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What You Should Know About Mary Jo White, Obama’s Appointment To The SEC

By Annie-Rose Strasser  

"What You Should Know About Mary Jo White, Obama’s Appointment To The SEC"

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President Obama reportedly plans to nominate Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing outgoing chair Mary Schapiro. White is Obama’s first female appointment of his second term, a break from a heavily white male bench early picks. (White may be used to that — she was also the first female US attorney in Manhattan.)

But there’s more to know about what White will bring to the job, which requires her to set the standards for Wall Street regulation — a particularly important task, as large parts of Dodd-Frank, the financial reform legislation passed during Obama’s first term, are still being implemented. Here’s a look a White’s resume:

She defends banks accused of white collar crime. White currently serves as an attorney at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, where she defends “companies and individuals accused by the government of involvement in white collar corporate crime or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and civil securities law violations.” The client list at the firm includes some of the most predatory banks in the country — JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank Of America, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS. White “represented Ken Lewis, the former chief executive officer of Bank of America Corp., during an SEC probe of claims the bank didn’t disclose bonuses that Merrill Lynch & Co. paid to executives before buying the brokerage.”

But she has prosecuted those same banks. Before Debevoise & Plimpton, White was on the other side, pushing for convictions in white collar cases. White has a particular area of “expertise in pursuing… complex securities and financial fraud cases.” That work, in particular, will prove important at the SEC, since Dodd-Frank will require the SEC to prosecute such crimes to a new degree.

She has a lineup of fascinating non-white collar cases. Among the things White prosecuted during her time working as an Attorney for the state of New York are: Two bombing cases (including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), drug trafficking, and the prosecution of mob boss John Gotti. On the other side, White also defended directors at News Corp. during the phone hacking scandal there.

She would be the first prosecutor to head the SEC. The AP reports, “White would be the first prosecutor to head the 79-year-old SEC. Most SEC chairmen traditionally have come from Wall Street or the ranks of private securities lawyers.” This is a good thing, compared to potential other picks who might have even closer ties to Wall Street, and be less inclined to vigorously prosecute risky trading practices that run rampant on Wall Street, and have been the cause for past financial instability.

It is not yet clear what the nomination process will look like for White, but it’s likely that her position strikes a balance between corporate and public that will be palatable to politicians across the board. The bigger question is what White will do when she assumes the office. With Dodd-Frank still unfinished, there’s a lot of work on the table for White, newly-appointed Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew, and the rest of their colleagues.

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