Monday, June 21, 2010

"I was taught if they violated a law, you charge them. If they didn't violate the law, you don't charge them."

In 2008 (the most recent year for which I've seen the following statistic) seven of the sixteen non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements entered into by the DOJ were in the FCPA context. (See here).

NPAs and DPAs are thus very much a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act topic and these resolution vehicles are frequently covered on this blog. (See here and here).

Thus, the following exchange between Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and James Cole caught my eye. It occurred during Cole's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings last week for the Deputy Attorney General position.

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SEN. SESSIONS: [...] I noticed just as an aside you did a speech entitled role of an in-house lawyer in a corporation in October of '06, and you stated this. Quote: "The experience with Arthur Andersen taught the government something that consequences were too drastic and hurt too many innocent employees. The government now tries to work settlements with companies that find themselves in that kind of predicament and the company does not get indicted and therefore can continue to exist." Closed quote. Well, we know that Arthur Andersen failed immediately upon being charged as I recall that. So I'm not suggesting this is a totally improper statement. But it seems to go beyond strict enforcement of the law and try to preserve corporations who perhaps should be charged and suffer whatever consequences might result from their criminal acts. Do you have any second thoughts about that quote that I just read?

MR. COLE: Senator Sessions, I don't. The point of that was to say that there are reasons why you charge corporations and reasons why you don't charge corporations. And certainly the Justice Department starting back when the Attorney General Eric Holder was deputy attorney general has issued a series of memoranda that guide prosecutors in determining when a corporation should be charged. The issue is so sensitive because when you charge a corporation and you cause its demise through that charge, thousands and thousands of employees who had no role in the misconduct are hurt. Thousands and thousands of shareholders who had no role in the misconduct and whose savings were invested in that corporation are hurt, and it's those people who had no role who are hurt are the ones you need to think about, as well, when you decide whether to charge a corporation.

SEN. SESSIONS: Well, I think that's, I guess, a reality, but it's got to be carefully thought through, else you're just picking and choosing winners. You're saying BP is too big to fail. They've got employees, too. This is a dangerous philosophy. Normally, I was taught if they violated a law, you charge them. If they didn't violate the law, you don't charge them.

MR. COLE: Well -- and one of the issues, Senator, that is very much, as I understand it, in the forefront of the prosecution decisions in the Department is to prosecute the individual executives in these companies who are responsible for these criminal acts because that's how you're going to get the most deterrence.

SEN. SESSIONS: But are you now saying that you're backing off corporate indictments?

MR. COLE: No, I am not at all. I'm just saying there are many ways to be quite effective, and I think you have to balance the interests of how much damage you're doing to people who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing versus how much deterrence you're going to be placing on future conduct like this. And I think you have to make sure that you are effective in the prosecution, both of corporations and of the individual officers.

SEN. SESSIONS: Yeah, so how much empathy you have for the employees. Well, anyway, it's a tough decision. I guess we could go 'round and 'round, but I think you need to be careful with that philosophy. It has some danger to it. I think you fully recognize, as an experienced prosecutor that you are, the -- I also salute you for wanting to reinvigorate traditional prosecutions in the Department. I hope that you will look at the numbers, you will look at the prosecutions and make sure that they are working effectively and that they're high enough based on the number of prosecutors and investigators in the country. I'm not sure that we are. We've added a lot of prosecutors and assistant United States attorneys around the country. They're paid big salaries. They need to be producing day after day. [...]

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The above exchange raises an interesting question - what is the "shelf life" of the Arthur Anderson prosecution?

In other words, how long will the 2002 prosecution (and related consequences) guide DOJ corporate charging decisions? Will a DOJ prosecutor in 2015 or 2020 be persuaded not to criminally indict a corporation because of what happened in 2002? Should a corporation escape the most severe consequences of criminal conduct just because it employs lots of people? Just because the corporation sells certain products to certain customers?

All questions to ponder as another week begins.

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