Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White recently announced that defendants in certain securities cases would no longer be allowed to accompany an agreement to settle with the statement that they are doing so but without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Speaking to a columnist with The New York Times, White said that in certain instances, admissions are necessary for there to be public accountability. However, White also did say that most SEC cases still would be settled under the “nether admit nor deny standard,” which provides the accused incentive to settle while compensation to victims sooner.
The new policy was announced to SEC enforcement staff last week in a memo from the regulator’s enforcement division co-leaders. They went on to say that in cases that warrant such an admission, if the accused were to refuse then a securities lawsuit might be the next step.
Securities cases that require admissions of wrongdoing will have to satisfy certain criteria, such as intentional misconduct that was egregious, wrongdoing that hurt a lot of investors or put them at risk of serious financial harm, or unlawful obstruction of the Commission’s investigation.
“This policy change is long overdue,” said Geoffrey Broderick of The Resolution Law Group. “Over the past decade, the SEC has accommodated the targets it has been investigating far too often. Only rarely is there the requirement of admission of wrongdoing, and almost never for large financial firms and their management. When one is caught with a hand in the cookie jar, it’s time to say ‘I did it and I’m sorry, rather than “I neither admit nor deny it was my hand.”
The change policy comes in the wake of complaints that the SEC has been to lax with its enforcement, especially when it came to pursuing securities fraud cases against large financial institutions involved in the economic crisis, such as JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), which all settled cases against them without denying or admitting guilt. Having to admit wrongdoing potentially could hurt financial firms because plaintiffs in private securities cases and class action fraud litigation may then cite the acknowledgement of culpability, thereby strengthening their claims. This could force banks to have to pay out millions of dollars than if they hadn’t admitted to doing anything wrong.
S.E.C. Has a Message for Firms Not Used to Admitting Guilt, The Resolution Law Group P.C. www.TheResolutionLawGroup.com
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