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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keeping Investigations Private Serves the Public

Sometimes the public's "right to know" -- piously invoked by the news media as a passive-aggressive way to disarm obstacles in its way -- can be counterproductive to the legitimate objectives of law enforcement.

The revelations of certain details as to the subject matter of an investigation, its methodology or even its very existence can all defeat the purpose of the investigation, which most often is to protect the public.

The Senate Finance Committee is investigating certain trading and other business activity of SAC Capital, the hedge fund family of Steven A. Cohen.  It is reported -- and appropriately, not confirmed --  that SAC is under federal investigation.

One wonders if investigations would go more smoothly if they were kept under wraps.  Such secrecy would serve the public (by making for more effective and productive investigations that would not be compromised, interrupted or disrupted by leaks).  However, the secrecy would also benefit the subjects and targets, who many times are completely innocent and whose reputations would be undamaged if investigations were kept confidential and out of the hands of the news media.  

As for the public's right to know, there would be plenty of time to achieve that when criminal charges or guilty pleas are announced, or when civil charges are filed or settlements announced.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who handles complex investigative matters including regulatory enforcement and "white-collar" matters, and has substantial experience with the federal securities laws.   Mr. Dixon may be reached for further inquiry at

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