The new director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, Alex Oh, resigned today after less than a week on the job, apparently due because of some dispute related to a class-action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, one of her clients in private practice.
Oh was announced as the new enforcement director on April 22. She came to the SEC after a long career at law firm Paul Weiss, where she was co-chair of the firm’s anti-corruption and FCPA practice. At the time, new SEC chairman Gary Gensler hailed Oh as bringing “the right combination of values and experience to vigorously root out wrongdoing in our markets. With her work as a prosecutor, pro bono experience, and time in private practice, she has the expertise as a highly respected lawyer to ensure that the SEC protects investors.”
Well, so much for that. Oh resigned today. Melissa Hodgman, who had been acting director of enforcement before Oh arrived, will step back into the acting role while Gensler now recruits a permanent successor.
So what happened, exactly? That’s hard to say right now. According to an article in Bloomberg, Oh sent a resignation letter to Gensler that mentioned a recent deposition involving Exxon Mobil. Oh apparently called her opposing counsel “agitated, disrespectful, and unhinged,” without offering any evidence. That led to a court order issued on April 26 where the judge in the case questioned why he shouldn’t sanction Oh. The article continues:
“A development arose this week in one of the cases on which I worked while still in private law practice,” Oh said in an emailed resignation to Gensler reviewed by Bloomberg. “I have reached the conclusion that I cannot address this development without it becoming an unwelcome distraction.”
I’m hard-pressed to see how one intemperate outburst during a deposition can derail an accomplished lawyer taking a top job in Washington. If there’s more substance to this story, I don’t know what it is.
Meanwhile, Politico has another take: that liberal groups opposed Oh because of her long history representing Exxon and other corporate clients. According to Politico, three liberal advocacy groups sent a letter to Gensler earlier this week expressing their disappointment in Oh’s hiring, and urged him to rescind the job. They questioned whether Oh “will change her entire legal philosophy toward fully enforcing the very laws and regulations whose enforcement she has built a career of defending against.”
I mean, she is a lawyer; changing your whole legal philosophy for the next paying client is what they do. But apparently the left flank of the party wasn’t pleased, and now Oh is gone.
My question is whether these two stories are connected: that liberal opposition to Oh’s appointment was rising; and then this embarrassing court order against Oh was either the straw that broke the camel’s back or the excuse she needed to get out.
Meanwhile, the chieftains at Paul Weiss won’t say whether Oh will return to her old job. Gensler has to name a new enforcement director, and presumably he’ll name someone more acceptable to the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic party. And so the world turns.