Saturday, August 5, 2017
I have been at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) conference all week. As usual, there have been too many program offerings important to my scholarship and teaching. I have participated in and attended so many things. I am exhausted.
But I know that all of this activity also energizes me. Once I am back at home tomorrow night and get a good night's sleep, I will be ready to rock and roll into the new academic year (which starts for us at UT Law in a few weeks). I use the SEALS conference as this bridge to the new year every summer.
One of my favorite discussion groups at the conference was the White Collar Crime discussion group that John Anderson and I organized. A number of us focused on insider trading law this year. John, for example, shared his preliminary draft of an insider trading statute. I asked folks to ponder the result under U.S. insider trading law of a tipping case with the following general facts:
- A person with a fiduciary duty of trust and confidence to a principal conveys material nonpublic information obtained through the fiduciary relationship to a third person;
- The recipient of the information is someone with whom the fiduciary has no prior familial or friendship relationship;
- The conveyance is made to the recipient by the fiduciary without the consent of the principal;
- The conveyance is made to the recipient gratuitously;
- The fiduciary’s purpose in conveying the information is to benefit the recipient;
- Specifically, the fiduciary knows that the recipient has the ability and incentive to trade on the information or convey it to others who have the ability and incentive to trade; and
- The fiduciary has clear knowledge and understanding of resulting detriment to the principal.
The question, of course, is whether the fiduciary has engaged in deception that constitutes a willful violation of insider trading proscriptions under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5. The answer, based on what we now know under U.S. insider trading law, depends on whether the fiduciary's sharing of information is improper. What do you think? I shared my views and others in the group shared theirs. I may have more to say on this problem and my related work in a later post.
Monday, May 1, 2017
A bit more than a year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on corporate criminal liability at the Stetson University College of Law. The short papers from the conference were published in a subsequent issue of the Stetson Law Review. This was the second time that Ellen Podgor, a friend and white collar crime scholar on the Stetson Law faculty, invited me to produce a short work on corporate criminal liability for publication in a dedicated edition of the Stetson Law Review. (The first piece I published in the Stetson Law Review reflected on corporate personhood in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen's United opinion. It has been downloaded and cited a surprising number of times. So, I welcomed the opportunity to publish with the law review a second time.)
For the 2016 conference, I chose to focus on the reckless conduct of employees and its capacity to generate corporate criminal insider trading liability for the employer. The abstract for the resulting paper, (Not) Holding Firms Criminally Responsible for the Reckless Insider Trading of their Employees (recently posted to SSRN), is as follows:
Criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 is the root of corporate criminal liability for insider trading in the United States. In the wake of assertions that S.A.C. Capital Advisors, L.P. actively encouraged the unlawful use of material nonpublic information in the conduct of its business, the line between employer and employee criminal liability for insider trading becomes both tenuous and salient. An essential question emerges: when do we criminally prosecute the firm for the unlawful conduct of its employees?
The possibility that reckless employee conduct may result in the employer's willful violation of Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 (and, therefore, criminal liability for that employer firm) motivates this article. The article first reviews the basis for criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions established in Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 and describes the basis and rationale for corporate criminal liability (a liability that derives from the activities of agents undertaken in the course of the firm’s business). Then, it reflects on that basis and rationale by identifying the potential for corporate criminal liability for the reckless insider trading violations of employees under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5, arguing against that liability, and suggesting ways to eliminate it.
I was not the only conference participant concerned about the criminal liability of an employer for the insider trading conduct of an employee. John Anderson, who co-led an insider trading discussion group with me at the 2017 Association of American Law Schools annual meeting back in January and also enjoys exploring criminal insider trading issues, contributed his research on the overcriminalization of insider trading at the conference. His paper, When Does Corporate Criminal Liability for Insider Trading Make Sense?, identifies the same overall problem as my article does (employer criminal liability for insider trading based on employee conduct). However, he views both the problem and the potential solutions more broadly.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
In a relatively brief opinion released this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's judgment in Salman v. United States. The decision of the Court was unanimous. The big take-aways include:
- doctrinally, the Court's complete, unquestioning reliance on the language in Dirks v. Sec's Exch. Comm'n, 463 U. S. 646 (1983), as to when the sharing of information through a tip is improper, and therefore a basis for insider trading liability (quoting from the text on page 662 of the Dirks opinion: “'[T]he test,' we explained, 'is whether the insider personally will benefit, directly or indirectly, from his disclosure.'”);
- factually, the emphasis placed by the Court on the value proposition represented by the information-sharing between the close brothers, Maher and Michael--that information passed on with the knowledge that it will be traded on was effectively a substitute for a monetary gift ("In one of their tipper-tippee interactions, Michael asked Maher for a favor, declined Maher’s offer of money, and instead requested and received lucrative trading information."), noting "[a]s Salman’s counsel acknowledged at oral argument, Maher would have breached his duty had he personally traded on the information here himself then given the proceeds as a gift to his brother.";
- constitutionally, the Court finding no vagueness ("Dirks created a simple and clear 'guiding principle' for determining tippee liability") and also rejecting on a similar basis application of the rule of lenity; and
- procedurally, because of the Court's ruling on the merits, the Court finding the jury instructions entirely proper.
