Archive for the ‘Enforcement Agency Policy’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Roundup2Scrutiny alerts, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts

Nortek

Nortek Inc.  recently disclosed:

“As part of our routine internal audit activities, Nortek, Inc. (the “Company” or “we”) discovered certain questionable hospitality, gift and payment practices, and other expenses at the Company’s subsidiary, Linear Electronics (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd. (“Linear China”), which are inconsistent with the Company’s policies and raise concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and perhaps under other applicable anti-corruption laws. The Company initiated an internal investigation into these practices and payments with the assistance of outside counsel. On January 7, 2015 and January 8, 2015, respectively, we voluntarily contacted the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise both agencies of our internal investigation. The Company intends to cooperate with any SEC or DOJ investigation into these matters. The Company takes these matters very seriously and is committed to conducting its business in compliance with all applicable laws. Based on information known at this time, we currently believe that the amount of the questionable expenses and payments is not material with respect to the Company’s financial condition or results of operations. However, at this time, we are unable to predict, what, if any, action may be taken by the DOJ or SEC or any penalties or remedial measures these agencies may seek, but intend to cooperate with both agencies. Any determination that our operations or activities are not in compliance with existing laws or regulations could result in the imposition of fines, civil and criminal penalties, and equitable remedies, including disgorgement or injunctive relief. Nortek’s Linear China location manufactures products primarily for our Security and Control Solutions Segment and does not sell products to third parties.”

Sony

Last week’s Friday Roundup highlighted the FCPA scrutiny of Sony and other Hollywood film studies in China.

In this article, Bloomberg reports:
“Sony Corp.’s entertainment unit investigated its Indian operations for possible legal violations including bidding fraud and kickbacks, according to internal e-mails released by hackers, highlighting challenges the company has faced in the country. Sony enlisted Ernst & Young to look into its businesses in the country and uncovered potential evidence of wrongdoing, according to the e-mails. In one case, investigators found that a joint venture between Sony and Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA) may have engaged in fraudulent bids, kickbacks and excessive handouts to government officials …”
According to the article, there are various “areas of concern” including: “potential gifts and entertainment of Indian government officials” such as providing tickets to IPL cricket matches to public servants, as well as laptop bags that were requested as gifts for government officials during the Diwali festival.”

Related to the entertainment industry, this recent Wall Street Journal article “Media Giants Look Far Afield for New TV Audience” is an interesting read (with FCPA goggles on) as it describes how various U.S. companies are expanding abroad.

Transparency International

Transparency International (TI) is usually the one scrutinizing, not being scrutinized.  However, this Corporate Crime Reporter article highlights Siemens’ recent $3 million dollar donation to TI.  The article quotes a “TI insider, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation” as follows.

“This really shows that Transparency International is not as pure as people think. Transparency International’s own policy forbids accepting money from corrupt companies. Period. Even though the Siemens bribery scandal broke in 2006, the company is still being investigated in more than 20 countries — in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. All over the world, Siemens is still under suspicion.”

“Its reputation is the most valuable asset that Transparency International has. But its management has made the choice that taking $3 million from Siemens to support its $70 million international budget is worth the risk of damaging its reputation. That’s less than 5 percent of TI’s budget. Is this really worth it?”

“How can anyone trust TI? The world’s leading anti-corruption NGO is now taking money from one of the world’s worst corporate criminals. People need to start asking the question.”

Quotable

In this recent speech, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sung-Hee Suh spoke “about the Criminal Division’s white-collar criminal enforcement priorities now and in the coming year.” Among other things, Suh stated:  

