Kathryn Ruemmler plans to leave her post as White House counsel and return to private practice by the end of the year, the White House announced. Ruemmler has served as one of President Barack Obama's closest advisers during the past two years on legal issues that have grabbed widespread press coverage — including judicial nominations, recess appointments and government surveillance.
The former Latham & Watkins partner had agreed to stay on as the White House's top lawyer through the November presidential election, but Obama asked her to stay and she agreed, an administration official said. Ruemmler was among the youngest ever to take the job.
There's no indication what Ruemmler's plans are, or who the White House is eyeing as a possible replacement. Latham attorneys praised Ruemmler last week, and she is scheduled to talk for an hour on September 24 at Latham's office in Washington about women in the law and l­eadership.
"She is an enormous asset and a very important adviser to the president, and one of the smartest people I've ever met and one of the best people I've ever worked with," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week. "So we will all be sad to see her go when she goes. Beyond that, I have no information to provide, as ever, on personnel decisions by the president."
Alice Fisher, the managing partner of Latham's Washington office, said Ruemmler is "battle-tested at the highest levels." — Todd Ruger
NO ADMIT, NO DENY LIVES ON AT THE SEC
JPMorgan Chase & Co. was required last week to admit wrongdoing to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges over its "London Whale" trading losses — but the agency, in a series of unrelated deals announced September 17, made clear that "no admit, no deny" settlements are still the norm.
The SEC said it settled 22 cases with firms accused of short selling, and each settlement contained the same language: the respondent agrees to settle "without admitting or denying the findings herein, except as to the Commission's jurisdiction over it and the subject matter of these ­proceedings."
Enforcement Division co-­director Andrew Ceresney said the settlements, which resulted in more than $14.4 million in ­monetary sanctions, send "the clear message that firms must pay the price for violations while also ­conserving agency resources."
The key phrase: conserving agency resources. Companies are loath to admit wrongdoing for fear of opening the door to follow-on private litigation. Companies may prefer, then, going to court rather than agreeing to a settlement.
The agency's long-standing practice of accepting no admit, no deny settlements came under fire in 2011, when a New York federal district judge, Jed Rakoff, refused to sign off on a $285 million deal between the SEC and Citigroup. "An allegation that is neither admitted nor denied is simply that, an allegation," Rakoff wrote then. "How can it ever be reasonable to impose substantial relief on the basis of mere allegations?" — Jenna Greene
SURVEILLANCE COURT RULING SPARKS ADDITIONAL CONCERN
The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last week pulled back its curtain a bit, publishing an opinion that assessed the lawfulness of the government's bulk collection of phone call data. Judge Claire Eagan of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma wrote the August 29 ­opinion addressing Section 215 of the Patriot Act. "This Court is mindful that this matter comes before it at a time when unprecedented disclosures have been made about this and other highly-sensitive programs designed to obtain foreign intelligence information and carry out counterterrorism investigations," Eagan wrote. Eagan concluded that the collection of phone records — first revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden — does not violate Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Eagan also noted this in her ruling: "To this date, no holder of records who has received an order to produce bulk telephony metadata has challenged the legality of such an order." American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Alex Abdo of the National Security Project assailed Eagan's ruling. The surveillance court, Abdo wrote in a blog post, "managed to approve the indefinite tracking of every American's phone calls in under 30 pages." In June, the ACLU filed suit in federal district court in New York challenging the phone surveillance. The complaint says the collection of phone records "is akin to snatching every American's address book." The suit is pending before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III. — Mike Scarcella
SAFETY VALVE STORY
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) used a tale from former federal appeals court judge Timothy Lewis last week to help sell the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would allow judges to impose sentences below the mandatory minimums. Paul, testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said that Lewis, a trial judge before he joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, recalled a case in which he had to send a 19-year-old to prison for conspiracy. The crime was that the defendant was in a car where drugs were found. "I don't know about you, but one of us might have been in a car in our youth at one point in time where there might have been drugs in the car," Paul quoted Lewis as saying. Paul and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, are co-sponsors on the bill. Lewis is a counsel to Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in the firm's Pittsburgh and Washington offices. — Todd Ruger
ON BEHALF OF THE U.S.
For U.S. Department of Homeland Security general counsel nominee Stevan Bunnell, representing the United States comes naturally. Testifying last week at a U.S. Senate hearing on his nomination, Bunnell said he slipped up during his first court appearance after he joined O'Melveny & Myers in 2007. Bunnell, who had arrived at the firm after 17 years at the Justice Department, said he introduced himself as "Steve Bunnell, on behalf of the United States." The judge was nice about it, but I was actually lucky not to be fired by my client," said Bunnell, managing partner of O'Melveny's Washington office. "If I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed, one of the things that will mean a lot to me is once again being able to say — accurately — that I'm a lawyer for the United States." — Andrew Ramonas
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Leslie Caldwell was named last week President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Justice Department's Criminal Division. A veteran prosecutor and, more recently, white-collar defense lawyer, Caldwell, if confirmed, would replace Lanny Breuer, who returned to Covington & Burling earlier this year. Caldwell began her career as a federal prosecutor in New York and San Francisco. Before joining Morgan Lewis in 2004, Caldwell directed the Justice Department's Enron Task Force. Her team included Kathryn Ruemmler, who Caldwell hired and would later become Obama's White House counsel. At Morgan Lewis, Caldwell co-chaired the white-collar practice from 2004 to 2009. Her clients have included major corporations facing government investigations and prosecutions. — Zoe Tillman
D.C. CIRCUIT SHOWDOWN
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Georgetown University Law Center professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on September 19. But it was clear she is the most controversial of President Barack Obama's three nominees to the court, often considered the country's most important court second to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans, poised to block Pillard's nomination vote in the full Senate, criticized Pillard's "controversial and extreme views on a number of topics," particularly writings on reproductive rights. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) described Pillard as "extremely critical of the pro-life movement." Democrats touted the former Justice Department lawyer and said she has handled some of the most important cases on equality for women in recent memory and highly qualified for the job. — Todd Ruger