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Can You Be Trusted?
published April 28, 2014
Recent hearings in the House and Senate are showing that GM already knew about some of the recent defects in the ignition switches in some of its vehicles. However, this information was not shared with other parts of the company, which has led to deaths that could have been prevented. We sat down with Richard W. Painter, an influential corporate law professor at University of Minnesota Law School, who has very insightful opinions regarding the case with GM.
According to an article featured in Corporate Counsel, GM In-House Lawyers Pulled Into Ignition Switch Probe, Mr. Painter told Reuters that if GM wanted to reassure shareholders, it should hire an independent law firm. "But they may want to disclose just enough to keep shareholders informed, and keep other things private to keep legal defenses available to them." Does he believe this is GM's best option given their current situation? "I cannot answer that question without more information - information that GM knows that I do not - about the company's liability exposure."
"GM spokesman Selim Bingol told Reuters there is no conflict of interest, and Valukas" [outside counsel Anton Valukas of Jenner & Block who is leading the internal probe for GM] "has been charged to go where the facts take him and give the company an unvarnished report on what happened. He is the ideal person to do that, given his understanding of our business and his reputation for adhering to the highest standards." Does Mr. Painter disagree with Selim Bingol? "No. For some purposes, Jenner & Block may be the ideal firm for this investigation even if the firm is not as independent of GM as some other firms might be."
After graduating from law school, Mr. Painter clerked for Judge John T. Noonan Jr., of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He later practiced at Finn Dixon & Herling in Stamford, Connecticut, and Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City.
Mr. Painter has served as a tenured member of the law faculty at the University of Oregon School of Law and the University of Illinois College of Law, where he was the Guy Raymond and Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Professor of Law from 2002 to 2005.
Mr. Painter served as an Associate Counsel to the President in the White House Counsel's office from February 2005 to July 2007. During his tenure, he worked as the chief ethics lawyer for the President, White House employees, and senior nominees to Senate-confirmed positions in the Executive Branch. Mr. Painter has been active in the Professional Responsibility Section of the American Bar Association. He is also an advisor for the new ALI Principles of Government Ethics and he is a member of the American Law Institute.
In January 2009, Oxford University Press published Mr. Painter's book, Getting the Government America Deserves: How Ethics Reform Can Make a Difference. He has written op-eds on government ethics for numerous publications, which include the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Mr. Painter has also been interviewed many times on corporate ethics and government ethics by national news organizations, including appearances on Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN), Lawrence O' Donnell (MSNBC), Fox News, CNN News, Minnesota Public Radio News, and National Public Radio All Things Considered.
He has given expert testimony in cases involving the professional responsibility of lawyers as well as securities transactions. In November 2012, Professor Painter testified as a defense witness in SEC. v. The Reserve Money Market Fund, a jury trial of an SEC enforcement action against the founders of the world's oldest money market fund. The trial ended with a defense verdict on all of the fraud counts. In 2011, Professor Painter also testified before the U.S. House Government Oversight Committee on partisan political activity by government officials and reform of the Hatch Act.
He has been active in law reform efforts directed at preventing securities fraud and improving ethics of corporate managers and lawyers. A significant provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 required the SEC to issue rules of professional responsibility for securities lawyers. These recommendations were based on earlier proposals that Professor Painter made to the ABA and the SEC and in law review articles. He has given a number of lectures on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to bar associations, law schools, and learned societies, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Painter has on four different occasions offered invited testimony before the U.S. Senate on securities litigation and the committees of the U.S. House of Representatives on the role of attorneys in corporate governance.
He is the author of two casebooks: Professional and Personal Responsibilities of the Lawyer (with Judge John T. Noonan Jr.; Foundation 1997; Second Edition, 2001; Third Edition 2011) and Securities Litigation and Enforcement (with Margaret Sachs and Donna Nagy; West 2003; Second Edition, 2007; Third Edition 2011). Professor Painter has written dozens of essays, book reviews, and articles, which includes a series of papers and a forthcoming book with Minnesota colleague Claire Hill on the personal responsibility of investment bankers.
