheading the Institute for Transnational Arbitration’s “Americas initiative”, which aims to promote arbitration in the region. Further, he is part of a US Commerce Department project to help harmonise commercial laws within Central America.

The practice’s focus is on commercial arbitration, often under ICC or ICDR rules, but it is also advising on potential ICSID matters.

As well as international arbitration, the firm enjoys a reputation in fraud and asset recovery. It’s a member of the ICC’s respected FraudNet service and has helped several sovereign nations reclaim assets illegally removed by former leaders.

Who uses it?

The firm is coy about trading on its clients’ names, but it’s known that they include some significant US manufacturers as well as investors in the banking, construction and agrochemical sectors. General Motors, a medical technology subsidiary of General Electric, Mexican cable-TV operator PCTV and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are all on record as having used it. The firm was also instructed in relation to the Ponzi scheme run by Allen Stanford – representing banks that were accused by investors of not properly investigating the Texas businessman.

Track record

It’s not difficult to find examples of successful Astigarraga Davis work. In the mid-2000s, Florida-based Alon International turned to it for a bet-the-company dispute with Nike subsidiary Converse over a distribution and licensing agreement for the Mercosur region. As well as an ICDR arbitration in Boston, the matter generated parallel litigation in Brazil, Argentina and the US. Ultimately the arbitral tribunal awarded Alon US$52 million – leading José Astigarraga and colleagues Paul Capua and Cristina Cárdenas to be recognised as “Most Effective Lawyers” by a Florida business daily in 2007.

On another occasion, after a falling out between GE’s medical technology division and its Brazilian distributor, Astigarraga Davis handled an arbitration at the Inter-American Commercial Arbitration Commission, or IACAC (and parallel litigation in the US and Brazil). It won the arbitration and also persuaded a New York court to enjoin the Brazilian proceedings. When the distributor refused to comply, Astigarraga Davis obtained a civil contempt judgment against the company and its president.

Recent events

The firm promoted two of its lawyers to partner in February 2011: Annette Escobar and Jenelle La Chuisa. It also hired Chris Kokoruda, who earned his JD summa cum laude and graduated first in his class from Florida International University College of Law.

In September 2011, the firm persuaded a district court in Florida to enforce an ICC award in favour of its client, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (acting as receiver of a US bank), against US investment firm IIG Capital. Sole arbitrator Horacio Grigera Naón had issued a multimillion-dollar award in FDIC’s favour but IIG challenged enforcement on the grounds that Grigera Naón had failed to disclose alleged ties with Astigarraga. The court rejected the challenge, observing that the fact that both lawyers are “active in the cultivation” of international arbitration “is insufficient to suggest bias and trigger a disclosure requirement.”

The firm’s casework is also taking it further afield than Latin America – a recent ICDR case concerned a dispute over a power plant in Vietnam.

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