The opinion offers some clarity on the application of U.S. insider trading doctrine by unanimously affirming the "gift" language from Dirks in a solid way: "To the extent the Second Circuit held that the tipper must also receive something of a 'pecuniary or similarly valuable nature' in exchange for a gift to family or friends, . . . we agree with the Ninth Circuit that this requirement is inconsistent with Dirks." Having said that, the Court also hints in several places that the facts in these cases do matter. The following quote is particularly relevant in this respect:
Salman’s conduct is in the heartland of Dirks’s rule concerning gifts. It remains the case that “[d]etermining whether an insider personally benefits from a particular disclosure, a question of fact, will not always be easy for courts.” . . . But there is no need for us to address those difficult cases today, because this case involves "precisely the ‘gift of confidential information to a trading relative’ that Dirks envisioned.”
In that context, the Court reminds us that "the disclosure of confidential information without personal benefit is not enough." This, indeed, places continuing pressure on the nature of the relationship between the tipper and the tippee and other facts relevant to the transmission of the information, all of which must be ascertained and then proven at trial. And so, it goes on . . . .
Thursday, November 10, 2016
I have been on hiatus for a few weeks, and had planned to post today about the compliance and corporate governance issues related to Wells Fargo. However, I have decided to delay posting on that topic in light of the unexpected election results and how it affects my research and work.
I am serving as a panelist and a moderator at the ABA's annual Labor and Employment meeting tomorrow. Our topic is Advising Clients in Whistleblower Investigations. In our discussions and emails prior to the conference, we never raised the election in part because, based on the polls, no one expected Donald Trump to win. Now, of course, we have to address this unexpected development in light of the President-elect's public statements that he plans to dismantle much of President Obama's legacy, including a number of his executive orders.
President-elect Trump's plan for his first 100 days includes, among other things: a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce though attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health); a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated; renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA; withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; canceling "every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama; and a number of rules related to lobbyists and special interests.
Plaintiffs' lawyers I have spoken to at this conference so far are pessimistic that standards will become even more pro-business and thus more difficult to bring cases. That's probably true. However, I have the following broader business-law related questions:
- What will happen to Dodd-Frank? There are already a number of house bills pending to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, but will President Trump actually try to repeal all of it, particularly the Dodd-Frank whistleblower rule? How would that look optically? Former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins, a prominent critic of Dodd-Frank and the whistleblower program in particular, is part of Trump's transition team on economic issues, so perhaps a revision, at a minumum, may not be out of the question.
2. What will happen with the two SEC commissioner vacancies? How will this president and Congress fund the agency?
3. Will SEC Chair Mary Jo White stay or go and how might that affect the work of the agency to look at disclosure reform?
4. How will the vow to freeze the federal workforce affect OSHA, which enforces Sarbanes-Oxley?
5. In addition to the issues that Trump has with TPP and NAFTA, how will his administration and the Congress deal with the Export-Import (Ex-IM) bank, which cannot function properly as it is due to resistance from some in Congress. Ex-Im provides financing, export credit insurance, loans, and other products to companies (including many small businesses) that wish to do business in politically-risky countries.
6. How will a more conservative Supreme Court deal with the business cases that will appear before it?
7. Who will be the Attorney General and how might that affect criminal prosecution of companies and individuals? Should we expect a new memo or revision of policies for Assistant US Attorneys that might undo some of the work of the Yates Memo, which focuses on corporate cooperation and culpable individuals?
8. What will happen with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the DC Circuit recently ruled was unconstitutional in terms of its structure and power?
9. What will happen with the Obama administration's executive orders on Cuba, which have chipped away at much of the embargo? The business community has lobbied hard on ending the embargo and eliminating restrictions, but Trump has pledged to require more from the Cuban government. Would he also cancel the executive orders as well?
10. What happens to the Public Company Accounting Board, which has had an interim director for several months?
11. Jeb Henserling, who has adamantly opposed Ex-Im, the CFPB, and Dodd-Frank is under consideration for Treasury Secretary. What does this say about President-elect Trump's economic vision?
Of course, there are many more questions and I have no answers but I will be interested to see how future announcements affect the world financial markets, which as of the time of this writing appear to have calmed down.
November 10, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Although we review claims of insufficiency de novo, United States v. Harvey, 746 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir. 2014), it is well recognized that “a defendant mounting such a challenge bears a heavy burden” because “in assessing whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, drawing all inferences in the government's favor and deferring to the jury's assessments of the witnesses' credibility.” . . .
[W]e reject Jasmin's challenge to her Hobbs Act conviction. The evidence presented at trial more than sufficiently describes the consideration received by Jasmin in exchange for her official actions as Mayor, including the $5,000 in cash from Stern, “advance” cash for their partnership, and shares in the limited liability corporation that would develop the community center.
Friday, August 19, 2016
The concept of private prisons has always seemed off to me. Prisons have a role in society, but the idea of running such institutions for profit, it seems to me, aligns incentives in an improper way. The U.S. Justice Department apparently agrees and said yesterday that it plans to end the use of private prisons. The announcement sent stocks tumbling for two private prison companies, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO. Both dropped as much as 40% and remain down more than 30% from where they were before the announcement.
Obviously, this can't make shareholders happy, but I figured this had to be a known risk. I was right -- CCA's 10-K makes clear that such government decisions related to future contracts could lead to a reduction in their profitability. So, the disclosure seems proper from a securities regulation perspective. Still, reading the disclosure raises some serious questions for me about the proper role of government. I frankly find this kind of outsourcing chilling. For example, CCA states:
Our results of operations are dependent on revenues generated by our jails, prisons, and detention facilities, which are subject to the following risks associated with the corrections and detention industry.
We are subject to fluctuations in occupancy levels, and a decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability. . . . We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities.
. . . .
