Each year, the SEC puts on its most informative conference of the year: The SEC Speaks. During the course of the two-day conference, held this year on February 21 and 22, the Chair and each Commissioner, as well as the most senior staff of each division of the SEC, provide their thoughts and insights into the most pressing issues currently being considered by the Commission. One of the annual highlights of the conference is the discussion of the enforcement program and its successes, failures, initiatives and priorities. Last year we noted that changes at the senior levels of the Commission and the Division of Enforcement caused the staff to remain vague in outlining priorities and initiatives (See http://www.mofo.com/files/Uploads/Images/130305-SEC-Enforcement-Initiatives.pdf). This year, with new management in place, the staff had no difficulty announcing that change is in the works. From new enforcement priorities to changes in long-lived enforcement policies, and from a new task force to the resurrection of long-forgotten statutes, the Enforcement Division made clear that “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.”
An End to “Free (of) Admission”
SEC Chair Mary Jo White began the conference by discussing her decision to overturn years of Commission precedent by requiring, in “appropriate cases,” a defendant in an enforcement action to admit violating the federal securities laws in order to settle the matter. Chair White noted that historically the SEC, along with other civil agencies, has allowed defendants to settle without admitting or denying the government’s allegations in nearly every instance. However, arguing that admissions can achieve a greater measure of accountability on the part of the SEC, and that they can “bolster the public’s confidence in the safety of our markets,” Chair White stated that the time had come to revisit and change the “neither admit nor deny” policy.
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