Lawyer Limelight: Debra Wyman

Debra Wyman is a top-tier securities litigator who has dedicated her career to seeking justice for defrauded investors. She has achieved client wins totaling over $2B, including a historic $1B settlement in a securities fraud class action against the real estate investment trust company VEREIT (formerly known as ARCP). 

Investors have long turned to Wyman for their most high-stakes trials, such as the securities and accounting fraud case against HealthSouth, which at the time was one of the largest healthcare services providers in the U.S. – and one of the largest corporate fraud cases. The team recovered $671M for investors. 

In another highlight, Wyman and her team recovered $215M in a securities class action against healthcare provider HCA Holdings, which broke records in Tennessee.

Head of recruiting in Robbins Geller’s San Diego office, Wyman counsels young attorneys to be authentic, practice integrity and always know the facts inside out. She is a member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America as well as the Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers in America. 

Lawdragon: How did you first decide to focus your practice on representing defrauded investors? What do you like about this practice?

Debra Wyman: In my third year of law school, I discovered securities practice. The PSLRA had been passed only two years before I started practicing, and there were no appellate decisions interpreting it. I love the challenge and importance of setting precedents. Being part of the shaping and application of the law in the field was and remains exciting.

We take our practice very seriously because people, especially retirees, count on pension payments to make ends meet. It’s very gratifying to work to recoup our clients’ hard-earned money when it has been stolen through fraud and deceit.

LD: You have had some incredible wins in your career. Is there one case that stands out as a "favorite" or particularly memorable for some reason?

DW: The case against American Realty Capital Properties, now renamed VEREIT, is a stand out. That case was exceptionally complex, and it was truly a team effort. We prevailed at every step and were preparing for trial with the class’s claims substantially intact when the case settled for over $1B. The case also involved the largest-ever payout from individual executives, who had to repay over $237M of ill-gotten gains – which was a measure of individual accountability that we need to see more often.

I firmly believe that we achieved this result by marshaling Robbins Geller’s resources – including the best in-house forensic accountants in the business – and preparing this case for trial, not settlement. The opt-out plaintiffs settled far sooner than the class did and received 300-400 percent less than the class as a result.

LD: What challenges did you face in this case?

DW: We faced every challenge possible. The case involved 44 defendants, nine claims involving seven different securities, 17 defense side expert witnesses and 70 depositions taken or defended. There were millions of pages of documents produced. We also had to coordinate with 11 opt-out cases and a derivative case that were being litigated at the same time. The defendants were represented by the best of the corporate bar. We litigated multiple motions to dismiss, a motion for class certification, a 23(f) appeal, and a motion to decertify the class. The evidentiary hearing on defendants’ 12 motions for summary judgment lasted a full day.

Executives need to take their duty to shareholders seriously and will be held accountable when they don’t do so.

LD: What did that result mean for your clients and the larger industry?

DW: Our client was committed to holding individual defendants, not just the company, to account. The individual contributions of over $237M are, by far, the largest individual payments made in a securities class action settlement. The next largest individual contributions were $30M. This result shows that executives need to take their duty to shareholders seriously and will be held accountable when they don’t do so.

LD: What trends are you seeing in securities litigation these days?

DW: Regulators are increasingly focused on blank check financing through SPACs. The number of companies using SPACs rather than traditional IPOs to go public increased very rapidly after the pandemic. Although the disclosure requirements in a SPAC can be less stringent, it is no less important that companies be accurate and truthful with shareholders.

Transparency is equally important when it comes to ESG disclosures. The SEC is also considering new regulation in that area as well. We are closely monitoring proposed new regulations in both SPACs and ESG areas and will continue our work of holding companies and individuals accountable.

LD: Did you have mentors when you were a young associate?

DW: My first mentor was Katy Blank. She was a senior associate when I was a junior associate. She told me that as a young woman lawyer, people may not take me seriously. As a result, she told me that I should not be hesitant to offer my opinion in meetings with colleagues and stand my ground with opposing counsel. She also told me to always know the facts of my case and the applicable law better than anyone else in the room. It was sage advice that I have passed on to others.

LD: Are you a mentor to young lawyers now?

DW: I am in charge of Robbins Geller’s San Diego office recruiting. I speak to law students around the country in on campus interviews. I also guide and mentor our Summer Associates every year.

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?

DW: As I try to do in my life, I try very hard to treat everyone I work with as I would like to be treated. I think you can treat people with fairness and respect while still advocating for your client and defending your positions with integrity. I hope others see me as someone who practices law with integrity and whose word you can trust, and someone who knows her stuff and should be taken seriously.

LD: Do you have a favorite book, movie, or TV show about the law?

DW: I have always loved the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” Joe Pesci’s character wasn’t the best litigator in the courtroom, but he always stayed true to who he was. It was his authenticity that made him so effective – a good lesson for young lawyers.