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Park City • The imminent term in office of President Donald Trump has business regulators and attorneys wondering what kind of regulatory climate will settle over the nation's financial sector, according to participants at an American Bar Association conference in Park City.
With Trump set to take the oath of office a week from Friday, regulators and attorneys gathered at the Grand Summit at Canyons Village said there are many unknowns with the new Trump administration, from who will be appointed to key regulatory positions to where decisions will be made locally or in Washington on which cases to pursue and penalties to be doled out.
Samuel Buell, a professor at the Duke University law school, admitted to a cynical view on the change in administrations.
"I think if you're a pro-business president who ran on a populist platform, prosecuting corporate criminals is great for you," Buell said. "It doesn't require expensive regulation. You can actually be dismantling regulatory frameworks while you are prosecuting the bad actors, and people are going to focus on that."
But Buell, a former federal prosecutor, also pointed to the example of Enron, the energy company whose deceptive accounting practices sent it into bankruptcy and led to indictments of its principals. Buell was a lead prosecutor of the Department of Justice's Enron task force during the administration of George W. Bush, whose political career was bankrolled in a big way by Enron executive Kenneth Lay.
Yet when Enron went south, the Bush administration read the political winds and turned the investigation over to the task force in the Department of Justice and Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the case.
Ashcroft "let career prosecutors do their thing and from a political standpoint it was brilliant," said Buell. "There was no stink on the Bush administration."
Colleen Conroy, a Washington, D.C., attorney, said Trump's pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, had been a bulldog federal prosecutor who advocated harsh punishment to deter others from committing crimes.
"The question will be what impact will the Trump influence have," she said, suggesting there might be a reduction in "harsh penalties" that hurt shareholders.
On the other hand, people who move into regulatory or law enforcement positions in the federal government seem to want to point to a record of prosecutions, Conroy said.
"Generally, when people go into the government they tend to be law and order," Conroy said.
Federal prosecutor Rob Lund, who heads the white collar crime section of the U.S. attorney's office for Utah, said that at the local level, prosecutors wonder whether there will be a continuation of the Obama administration policies that sought to lower rates of incarceration and whether prosecution decisions will be made at the local level or in Washington.