We are dependent on government appropriations and our results of operations may be negatively affected by governmental budgetary challenges. . . . [and] our customers could reduce inmate population levels in facilities we own or manage to contain their correctional costs. . . .
The idea of "customers" in this contest simply does not sit well with me. It suggests a desire for something that is not a positive. CCA's 10-K continues:
Competition for inmates may adversely affect the profitability of our business. We compete with government entities and other private operators on the basis of bed availability, cost, quality, and range of services offered, experience in managing facilities and reputation of management and personnel. While there are barriers to entering the market for the ownership and management of correctional and detention facilities, these barriers may not be sufficient to limit additional competition. In addition, our government customers may assume the management of a facility that they own and we currently manage for them upon the termination of the corresponding management contract or, if such customers have capacity at their facilities, may take inmates currently housed in our facilities and transfer them to government-run facilities. . . .
Competition is a good thing in many (I think most), but this is not one of them. These companies are responding to the existing demand for prison services, but there can be no question the real opportunity for market growth is to increase demand for such services (e.g., increase the number of prisoners, seek longer sentences). This, too, is made clear in the disclosures:
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions, governmental budgetary constraints, and governmental and public acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state, and local level. Legislation has also been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.
CCA does note that their "policy prohibits [them] from engaging in lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies." These disclosures, though, sure make clear what kind of policies their shareholders would want to support.
I don't have any illusion that government run prisons are much (if any) better, but I do think that government's incentives are at least supposed to be aligned with the public good when it comes to the prison system. I often think government should take a more limited role than it does when it comes to regulations. That is especially true when it comes to criminal law. But privatizing prisons is not reducing the role of government in our lives -- it is simply outsourcing one key portion of the government's role. Private prisons do not equate to smaller government. Fewer laws, or relaxed enforcement and punishment, do. If the government is paying for it, it's still a government program.
Here's hoping that the reduction in use of private prisons leads to a reduction in the use of all prisons. Let's save those for truly the dangerous folks.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
The Federal Reserve Board announced its enforcement actions against Goldman Sachs from 2012-2014 events where a Goldman Sachs banker, a former NY Fed employee, received confidential documents from a NY Fed employee. The individuals involved plead guilty to the resulting charges and Goldman Sachs paid fines in New York. The Federal Reserve Board took separate actions this week based upon evidence that the banker "repeatedly obtained, used and disseminated [confidential supervisory information or CSI] ... including CSI concerning financial institutions’ confidential CAMELS ratings, non-public enforcement actions, and confidential documents prepared by banking regulators." Even though Goldman Sachs terminated the banker involved and reported the matter to authorities, apparently the misconduct was sustained over a long-enough period of time and used to "solicit business" in a way that compelled Federal Reserve Board Action.
The Fed's release and copies of the orders are available here. The sanctions against Goldman Sachs include the monetary fine as well a requirement to 'Within 90 days of this Order, ...submit to the Board of Governors an acceptable written plan, and timeline for implementation, to enhance the effectiveness of the internal controls and compliance functions regarding the identification, monitoring, and control of confidential supervisory information."
Financial press coverage of the matter is available in a variety of outlets:
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Two weeks ago, I blogged about the potential unintended consequences of (1) Dodd-Frank whistleblower awards to compliance officers and in-house counsel and (2) the Department of Justice’s Yates Memo, which requires companies to turn over individuals (even before they have determined they are legally culpable) in order to get any cooperation credit from the government.
Today at the International Legal Ethics Conference, I spoke about the intersection of state ethics laws, common law fiduciary duties, SOX §307 and §806, and the potential erosion of the attorney-client relationship. I posed the following questions regarding lawyer/whistleblowers and the Yates Memo at the end of my talk:
- How will this affect Upjohn warnings? (These are the corporate Miranda warnings and were hard enough for me to administer without me having to tell the employee that I might have to turn them over to the government after our conversation)
- Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ?
- Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ?
- Will companies turn people over to the government before proper investigations are completed just to save the company?
- Will executives cooperate in an investigation? Why should they?
- What’s the intersection with the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine (which Stephen Bainbridge has already criticized as "running amok")?
- Will there be more claims/denials for D & O coverage?
- Will individuals who cooperate get cooperation credit in their own cases?
- Will employees turn on their superiors without proper investigation?
- How will individuals/companies deal with parallel civil/criminal enforcement proceedings?
- What about indemnification clauses in employment contracts?
- Will there be more trials because there is little incentive for a corporation to plead guilty?
- What about data privacy restrictions for multinationals who operate in EU?
- How will this affect voluntary disclosure under the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizational Defendants, especially in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases?
- What ‘s the impact on joint defense agreements?
- As a lawyer for lawyers who want to be whistleblowers, can you ever advise them to take the chance of losing their license?
I didn’t have time to talk about the added complication of potential director liability under Caremark and its progeny. During my compliance officer days, I used Caremark’s name in vain to get more staff, budget, and board access so that I could train them on the basics on the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. I explained to the Board that this line of cases required them to have some level of oversight over an effective compliance program. Among other things, Caremark required a program with “timely, accurate information sufficient to allow management and the board, each within its scope, to reach informed judgments concerning the [company’s] compliance with law and its business performance.”
I, like other compliance officers, often reviewed/re-tooled our compliance program after another company had negotiated a deferred or nonprosecution agreement with the government. These DPAs had an appendix with everything that the offending company had to do to avoid prosecution. Rarely, if ever, did the DPA mention an individual wrongdoer, and that’s been the main criticism and likely the genesis of the Yates Memo.
