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SEC Chair Mary Jo White Headlines Corporate Counsel Institute

March 16, 2015 —

Georgetown’s 19th Annual  Corporate Counsel Institute (CCI) on March 12 and 13 presented an ambitious agenda exploring some of the greatest legal challenges facing corporations today. 

And according to Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, the SEC has a similarly ambitious agenda: one that includes safeguarding investors from companies with a history of financial misconduct. White’s keynote address at CCI explored how these wrongdoers may be disqualified by the SEC and other authorities from engaging in business activities — and how the SEC decides to grant or deny waivers from these kinds of regulatory disqualifications. 

White also explored how to keep misconduct, particularly by the executives of financial institutions, from happening in the first place.

“In the end, it is people, not institutions, who engage in unlawful conduct,” she said, noting that “the greatest disincentive for wrongdoing occurs when people believe that their own liberty, reputations and livelihoods are on the line… a critical priority of our enforcement program is to hold responsible individuals accountable.”

At an enforcer’s roundtable that followed, representatives of the most powerful white-collar criminal enforcement agencies — the SEC, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and the Department of Justice — confirmed a trend of bringing cases against individual executives (as opposed to institutions) as they work to combat financial fraud, protect consumers, and other priorities. 

Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic (L’93, H’14) spoke of her work researching the justices, exploring the impact of their diverse personal backgrounds on their professional points of view. And she discussed her research on the Supreme Court bar, showing how an “elite cadre” of 66 lawyers — made up of mostly white men — is six times more likely to have their cases heard by the Court. Meanwhile, “the Supreme Court is going in the opposite direction” in terms of gender and ethnic diversity among the justices, she noted.

But in the Supreme Court review the following day, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that the same cadre of lawyers — and law school Supreme Court clinics — will seek out cases to bring before the Court pro bono, counterbalancing any notion that only the wealthiest businesses with the best lawyers appear before the Court. 

As he has done in the past three years, Verrilli helped Professor Steven Goldblatt of Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute discuss the cases on the Court’s docket — the health care and same-sex marriage blockbusters as well as business-related cases involving employment, environmental law and patents.  “I don’t know where else in the CLE world you would be able to ask an almost unlimited number of questions to the solicitor general of the United States,” commented Assistant Dean Larry Center of Georgetown Law CLE.

The two-day event was introduced by Center, Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor, and Thomas F. O’Neil III (L’82), who received special recognition for his years of service as CCI’s advisory board co-chair. 

White’s address may be viewed here and read here.

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