Sources anticipate muni enforcement to hold steady as Melissa Hodgman returns to her acting role to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division following an abrupt resignation by the newly-named enforcement director pick.
Sources said pick Alex Oh’s resignation for personal reasons was surprising, but expect the acting chair to hold municipal bond enforcement steady. The SEC’s Public Finance Abuse Unit is well-run, a securities lawyer said.
“They have a very good track record,” the securities lawyer said. “I don’t see anything that will affect the momentum.”
Incoming acting chair Hodgman has been an associate director at the SEC since 2016 and investigated cases relating to financial fraud and disclosure, broker-dealers, investment advisers and gatekeepers, offering fraud, market structure and manipulation among others. Hodgman was acting chair earlier this year.
“She is very experienced and has done a lot of cases and she will provide a very steady hand while Chair Gensler decides on his next choice,” the securities lawyer said. “The same reason she was picked as an acting director before is the same reason she was picked as acting director now is that she has always been viewed as a good leader and extremely competent.”
Some notable cases she contributed to were enforcement actions against individuals and entities involved with the Fyre Festival in a fraudlent scheme that raised more than $27 million from investors. She also was involved with actions against the Nissan Corporation and its former CEO Carlos Ghosn and director Greg Kelly.
Hodgman would be supportive of the SEC’s Public Finance Abuse Unit and issues dealing with issuer disclosure as well as pay-to-play cases because she is comfortable with conflict of interest investigations, the securities lawyer said.
“I don’t see Melissa making any changes other than being supportive of the work of the Public Finance Abuse Unit,” he said.
Hodgman started at the SEC Enforcement Division in 2008 as a staff attorney and joined the Market Abuse Unit in 2010, which was where she was promoted to assistant director. Hodgman earned her Master of Laws as well as her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Oh was named as the SEC director of enforcement last week, but resigned on Wednesday. She was a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison, where one of her corporate clients was Exxon Mobil Corp.
According to media reports, in a recent matter representing Exxon for her firm, Oh said her opposing counsel was “agitated, disrespectful, and unhinged” during a deposition withouting providing evidence. That then prompted a judge to question why he shouldn’t sanction Oh. In her resignation letter to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, Oh said she couldn’t address the development “without it becoming an unwelcome distraction.”
Sources had said Oh would be an effective and tough enforcement director and would be comfortable in the muni enforcement arena following her extensive experience as a prosecutor.
The process of picking an SEC director of enforcement will take weeks, said Paul Helms, a former SEC enforcement attorney and now partner at McDermott, Will & Emery. Helms also spent seven years in the SEC enforcement division.
Oh received political heat for being selected as enforcement director, Helms said, driven by a view that she had spent too much time as a corporate defense attorney.
Gensler will be pretty selective in his next director and get input from those that criticized Oh, Helms said.
“What I read in papers and what I had heard from folks in the building is that there were progressive groups that were really hoping to break the mold here and go with an attorney who has not been heavily involved in corporate defense in the past,” Helms said.
Oh was a federal prosecutor, but people felt like the balance of her career tilted more towards defense.
“There was a hope in finding someone that could shape Wall Street more aggressively,” Helms said.