Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Gentle Rebuttal to Prof. Grundfest

The following was first published on 2/13 over at Securities Litigation Watch, my new blog.

If you want current postings and updates on the wide world of securities litigation, I encourage you to update your bookmarks and subscriptions.

* * * * *

Last week, in a widely-circulated and much discussed Wall Street Journal op-ed column entitled “The Class Action Market” (here, sub. req'd), former SEC Commissioner and current Stanford Law Professor Joseph Grundfest suggested that private securities class actions have lost their utility in policing the securities markets and compensating investors.

I respectfully disagree with Prof Grundfest.

And so, apparently do the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a little noticed amicus brief filed last Friday by the DOJ and the SEC in the Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd. appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal regulators noted:

Meritorious private actions are an essential supplement to criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions brought, respectively, by DOJ and the SEC.

Prof. Grundfest also suggests that private securities litigation is "virtually useless as means of compensating investors for their losses."

Investors in AOL or Time Warner securities would also probably disagree with Prof. Grundfest.

The private securities class actions involving AOL Time Warner settled for $2.5 billion. Time Warner settled with the federal regulators for a small fraction of that amount - $150 million to the Department of Justice and $300 million to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. While the combined $450 million in federal regulatory settlements is not chicken feed, it is only 18% of the amount recovered in the private class action.

And the AOL case represents two of the largest payments ever made by a corporate defendant to the federal government to settle securities fraud related allegations. In many private cases, there are no state or federal penalties or disgorgements to compensate investors. For example, in the Williams Securities Litigation:

1. The company had not restated their financial statements.
2. No governmental investigation had uncovered any fraud.
3. No employees of the corporate defendants had been fired
4. Defendants never acknowledged that any improper conduct had occurred.

Yet the private securities class litigation was able to recover a substantial sum for investors, settling in 2006 for $311 million.

Expect more chatter on Prof. Grundfest's proposal during the next few months.

No comments: