The Other Shoe Falls – Jesup & Lamont Securities Files for Bankruptcy.

To anyone with a pulse and half a brain, this should come as no surprise. Jesup & Lamont Securities Corp., the poorly-run broker-dealer that swallowed up other broker-dealers, has filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. Using Chapter 11, the firm could reorganize and emerge from the other side. Frankly, it should convert to Chapter 7 and be euthanized.

There are enough broker-dealers on this earth. There are certainly plenty with the questionable reputation of Jesup & Lamont. Much of that has to do with the firm’s former management, most of whom have lost their jobs. It’s unfortunate that they’ve lost their jobs, but if they had done their jobs in the first place, like controlling the firm’s general counsel, perhaps they wouldn’t have ended up on FINRA‘s radar screen.

But all that is behind Jesup now. The firm will go through bankruptcy and, perhaps, end up being owned by the very people who hold judgments and awards against it. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc S. Dobin.

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Is the FINRA Proposal for Public Arbitrators a Good Idea?

My initial answer is no. Suzanne Barlyn, a reporter with Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, reports that FINRA is planning to make its “pilot” program permanent.

The pilot program provided the opportunity for public investors to have three public arbitrators and no industry-affiliated arbitrators. The results of the pilot program are that 17 of 23 cases resulted in an award to the customer. This is viewed as a 70% “win” rate. I’m not sure this is a statistically significant number when compared with FINRA’s much larger universe of over 4,800 cases heard to completion since January 2005. The win rate over time is less than 50%.

Again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. On average, during the same time period, approximately 20% of all filed cases went to hearing. This means that, on average, 80% settled or went away in some fashion. (I think that involuntarily dismissed cases are few and far between.) But this is a big sample, not like looking at 23 cases and declaring a trend.

There could be a number of reasons why the number is higher in the pilot program. Statistical anomalies for one thing. Another could be the types of cases being handled in the pilot program. I also have concerns that a purely public panel may lose the benefit of the knowledge of an industry panelist’s experience.

Vociferous plaintiff’s lawyers and their pals at NASAA say that the process is unfair because of the industry panelist. But how about switching it around? Is the process now fair because one party, the brokerage firm and its broker, will be judged by 3 people with no industry experience. Or does fairness only exist when the process is stripped of any industry insider experience? This makes no sense to me.

Will I choose an all-public panel for cases where I’m representing customers? I don’t know. I’m still not convinced that it helps me. I’m sure someone will be keeping score.

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc Dobin.

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FINRA changes arbitrator list – And then there were two?

In case you don’t normally handle FINRA securities arbitrations, after the Statement of Claim and Answers are filed, the parties receive a list of arbitrators. The classification of arbitrators, public vs. non-public (these used to be called industry), is usually a total of sixteen choices in public (broken down into two 8-person lists) and one 8-person non-public list. Each party was entitled to four “peremptory” strikes, forcing out up to four people “just because”. The remaining names were ranked from 1 through, up to, 8 depending on the number of strikes.

Once FINRA received the list, the ranked arbitrators common to both lists were combined and the rankings are added up. The arbitrator with the lowest combined ranking (meaning most desirable from the combined list) is contacted first, then the next, and so on. But if both parties exercised all of their strikes, then it was possible that there were no names in common and FINRA would have to select names, on its own, at random. The parties, theoretically, then have no input on who the next two arbitrators are.

This selection process will change on September 27, 2010. Under the new rules, which you can read about here, each list will have groups of 10, not eight. However, the number of party strikes will not increase. This could lead to some unintended consequences.

For example, let’s say that the Claimant and Respondent use each of their strikes on four separate people, striking a total of eight. This leaves two people, who could have been ranked as numbers 5 and 6 by both parties. So the parties end up with their least desired arbitrator candidates (which they could not strike). While this may end up removing an administrative burden on FINRA, I’m not sure the parties are going to be happier.

On the other hand, my own experience led me to believe that the previous procedure was not so “random.” It seemed to me that the many of the same arbitrators would get the call as an off-list choice. But that could just be my perception.

So now, we will likely be assigned a name that we know, but not necessarily one that we like. It is rare that both sides agree on which arbitrator candidates they like, so it will be interesting to see how this new process changes the dynamics of list selection.

And finally, here’s another twist. When multiple parties are represented by the same lawyer, they get one set of strikes – four per listing of 10. When multiple parties are represented by separate counsel, each lawyer gets a set of strikes, four per lawyer per listing of 10. If both the broker and the firm are named respondents, then the entire list can still be stricken. A loophole? Perhaps.

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc Dobin.

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FINRA proposes to allow non-party witnesses to bring their lawyers.

It has happened to me many times. A client calls me to advise that they have been ordered to appear as a witness in an arbitration proceeding. It is not their fight, or at least they are not named. Inevitably they ask “Can you come with me?”

In the past, the answer was “I can go, but the arbitrators may not even allow me in the room.” Some arbitrators would allow an attorney to be present, but he or she would not be allowed to say anything other than his or her name “for the record.” Other times, an attorney would be allowed to intervene when it appeared that the testimony was being used for other than the stated purpose.

FINRA now seeks to formalize attorney representation of non-parties as witnesses. FINRA has proposed a rule that would permit attorneys to be in the room. Their ability to participate would still be determined by the panel, but at least the attorney would be in the room. That would give some comfort to the witness.

Where this will be meaningful is when a lawyer is using the testimony of the non-party witness to obtain information for other purposes or other cases. The attorney would be able to intervene and advise the panel of the objection to the use of the arbitration forum as a substitute for a deposition. The attorney, rather than the witness, could defend the witness’ objection to a line of questioning.

The proposed rule change refers to keeping “due process” in mind. Sometimes that concept seems to be missing from arbitration. In this situation, it appears that FINRA has it right.

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc Dobin.

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FINRA to propose Brokercheck expansion.

FINRA, the securities industry watchdog, has had a public disclosure program for nearly 20 years. It might actually be 20 years, but my memory is starting to get fuzzy. FINRA’s memory, however, is not.

FINRA wants to expand the level of disclosure on the Brokercheck website to include certain disclosure items as far back as 1999 and other matters for 10 years back. The FINRA press release describes this in better detail.

The upshot is this — once again accurate U-4 and U-5 reporting will be put on the front burner. Once again, brokers will be hounded by items from their past, but this time the past will be a longer period of time. So, if you are a registered representative, be careful about what is disclosed about you. You could be living with it for a very long time.

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. My name is Marc Dobin.

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