Boards will now likely have to take more of a proactive leadership role in demanding investigations at an early stage rather than relying on the GC or compliance officer to inform them of what has already occurred. Boards may need to hire their own counsel to advise on them on this and/or require the general counsel to have outside counsel conduct internal investigations at the outset. This leads to other interesting questions. For example, what happens if executives retain their own counsel and refuse to participate in an investigation that the Board requests? Should the Board designate a special committee (similar to an SLC in the shareholder derivative context) to make sure that there is no taint in the investigation or recommendations? At what point will the investigation become a reportable event for a public company? Will individual board members themselves lawyer up?
I will definitely have a lot to write about this Fall. If you have any thoughts leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 14, 2016 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Ethics, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, July 1, 2016
This post concerns the rights and responsibilities of whistleblowers. I sit on the Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. These views are solely my own.
Within a week of my last day as a Deputy General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for a Fortune 500 company and shortly before starting my VAP in academia, I testified before the House Financial Services Committee on the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Dodd-Frank whistleblower law on compliance programs. I blogged here about my testimony and the rule, which allows whistleblowers who provide original information to the SEC related to securities fraud or violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to receive 10 to 30 percent of the amount of the recovery in any action in which the Commission levies sanctions in excess of $1 million dollars. During my testimony in 2011, I explained to some skeptical members of Congress that:
…the legislation as written has a loophole that could allow legal, compliance, audit, and other fiduciaries to collect the bounty although they are already professionally obligated to address these issues. While the whistleblower community believes that these fiduciaries are in the best position to report to the SEC on wrongdoing, as a former in house counsel and compliance officer, I believe that those with a fiduciary duty should be excluded and have an “up before out” requirement to inform the general counsel, compliance officer or board of the substantive allegation or any inadequacy in the compliance program before reporting externally.
Thankfully, the final rule does have some limitations, in part, I believe because of my testimony and the urgings of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the American Bar Association and others. In a section of the SEC press release on the program discussing unintended consequences released a few weeks after the testimony, the agency stated:
However, in certain circumstances, compliance and internal audit personnel as well as public accountants could become whistleblowers when:
- The whistleblower believes disclosure may prevent substantial injury to the financial interest or property of the entity or investors.
- The whistleblower believes that the entity is engaging in conduct that will impede an investigation.
- At least 120 days have elapsed since the whistleblower reported the information to his or her supervisor or the entity’s audit committee, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer – or at least 120 days have elapsed since the whistleblower received the information, if the whistleblower received it under circumstances indicating that these people are already aware of the information.
At least two compliance officers or internal audit personnel have in fact received awards—one for $300,000 and another for $1,500,000. When I served on a panel a couple of years ago with Sean McKessy, Chief of the Office of the Whistleblower, he made it clear that he expected lawyers, auditors, and compliance officers to step forward and would not hesitate to award them.
Compliance officers have even more incentive to be diligent (or become whistleblowers) because of the DOJ Yates Memo, which requires companies to serve up a high ranking employee in order for the company to get cooperation credit in a criminal investigation. I blogged about my concerns about the Memo’s effect on the attorney-client relationship here, stating:
The Yates memo raises a lot of questions. What does this mean in practice for compliance officers and in house counsel? How will this development change in-house investigations? Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ? Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ? What impact will this memo have on attorney-client privilege? How will the relationship between compliance officers and their in-house clients change? Compliance officers are already entitled to whistleblower awards from the SEC provided they meet certain criteria. Will the Yates memo further complicate that relationship between the compliance officer and the company if the compliance personnel believe that the company is trying to shield a high profile executive during an investigation?
The US Chamber of Commerce shares my concerns and issued a report last month that echoes the thoughts of a number of defense attorneys I know. I will be discussing these themes and the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower aspect at the International Legal Ethics Conference on July 14th at Fordham described below:
Current Trends in Prosecutorial Ethics and Regulation
Ellen Yaroshefsky, Cardozo School of Law (US) (Moderator); Tamara Lave, University of Miami Law School (US); Marcia Narine, St. Thomas University School of Law (US);Lawrence Hellman, Oklahoma City University School of Law (US); Lissa Griffin, Pace University Law School (US); Kellie Toole, Adelaide Law School (Australia); and Eric Fish,Yale Law School (US)
Nationally and internationally, prosecutors' offices face new, as well as ongoing, challenges and their exercise of discretion significantly affects individuals and entities. This panel will explore a wide range of issues confronting the modern prosecutor. This will include certain ethical obligations in handling cases, organizational responsibility for wrongful convictions, the impact of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in whistleblower cases, and the cultural shifts in prosecutors' offices.
To be clear, I believe that more corporate employees must go to jail to punish if not deter abuses. But I think that these mechanisms are the wrong way to accomplish that goal and may have a chilling effect on the internal investigations that are vital to rooting out wrongdoing. If you have any thoughts about these topics, please leave them below or email me at email@example.com. My talk and eventual paper will also address the relationship between Sarbanes-Oxley, the state ethical rules, and the Catch-22 that in house counsel face because of the conflicting rules and the realities of modern day corporate life.
July 1, 2016 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, May 30, 2016
This year, my research and writing season has started off with a bang. While grading papers and exams earlier this month, I finished writing one symposium piece and first-round-edited another. Today, I will put the final touches on PowerPoint slides for a presentation I give the second week in June (submission is required today for those) and start working on slides for the presentation I will give Friday.
