Former Prosecutor Likely Next SEC Chief

Jan 22 2013 | 12:56pm ET

In picking a new head for the Securities and Exchange Commission, President Barack Obama appears poised to break new ground.

The president, who was inaugurated for his second term in office yesterday, is set to name Mary Jo White chairman of the SEC. White would be the first-ever former prosecutor named to lead the regulator, a possible sign that Obama wants enforcement to be front-and-center at the SEC.

White spent almost a decade as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, arguably the nation's most prominent prosecutorial post, as current occupant Preet Bharara has demonstrated. Since leaving that job in 2002, she has worked at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton as head of litigation.

White's tenure at SDNY was marked not by white-collar prosecutions, but instead by cases against the Mafia and terrorists. During her decade at Debevoise, she has served such clients as former Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis and Morgan Stanley.

White's stand on hedge fund regulation and other regulatory matters is unclear, although she'll no doubt be pressed for them by the Senate during her confirmation hearings, if she is in fact nominated. Her background as a tough prosecutor, however—one appointed by former President Bill Clinton but who ended her term investigating Clinton's last-day pardons at the behest of John Ashcroft, former President George W. Bush's first attorney general—should ease her way with Republicans.

Whoever Obama picks will succeed Elisse Walter, named acting chairman after the exit in December of Mary Schapiro, who led the SEC during the president's first term.

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