United States District Court Judge Richard M. Berman of the Southern District of New York has been making headlines in recent weeks as he presides over the highly publicized case between the National Football League (“NFL”) and National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) regarding the suspension of New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady over his alleged role in “Deflategate.” Taking a page from the Patriot’s playbook, Judge Berman recently deflated the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and its controversial administrative court forum.
Blake L. Osborn
Blake Osborn, a managing associate in the Los Angeles office, is a member of the Litigation Division, particularly the Securities Litigation, Investigations and Enforcement Group.
Mr. Osborn focuses his practice on complex commercial litigation matters, including the representation of United States and foreign public companies, directors and officers in securities class actions, SEC and DOJ investigations and enforcement actions, shareholder derivative actions, and private actions brought under federal and state securities laws.
Significant recent engagements include the following:
- Represented international trust entities and foreign public company in action alleging alter ego and RICO liability.
- Represented former President and COO of Countrywide Financial Corp. in connection with various federal and state securities lawsuits.
- Represented founder and CEO of United Kingdom-based automobile service and repair business in shareholder litigation.
Representing city employee in connection with SEC action over alleged misstatements in connection with the issuance of municipal bonds.
Mr. Osborn has also dedicated significant time to pro bono representations in civil rights, unlawful detainer and domestic violence cases.
Before joining Orrick, Mr. Osborn worked as a Deputy Public Defender in Orange County. In that capacity, Mr. Osborn individually tried twelve misdemeanor cases, argued more than twenty motions, and managed an extensive case load by representing clients at pretrial conferences.
Even with the SEC’s home-court advantage in bringing enforcement actions in its administrative court rather than in federal court, the SEC will still criticize its own administrative law judges (“ALJ”) when an ALJ’s decision falls short of established legal standards. On April 23, 2015, the SEC found that an ALJ’s decision to bar Gary L. McDuff from associating with a broker, dealer, investment adviser, municipal securities dealer, municipal adviser, transfer agent or nationally recognized statistical rating organization was insufficient because it lacked enough evidence to establish a statutory requirement to support a sanctions analysis. The SEC then remanded the matter to the same ALJ – no doubt in an effort to encourage him to revise his initial opinion.
We first heard about the SEC’s increased focus on high-frequency trading in June 2014 when the SEC announced its desire to promulgate new rules on high frequency trading to address the lack of transparency in dark pools and alternative exchanges and to curtail the use of aggressive, destabilizing trading strategies in vulnerable market conditions. However, the SEC and other regulators may not need to rely on new rules to regulate high frequency trading. The United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission special counsel Greg Scopino recently published an article in the Connecticut Law Review arguing that certain high frequency trading tactics violate federal laws against spoofing and wash trading.
In recent years, the DOJ and SEC have significantly increased their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement efforts, and in the process, have successfully advocated the theory that state-owned or state-controlled entities should qualify as instrumentalities of a foreign government under the FCPA. The FCPA defines a foreign official as “any officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency or instrumentality thereof.” In August 2014, the government’s broad definition of who constitutes a “foreign official” came into question for the first time when two individuals (Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez) filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court to challenge their convictions under the FCPA and argued for the high court to limit the FCPA’s definition of the term. However, on October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to consider the potential landmark case effectively upholding the government’s broad view of the term “foreign official.” Read More
Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt has caused a commotion on Wall Street, on Capitol Hill, and with law enforcement agencies. The SEC is the latest government agency to examine and propose new rules on alternative exchanges and high-frequency trading. The SEC’s latest proposals and enforcement actions raise questions about the agency’s plans to effectively regulate and enforce these activities and its ability to do so.
In Flash Boys, Michael Lewis—author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, and The Big Short—follows a “small group of Wall Street investors” who he says “have figured out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post-financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the Big Wall Street banks.” High frequency trading is a type of trading using sophisticated technological tools and computer algorithms to rapidly trade securities in fractions of a second to profit from the slightest market blips. High frequency trading is done over traditional exchanges. In contrast, dark pools are alternative electronic trading systems conducted outside traditional exchanges that institutional investors use, sometimes to hide their trading intentions or to move the market with large orders.
A decision is expected shortly in the highly publicized so-called confidential witness “scandal” involving the Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd law firm. Judge Suzanne B. Conlon of the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, will decide whether to impose sanctions on the plaintiffs’ firm for its conduct regarding a confidential witness in the City of Livonia Employees’ Retirement System v. Boeing Company case, No. 1:09-cv-07143 (N.D. Ill.). The decision could have a lasting impact over the use of confidential witnesses in securities fraud complaints.
Judge Conlon will decide this matter following the Seventh Circuit’s remand in late March 2013 on the narrow issue of whether to impose Rule 11 sanctions for (1) providing multiple assurances to the court that the confidential source in their complaint was reliable even though none of the lawyers had spoken to the source or (2) failing to investigate after plaintiffs’ investigators expressed qualms about the confidential source. (Previous blog post here). In remanding the case, the Seventh Circuit ruled that making “representations in a filing that are not grounded in an inquiry reasonable under the circumstance or are unlikely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery violate Rule 11.” City of Livonia Empls.’ Ret. Sys. v. Boeing Co., 711 F.3d 754, 762 (7th Cir. 2013). Read More
After first announcing a change on June 18 of this year to demand more admissions in SEC actions, an SEC leader recently made further comments echoing that same sentiment, as well as referencing the SEC’s intended use of stiffer monetary penalties. On October 1, at a Practising Law Institute conference, SEC Enforcement Division Co-Director Andrew Ceresney discussed the new SEC regime’s motto of strict enforcement and provided concrete, practical advice for defense lawyers on how to effectively interact with the SEC’s enforcement personnel.
