Auction Rate Securities Arbitration Leads To Stockbroker Expungement

January 13, 2014

Another day and another stockbroker is slapped with a lawsuit alleging misconduct in connection with sales of Auction Rate Securities ("ARS"). Some industry advocates roll their eyes at these ARS cases -- after all, they opine, the men and women registered persons were victimized by the marketing of this product, and it's not as if they were acting in bad faith when promoting the investments to their clients. At the time when ARS were all the rage, the mantra was that this was an investment that was as good as money in the bank, offered a better return than a mere money market fund, and, finally, it was unlikely -- highly unlikely, as in "are you nuts" -- that the auction markets would ever freeze. Of course, as with much of the dogma of the pre-Great Recession stock market, the guaranteed truths proved anything but. On the contra-side of this issue are advocates for public investors who argue that you should sue all the bastards and let 'em sort things out. In addition to asserting that registered representatives had failed to discharge their minimal due diligence obligations to their customers by asking tougher questions about what they were selling, these customer advocates espouse the "they're all a bunch of thieving, lying crooks" school of Wall Street litigation. 

In a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") Arbitration Statement of Claim filed in August 2012, former employee Claimant Hernandez (who had previously been named in an ARS customer arbitration claim) sought the expungement from his Central Registration Depositor record ("CRD") of eight customer complaints pertaining to Auction Rate Securities ("ARS") transactions. In the Matter of the FINRA Arbitration Between Marcus Hernandez, Claimant, vs. E*Trade Securities LLC, Respondent (FINRA Arbitration 12-03040, December 24, 2013).

Respondent E*Trade denied the allegations and asserted various affirmative defenses.  The FINRA Arbitration Decision asserts that "Respondent took no position regarding the merits of Claimant's claims and requested attorneys' fees."

SIDE BAR: Umm, sorry, but I'm a tad lost here. On the one hand, the FINRA Arbitration Decision asserts that E*Trade denied the charges and raised defenses, but, on the other hand, it appears that the firm stood mute on Claimant's claims. Not sure what's what.

Expungement Recommended

The sole FINRA Arbitrator  reviewed the related arbitration Awards and settlement documents, and gave consideration to the amounts paid and other relevant factors; and, thereafter, recommended the requested expungement. Given the comprehensive and articulate nature of the rationale provided by the Arbitrator, I offer it in full-text below:

Claimant left Respondent before the 2008 Auction Rate Securities ("ARS") market freeze and had no knowledge of that event prior thereto. Up until that point, based upon approximately twenty years of performance, Claimant properly believed and told clients that ARS were a more conservative, AAA-rated alternative to Certificates of Deposit, offering higher interest returns. I further find, based upon this record, that these statements to clients were not misrepresentations or investment-related sales practice violations. Further, given the nature of Respondent's operation and the fact that many of these eight clients were first solicited by a Relationship Manager, and spoke with Call Center Financial Advisors other than Claimant while trading with Respondent, there is no clear evidence that Claimant was the registered representative involved in many of the transactions upon which the CRD complaints were based.

With respect to the Horowitz Case # 09-00708, the documentary and testimonial evidence in this case supported the conclusion to award expungement in this matter. Claimant testified that Mr. Horowitz was referred to him by a Relationship Manager whose name he could not recall. Mr. Horowitz was an experienced investor, worked as a financial planner (2007 FP of the Year) and Series 7 registered representative, and had experience with ARS transactions; in fact, Mr. Horowitz had purchased ARS through UBS before he came to E*Trade and spoke with Claimant (see Arb. Exhibit 1, Exhibit 25 to Claimant's Statement of Claim, page 2). Mr. Horowitz's case went to hearing and the panel granted rescission of his ARS purchase. Claimant testified that Respondent ultimately bought back Mr. Horowitz's ARS.

Claimant swore under oath that he did not misrepresent anything to Mr. Horowitz regarding his purchase. He told Mr. Horowitz that the purchase was an ARP preferred. Claimant testified that Mr. Horowitz regularly received account statements from Respondent that detailed the nature of his ARS investments. Mr. Horowitz was someone who came in through Respondent's 800 number and placed trades through many FAs in the firm. And though he recalled placing the rescinded trade with Mr. Horowitz, Claimant left Respondent's firm 7 months thereafter, so it was factually impossible for him to misrepresent and conceal anything from Mr. Horowitz for two years.

During Case #09-00708, Mr. Horowitz testified that he listened to every voicemail and "if i heard the word 'auction' I would have known I had the wrong security." During the expungement hearing. Claimant played the recording of a voicemail message (which was not permitted into evidence in the Horowitz arbitration because it was produced late by counsel) he left for Mr. Horowitz, mentioning the word "auction" twice and stating "we will be in Monday's auction with 7 day paper." Although Claimant lost the Horowitz arbitration and was required to pay counsel fees (where this recording, and 4-5 other like it were not admitted), in a subsequent arbitration with Respondent where the recordings were admitted, the panel did not hold him responsible for fees.

Finally, an award of expungement is justified in this case because the recording of Claimant's voicemail to Horowitz, which was excluded from evidence in Case # 09-00708 below and would have challenged the credibility of Mr. Horowitz's testimony, was admitted and subject to additional corroborating testimony in this record. . .

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