Mary Jo White

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Mary Jo White
31st Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
In office
April 10, 2013 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byElisse B. Walter
Succeeded byMichael Piwowar (Acting)
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
June 1993 – January 7, 2002
PresidentBill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded byOtto G. Obermaier
Succeeded byJames Comey
Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York
In office
December 1992 – June 1993
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Preceded byAndrew J. Maloney
Succeeded byZachary W. Carter
Personal details
Born (1947-12-27) December 27, 1947 (age 76)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyIndependent[1]
SpouseJohn White
EducationCollege of William & Mary (BA)
The New School (MA)
Columbia University (JD)

Mary Jo White (born December 27, 1947) is an American attorney who served as the 31st chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from 2013 to 2017. She was the first woman to be the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, serving from 1993 to 2002.[2] On January 24, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated White to replace Elisse B. Walter as Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.[3] She was confirmed by the Senate on April 8, 2013, and was sworn into office on April 10, 2013.[4][5] In 2014, she was listed as the 73rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.[6]

On November 14, 2016, White announced she would step down from her SEC position at the end of the president's term.[7] She is now the Senior Chair at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

White was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in McLean, Virginia. She received a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William & Mary in 1970. She earned a Master of Arts in psychology in 1971 from The New School for Social Research[9] and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 1974,[2] where she was a Writing & Research Editor of the Columbia Law Review.


White became acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York in December 1992, and in March 1993 was appointed by President Bill Clinton as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. She is noted for having led the prosecution of John Gotti and overseen those of the terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, chief among them Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Yousef.[10]

After President Bill Clinton's controversial last-day presidential pardons, she was appointed by new Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate Marc Rich's pardon.[2]

For 10 years, she was chair of the litigation department at Debevoise & Plimpton,[8] whose self-proclaimed "core practices" and expertise are focused on the success of Wall Street financial firms.[11] The Huffington Post called her "a well-respected attorney who won high-profile cases against mobsters, terrorists and financial fraudsters over the course of nearly a decade as the U.S. attorney for Manhattan".[12]

It has been asserted in Rolling Stone magazine that, among other duties at Debevoise, White has used her influence and connections to protect certain Wall Street CEOs from prosecution,[13] including a notable case involving the firing of Gary J. Aguirre for investigations into the CEO of Morgan Stanley executive John J. Mack.

In 2013, White, as a lawyer for JSTOR, an original complainant in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, asked the lead prosecutor to drop the charges after JSTOR changed their position to oppose Swartz's prosecution because of steps Swartz had taken to appease JSTOR.[14]

Chair of the SEC[edit]

When White started at the SEC in April 2013, most of the agency's enforcement cases from the 2008-2009 financial crisis were either settled or near completion, freeing up resources for other work.[15] In a shift for the agency, White announced in June 2013 the SEC would start demanding more admissions of misconduct as part of an enforcement settlement.[16] In an October 2013 speech, White announced a new SEC enforcement tactic practiced by neighborhood beat police to root out petty crime. In her speech, White cited a March 1982 Atlantic article, espousing law enforcement's "broken windows" concept that theorizes enforcing small, petty crimes—like smashed windows—can prevent bigger crimes. Focusing enforcement attention to these small crimes avoids breeding an environment of indifference to the rules, White said.[17]

During her tenure, White had to recuse herself from some of the SEC's biggest enforcement cases as a result of her prior work at Debevoise and that of her husband, John W. White, a lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. By February 2015 White had recused herself in about 50 cases setting up deadlock situations within the Commission and thus, per a report, compromised the effectiveness of the SEC.[18]

On November 14, 2016, White announced that she would step down from the SEC after nearly four years service at the end of President Obama's term in January 2017.[19] She earned, in the immediate wake of her announcement, a complimentary overall review of her term as an independent regulator from the Wall Street Journal despite differences the editors had had with her. The editorial contrasted White's service to that of others "in one of history's most ideological Administrations", as it termed the Obama presidency.[20]

Criticism of White's leadership at the SEC[edit]

