SEC Names Ex-CFTC Enforcement Chief Aronow General Counsel

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today named Geoffrey F. Aronow, a former enforcement chief at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to be its top in-house lawyer.

Aronow, a Washington-based partner at law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP, will begin his role as SEC general counsel later this month. His clients have included Christine Serwinski, who was chief financial officer at MF Global Holdings Ltd.’s North American broker-dealer before it collapsed in 2011.

The SEC general counsel evaluates regulations, advises the SEC chairman and represents the agency in lawsuits and other legal matters.

“I’m truly honored to re-enter public service as the General Counsel at an agency with such a storied history and critical mission of investor protection and effective market oversight,” Aronow said in a statement.

Aronow, 57, is the first outsider hired by new SEC Chairman Elisse B. Walter, who took over after Mary Schapiro left the agency last month. SEC chief accountant Paul A. Beswick was promoted last month from within the agency, while two other top positions have been filled by acting directors.

Aronow didn’t respond to voice messages seeking comment.

Walter and Aronow Walter have known each other at least since the 1990s, according to Daniel Waldman, a Washington-based partner at law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, who was CFTC general counsel from 1996 to 1999.

‘Good Relationship’

“He has a good relationship with the chairman, which is a really important part of that job,” Waldman said. “I think the two of them will be a formidable team.”

Aronow served as director of enforcement at the CFTC from 1995 to 1999, according to his biography on Bingham’s website. He also has served on disciplinary panels for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the brokerage industry’s self-regulator.

“Geoff brings the ideal combination of practical knowledge, expertise, and common sense that is so critical to addressing the often nuanced and difficult issues that come before the Commission,” Walter said in a statement.

While at the CFTC, Aronow oversaw an enforcement case that yielded the highest fines in the commission’s history. The CFTC accused Japan-based Sumitomo Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. of manipulating world copper prices in late 1995.

Sumitomo paid $150 million in 1998 to settle the charges. Merrill Lynch paid about $25 million in 1999.

Morale Booster

“He negotiated a well-received and highly praised settlement in that case,” said Michael Greenberger, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who worked at the CFTC with Aronow. “He did a terrific job of leading the enforcement division, improving morale in the division.”

Aronow left the government in 1999 to represent clients facing SEC and CFTC enforcement cases and other regulatory proceedings. In 2008, he joined Bingham McCutchen, where his other recent clients included accounting firm KPMG LLP, whose Chinese affiliate is feuding with U.S. regulators over its refusal to turn over audit working papers.

“I think he will be very balanced, but I think he is very open-minded to regulatory reform,” Greenberger said.