“The prosecution of individuals—including corporate executives—for criminal wrongdoing continues to be a high priority for the department.  That is not to say that we will be looking to charge individuals to the exclusion of corporations. However, corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals.  And, the Criminal Division intends to prosecute those individuals, whether they are sitting on a sales desk or in a corporate suite. It is within this framework that we are also seeking to reshape the conversation about corporate cooperation to some extent.  Corporations too often overlook a key consideration that the department has long expressed in our Principles of Federal Prosecution, which guide our prosecutorial decisions:  That is a corporation’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation of its culpable executives. Of course, corporations—like individuals—are not required to cooperate.  A corporation may make a business or strategic decision not to cooperate.  However, if a corporation does elect to cooperate with the department, it should be mindful of the fact that the department does not view voluntary disclosure as true cooperation, if the company avoids identifying the individuals who are criminally responsible for the corporate misconduct. Even the identification of culpable individuals is not true cooperation, if the company intentionally fails to locate and provide facts and evidence at their disposal that implicate those individuals.  The Criminal Division will be looking long and hard at corporations who purport to cooperate, but fail to provide timely and full information about the criminal misconduct of their executives. In the past year, the Criminal Division has demonstrated its continued commitment to the prosecution of individual wrongdoers in the corporate context.  I will highlight a few examples. On the FCPA front, since 2009, we have convicted 50 individuals in FCPA and FCPA-related cases, and resolved criminal cases against 59 companies with penalties and forfeiture of almost $4 billion.  Within the last two years alone, we have charged, resolved by plea, or unsealed cases against 26 individuals, and 14 corporations have resolved FCPA violations with combined penalties and forfeiture of more than $1.6 billion. As just one example, the department unsealed charges against the former co-CEOs and general counsel of PetroTiger Ltd., a BVI oil and gas company with offices in New Jersey, for allegedly paying bribes to an official in Colombia in exchange for assistance in securing approval for an oil services contract worth $39 million. The general counsel and one of the CEOs already pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges, and the other former CEO is headed for trial. This case was brought to the attention of the department through voluntary disclosure by PetroTiger, which cooperated with the department’s investigation.  Notably, no charges of any kind were filed against PetroTiger. An example on the flip side is the Alstom case, an FCPA investigation stemming from a widespread scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes spanning the globe, including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Bahamas. When the Criminal Division learned of the misconduct and launched an investigation, Alstom opted not to cooperate at the outset.  What ensued was an extensive multi-tool investigation involving recordings, interviews, subpoenas, MLAT requests, the use of cooperating witnesses, and more. As of today, four individual Alstom executives have been charged; three of them have pleaded guilty; Alstom’s consortium partner, Marubeni, was charged and pleaded guilty; and Alstom pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a record $772 million fine.  And that only accounts for the charges in the United States. As I have said, we want corporations to cooperate, and will provide appropriate incentives.  But, we will not rely exclusively upon corporate cooperation to make our cases against the individual wrongdoers.

[...]

To do these complex, international investigations, we are increasingly coordinating with domestic and foreign regulators and law enforcement counterparts, some of whom are on this panel today. In working with our foreign counterparts, we have developed growing sophistication and experience in a variety of areas, including analyzing foreign data privacy laws and corporations’ claims that overseas documents cannot be provided to investigators in the United States. We are also building and relying upon on our relationships with our foreign counterparts to gather evidence, locate individuals overseas, conduct parallel investigations of similar conduct, and, when appropriate, coordinate the timing and scope of resolutions. Yes, just as we are coordinating our investigations, we are likewise willing to coordinate our resolutions, including accounting for the corporate monetary penalties paid in other jurisdictions when appropriate. This is all to say that you should expect to see these meaningful, multinational investigations and prosecutions of corporations and individuals to continue.”

*****

These pages have frequently highlighted how the root cause of bribery and corruption is often foreign trade barriers and distortions.

Jeremy Douglas (who leads the United Nation’s regional Office on Drugs and Crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific) was thus spot-on in this recent Q&A.

“Q: How do western companies get themselves into trouble in the region?

A: … What we see in the region is that bureaucracies and government structures tend to be highly personalized. People are ensconced in key positions i.e. government procurement positions, or people in the position to give government contracts, let’s say building a power plant. [These officials] are in powerful positions to ease up administrative procedures and accelerate red tape and issue licenses. So companies can be drawn into scenarios where they are paying facilitation fees or their intermediaries are paying facilitation fees. [Much of] Southeast Asia doesn’t have a lot of the regulatory structure–the checks and balances you have in the [U.S. or Canada] so companies come in and run into very powerful persons in those structures, and they know if they can influence these officials, they can get what they need to win business.”

