Ben Bernanke may have a missed connection

Have speech, will travel
Have speech, will travel
Image: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
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For eight years Ben Bernanke oversaw the U.S. central bank and steered the world’s largest economy.

Nowadays the former Federal Reserve chairman’s calendar fills with things less monumental—but still vexing.

The latest: how to deliver speeches in two cities in as many days, and still make time to testify for the defense in a class-action lawsuit brought by AIG founder and former chief executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg.

Greenberg is contesting the provisions of the 2008 bailout of the company that Bernanke—using the pseudonym Edward Quince—helped engineer.

At stake was more than the questioning of Bernanke by David Boies, the superlawyer who represents Greenberg.

The court date threatened to prevent Bernanke from dispensing insights about the global economy for which he charges $200,000 an appearance, roughly the same as his salary at the Fed. The former chairman reportedly charges twice as much if the engagement takes him to Asia.

Bernanke, who owns a townhouse in Washington, was slated to start the week in Chicago, according to court papers filed by the Justice Department with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the D.C.-based tribunal that is hearing the lawsuit.

The former Fed chair “should not be required to breach his personal contractual duties to appear for his testimony in this case, or be required to testify in fragmented appearances,” DOJ lawyers told Judge Thomas Wheeler.

According to the lawyers, the plaintiffs’ proposal to call Bernanke as a witness this week meant that Bernanke would have to fly to Washington from Chicago on Tuesday rather than fly to New York, where at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday he was slated to address the World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall.

Instead, Bernanke would have to appear in court on Wednesday “only to fly immediately to New York in the afternoon.”

That required Bernanke to return to Washington from New York for another morning of testimony on Thursday, before traveling across town to address a gathering of portfolio managers sponsored by Drobny Global Advisors.

Boies opposed the government’s request, telling the court that it would interfere with “an orderly presentation of evidence at trial.”

The government lawyers relented. Bernanke was slated to testify Thursday, following testimony by his erstwhile colleague, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.