All of this sets into motion a summer concert conference, Barbri, and symposium tour that (somewhere along the line) got a bit complicated. Here are the cities and dates:
New Orleans, LA - June 2-5
Atlanta, GA - June 10-11
Nashville, TN - June 17
Chicago, IL - June 23-24
Seattle, WA - June 27
I know some of my co-bloggers are joining me along the way. I look forward to seeing them. Each week, I will keep you posted on current events as best I can while managing the research and writing and presentation preparations. The topics of my summer research and teaching run the gamut from insider trading (through by-law drafting, agency, unincorporated business associations, personal property, and benefit corporations) to crowdfunding. A nice round lot.
This coming week, I will be at the Law and Society Association annual conference. My presentation at this conference relates to an early-stage project on U.S. insider trading cases. The title and abstract for the project and the currently envisioned initial paper (which I would, of course, already change in a number of ways) are as follows:
May 30, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Teaching, White Collar Crime, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, May 9, 2016
Thought Josephine Sandler Nelson's recent Oxford Business Law Blog post on Volkswagen might be of interest to our readers. It is reposted here with permission.
Fumigating the Criminal Bug: The Insulation of Volkswagen’s Middle Management
New headlines each day reveal wide-spread misconduct and large-scale cheating at top international companies: Volkswagen’s emissions-defeat devices installed on over eleven million cars trace back to a manager’s PowerPoint from as early as 2006. Mitsubishi admits that it has been cheating on emissions standards for the eK and Dayz model cars for the past 25 years—even after a similar scandal almost wiped out the company 15 years ago. Takata’s $70 million fine for covering up its exploding air bags in Honda, Ford, and other car brands could soon jump to $200 million if a current Department of Justice probe discovers additional infractions. The government has ordered Takata’s recall of the air bags to more than double: one out of every five cars on American roads may be affected. Now Daimler is conducting an internal investigation into potential irregularities in its exhaust compliance.
A recent case study of the 2015-16 Volkswagen (‘VW’) scandal pioneers a new way to look at these scandals by focusing on their common element: the growing insulation and entrenchment of middle management to coordinate such large-scale wrongdoing. “The Criminal Bug: Volkswagen’s Middle Management” describes how VW’s top management put pressure on the rest of the company below it to achieve results without inquiring into the methods that the agents would use to achieve those results. The willing blindness of top executives to the methods of the agents below them is conscious and calculated. Despite disclosure-based regulation’s move to strict-liability prosecutions, the record of prosecutorial failure at trial against top executives in both the U.S. and Germany demonstrates that assertions of plausible deniability succeed in protecting top executives from accountability for the pressure that they put on agents to commit wrongdoing.
Agents inside VW receive the message loud and clear that they are to cheat to achieve results. As even the chairman of the VW board has admitted about the company, “[t]here was a tolerance for breaking the rules”. And, contrary to VW’s assertion, no one believes that merely a “small group of engineers” is responsible for the misconduct. Only middle management at the company had the longevity and seniority to shepherd at least three different emissions-control defeat devices through engine re-designs over ten years, to hide those devices despite heavily documented software, and to coordinate even across corporate forms with an outside supplier of VW’s software and on-board computer.
The reason why illegal activity can be coordinated and grow at the level of middle management over all these years is rooted in the failure of the law to impose individual accountability on agents at this level of the corporation. Additional work by the same author on the way in which patterns of illegal behavior in the 2007-08 financial crisis re-occur in the 2015-16 settlements for manipulations of LIBOR, foreign currency exchange rates, and other parts of the financial markets indicates that middle management is further protected from accountability by regulators’ emphasis on disclosure-based enforcement. In addition, U.S. law has lost the ability to tie together the behavior of individuals within a corporation through conspiracy or other types of prosecutions.
Previous research has shown that the more prominent the firm is, and the higher the expectations for performance, the more likely the firm is to engage in illegal behavior. Now we understand more about the link between the calculated pressure that top executives put on their companies and the protection of middle management that supports the patterns of long-term, large-scale wrongdoing that inflict enormous damage on the public. It is not solely VW that needs to fumigate this criminal bug: the VW case study suggests that we need to re-think the insulation from individual liability for middle management in all types of corporations.
This post originally appeared on the Oxford Business Law Blog, May 5, 2016.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
A recent Illinois case uniquely applied the alter ego doctrine in the context of a criminal case. See People v. Abrams, 47 N.E.3d 295, ¶¶ 57-61, 399 Ill. Dec. 790 (2015) ( slip op. PDF here ). In my view, not quite right, either.
In the case, the defendant (Abrams) stole $1.87 million from the victim (Lev), which led to a restitution order for that amount and a twelve-year prison sentence for Abrams. The conviction was for a Class 1 felony, for the the theft of property exceeding $500,000. Id.¶ 23 (citing 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/16-1(a(2) (West 2012)). The statute provides, "Theft of property exceeding $500,000 and not exceeding $1,000,000 in value is a Class 1 non-probationable felony." 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/16-1(b)(6.2).
On appeal, the defendant argued the indictment was wrong in that it stated the money was stolen from Lev, when most of the money actually belonged to Lev's company, The Fred Lev Company (presumably a corporation, but that is not stated expressly). Abrams claimed:
the State did not prove he obtained “unauthorized control” of more than $500,000 of Lev’s property. Abrams recognizes the evidence presented at trial established that over $1.8 million was taken. Abrams contests the finding that the entire amount was taken from Lev and not The Fred Lev Company.
Abrams, 47 N.E.3d 295 ¶ 57. The court countered: "This is a distinction without a difference. Two separate doctrines of law guide our decision." Id. Although I think the court is probably right on the outcome, one of the rationales is wrongly explained.