Reading Stack

The Corporate Crime Reporter previews a new bookUnaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security written by Professor Janine Wedel.  Professor Wedel states:
“Transparency International pioneered the corruption index in the early 1990s. They rank countries from most corrupt to the least corrupt. And they are based on public perception – perception of business people and experts from outside the country. They come up with these numbers that are attractive to the press. And it has put Transparency International on the map. They are simple minded surveys. But they don’t really mean a lot. The idea of corruption in these surveys is simple bribery — cash changing hands. It’s the proverbial cash in the piano or the freezer. Corruption is reduced to bribery. In fact, today’s most savvy power brokers are engaged in a kind of corruption that is much more subtle and more difficult to detect. Today’s most corrupt players, at least in the West, don’t need this quid pro quo corruption. They are far beyond that. That’s for the little players. That’s for the small fry. That’s a key point of Unaccountable.”

*****

This Op-Ed about Chinese law enforcement (in the corruption space and otherwise) states: “China’s leaders must realize that even the perception that they are targeting foreign businesses disproportionately can create great harm.”  Against this backdrop, is the following fact.  8 of the top 10 FCPA enforcement actions (in terms of settlement amounts) have been against foreign companies and are often based on sparse jurisdictional allegations.

*****

From the Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

“Public Officers Rejecting Bribe Offers

Singapore enjoys a good international standing for having a clean and efficient civil service. While this is reflected by the low number of public servants being prosecuted for corruption offences, another evidence of the clean public sector is the significant number of public officers who take pride in discharging their duties and say “no” to bribes when put to the test.”

The post then provides several examples.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Here’s What Would Get More Companies To Self-Disclose Bribery

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery?”  The article discusses several  answers (publicize declinations, start a leniency program, lower the amount of fines), but the best answer  is depicted in the below picture (with an FCPA compliance defense being the red arrow).

Compliance Defense As A Gap

There currently exists an informational gap between those with evidence of FCPA violations (i.e. companies and their counsel who conduct FCPA internal investigations) and the government agencies (DOJ and SEC) who enforce the FCPA.

Although – as highlighted in this recent post – approximately 60% of recent FCPA enforcement actions are the result of corporate voluntary disclosures, it should be an uncontroversial observation that many more FCPA violations (at least based on current enforcement theories) are happening in the global marketplace on a daily basis.

This observation is based on my nearly ten years of FCPA practice experience (and will be recognized as a self-evident truth by other FCPA practitioners) as well as my frequent conversations with FCPA practitioners.  While I am not suggesting the following is empirical evidence, the general thrust of comments I hear from FCPA practitioners is that approximately only 50% of FCPA issues in public companies are disclosed to the DOJ/SEC and that very, very few FCPA issues in private companies are disclosed to the DOJ.  The follow-up question I then ask is – in the situations in which the company has not voluntarily disclosed, has the DOJ/SEC ever found out about the problematic conduct at issue.  The universal response I have received is no.

Put this all together and the resulting landscape is that there are many FCPA violations occurring (at least based on current enforcement theories) that are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies.  Because the violations are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies, there is no enforcement action. Because there is no enforcement action, the individual engaging in the problematic conduct are not being held accountable.  Because the individual engaging in the problematic conduct is not being held accountable, FCPA enforcement is not as effective as it could be.

The DOJ (and SEC) clearly recognize the gap that exists and in recent months enforcement officials have tried to articulate policies that can help close this gap (see here, here, and here for summaries of recent speeches).

As highlighted in this prior post,  the policies articulated by DOJ officials are sensible (voluntarily disclose, cooperate, and identify culpable individuals).

Problem is, this is the same policy the enforcement agencies have been talking about for nearly a decade and its seems not to be closing the gap that exists between evidence of FCPA violations and prosecution of FCPA violations, including individuals.  Indeed, as highlighted by this prior post, 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee and 75% of corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee.

An FCPA compliance defense will not close this gap completely, but it will help bridge the gap.

As stated in my 2012 article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense.”

“An FCPA compliance defense will better facilitate the DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of its FCPA enforcement program. At present, business organizations that learn through internal reporting mechanisms of rogue employee conduct implicating the FCPA are often hesitant to report such conduct to the enforcement authorities. In such situations, business organizations are rightfully diffident to submit to the DOJ’s opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable decision-making process and are rightfully concerned that its pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and its good faith compliance efforts will not be properly recognized. The end result is that the DOJ often does not become aware of individuals who make improper payments in violation of the FCPA and the individuals are thus not held legally accountable for their actions. An FCPA compliance defense surely will not cause every business organization that learns of rogue employee conduct to disclose such conduct to the enforcement agencies. However, it is reasonable to conclude that an FCPA compliance defense will cause more organizations with robust FCPA compliance policies and procedures to disclose rogue employee conduct to the enforcement agencies. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense can better facilitate DOJ prosecution of culpable individuals and increase the deterrent effect of FCPA enforcement actions.”

Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense, not as a race to the bottom, but a race to the top? Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense as helping them better achieve their FCPA policy objectives?

Let’s hope so, because the gap is problematic.

Might a compliance defense result in 1 or 2 fewer corporate enforcement actions per year?  Perhaps, but against this slight drop in “hard” enforcement would be an increase in “soft” enforcement of the FCPA (see here and here), and indeed because the gap would be narrowed there would be more “hard” enforcement of culpable individual actors.

See here and here for prior posts on the same topic.

Assistant Attorney General Caldwell’s Unconvincing Defense Of DPAs / NPAs

Monday, December 8th, 2014

As noted in this Global Investigations Review article, at a recent event in Paris in connection with the release of the OECD’s Foreign Bribery Report, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Caldwell defended the DOJ’s frequent use of DPAs and NPAs to resolve Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions.  As stated in the article:

“Caldwell defended the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) reliance on settlements in FCPA cases. “In the United States we are often able to achieve much more through a settlement – a negotiated settlement – than we could achieve following conviction at trial,” she said. “We are able to impose reforms, impose compliance controls, and impose all sorts of behavioural change that a court would never be able to impose following even a conviction at trial.” Since 2009 over 50 companies have settled with the DoJ for alleged FCPA violations. Caldwell told the audience in Paris: “Companies cannot be sent to jail, so all a court can do is say you will pay ‘x’. We can say: ‘you will also have a monitor and will do all sorts of other things for the next five years, and if you don’t do them for the next five years then you can still be prosecuted’.” “In the United States system at least it is a more powerful tool than actually going to trial,” she said.

Post-enforcement action compliance obligations typically last 2-3 years, not 5 as Caldwell suggested.  Regardless, Caldwell’s defense of DPAs and NPAs is just as unconvincing as former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer’s defense of DPAs and DPAs in September 2012 (see here for the prior post).

For starters, the function of the DOJ’s criminal division, as stated on its website, is to “serve the public interest through the enforcement of criminal statutes.”  Whether the function of the DOJ is, in addition, to “impose reform, impose compliance controls, and all impose all sorts of behavioral changes” on a business organization is a point of much disagreement. (See, e.g., “Prosecutors in the Boardroom“).

Regardless of one’s thoughts on whether the DOJ’s criminal division ought to play the role of a quasi-regulator, the notion that the DOJ is powerless to effect corporate change through old-fashion law enforcement (that is enforcing the FCPA without use of NPAs and DPAs) is plainly false.

For instance, the Siemens enforcement action did not involve the use of an NPA or DPA.  Yet, it is clear from the plea agreement, sentencing memorandum, and judgment that the DOJ was able to obtain the reforms, compliance controls and behavioral changes it wanted.  More recently in 2014, the Alcoa enforcement action was resolved without an NPA or DPA.  The plea agreement and judgment in the case (see here and here) again demonstrate that the DOJ was again able to obtain the reform, compliance controls and behavioral changes it wanted.

To return to Caldwell’s words, perhaps NPAs and DPAs are indeed a more powerful tool in FCPA enforcement actions than actually going to trial, but then again the DOJ is 0-2 in FCPA history when put to its ultimate burden of proof by a business organization in an FCPA enforcement action.

Just because the DOJ may have difficulty proving FCPA violations against business organizations and just because the DOJ is troubled – with good reason – by traditional notions of corporate criminal liability, does not mean the DOJ needs to continue to champion the alternate universe of NPAs and DPAs it has created.

*****

To read a different perspective on Caldwell’s recent remarks, see here from Tom Fox at the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog.

Issues To Consider From The Recent OECD Report

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Earlier this week the OECD released a report titled “OECD Foreign Bribery Report – An Analysis of the Crime of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.”

The Report “endeavours to measure, and to describe, transnational corruption based on data from the 427 foreign bribery cases that have been concluded since the entry into force of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999″ by the 41 signatory countries to the OECD Convention. From this universe of cases, the Report then attempts to calculate several statistics.