Given the SEC’s ongoing commitment to deter current and future violations, Mr. Ceresney stated that the SEC will continue to increase penalties in an aggressive bid to deter misconduct. He stated that “[t]here is room for bolder actions” and monetary penalties are a deterrent that everyone understands. Mr. Ceresney also advised defense lawyers on how to handle meetings with SEC enforcement personnel. He stated that defense lawyers should focus on a case’s broad policy or legal arguments, including the circumstances surrounding the case, the client’s settlement position, and any flaws in the legal theory and policy implications of the case. Most importantly, stated Mr. Ceresney, defense lawyers must answer the SEC’s questions, must be trustworthy, and must not attempt to intimidate the SEC. Read More
While money market funds did not exist when Humphrey Bogart spoke his famous line in Casablanca, since the 2008 financial crisis, reforming money market funds have been the subject of high drama and intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Advocates for reform finally got their long awaited breakthrough last Wednesday, June 5, 2013, when the Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose legislation that would reform money market funds. The SEC’s goal with the reform is to make money market funds less susceptible to “runs” that could harm investors.
The SEC’s goal of reform has been in the works for a long time, was championed by former Chair of the SEC, Mary Schapiro, and has been continued by current Chair Mary Jo White. A money market fund is a type of fixed-income mutual fund that invests in debt securities with short maturities and minimal credit risk. They first developed in the early 1970s as an option for investors to purchase a pool of securities that generally provided higher returns than interest-bearing bank accounts. Money market funds have grown considerably since then and currently hold more than $2.9 trillion in assets.
Money market funds seek stability and security with the goal of never losing money and keeping their net asset value (“NAV”) at $1.00. However, many felt reform was necessary after a money market fund “broke the buck” at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 and re-priced its shares below its $1.00 stable share price to $0.97. Investors panicked and within a few days, investors had pulled approximately $300 billion from similar money market funds. Intervention from the United States Treasury Department prevented further runs on the funds. Read More
Last week we heard from RUSH. This week we’re tuning in to The Supremes.
On January 8, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Gabelli v. Securities and Exchange Commission, No. 11-1274, concerning when the clock begins to run on the five-year statute of limitations for civil penalty claims by the SEC and other federal agencies. The 200-year-old statute at the heart of the dispute (28 U.S.C. §2462) provides: “Except as otherwise provided by Act of Congress, an action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise, shall not be entertained unless commenced within five years from the date when the claim first accrued . . . .” Taking their cue from the Supremes that, “No, you just have to wait,” the SEC argues that “accrued” means when the government discovered, or reasonably could have discovered, the alleged wrongdoing (in this case, market timing by two executives of investment adviser Gabelli Funds, LLC ). On the other hand, the two executives want to know, “How long must I wait, How much more can I take?” arguing that “accrued” means when the government can first bring the action (typically when the alleged wrongdoing occurs), regardless of whether the government knows about it.
What can be divined from the oral argument? The justices appeared skeptical of the government’s position. It was pointed out that this was not a position that had ever been taken by any other government agency, and not by the SEC until 2004, even though the statute had been on the books for almost 200 years. Justice Breyer went so far as to press, “All I’m asking you for is one case [prior to 2004],” but the government’s attorney could not provide one.
Some of justices also commented that it would almost be impossible for a defendant to prove that the government “should have known” about something. There would be no bright-line rules to such an approach. Whether an agency “should have known” could potentially depend on any number of circumstances, for example whether the agency had 100 or 1,000 people reviewing things to shed light on a violation or even whether the agency was overworked or underfunded at the time of the violation. In other words, SEC, “Think it over.” Read More
On September 6, the Second Circuit expanded class standing in a mortgage-backed securities class action suit for alleged misrepresentations in a shelf registration statement. NECA-IBEW Health & Welfare Fund v. Goldman Sachs & Co., No. 11-2763 (2d Cir. Sept. 6, 2012). The plaintiff, an investment fund, sued Goldman Sachs & Co. (“Goldman”) and GS Mortgage Securities Corp. (“GS”) alleging violations of Sections 11, 12(a)(2), and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933 on behalf of a putative class of persons who acquired mortgage-backed certificates underwritten by Goldman and issued by GS. The plaintiff alleged that a single shelf registration statement connected with 17 separate offerings sold by 17 separate trusts contained false and misleading statements concerning underwriting guidelines, property appraisals, and risks and that these alleged misstatements were repeated in prospectus supplements.
The lower court had granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff—who had purchased securities from only two of the seventeen trusts—lacked standing to bring claims on behalf of purchasers of securities of the other fifteen trusts.
The Second Circuit disagreed that the plaintiff lacked class standing. Although the plaintiff had individual standing only as to the securities it purchased from the two trusts, the court held that the analysis for class standing is different. According to the court, to assert class standing, a plaintiff has to allege (1) that he personally suffered an injury due to the defendant’s illegal conduct and (2) that the defendant’s conduct implicates the “same set of concerns” as the conduct that caused injury to other members of the putative class. Read More