Nominee to U.S. SEC chair vows to avoid conflicts of interest

Fri Feb 8, 2013 4:45pm EST

* Mary Jo White to avoid matters involving her law firm, clients

* Will retire from partnership at Debevoise & Plimpton

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission pledged to stay away from any matters involving her old law firm or former clients for one year, according to documents released on Friday.

Mary Jo White is currently a partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, where she has represented high-profile clients ranging from JPMorgan Chase, UBS and former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, to NFL Properties, Verizon Communications and General Electric.

"Upon confirmation, I will retire from the partnership ... I also will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific partners in which Debevoise & Plimpton LLP is a party or represents a party, unless I am first authorized to participate," White wrote in an ethics disclosure letter dated Feb. 5.

Her husband, John White, also agreed to convert his stake in the partnership at the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore to a fixed salary, in order to not specifically draw income from matters dependent on SEC decisions.

White said she would not participate in matters in which Cravath represented a party, and said her husband would not communicate directly with the SEC on behalf of the firm or any client in connection with rules proposed by the agency.

Since Obama announced her nomination last month, questions have swirled about whether her extensive contacts in corporate America might present conflict of interest problems.

But White also spent a decade leading the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, where she gained a sterling reputation for taking on terrorists and mob bosses.

Even though White spent years in public service, the documents detail the lucrative nature of moving to private practice.

She listed her partnership share at $2,418,600, and described investments in more than half a dozen funds valued at between $1 million to $5 million, not counting those in her husband's name.

White also said she is entitled to $42,500 per month from Debevoise as a retired partner, but will instead take a lump sum payment up front to cover the next four years.

She said she would forgo other perks provided by the firm, including secretarial services, office space and a BlackBerry, and would resign from several board positions, including with Columbia Law School, Citizens Crime Commission of New York, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She also owns 40 acres of farmland in Pocahontas County, Iowa, according to her disclosure.