The court's first assertion is as follows:
First, the alter ego doctrine of corporate law was developed for and has been traditionally used by third persons injured due to their reliance on the existence of a distinct corporate entity. In re Rehabilitation of Centaur Insurance Co., 158 Ill. 2d 166, 173 (1994). “The doctrine fastens liability on the individual or entity that uses a corporation merely as an instrumentality to conduct that person’s or entity’s business.” Peetoom v. Swanson, 334 Ill. App. 3d 523, 527 (2002). In the context of “piercing the corporate veil,” an alter ego analysis starts with examining the factors which reveal how the corporation operates and the particular party’s relationship to that operation. A.G. Cullen Construction, Inc. v. Burnham Partners, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 122538, ¶ 43. Generally, did the corporation function simply as a facade for the dominant shareholder? Id. Here, without question, the corporate entity, The Fred Lev Company, served as the alter ego or business conduit of Lev, and Abrams’ own testimony confirmed it.
Id.¶ 58. This is an overreach, as far as I am concerned, and I don't like the ease with which the court uses veil piercing without a detailed analysis. I believe that veil piercing, if it is to be used, should have some consistency, though I know that's now how it tends to work (i.e., without consistency). Here, would the court have pierced the veil if this were a creditor bringing suit directly against Lev because his corporation couldn't satisfy a judgment? I think it would be wrong to do so on similar facts, so I think it is careless to apply the alter ego doctrine in this manner here.
The court continues:
Second, the indictments sufficiently apprised Abrams of the charges against him. See People v. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d 206, 219-20 (2005) (any variance was neither material nor prejudicial to defendant). We do not believe that the defendant was in any way prejudiced by the indictments at issue.
Id.¶ 59. I totally and completely buy this. And, in addition, the court noted:
Even more convincing is that in opening statements to the jury, defense counsel told the jury that the checking accounts “were not used solely for [Lev’s and Abrams’] corporate work. They didn’t separate the corporation from their personal lives and personal expenses. *** They were using everything that went into that corporate account and writing checks on it for their own personal private, for their own person use. There was a commingling.” Additionally, defense counsel referred to “Fred Lev and Company” as being both Abrams and Lev. In closing argument, defense counsel argued that the company was “a small-time operation” with “one corporate book” that both Lev and Abrams used as “their own personal piggybank.”
Id.¶ 60. In the trial, it was determined that the statutory felony monetary amount threshold was met. And the defendant admitted that he considered the funds to be Lev's and that he (the defendant) disregarded the entity. I see no notice problem as to the defendant, and I have no concern that a jury couldn't understand whether the theft occurred in the amount claimed. I can see an argument, perhaps, that the prosecution should still get it right as to whom the money actually belonged, but it seems to me correct to say the crime was properly analyzed and assessed as to the criminal elements, so the claim is harmless error in this instance. Lev would have been the one to assert the claim for the Company, so it is hard to see how Abrams was harmed.
I will maintain, though, that the veil piercing rationale is unnecessary and overstated. (I might be comfortable if they used the analogy to explain harmless error, but the way it was done is too much for me.) Furthermore, as to the judgment for restitution to Lev, it is wrong. That money (or some portion of it) belongs to The Fred Lev Company. Suppose there are creditors out there who have gone unpaid. Or they are unpaid down the road. At a minimum, the funds stolen from the company should go back through the company so it could be clear what funds were there and should have been available. Thus, as to the charges, I think the court probably got it right. But as to respecting the entity (and protecting creditors now, and in the future), this could have been handled better.
H/T Prof. Gary Rosin
Friday, March 25, 2016
The BLPB editors have been nice enough to let me pen a quick post concerning an idea I floated way back in May. In my role as that month’s guest blogger, I offered my thoughts on how rationalizing—that very powerful, and very human, psychological process that allows us to view ourselves positively (say, as an upstanding citizen, family man, etc.), while taking actions inconsistent with that view according to society’s standards (say, by passing a stock tip to a friend, misrepresenting a company’s financials, etc.)—helps explain corporate wrongdoing. I also offered a thesis for how overcriminalization, particularly in the white collar area, might be fostering rationalizations, and thus undermining crime control efforts. In a bit of a cliffhanger (not quite Game of Thrones quality, but a cliffhanger nonetheless), I promised a final post discussing how these ideas impact corporate compliance. Well, almost a year later, I’ve finally finished an article on the topic. Let me know what you think (and also if John Snow is really dead.)
Corporate compliance is becoming increasingly “criminalized.” What began as a means of industry self-regulation has morphed into a multi-billion dollar effort to avoid government intervention in business, specifically criminal and quasi-criminal investigations and prosecutions. In order to avoid application of the criminal law, companies have adopted compliance programs that are motivated by and mimic that law, using the precepts of criminal legislation, enforcement, and adjudication to advance their compliance goals. This approach to compliance is inherently flawed, however—it can never be fully effective in abating corporate wrongdoing. Explaining why that is forms this Article’s main contribution. Criminalized compliance regimes are inherently ineffective because they impose unintended behavioral consequences on corporate employees. Employees subject to criminalized compliance have greater opportunities to rationalize their future unethical or illegal behavior. Rationalizations are a key component in the psychological process necessary for the commission of corporate crime—they allow offenders to square their self-perception as “good people” with the illegal behavior they are contemplating, thereby allowing the behavior to go forward. Criminalized compliance regimes fuel these rationalizations, and in turn bad corporate conduct. By importing into the corporation many of the criminal law’s delegitimatizing features, criminalized compliance creates space for rationalizations, facilitating the necessary precursors to the commission of white collar and corporate crime. The result is that many compliance programs, by mimicking the criminal law in hopes of reducing employee misconduct, are actually fostering it. This insight, which offers a new way of conceptualizing corporate compliance, explains the ineffectiveness of many compliance programs and also suggests how companies might go about fixing them.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
I have long followed the trials and tribulations of Chesapeake Energy and founder Aubrey McClendon, and I had been planning to write about yesterday's indictment of McClendon for bid rigging in a couple weeks, after I gathered more information. About an hour ago, though, reports broke that former Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon died today. According to CNBC:
McClendon crashed into an embankment while traveling at a "high rate of speed" in Oklahoma City just after 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, said Capt. Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma City Police Department. Flames engulfed McClendon's vehicle "immediately," and it was burnt so badly that police could not tell if he was wearing a seatbelt, he said.
