She Made History After Becoming the First Woman of Color to Head the SEC. Then, She Stepped Down After Just Five Days.
SEC enforcement director Alex Oh stepped down from her role after being scrutinized for her part in an ExxonMobil lawsuit.
Alex Oh resigned from her role as enforcement director at the SEC only days after taking the job due to criticism over her work as a corporate defense lawyer.
The SEC didn’t mention reasons for Oh’s resignation in a statement released on Wednesday.
However, Oh reportedly resigned after District Judge Royce Lamberth issued an order on Monday, questioning her practice in a deposition in a lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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Attorney Melissa Hodgman will return to the role of acting director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement, the agency said.
"In light of the time and attention it will take from me, I have reached the conclusion that I cannot address this development without it becoming an unwelcome distraction to the important work of the division," Oh’s resignation letter read.
Oh is part of a legal team from Paul Weiss, the law firm defending ExxonMobil in a class action lawsuit filed by lawyers representing 11 Indonesian citizens in 1999, according to Politico.
The Indonesian citizens alleged that ExxonMobil’s security personnel conducted human rights violations in Indonesia, claiming that the oil company should be held accountable for the murder and torture committed by the Indonesian military during civil unrest between 1999 and 2001. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that the company should be held liable for hiring soldiers to guard natural gas facilities in Indonesia.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that an ExxonMobil lawyer based in Asia used a “script” to answer questions in an unresponsive manner that discouraged the plaintiffs’ lawyers from getting information.
On Monday, Judge Lamberth ordered ExxonMobil to obtain a witness who would answer every one of those questions again and ordered Oh to explain why she shouldn’t face sanctions for her involvement in the deposition. An individual familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that SEC officials spoke with Oh after the judge issued the order.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler was subsequently criticized for hiring Oh, a corporate lawyer, to head one of the country’s most powerful agencies, according to Politico.
Advocacy groups, including Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project, sent a letter to Gensler on Tuesday, saying that they were "surprised and disappointed" by his decision to hire her. In the letter, the groups questioned Oh’s ability to enforce “the very laws and regulations whose enforcement she has built a career of defending against." They urged Gensler to reconsider his hiring decision and instead appoint an attorney “with a proven track record of public-oriented service, of which there is no shortage."
Still, in the wake of the backlash, Paul Weiss Chairman Brad Karp defended Oh, claiming “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional, with a strong ethical code.”
Oh has worked as a corporate lawyer at Paul Weiss for 20 years, during which she has represented Fortune 100 companies facing government allegations, including Bank of America and Pfizer.
Oh and the SEC didn’t immediately respond to Enterpreneur.com’s request for comment.