Well this doesn't happen every day - or does it? The SEC finds itself being investigated for improper financial holdings. According to a November 2013 Reuters post, federal prosecutors and the office of the inspector general of the SEC contacted employees in the SEC's New York office about trading in companies that are under SEC investigation. This is a direct violation of internal SEC rules. While the report indicates that it does not appear to be a widespread issue, it is another black eye for the SEC that is still marred by the 2009 allegations regarding insider trading by SEC employees. Stay tuned to see how this plays out.
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In the past the Securities and Exchange Commission had allowed defendants to settle civil and administrative claims brought by the SEC without requiring defendants to admit or deny liability. However, there has been a change of policy with the recent appointment of the new SEC Chair Mary Jo White. Now, in "egregious" cases, the SEC will push extremely hard for, and in fact almost require, an admission of wrongdoing.
This new policy creates a tactical dilemma for defense counsel on several fronts. Defense counsel needs to be cognizant that shareholders will be able to use the admission of wrongdoing as the main exhibit in any civil lawsuit brought against their client. As a result, timing is a consideration. Settle to early before the statute of limitations runs on the civil side and the results can be disastrous.
However, the real conundrum for defense counsel is predicting how the Department of Justice will react in its parallel criminal investigation when its target has just admitted wrongdoing in writing. Making matters worse is the fact that it is the "egregious" cases that the DOJ is interested in. Will DOJ prosecutors be satisfied with the admission of wrongdoing in the SEC case or use it as low hanging fruit in its criminal prosecution?
In addition, can you even enter into a settlement with the SEC where you admit wrongdoing and not commit perjury? Defendants will occasionally give testimony to the SEC early in the process minimizing their role. Does the admission of wrongdoing in the settlement directly contradict the earlier statements? Do you need to take the 5th amendment earlier on in the SEC investigation to prevent this from happening?
Ever wonder what an "instrument under seal" is? When the word [SEAL] is placed next to the signature block at the end of the written guaranty or loan agreement, does it have any impact? The answer is a big YES.
Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court confirmed what we have always told our clients when they have asked us this question. When a written contract states that it is an "instrument under seal" and has the word "SEAL" next to or part of the signature block, the statute of limitations to enforce the terms of the written contract in question has been increased from the standard 4 year limitation period to 20 years!
So what is the important take away here? Review your loan agreements and other agreements (a guaranty for example) to make sure this language is standard on all agreements going forward. Not only does this give you a longer time period to decide if you want to bring legal action for nonperformance, but it also makes your negotiable instruments more marketable should you decide to sell them to third parties.
On July 9, 2012, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) implemented a new securities rule governing the obligation of brokers to make "suitable" investment recommendations to customers. While FINRA Rule 2111 is based upon NASD Rule 2310 - the prior suitability rule - FINRA Rule 2111 expands the old rule in several significant ways.
The Suitability Obligation
Investors go to their stockbrokers not only to get advice as to which stocks are likely to offer good returns. They also are seeking input on which investments are suitable for their specific circumstance. The suitability rule is intended to provide the investor with peace of mind that his/her broker has reasonably believes the broker's investment recommendations are appropriate at the time the investment is made. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many situations where the proposed investment makes more sense for the broker than for the investor.
Rule 2111 requires that brokers:
"have a reasonable basis to believe that a recommended transaction or investment strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for the customer, based on the information obtained through the reasonable diligence of the member or associated person to ascertain the customer's investment profile"
FINRA Rule 2111(a) essentially takes existing case law and codifies it into three specific suitability claims. (1) reasonable-basis suitability; (2) customer-specific suitability; and (3) quantitative suitability.
1. Reasonable-Basis Suitability
Reasonable-basis suitability means that a broker must perform reasonable diligence to understand the investment products and strategies that the broker recommends to her customer. The broker must also be able to demonstrate that she actually understands the product that she is recommending to her client.
2. Customer-Specific Suitability
Customer-specific suitability means that a broker must have a reasonable basis to believe that her recommendations are suitable for a customer based on the customer's "investment profile." The broker must be able to establish that she understands who her client really is, what their needs are, and how this recommendation fits into what they are trying to accomplish.
3. Quantitative Suitability
Quantitative suitability means that a broker who has control over a customer's account must have a reasonable basis to believe that a series of recommended securities transactions is not excessive (often called a churning analysis). The broker's must be able to establish that her overall trading record comports with the client's goals.
New Requirements Imposed Upon Brokers
FINRA is clearly trying to send a message to brokers in this new economic climate and that message is "You will be responsible to your clients." They are also expanding the potential definition of "clients" to include those who only had an informal relationship with the broker or prospective customers who may never have opened an account with the firm. Even recommended strategies, such a "hold" recommendation, may come under the purview of new FINAR Rule 2111. There is no requirement that the advice resulted in a commission before Rule 2111 comes into play. Simply put, brokers are now responsible for all customer recommendations.
While this is not an exhaustive discussion of the impact the new FINRA Rule will have upon brokers and their customers, it is clear FINRA is trying to chart a new course with an emphasis on protecting the individual customer from abuse. FINRA arbitration is relatively cheap and quick, especially in comparison to litigation a case in court. In fact, there is an expedited process for the elderly wherein you can file your complaint and have your case heard in less than 9 months.