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October 2, 2009
NACDL's 5th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar - "Financial Fiasco - Prosecutions & Lawsuits Stemming from the Securities Market Meltdown," Friday, October 2, 2009
Guest Blogger: Ashish S. Joshi, Lorandos & Associates (Ann Arbor, MI / Washington, DC)
Moderator: Gerald B. Lefcourt
This was one of the most anticipated panels of the program as the panelists included Hon. Lewis Kaplan who has been roundly applauded by the white-collar defense bar for his insightful and game-changing KPMG decision, Ira Sorkin, the attorney for Bernard Madoff, Susan Brune, who is shortly going to trial to defend Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Cioffi and Tannin, who have been accused of securities fraud, and former SEC Enforcement Director Walter Ricciardi to provide perspective on the major developments taking place at the SEC.
Walter Ricciardi talked about the recent changes in the SEC. With the appointment of Mary Shapiro as the Chair of the Commission, the SEC has sent out a signal that it’s the “tough cop on the beat.” The Commission has strengthened its enforcement division. The new subpoena power given to its enforcement division has also given the SEC more bite. Contrary to its earlier culture where “everybody does everything,” now the SEC has created Specialized Units. These Units – such as the Asset Management Unit – will have a unit head and staff who will focus their attention on the unit’s activities, full time. Ricciardi also mentioned that while the SEC earlier used to go after the entities and left out the individuals who had been accused of wrongdoing, going forward, this will not be the case.
After Ricciardi, it was Ira Sorkin’s turn to speak. Sorkin acknowledged that there has been a major change in white-collar investigation and/or prosecution since his early days at the SEC. Now, the SEC is increasingly reaching out and cooperating with the U.S. Attorneys’ office. The approach appears to be: “Talk to us about case A, we will talk to you about case B.”
Sorkin remarked that in the last 15-20 years, parallel proceedings in a white-collar prosecution have mushroomed. Every regulator, criminal or civil, now wants a piece of these white-collar cases. It’s prestigious, it’s sexy and it garners media attention. As a result, “co-operation agreements” have increased. Agencies and departments are cooperating with each other like never before.
Sorkin also commented on FINRA – a self-regulatory organization. FINRA, during its investigation apparently does not recognize the 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Your client calls you and tells you that FINRA wants to talk to your client. Basically, you tell your client that you have bad news and worse news in this situation. Bad news: if your client doesn’t testify before FINRA, it can bring a 82(10) proceeding and take your client’s license away. Worse news: if your client does testify, FINRA can then take the transcript and share it with the DOJ or district attorney’s office and your client may end up with a much worse problem.
Sorkin also commented on the SEC and DOJ’s “queen for a day” proffer agreements. These offers are meaningless. They provide nothing to the clients but a lot to the government – and, they are quite dangerous. If you believe that a proffer is necessary, it would be better to go down the road with Rule 410 protections in place.
Sorkin ended his discussion by stating that it was quite alarming that more and more defense lawyers are acting as “junior G-men” for the government to do internal investigations.
After Ira Sorkin, it was the turn of Susan Brune. Brune commented that in this economy, there’s a common perception: why haven’t been people been charged for the collapse of stock market? There is an assumption that just because the stock market went down, there has to be underlying criminality behind this.
Brune also acknowledged that a typical white-collar case is a “resource problem.” It requires tremendous resources. Emails, documents, reports, papers - millions of documents are involved in defending a white-collar criminal case. Just the resources needed to review emails alone are, at times, overwhelming.
Judge Lewis Kaplan stated that maybe the current debate concerning the attorney-client privilege should be re-focused. Judge Kaplan commented that the incessant talk about the Holder-Thompson-McNulty-Filip memorandums might be irrelevant. Instead, the focus should be on the underlying corporate criminal liability. When would a criminal investigation and/or prosecution of a corporate entity be appropriate? If a CFO commits fraud, there should be no issue when the company is made civilly liable for the CFO’s acts. But when the DOJ launches a criminal investigation, it raises other issues. The government often is in a place where it can make the corporations do things to the individual employees that the government otherwise is not in a position to do directly. Be it indemnification, attorney fees, advancement of defense costs… the list is endless.
Judge Kaplan stated that some legal commentators have justified the government’s actions by taking the position that: the society should not be made to expand its finite resources to root out criminal behavior when this burden could easily be shifted to the companies where the alleged criminal behavior has said to have occurred. But, the Judge stated, this was an empirical question.
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