On June 2, 2015, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to White indicating that her "leadership of the Commission has been extremely disappointing"[21] pointing out numerous shortcomings and failures during her tenure. Warren admonished that White failed to finalize certain Dodd–Frank rules, did not curb the use of waivers for companies that violated securities laws, allowed settlements without admission of guilt, and was too frequently recused because of her husband's activities.[21] In return, White argued that the agency had been effective and that Warren had mischaracterized her statements and the accomplishments of the agency.[22] The Massachusetts senator's attack on White generated backlash from the White House, Congress, and Wall Street, with defenders calling her a tough but fair enforcer of the rules.[23]

In June 2016, at a Senate hearing, Senator Warren asked White about her projects to reduce corporate disclosures. Senator Warren then declared she was "more disappointed than ever".[24]

On October 14, 2016, Senator Warren sent a formal written request to President Obama asking for the immediate dismissal of White as Chair of the SEC because of her refusal to develop public disclosure rules of political contributions made by corporations.[25]

Return to private practice[edit]

Following her departure as Chair of the SEC, White rejoined Debevoise & Plimpton in February 2017.[26] In that same year, White was a member of a National Football League's external expert advisory panel on domestic violence, reviewing allegations against Ezekiel Elliott. He was suspended for six games.[27]

In 2017, White was retained by the University of Rochester to investigate professor T. Florian Jaeger, by whom sixteen students had complained of being sexually harassed. White's firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation but proceeded without any input from the plaintiffs from the case, due to their pending litigation.[28] White's team broke confidentiality agreements with witnesses by making public names that they had promised would remain confidential.[29] Based on White's legal opinion that no laws had been broken,[30] the University of Rochester argued that the case should be dismissed. The judge, however, sided with the plaintiffs in a 58-page ruling which "repeatedly knocked down specific rebuttals from the university" including White's claims.[31] The case later settled with the plaintiffs with no-fault admitted for $9.4 million.[32]

In August 2018, White chaired the investigation related to Ohio State's football coach Urban Meyer's denials of knowing about domestic violence committed by one of his former assistant coaches, Zach Smith.[33]

In August 2019, White was retained by Les Wexner as a criminal defense attorney in matters to the investigation of Jeffrey Epstein.[34]

Throughout her career, White has represented members of the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma in litigation brought by victims of the opioid epidemic.[35] In 2006, White, along with Rudy Giuliani, pressured the Department of Justice not to pursue criminal charges against key executives in Purdue Pharma.[36] Mary Jo White’s advocacy meant that Purdue was able to aggressively continue to sell OxyContin across the United States.[36] White continued to represent Purdue Pharma after this, advocating for a settlement in bankruptcy court that would have absolved the Sackler Family of any criminal liability from their role in the opioid epidemic.[37] That settlement was overturned by the Southern District of New York in December 2021.[38]

In 2021 she was on the defense team for the SEC's case against Ripple Labs.[39]

In 2022, the National Football League confirmed that White had been hired to investigate allegations of misconduct and financial impropriety against Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.[40]


