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Former U.S. Attorney, Mary Jo White, Named Head of SEC

On January 21, 2013, the President nominated former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Her nomination signals that the SEC will be tougher on Wall Street. White has a strong track record as a prosecutor from taking on the terrorists behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Mafia boss John Gotti. Senator Charles Schumer, from New York, echoed this by stating that “Mary Jo White is a fearless, tough-as-nails prosecutor with the knowledge of industry to keep up with the markets’ swift innovation.”

Many news agencies have been positive about White as well. For example, CBS called her “Wall Street’s new sheriff.” The Wall Street Journal said she would be “putting a tougher face on an agency still tainted by embarrassing enforcement missteps in the run-up to the financial crisis.” The New York Times said her appointment represented a “renewed resolve to hold Wall Street accountable.”

However, some fear her past could interfere with her new position. White was a “leading white-collar defense lawyer over the last decade.” White has represented top Wall Street banks and other major companies in private practice at her previous firm. According to DealBook White’s former cients included “JPMorgan Chase on financial crisis cases, News Corporation over its cellphone-hacking problems, and a former Bank of America chief executive, Kenneth D. Lewis, in a civil fraud suit by the New York attorney general over the firm’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch.” These past clients could raise problems because conflict-of-interest rules could force White to recuse herself from some matters, which could raise the prospect of a 2-2 split along party lines among the other SEC commissioners. Additionally, her husband is a partner at a leading corporate law firm.