Two weeks before pleading its high-profile derivatives case before a judge and jury, two of Procter & Gamble Co.'s top lawyers were talking tough in a session with several dozen journalists in New York.
Procter & Gamble, which early on lost two key rulings in its suit against Bankers Trust New York Corp., attempted to project an image of the unwitting customer duped by its trusted bank. At Monday's press session, the company's in-house counsel said there is only a remote possibility the $195 million lawsuit would be settled before it goes to trial.
Bankers Trust maintains that Procter & Gamble was a sophisticated client that did not require hand-holding in order to make its investments. The soap manufacturer's lawsuit is the first serious conflict between the two companies during their 75-year business relationship.
"We just don't see eye to eye with Bankers Trust," said James J. Johnson, senior vice president and general counsel at Procter & Gamble. "We would settle for a fair and reasonable sum."
Neither Mr. Johnson nor Gary Hagopian, the general counsel for Procter & Gamble North America, named an amount that would be a reasonable settlement, but Mr. Hagopian suggested it might be fairly close to the $195 million in dispute.
"Gibson Greetings settled for 70%, and they didn't have any tapes," Mr. Hagopian said.
The lawyers focused on some of the tape-recorded conversations among Bankers Trust's traders, who expressed surprise at Procter & Gamble's lack of understanding of its derivative investments.
Mr. Johnson said that in addition to the collection of tapes that were made public several months ago, Procter & Gamble had others that were equally incriminating.
After dinner at the stately Upper East Side residence of Procter & Gamble public relations specialist Robert Dilenschneider, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hagopian read several of the tape's transcripts.
Bankers Trust, for its part, dismissed Procter & Gamble's press session as posturing.
"Procter & Gamble's New York press conference represents their latest attempt to try the case in the press," a spokesman for the bank said.
BT hailed two early rulings in the case as victories.
Judge John Feikens ruled that Procter & Gamble couldn't bring up racketeering charges until it proved the bank had committed fraud. Additionally, the judge ruled that Procter & Gamble knew the risks in one of the contracts and, unless it can prove otherwise, should assume financial responsibility for that contract.
Mr. Johnson said the rulings narrowed the legal approach of both companies, but did not change either the stakes or Procter & Gamble's willingness to go to trial.
After pleading its own case, Procter & Gamble plans to pursue racketeering charges, which could make Bankers Trust liable for treble damages, he said.
The company lawyers said that Procter & Gamble continues to use derivatives to hedge interest rate and currency risk, but now the company only invests in simple, plain-vanilla instruments.
Mr. Johnson said the trial was less about derivatives than it was about fraud.
Likening Procter & Gamble's derivatives problems to the problems with "junk bonds" in the 1980s, Mr. Johnson said he expects the trial to receive considerable attention and last through much of the summer.
He said that such a schedule could put considerable pressure on Bankers Trust. For Procter & Gamble, the suit is about money, he said, but for Bankers Trust it concerns the credibility of an important business line.
"I told my wife not to expect me at our summer cottage," said Mr. Johnson.