When will the Bankers go to Jail?

Harry Houdini by  Snapshots of The Past on Flickr

Harry Houdini by Snapshots of The Past on Flickr

Well, at least someone higher up is asking the question. Elizabeth Warren, newly elected Senator for Massachusetts – the same Senate seat once graced by the late Teddy Kennedy – has asked top regulators, when was the last time they took a Wall Street bank to trial.

And the answer is not really hopeful.

“We do not have to bring people to trial,” Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assured Warren, declaring that his agency had secured a large number of “consent orders,” or settlements.

“I appreciate that you say you don’t have to bring them to trial. My question is, when did you bring them to trial?” she responded.

“We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals,” Curry offered.

The Chairman of the SEC talks about the costs of bringing a trial having to be weighed against the benefits of prosecutions – which is nothing new – all lawyers know this. When pressed for an answer to the actual question, when he last took a Wall Street bank to trial, he replies:

“I will have to get back to you with specific information.”

Sounds familiar. The usual obfuscation when you’re faced with a question you’d rather not answer.

Sir Frank Lockwood, Vanity Fair

Sir Frank Lockwood, Vanity Fair

Of course, if this were a real trial – not simply a Senate committee hearing – he’d never get away with it. Certainly in the UK, he’d be brutally hacked about by the barristers till he’d wished he’d never been born. The dialogue might go something like this:

COUNSEL: So you mean to tell me you don’t know when the last time you brought a Wall Street bank to trial?

SEC Chairman: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

COUNSEL: Get back to me on what? On when you last took a bank to trial? Or on whether you don’t know the answer?

SEC CHAIRMAN: On when we last took a bank to trial.

COUNSEL: So it’s true to say that you don’t actually know?

SEC CHAIRMAN: That would appear to be the position.

COUNSEL (sneering): Oh, it would appear to be the position? You’re not even sure on that?

SEC CHAIRMAN: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

COUNSEL: There appears to be a lot of things you have to get back to the Court on? Isn’t there?

SEC CHAIRMAN: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

But to end on a more serious note. This is what Senator Warren said:

“There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,’”

And that sums it up in a nutshell. They’ve become too big to trial.

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