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dc CB  20:42:28 GMT - 01/29/2013  
 
“You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo.”

That’s what President Obama said about his pick to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White. The nomination of Ms. White, a former prosecutor who took on the terrorists behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Mafia boss John Gotti, was meant to signal that the S.E.C. would be getting tough on Wall Street. 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.”

Hold on.
While Ms. White is a decorated prosecutor, she has spent the last decade vigorously defending — and billing by the hour — Wall Street’s biggest banks, as a rainmaking partner at the white-shoe law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. The average partner at the firm was paid $2.1 million a year, according to American Lawyer; but she was no average partner, very likely being paid at least double that. Her husband, John W. White, is a corporate partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He counts JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse and UBS as clients. The average partner at Cravath makes $3.1 million. He, too, was a former official at the S.E.C.

They are well documented: she was JPMorgan Chase’s go-to lawyer for many of the cases brought against it relating to the financial crisis. She was arm-in-arm with Kenneth D. Lewis, Bank of America’s former chief executive, keeping him out of trouble when the New York attorney general accused Mr. Lewis of defrauding investors

This is what she had to say about Mr. Lewis, in a court filing submitted on his behalf: “Some have looked to assign blame for every aspect of the financial crisis, even where there is no evidence of misconduct. This case is a product of that dynamic and does not withstand either legal or factual scrutiny.”

And then, of course, there was John Mack. She worked for the board of Morgan Stanley during a now well-publicized 2005 investigation into insider trading that ended soon after she made a phone call to the S.E.C. Using her connections at the top of the agency, she dialed up Linda Thomsen, then the commission’s head of enforcement, to find out whether Mr. Mack, who was being considered for Morgan Stanley’s chief executive position, was being implicated. He ultimately wasn’t.

All of Ms. White’s previous engagements create not only an “optics” problem, but a practical, on-the-job problem. She will most likely need to recuse herself from just about anything related to her previous work.

“I will not for a period of two years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts,” is the language in an ethics pledge that she will have to agree to follow.

d#ealbook.nytimes.com






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