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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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SEC Pick a Warning to Wall Street?

(CN) - President Obama's nomination of former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission is viewed as a shot across the bow to Wall Street.

White, 65, was the first woman to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. She served from 1993 to 2002, and earned a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor, winning convictions of terrorists behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998.

For the past decade, White has worked as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. There, she defended the hospital chain HCA during an SEC investigation of insider trading. She also served as a director of the NASDAQ stock exchange.

"You don't mess with Mary Jo," President Obama said in his brief announcement at the White House Thursday afternoon. "Mary Jo doesn't intimidate easily and that's important because she's got a big job ahead of her."

SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro stepped down in early December 2012 and was replaced temporarily by Elisse Walter.

Schapiro was credited with revitalizing the agency after the 2008 financial crisis, but also criticized for being slow to respond to new threats and for failing to hold a single executive responsible for his or her role in the Wall Street meltdown.

If confirmed, White would be the first former prosecutor to lead the SEC. She will be tasked with implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday: "As you know, the SEC plays an essential role in the implementation of Wall Street reform and rooting out reckless behavior in the financial industry. The president believes [this] appointment ... demonstrate[s] the commitment that he has to carrying out Wall Street reform, making sure that we have the rules of the road that are necessary and that are being enforced in a way that ensures we don't have the kind of financial crisis that we had that led to the worst economic crisis that we've seen since the Great Depression."

Some analysts believe her appointment may be a warning to Wall Street that the SEC may pursue jail time for corporate executives, in addition to monetary settlements.

While the SEC has won record settlements with Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank and Bank of America, critics say the penalties merely put a few dents in the banks' profits.

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