He was born in Philadelphia, PA, and raised outside Philadelphia, Kansas City, KS, and in Champaign, IL. Mr. Painter graduated from St. George's School in Newport, RI. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, in history from Harvard University and he earned his J.D. from Yale University, where he was an editor of the Yale Journal on Regulation. His wife, Karen Painter, is a professor of music history at the University of Minnesota. The couple has three children, ages 11, 9 and 7. When Professor Painter isn't teaching, he enjoys the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox.
Mr. Painter Memories and Motivations
Does Mr. Painter have a most memorable law school experience? "Being called on in the first class on the first day of class."
How long has he been an attorney? "Since 1988."
How long has Mr. Painter been a professor? "Since 1993."
What are his practice areas? "Corporate law, securities law, lawyer's ethics, government ethics. I do not regularly practice law although I have an active New York bar membership. I teach law, write about law, participate in law reform efforts and serve as an expert witness in litigation."
What is the best part of Professor Painter's job? "The opportunity to teach students who will be the next generation of lawyers."
What is he known for professionally? "I am known for government ethics reform efforts, including campaign finance reform. I am also known for law reform relating to the professional responsibility of corporate and securities lawyers (Sarbanes-Oxley Act up-the-ladder reporting requirements)."
What does Professor Painter have a knack for? "Teaching and writing."
What area of the law is he most passionate about? "Ethics - lawyers ethics, corporate ethics and government ethics."
If he were not a law professor, what would he most probably be doing? "Practicing law."
Where does Professor Painter see himself in five years time? "Teaching law and writing about law, participating in law reform efforts."
How does he want to be remembered? "As a person who cared about other people and about the future of his Country."
Clerking for Judge John T. Noonan Jr., Practicing Law and Serving as a Tenured Member of the Law Faculty at the University of Oregon School of Law and the University of Illinois College of Law
Following law school, Mr. Painter clerked for Judge John T. Noonan Jr. What did he learn during this time? "I saw a highly intelligent and kind human being do a splendid job in the role of a judge. I subsequently coauthored three editions of a legal ethics casebook with Judge Noonan."
Mr. Painter practiced law at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City and Finn Dixon & Herling in Stamford, Connecticut. How was this experience? "Both firms gave me excellent practice experience with well trained and ethical lawyers."
What motivates him to teach? "I am motivated by students and interesting colleagues."
Being an Associate Counsel to the President in the White House Counsel's Office, Giving Expert Testimony, Being Active in Law Reform Efforts, and Writing and Speaking Engagements
Mr. Painter was an Associate Counsel to the President in the White House Counsel's office. How influential was he as an ethics lawyer? "I believe I influenced important decisions and I hope people followed my advice. I would highly recommend this position - or any other position in the White House - whether in a Democratic or Republican administration."
He gave expert testimony in cases involving securities transactions and the professional responsibility of lawyers. Professor Painter testified as a defense witness in SEC. v. The Reserve Money Market Fund. How instrumental was his testimony in this case? "I do not know what factors the jury considered, but I believe I helped explain the financial crisis of 2008, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the impact on the money market fund industry generally, in addition to the Reserve."
Professor Painter has been active in law reform efforts aimed at deterring securities fraud and improving ethics of corporate managers and lawyers. He has on four separate occasions provided invited testimony before Congress on these topics. After the Sarbanes-Oxley Act up the ladder-reporting requirement, did Professor Painter see a difference in the role of attorneys in corporate governance? "I believe attorneys are a lot more careful about communicating with senior officers and client boards of directors than they used to be, partially as a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act."
Will he continue his writing and speaking engagements? "Yes."
Pro Bono Work, Non-Profit Organizations and Mr. Painter's Goals
Does Mr. Painter handle pro bono work? "Generally not, as I do not regularly practice law. I do, however, engage in law reform efforts in many areas including government ethics, lawyer's ethics, corporate and securities law, freedom to marry and other issues relating to individual liberty."
Is he involved with any non-profit organizations? "Yes. The ABA and the ALI, where I am an advisor to the ALI project on government ethics."
What are his goals? "To serve God, my family and my Country."
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