On January 25, 2018, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand issued a memorandum (the “Brand Memo”) limiting the use of agency guidance documents in affirmative civil enforcement cases. The memorandum builds on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ November 16, 2017 memorandum prohibiting DOJ from promulgating guidance documents that create rights or obligations that are binding on regulated parties. When DOJ issues a guidance document with voluntary standards, it must also contain a statement that noncompliance is not subject to future DOJ enforcement actions. The Brand Memo makes clear that this principle also applies to other agencies’ guidance documents. In other words, agency guidance, in and of itself, cannot create new binding legal requirements.
Continue Reading “Brand Memo” Prohibits US DOJ From Converting Agency Guidance Into Binding Legal Obligations In Civil Enforcement Actions

Earlier this month, FINRA announced changes to its Sanction Guidelines through Notice to Members 17-13. FINRA’s Sanction Guidelines are used by FINRA disciplinary hearing panels to decide what, if any, sanctions to impose in those enforcement actions in which a rule violation is found. FINRA enforcement staff and members of the defense bar utilize the guidelines in settlement negotiations.
Continue Reading FINRA Updates Its Sanction Guidelines

The SEC has launched a dedicated team to oversee FINRA, according to remarks by Marc Wyatt, Director of the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”). Congress has vested the SEC with the power to supervise FINRA, including the authority to inspect and examine. The new unit, named FINRA and Securities Industry Oversight (“FISIO”), is headed by Kevin Goodman, head of the SEC’s broker-dealer exam program. On Oct. 17, 2016, Wyatt spoke at the National Society of Compliance Professionals 2016 National Conference in Washington, D.C., where he made the announcement. According to Wyatt, the new FISIO team includes “roughly 40 people” throughout the country, and consolidates the SEC’s oversight of FINRA “into a single group.” The FISIO team will oversee FINRA to ensure “that it’s fulfilling its mandate in terms of evaluating its member broker-dealers.” On a separate panel at the event, Goodman noted that before FISIO, the SEC examined FINRA through “programmatic” exams focused on a particular FINRA operation (e.g., exams, enforcement, dispute resolution programs) and “oversight” exams that assessed “the quality of the individual examinations” that FINRA conducts on broker-dealers. According to Goodman, FISIO will “combin[e] those two functions into one,” which he described as “not only powerful but efficient as well.”
Continue Reading Watching the Detectives: The SEC Launches a Dedicated FINRA Oversight Unit

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) recent $1 million settlement with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“MSSB”) marked a turning point in the agency’s focus on cybersecurity issues, an area that the agency has proclaimed a top enforcement priority in recent years.  The MSSB settlement addressed various cybersecurity deficiencies that led to the misappropriation of sensitive data for approximately 730,000 customer accounts.
Continue Reading SEC Steps Up Cybersecurity Enforcement with $1 Million Fine Against Morgan Stanley

On February 11, 2016, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) filed a proposed rule with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that would require individuals who “design, develop or significantly modify algorithmic trading strategies” (or “ATS”) as well as individuals responsible for the “day-to-day supervision or direction of the development process,” to pass a qualification exam and register with FINRA as securities traders. During the comment period, FINRA clarified that the rule would not apply to every person who touches or is otherwise involved in the design of a trading system, but that it would be up to each firm to determine who is primarily responsible for the design of the ATS system.  The rule defines ATS as “any program that generates and routes (or sends for routing) orders (and order-related messages, such as cancellations) in securities on an automated basis” and identifies eight typical programs that it would consider an ATS.  (FINRA Reg. Notice 15-06.)  The rule was prompted by FINRA’s concern that programmers be properly educated in securities regulations in order to avoid inaccurate orders, inadequate risk management controls, and other problematic conduct. Commentators criticized the proposal as having a “potential chilling effect” by “discouraging well-qualified developers from participating in the design, development or modification of algorithmic trading strategies, and even from affiliating with FINRA member firms.”
Continue Reading REGULATORS, QUANT UP! New Rules from FINRA, SEC and CFTC Target Automated Algorithmic Trading

Accepting money from the Government, whether through a contract, grant, or other transaction, does not come for free. In the commercial world, companies typically engage in a cost/benefit analysis when they make major decisions, such as whether to enter a new line of business, extend their product line, open new facilities, or expand globally. To make these decisions, the company tries to understand not simply the available business opportunities, but also the obligations that are imposed and the risks that are inherent. This is equally, if not more, true when a commercial company decides to sell anything to the U.S. Government – whether as a prime contractor or subcontractor. The Federal Government is an extremely large consumer of goods and services, and so it is a marketplace that is hard to ignore. But, seller beware – because with the opportunities arising from this marketplace come obligations with which your company may not be able to comply. Moreover, while compliance may cost you more than you anticipate, noncompliance could destroy your business. So make sure that you look before you leap into the federal marketplace.
Continue Reading Look Before You Leap – Pitfalls and Trip Wires Inherent in Government Contracting

Cutting-edge research institutions need cutting-edge cybersecurity to protect their IP and critical personal and financial data.  Universities hold vast repositories of valuable information, including student healthcare information, patient information from academic medical centers, and financial and personal data from applicants, donors, students, faculty, and staff. So it’s no surprise hackers have been targeting universities lately—in fact, at least eight American universities have announced cyber intrusions over the past two years.
Continue Reading It’s (Not) Academic: Cybersecurity Is a Must for Universities and Academic Medical Centers

On October 29, 2015, DOD renewed the DFARS deviation implemented in February, which prohibits contracting with entities that require employees or subcontractors to sign internal confidentiality agreements or statements that prohibit, or otherwise restrict, such employee or subcontractor from lawfully reporting waste, fraud, or abuse.  Defense contractors should review their policies to ensure they meet the requirements of these new clauses.
Continue Reading Contractors Beware: An Overly Broad Confidentiality Agreement Could Cost You!

Contractors and government contracts attorneys are likely to see (if they haven’t already) a rise in the number of cases in which individuals, rather than corporate entities, are targeted by government officials for suspension and debarment.  This is significant because, under the FAR, the misconduct of an individual can be imputed to the contractor, causing the contractor to lose its ability to receive Federal contracts.
Continue Reading Suspension and Debarment: A New Government Approach

Everything old is new again.  On January 1, 2016, the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) – now owned by Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. – will be taking back some of the regulatory responsibilities it yielded to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), starting in 2007 when the NYSE and National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”) merged their self-regulatory functions.  The goal then was to address inefficiencies and overlap that often resulted from the concurrent oversight by these two self-regulatory organizations (“SROs”).
Continue Reading Forward to the Past: NYSE Returns to Regulation