Before going any further, my thoughts go out to his friends and family. Regardless of how anything else comes together, their loss is real, and I feel badly for them.
In years past, I have questioned how Chesapeake conducted some of their business, including their use of entities and their leasing practices in Michigan and whether loan practices McClendon used personally were at odds with his fiduciary duties to Chesapeake. This round of bid rigging allegations were new to me (a Michigan case settled last year), and I was researching this set of allegations to see what I thought about this case. I remain curious whether it was a case of "singling him out" unfairly, as he claimed, or were there some strong evidence of more.
And even if he were being singled out, was it because the practice didn't occur or is it just how everyone did business? That question remains an open one, even if the case against McClendon is now closed. I hope to learn more in the coming weeks.As to the impact on his former company, CNBC notes:
Chesapeake said Tuesday that it did not expect to face criminal prosecution or fines related to McClendon's charges. The company's stock, which was already substantially higher Wednesday, briefly added to gains following news of McClendon's death.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Free Web Seminar: The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions
One of my two former firms, King & Spalding, is hosting a free interactive web seminar on cybersecurity and M&A on February 25 at 12:30 p.m. Thought the web seminar might be of interest to some of our readers. The description is reproduced below.
An Interactive Web Seminar
The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Cybersecurity and Data Privacy in Mergers and Acquisitions
February 25, 2016
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Over the last several years, company after company has been rocked by cybersecurity incidents. Moreover, obligations relating to cybersecurity and data privacy are rapidly evolving, imposing on corporations a complex and challenging legal and regulatory environment. Cybersecurity and data privacy deficiencies, therefore, might pose potentially significant business, legal, and regulatory risks to an acquiring company. For this reason, cybersecurity and data privacy are becoming integral pre-transaction due diligence items.
This e-Learn will analyze the (1) special cybersecurity and data privacy dangers that come with corporate transactions; (2) strategies to mitigate those dangers; and (3) benefits of incorporating cybersecurity and data privacy into due diligence. The panel will zero in on these issues from the vantage point of practitioners in the deal trenches, and from the perspective of a former computer crime prosecutor and a former FBI agent who have dealt with a broad range of cyber risks to public and private corporations. This e-Learn is for managers and attorneys at all levels who are involved at any stage of the M&A process and at any stage of cyber literacy, from the beginner who is just starting to appreciate the complex nature of cyber risks to the expert who has addressed them for years. The discussion will leave you with a better understanding of this critical topic and concrete, practical suggestions to bring back to your M&A team.
Robert Leclerc, King & Spalding’s Corporate Practice Group and experienced deal counsel; Nick Oldham, King & Spalding, and Former Counsel for Cyber Investigations, DOJ's National Security Division; John Hauser, Ernst & Young, and former FBI Special Agent specializing in cyber investigations.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
The defense for Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Coal, rested today without putting on any witnesses. Blankenship is on trial because he is charged with conspiring to violate federal safety standards. Investigators believe that Blankenship's methods contributed to a mine disaster that killed 29 people at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
One part of the trial has an interesting business law component. Prosecutors have tried to show the Blankenship's interest in making more money was a key factor in cutting corners. One West Virginia news paper reported it this way:
“The government is using his compensation package as an indication of how much production mattered to Don,” said Mike Hissam, partner at Bailey & Glasser. “They’re using his compensation to establish a motive for him lying and making false statements to investors, their theory being his compensation was so tied up with company stock he had a motive for lying to the SEC and the public to protect his own personal net worth.”
It's possible that this is accurate, but I am leery of that line of thinking. It's not that I don't think it's possible Blankenship cut corners because it cost money, but it's not clear to me that would be the main of even a significant reason, if he did. The problem with this line of thinking is that Don Blankenship has tons and tons of money. So the risk is that the jury looks at and says, "Nope -- he's already rich. Why would that motivate him so much?" Further, while Blankenship stood to make money when things went well, his net worth was tied to company stock, so bad outcomes hurt him, too. The incentive story is not as easy as it seems.
My theory for the jury on this point would be more like this: Blankenship played the game to win. He liked winning, and he was used to winning, and he would not stop. His winning made him rich. And what was it that made him a winner? More coal coming out of the ground. His coal. Coal, not money, earned points. Coal, not protecting lives, earned points. Safety measures and slow downs or shut downs lost points. And Blankenship was about scoring points. If the rules didn't help him, he tried to change the rules. And who was hurt along the way did not matter. Because hurt people don't score points. Only coal matters in Blankenship's game.
