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Nov 30 2011

The Courts Are Doing The SEC’s Job

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Matt Taibbi: Rakoff decision to reject the Citigroup settlement

Keith and “Countdown” contributor Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone discuss the remarkable decision by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff to reject a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors. Taibbi points out that banks take punitive settlements in stride, saying, “They recognize that every now and then they’re going to get dragged into court, they’re going to have to give a little bit of money to somebody, and then they get to walk away and keep doing it.”

Federal Judge Pimp-Slaps the SEC Over Citigroup Settlement

Rakoff’s 15-page final ruling read like a political document, serving not just as a rejection of this one deal but as a broad and unequivocal indictment of the regulatory system as a whole. He particularly targeted the SEC’s longstanding practice of greenlighting relatively minor fines and financial settlements alongside de facto waivers of civil liability for the guilty – banks commit fraud and pay small fines, but in the end the SEC allows them to walk away without admitting to criminal wrongdoing.

This practice is a legal absurdity for several reasons. By accepting hundred-million-dollar fines without a full public venting of the facts, the SEC is leveling seemingly significant punishments without telling the public what the defendant is being punished for. This has essentially created a parallel or secret criminal justice system, in which both crime and punishment are adjudicated behind closed doors. [..]

Judge Rakoff blew a big hole in that practice yesterday. His ruling says secret justice is not justice, and that the government cannot hand out punishments without telling the public what the punishments are for. He wrote:

  Finally, in any case like this that touches on the transparency of financial markets whose gyrations have so depressed our economy and debilitated our lives, there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth. In much of the world, propaganda reigns, and truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers. Even in our nation, apologists for suppressing or obscuring the truth may always be found. But the S.E.C., of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.

Notice the reference to how things are “in much of the world,” a subtle hint that the idea behind this ruling is to prevent a slide into third-world-style justice. There are many such loaded passages in Rakoff’s ruling. Another one comes up around the issue of the “public interest.” [..]

On the other hand, both the SEC and Citigroup insist that this secretive payoff system is defensible and must continue. They clearly believe, sincerely, that none of this stuff is really the public’s business.

This is an extraordinarily condescending attitude and shows exactly how little they think of the public at large. One wonders if decisions like Rakoff’s will at least help to wake the government up.

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