Editor’s Note: Tamar Frankel
is a Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law. This post relates to a paper by Commissioner Daniel Gallagher and Professor Joseph Grundfest, described on the Forum here
. An earlier post about this paper by Professor Tamar Frankel, titled Did Commissioner Gallagher Violate SEC Rules?
, is available on the Forum here
. The Forum also featured last week (here
) a joint statement by thirty-four senior corporate and securities law professors from seventeen leading law schools—including at Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Yale—opining that the paper’s allegations against Harvard and the SRP are meritless and urging the paper’s co-authors to withdraw these allegations. In addition, the Forum published earlier posts about the paper by Professor Grundfest (most recently here
) and by Professor Jonathan Macey (most recently here
), and replies by Professor Richard Painter and Harvey Pitt (available here
) to Professor Frankel’s first post.
In an earlier post (available here), I expressed concerns about Commissioner Gallagher’s decision to issue (jointly with Professor Joseph Grundfest) a paper accusing Harvard University and the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) of violating securities laws when they assisted investors submitting declassification proposals. Subsequently, a group of thirty-four senior corporate and securities law professors (including myself) issued a joint statement (available on the Forum here). In addition to opining that the allegations in the paper were meritless, the joint statement expressed concerns that a sitting SEC Commissioner has chosen to issue such allegations. However, others have taken the view that sitting Commissioners should be as free as other individuals to express opinions that specific individuals or organizations violated the law. I beg to differ, for the following reasons.
Sitting Commissioners may, and should be encouraged, to publicly discuss policy problems and issues. However, they should avoid publishing accusations against specific individuals or organizations, except as part of the SEC process. Publishing such accusations should not be an acceptable behavior by a sitting SEC Commissioners. That is even though during their tenure, SEC Commissioners are likely to disagree with others about potential legal accusations against specific parties.
So what is wrong with a publication of a Commissioner’s views about possible actions against Harvard University? Most persons could do the same with impunity. The answer is that the Commissioner is bestowed with power to participate in a decision to bring a suit by the SEC. None of us has this power. Yet, the Commissioner’s power is not granted for his own use. The power to participate in these decisions is bestowed on the Commissioner as a fiduciary for the purpose of serving this country and only pursuant to the processes of the Agency.
I hope that this Commissioner and future Commissioners will distinguish between expressing a policy opinion and issuing accusations of legal violations against specific parties. I hope that the discussions and disagreement on this issue will guide future Commissioners’ speeches: Please speak your mind. But do not give any whiff of accusations against specific parties except by following carefully and fully the Commission’s process. Thus, regardless of scholarly and legal arguments, and regardless of the motivation of the Commissioner’s actions, his inappropriate statements are at issue, and I am very sorry he made them.