Calculating statistics across 41 countries with different legal regimes, different ways of prosecuting cases, etc. is a monumental task.

It is also a task that yields statistics that are not very reliable or meaningful, particularly given certain of the methodologies and assumptions made in the Report.

For starters, the report itself notes as follows.  ”This report is peppered with unknown data, ranging from 2% to 36% depending on the particular data set.  Many of the concluded cases did not contain all the information needed to make a full analysis and were also not publicly available.”

Second, the report ”does not examine foreign bribery related offenses such as accounting.”  It is a bit unclear what this means, but if it means that FCPA books and records and internal controls cases only are not included in the dataset, then this is a significant limitation because actual charges in an FCPA enforcement action are often based – not solely on the conduct at issue – but other factors such as voluntary disclosure, cooperation, collateral effects, etc.  In short, several FCPA enforcement which could implicate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions do not as a technical matter.

Third, and as noted in footnote 11 of the report, “in the case of the United States, sanctions imposed by the Securities Exchange Commission (US SEC) and Department of Justice (US DOJ) are counted separately.”  Given that U.S. cases comprised approximately 1/4 of the total cases examined, this creative counting method is hugely significant.

Consider just 2013 FCPA enforcement in which there were 9 core corporate enforcement actions (ADM, Bilfinger, Weatheford, Diebold, Total, Ralph Lauren, Parker Drilling, Stryker and Phillips).  Yet if one counts DOJ and SEC actions separately, as did the OECD, notwithstanding the fact that most DOJ and SEC enforcement actions were based on the same core conduct, the number dramatically jumps to 15 corporate enforcement actions in 2013.  In other words and using just one year, one can clearly see how creative FCPA enforcement action counting methods dramatically changes the denominator for every statistic calculated.

One statistic that has generated much media attention from the OECD Report  (see here and here) is the finding that 53% of foreign bribery cases involved corporate management or CEOs.  However, the OECD Report - as noted in footnote 36 – defines “management” to mean senior level management, executives at the board level, directors and lower level management and states that “case data was insufficient to distinguish between these categories.”

To be sure in the FCPA context, certain enforcement actions have involved senior executive conduct and/or board conduct, but the vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions do not involve senior level management and a frequent allegation in such enforcement actions is that no one at the parent company resolving the enforcement action was aware of or participated in the alleged improper conduct.  To the extent there was a management level employee (and “title inflation” surely seems to be used in many FCPA enforcement actions) involved in the alleged improper conduct, the individual was employed by a legal entity (such as foreign subsidiary) separate from the entity actually resolving the enforcement action.

Because the OECD Report was “prepared with the aim of assisting the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions and the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in their efforts to combat transnational bribery,” it was imperative that the statistics in the Report be reliable and meaningful.

Based on the above information, you can decide for yourself whether this is the case.

Despite the statistical deficiencies of the OECD Report there are several “preliminary conclusions” in the report worthy of highlighting.

For instance, as to the long timeframes involved in foreign bribery cases, the report states “it is essential that law enforcement authorities undertake efficient and effective investigations to avoid unnecessary delays.”

As to settlements, the predominate vehicle by which foreign bribery cases are resolved, the report states that “settlement procedures should respect the principles of due process, transparency and consistency.”

As to compliance programs, the report states that there is “scope for greater incentivizing preventative anti-bribery compliance programs …”.

*****

DOJ Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell delivered this speech in connection with the release of the OECD Report.

Reading Assignments

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Read ThisEnd of the semester reading assignments for those interested in topics related to FCPA enforcement.

Thus far in 2014, every SEC FCPA enforcement action (both corporate and individual) has been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.  Against this backdrop, Judge Jed Rakoff’s (S.D.N.Y.) recent speech “Is the SEC Becoming a Law Unto Itself” is a suggested read.

Prosecutorial common law most certainly impacts FCPA enforcement.  My amicus brief filed in connection with the recent Supreme Court “foreign official” cert petition highlighted, among other things, how judicial percolation of the “foreign official” issue is unlikely given how the FCPA is enforced. Against this backdrop, a recent statement by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas is a suggested read.

Both suggested reads are excerpted below.

