UCLA Law Professors Play Key Role in Landmark Puerto Rico Debt Deal

In seeing through a debt deal that is among the largest restructurings in U.S. history, bankruptcy experts Daniel Bussel and Kenneth Klee provide pivotal counsel to a stricken island.

Amid a long-running financial crisis aggravated by recession and the ravages of hurricanes Maria and Irma, Puerto Rico and its bondholders reached a deal in 2019 that stood to bring billions of dollars of relief to the island’s economy, thanks in substantial part to two UCLA School of Law professors. Daniel Bussel and Kenneth Klee — both partners at the Century City insolvency law boutique Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern — were appointed in 2016 to advise on a complex and hotly contested restructuring of $18 billion in bond debt and a related tussle over Puerto Rico’s sales tax.

Klee and Bussel helped forge a deal — among the largest debt restructurings in U.S. history — that balanced the interests of the island territory, thousands of bondholders and the government-owned corporation, known as COFINA, that issued the bonds. “The successful resolution of COFINA is the first great stride forward in resolving Puerto Rico’s financial morass,” said Bussel, referencing the aggregate $72 billion in bond and pension debt that burdened the island’s government.

Bussel worked on the case while handling a full schedule of teaching and other obligations. A former law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, Bussel joined the UCLA Law faculty in 1991 and is a nationally renowned professor of bankruptcy law. Klee, who began teaching at UCLA Law in 1979 and retired in 2015, is a former associate counsel to the House Judiciary Committee who helped draft the U.S. bankruptcy code. UCLA Law alumnus and KTB&S partner Jonathan Weiss ’11 also did vital work on the case, in which Bussel and Klee advised Bettina Whyte, the celebrated corporate restructuring specialist who served as the COFINA agent.

“My job was to try to settle it, but it wasn’t a clear-cut path,” Whyte said. “It took calm, steady hands. … And the calm, steady hands came from Dan and Ken, and that meant the world to me and to the process. Their legal prowess and their calmness throughout this process really lent the ability to come to a resolution.”