56 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2017 Last revised: 18 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 5, 2017
Transparency and accountability were the announced aims of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as it unveiled a new policy of requiring some enforcement targets to admit wrongdoing when they settled with the agency. The SEC had come under fire for allowing targets of enforcement to settle with the agency without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Critics, including prominent judges, put pressure on the agency to require admissions as a way to hold wrongdoers accountable, particularly in the long aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. In response, the agency announced a policy change in 2013: roughly speaking, it would require admissions when doing so would further public accountability. The empirical study reported here explores how the agency has implemented this policy. We identify and analyze SEC settlements in court and administrative proceedings announced during SEC Fiscal Years 2011 through 2017 that required any type of admission of wrongdoing from the settling target. The data set includes the full text of the underlying agreements between the SEC and the target. The resulting numbers are low. A few of these settlements were in high-profile cases, but many were against individuals rather than entities, and resulted in low or no monetary sanctions. The numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. We examine the text of the agreements to provide a more nuanced picture, revealing the prominent role of factual admissions, and identifying admissions of wrongdoing, knowledge, and recklessness.
Keywords: SEC, Securities and Exchange Commission, administrative, agency, settlement, enforcement, admissions of wrongdoing, guilty plea, admit, factual admission, empirical, accountability, white collar, broker, confession
JEL Classification: K00, K1, K22, K23, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Winship, Verity and Robbennolt, Jennifer K., An Empirical Study of Admissions in SEC Settlements (October 5, 2017). Arizona Law Review, Vol. 60, No. 1, 2018, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3048524