Judge Rakoff’s Speech

In this recent speech Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) asks “is the SEC becoming a law unto itself” and discusses “some dangers that seem to lurk … in the SEC’s apparent new policy of bringing a greater percentage of its significant enforcement actions as administrative proceedings.”  In pertinent part, Judge Rakoff stated:

“[I]n recent months the S.E.C. has signaled its intention to bring as administrative actions certain kinds of enforcement actions that historically it has more often brought in the federal courts. As early as October of 2013, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the Division of Enforcement, stated that “Our expectation is that we will be bringing more administrative proceedings given the recent statutory changes.” He followed that up last June when, with specific reference to insider trading cases, which previously had only very rarely been brought administratively, rather than in federal court, Mr. Ceresney stated: “I do think we will bring more insider-trading cases as administrative proceedings in appropriate cases.” Not to be outdone, Kara Brockmeyer, the head of the SEC’s antiforeign- corruption enforcement unit, stated just two weeks ago that “It’s fair to say it’s the new normal. Just like the rest of the enforcement division, we’re moving towards using administrative proceedings more frequently.”

Judge Rakoff next provided an informative historical overview of the SEC’s evolving enforcement powers including recent Section 929 of Dodd-Frank which gave the SEC the power through internal administrative proceedings to impose monetary penalties.

In the words of Judge Rakoff:

“The net result of all this is that the S.E.C. can today obtain through internal administrative proceedings nearly everything it might obtain by going to court. This sea-change has come about almost entirely at the request of the S.E.C., usually by tacking the provisions authorizing such expansion onto one or another statute enacted in the wake of a financial scandal.

What has been the stated rationale for all these changes? Usually nothing more than a claim of greater efficiency. Thus, for example, when then-Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami submitted a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Dodd-Frank, he devoted all of one sentence to what became Section 929P(a), stating: “Additional legislative proposals that would serve to enhance the Division’s effectiveness and efficiency include the ability to seek civil penalties in [administrative] cease-and-desist proceedings.” Similarly, the sole legislative history of Section 929P(a) in the House Report on Dodd-Frank states that “This section streamlines the SEC’s existing enforcement authorities by permitting the SEC to seek civil money penalties in cease-and-desist proceedings under Federal securities laws.”

While a claim to greater efficiency by any federal bureaucracy suggests a certain chutzpah, it is hard to find a better example of what is sometimes disparagingly called “administrative creep” than this expansion of the S.E.C.’s internal enforcement power.

To be sure, an S.E.C. enforcement action brought internally is in some superficial respects more “effective and efficient” and more “streamlined” than a similar action brought in federal court, for the simple reason that S.E.C. administrative proceedings involve much more limited discovery than federal actions, with no provision whatsoever for either depositions or interrogatories. Similarly, at the hearing itself, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply and the S.E.C. is free to introduce hearsay. Further still, there is no jury, and the matter is decided by an administrative law judge appointed and paid by the S.E.C. It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the S.E.C. won 100% of its internal administrative hearings in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014, whereas it won only 61% of its trials in federal court during the same period.

But, although the informality and arguable unfairness of S.E.C. administrative proceedings might present serious problems for those defending such actions, you might suppose that federal judges would be delighted to have fewer complicated securities cases burdening their overcrowded dockets. The reason, though, that I suggest that the judiciary and the public should be concerned about any trend toward preferring the S.E.C.’s internal administrative forum to the federal courts is that it hinders the balanced development of the securities laws.”

[...]

[G]iven the expansion of its internal jurisdiction occasioned by Dodd-Frank, the S.E.C. might well be tempted in the future to bring such cases as administrative enforcement actions, and thereby likely avoid the sting of well-publicized defeats. But the result would be that the law in such cases would effectively be made, not by neutral federal courts, but by S.E.C. administrative judges.

This is because, at least in the case of administrative decisions that have been formally approved by the S.E.C., such decisions, though appealable to the federal courts of appeals, are presumed correct unless unreasonable. In other words, while the decisions of federal district courts on matters of law are subject to de novo review by the appellate courts, the law as determined by an administrative law judge in a formal administrative decision must be given deference by federal courts unless the decision is not within the range of reasonable interpretations.

To put it in terms that this audience is familiar with, an S.E.C. administrative judge’s formal ruling on an otherwise undecided issue of statutory interpretation of the securities law is, just like rules enacted by the Commission, entitled to “Chevron” deference.”

[...]

