Mary Jo White Vows End To “Neither Admit Nor Deny” Settlements At The SEC

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White delivers remarks during the Investment Company Institute’s general membership meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel May 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When she was appointed, I was cautiously optimistic that Mary Jo White was going to bring a tougher attitude to enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Today we get a sign of that happened and she’s sent out a memo urging an end to the practice of reaching settlements in which the defendant doesn’t admit wrongdoing.

In brass tacks terms, one might wonder how much this matters. Is a fine plus an admission of guilt really so much worse than a fine plus a “neither admit nor deny” wrongdoing? But I do think that symbols matters. This is a statement both internally and externally that the S.E.C. wants enforcement actions to be understood as a serious thing that’s about halting serious wrongdoing, not just a bunch of fussy bureaucratic compliance. Good for her.