  1. ^ 2013 Speech to the 14th Annual A.A. Sommer, Jr. Corporate Securities and Financial Law Lecture, Fordham Law School SEC. (October 3, 2013). Retrieved December 14, 2014
  2. ^ a b c 2001 CNN profile of Mary Jo White CNN. (February 6, 2001). Retrieved February 24, 2011 Archived December 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Hallman, Ben (January 24, 2013). "Mary Jo White, Obama Pick to Head SEC". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  4. ^ "Senate confirms White to head SEC". Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  5. ^ Nominations of: Richard Cordray and Mary Jo White: Hearing before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session, on Nominations of Richard Cordray, of Ohio, to be Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection; Mary Jo White, of New York, to be a Member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, March 12, 2013
  6. ^ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. Archived from the original on June 25, 2014. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  7. ^ November 14, 2016: SEC Chair Mary Jo White Announces Departure Plans (Press Release)
  8. ^ a b "Mary Jo White - Overview". Retrieved January 1, 2021.
    "Mary Jo White -- Debevoise bio". Archived from the original on January 28, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  9. ^ Wasik, John. "Mary Jo White: Good Cop or Bad Cop for Wall Street?". Forbes. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  10. ^ Alden, William, "Mary Jo White's Greatest Hits", New York Times 'Dealbook', January 24, 2013. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  11. ^ About Us, London Office of Debevoise & Plimpton, retrieved December 11, 2015
  12. ^ Mary Jo White, Obama Pick to Head SEC...., The Huffington Post. Mark Gongloff contributed reporting. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  13. ^ "Why Isn't Wall Street In Jail". Rolling Stone. February 16, 2011. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  14. ^ Wagner, Daniel; Verena Dobnik (January 13, 2013). "Swartz' death fuels debate over computer crime". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 30, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2014. JSTOR's attorney, Mary Jo White—formerly the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan—had called the lead Boston prosecutor in the case and asked him to drop it, said Peters.
  15. ^ White, Mary Jo (June 23, 2013). "Where the SEC Action Will Be". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  16. ^ Eaglesham, Jean (June 18, 2013). "SEC Seeks Admissions of Fault". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  17. ^ "Remarks at the Securities Enforcement Forum", Chair Mary Jo White, Washington D.C.,, October 9, 2013.
  18. ^ Eavis, Peter; Ben Protess (February 23, 2015). "She Runs S.E.C. He's a Lawyer. Recusals and Headaches Ensue". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  19. ^ Merle, Renae (November 14, 2016). "SEC chair to step down, clearing path for Trump to eliminate tough Wall Street regulations". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  20. ^ "Mary Jo White Packs Up" (possible subscription requirement; editorial), Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  21. ^ a b Letter by Elizabeth Warren,
  22. ^ Francine Mckenna (June 2, 2015). "Elizabeth Warren blasts Mary Jo White's SEC leadership". Marketwatch. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  23. ^ Temple-West, Patrick, and Ben White, "Did Elizabeth Warren go too far this time?", Politico, June 2, 2015.
  24. ^ Isidore, Chris (October 14, 2016). "Elizabeth Warren rips into Obama's SEC chief". CNNMoney. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  25. ^ "Sen. Warren calls on President to Immediately Designate New SEC Chair to Replace Mary Jo White" (PDF). October 14, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
  26. ^ Olson, Elizabeth (February 15, 2017). "Mary Jo White to Rejoin Debevoise & Plimpton". The New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  27. ^ Hairopoulos, Kate (August 11, 2017). "The latest on Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game suspension by NFL". SportsDay. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  28. ^ Aslin, Richard (October 11, 2017). "We want to work with UR, but our case can't be compromised". Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  29. ^ Trombly, Justin (January 21, 2018). "White investigators broke confidentiality agreements with witnesses". Campus Times. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  30. ^ Murphy, Justin (January 12, 2018). "Sexual harassment report mostly vindicates UR, Jaeger". Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  31. ^ Murphy, Justin (August 29, 2020). "Judge denies UR motion to dismiss lawsuit alleging improper behavior by Florian Jaeger". Democrat and Chronicle. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  32. ^ Witze, Alexandra (March 27, 2002). "University pays millions to researchers who sued over sexual-harassment allegations". Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  33. ^ Stacy, Mitch (August 5, 2018). "Urban Meyer probe will be headed by outside firm, expected to take 2 weeks". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  34. ^ Orden, Erica; Scannell, Kara (August 12, 2019). "After Jeffrey Epstein's death, prosecutors examine his inner circle". CNN. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  35. ^ Frankel, Alison (April 23, 2019). "Purdue's Sackler family wants global opioids settlement: Sackler lawyer Mary Jo White". Reuters. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  36. ^ a b "After 'startling rebuke' of multibillion-dollar bankruptcy settlement, 'these Sacklers don't deserve a pass — again'". December 19, 2021.
  37. ^ "Sackler Family Empire Poised to Win Immunity from Opioid Lawsuits".
  38. ^ "Judge rejects Purdue Pharma's sweeping opioid settlement". Associated Press. December 17, 2021.
  39. ^ "Can Ripple Labs beat the SEC in court?". July 20, 2021.
  40. ^ Florio, Mike (April 13, 2022). "NFL confirms Mary Jo White is investigating the financial allegations against the Washington Commanders". ProFootballTalk. Retrieved April 14, 2022.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York

Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Chair of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission
Succeeded by