In short, what you have here are broad anti-fraud provisions, critical to the transparency of the securities markets, that have historically been construed and elaborated by the federal courts but that, under Dodd-Frank, could increasingly be construed and interpreted by the S.E.C.’s administrative law judges if the S.E.C. chose to bring its more significant cases in that forum. Whatever one might say about the S.E.C.’s quasijudicial functions, this is unlikely, I submit, to lead to as balanced, careful, and impartial interpretations as would result from having those cases brought in federal court.

In the short-run, this would be unfair to the litigants. In the longer-run, it might not be good for the S.E.C. itself, which has its own reputation for fairness to consider. But, most of all, in the both the short-run and the long-run, it would not be good for the impartial development of the law in an area of immense practical importance.

Almost from the very outset of the administrative state, the defense of the huge power we accord to administrative agencies – as classically stated by the second Chairman of the S.E.C., James Landis, in his book The Administrative Process – is that no practical alternative exists in our complex society. But when it comes to interpreting the securities laws, a practical alternative – and the very one provided by the Constitution – has functioned very effectively for decades, namely, adjudication in the federal courts. I see no good reason to displace that constitutional alternative with administrative fiat, and I would urge the S.E.C. to consider that it is neither in its own longterm interest, nor in the interest of the securities markets, nor in the interest of the public as a whole, for the S.E.C. to become, in effect, a law onto itself.”

Justice Scalia / Thomas Statement

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in an insider trading case, Whitman v. United States.  Much of the news surrounding the denial though focused on this statement by Justice Scalia and joined by Justice Thomas.  The statement reads in full (internal citations omitted) as follows.

“A court owes no deference to the prosecution’s interpretation of a criminal law. Criminal statutes “are for the
courts, not for the Government, to construe.” This case, a criminal prosecution under §10(b) of the Securities
Exchange Act of 1934 raises a related question: Does a court owe deference to an executive agency’s interpretation of a law that contemplates both criminal and administrative enforcement?

The Second Circuit thought it does. It deferred to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s interpretation of §10(b), and on that basis affirmed petitioner Douglas Whitman’s criminal conviction. Its decision tilled no new ground. Other Courts of Appeals have deferred to executive interpretations of a variety of laws that have both criminal and administrative applications.

I doubt the Government’s pretensions to deference. They collide with the norm that legislatures, not executive officers, define crimes. When King James I tried to create new crimes by royal command, the judges responded that “the King cannot create any offence by his prohibition or proclamation, which was not an offence before.” James I, however, did not have the benefit of Chevron deference. With deference to agency interpretations of statutory provisions to which criminal prohibitions are attached, federal administrators can in effect create (and uncreate) new crimes at will, so long as they do not roam beyond ambiguities that the laws contain. Undoubtedly Congress may make it a crime to violate a regulation, but it is quite a different matter for Congress to give agencies—let alone for us to presume that Congress gave agencies—power to resolve ambiguities in criminal legislation.

The Government’s theory that was accepted here would, in addition, upend ordinary principles of interpretation. The rule of lenity requires interpreters to resolve ambiguity in criminal laws in favor of defendants. Deferring to the prosecuting branch’s expansive views of these statutes “would turn [their] normal construction . . . upside-down, replacing the doctrine of lenity with a doctrine of severity.”

The best that one can say for the Government’s position is that in Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter, Communities for Great Ore., 515 U. S. 687 (1995), we deferred, with scarcely any explanation, to an agency’s interpretation of a law lenity aside in a footnote, stating that “[w]e have never suggested that the rule of lenity should provide the standard for reviewing facial challenges to administrative regulations.” That statement contradicts the many cases before and since holding that, if a law has both criminal and civil applications, the rule of lenity governs its interpretation in both settings. The footnote in Babbitt added that the regulation at issue was clear enough to fulfill the rule of lenity’s purpose of providing “fair warning” to would-be violators. But that is not the only function performed by the rule of lenity; equally important, it vindicates the principle that only the legislature may define crimes and fix punishments. Congress cannot, through ambiguity, effectively leave that function to the courts—much less to the administrative bureaucracy. Babbitt’s drive-by ruling, in short, deserves little weight.

Whitman does not seek review on the issue of deference, and the procedural history of the case in any event makes it a poor setting in which to reach the question. So I agree with the Court that we should deny the petition. But when a petition properly presenting the question comes before us, I will be receptive to granting it.”