Anyway, there's a reason I'm not a prosecutor, but I put my theory forth because I am a little skeptical that the money-as-the-goal message will resonate with a jury the way prosecutors hope. (To be clear, this is not the only theory prosecutors put forth -- it's just the one I am focusing on.) My colleague Pat McGinley explained the challenges with Blankenship this way:
"There are a considerable number of people who view Mr. Blankenship in his role as the Massey CEO as arrogant and dismissive of criticism," he said. "But the jury hasn't seen that side of him. And don't forget he's embraced by many people, including many powerful people; he's not universally viewed as arrogant or in a negative light. What's important here is what assessment is the jury going to have?
Had Blankenship testified, we'd have a better sense of what the jury might think of him, because we'd at least have his testimony to assess. We'd know at least part of what the jury knows. But he didn't. No witnesses for the defense, and no insight for those watching.
It should be an interesting few days.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
I had the honor of being invited to speak at the annual symposium for the Wayne Law Review two weeks ago. The event, which focused on Corporate Counsel as Gatekeepers, was well organized and attended--and also very stimulating. Speakers included Tony West as a keynote, a few of us academics, and a bunch of current and former practitioners--prosecutors, in-house counsel, and outside counsel.
My presentation focused on a story that bugs me--a story built on an experience I had in practice. In the story (which modifies the true facts), an executive flagrantly violates a securities trading compliance plan that I drafted in connection with a subsequent transaction that I worked on for the executive's firm. Specifically, the executive informs a friend about the transaction the day before it is announced, believing that the friend will never trade on the information. The friend trades. The incident results in a stock exchange and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) inquiries. No enforcement is undertaken against the firm. However, the executive signs a consent decree with--and pays a cash penalty to--the SEC and, together with the firm, suffers public humiliation via a front-page article in the local newspaper (since the SEC would not agree to forego a press release). This fact pattern gnaws at me because I wonder whether there is anything more legal counsel can do to prevent an executive from violating a compliance policy to the detriment of himself and the firm . . . .
Thursday, October 22, 2015
BLPB guest-blogger Todd Haugh (Indiana University - Kelley School of Business) has a new article in the Vanderbilt Law Review entitled Overcriminalization's New Harm Paradigm. The abstract is reproduced below:
The harms of overcriminalization are usually thought of in a particular way—that the proliferation of criminal laws leads to increasing and inconsistent criminal enforcement and adjudication. For example, an offender commits an unethical or illegal act and, because of the overwhelming depth and breadth of the criminal law, becomes subject to too much prosecutorial discretion and faces disparate enforcement or punishment. But there is an additional, possibly more pernicious, harm of overcriminalization. Drawing from the fields of criminology and behavioral ethics, this Article makes the case that overcriminalization actually increases the commission of criminal behavior itself, particularly by white collar offenders. This occurs because overcriminalization, by lessening the legitimacy of the criminal law, fuels offender rationalizations. Rationalizations are part of the psychological process necessary for the commission of crime—they allow offenders to square their selfperception as “good people” with the illegal behavior they are contemplating, thereby allowing the behavior to go forward. Overcriminalization, then, is more than a post-act concern. It is inherently criminogenic because it facilitates some of the most prevalent and powerful rationalizations used by would-be offenders. Put simply, overcriminalization is fostering the very conduct it seeks to eliminate. This phenomenon is on display in the recently decided Supreme Court case Yates v. United States. Using Yates as a backdrop, this Article presents a new paradigm of overcriminalization and its harms.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Like many of you, I have been discussing the Volkswagen emission scandal in my business law classes.
Yesterday, Michael Horn, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Horn's testimony is here.
West Virginia University, home of co-blogger Joshua Fershee, is featured on the first page of the testimony as flagging possible non-compliance issues in the spring of 2014.
The testimony includes multiple apologies, acceptance of full responsibility, and the statement that these "events are fundamentally contrary to Volkswagen’s core principles of providing value to our customers, innovation, and responsibility to our communities and the environment."
I plan to follow this story in my classes as the events continue to unfold.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Are Crooked Executives Finally Going to Jail? DOJ’s New White Collar Criminal Guidelines and the Questions for Compliance Officers and In House Counsel
I think my life as a compliance officer would have been much easier had the DOJ issued its latest memo when I was still in house. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has heard the criticism and knows that her agency may face increased scrutiny from the courts. Thus the DOJ has announced via the “Yates Memorandum” that it’s time for some executives to go to jail. Companies will no longer get favorable deferred or nonprosecution agreements unless they cooperate at the beginning of the investigation and provide information about culpable individuals.
This morning I provided a 7-minute interview to a reporter from my favorite morning show NPR’s Marketplace. My 11 seconds is here. Although it didn’t make it on air, I also discussed (and/or thought about) the fact that compliance officers spend a great deal of time training employees, developing policies, updating board members on their Caremark duties, scanning the front page of the Wall Street Journal to see what company had agreed to sign a deferred prosecution agreement, and generally hoping that they could find something horrific enough to deter their employees from going rogue so that they wouldn’t be on the front page of the Journal. Now that the Yates memo is out, compliance officers have a lot more ammunition.
On the other hand, the Yates memo raises a lot of questions. What does this mean in practice for compliance officers and in house counsel? How will this development change in-house investigations? Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ? Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ? What impact will this memo have on attorney-client privilege? How will the relationship between compliance officers and their in-house clients change? Compliance officers are already entitled to whistleblower awards from the SEC provided they meet certain criteria. Will the Yates memo further complicate that relationship between the compliance officer and the company if the compliance personnel believe that the company is trying to shield a high profile executive during an investigation?
I for one think this is a good development, and I’m in good company. Some of the judges who have been most critical of deferred prosecution agreements have lauded today’s decision. But, actions speak louder than words, so a year from now, let’s see how many executives have gone on trial.
September 10, 2015 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)