SEC recruits New Jersey attorney general to lead enforcement

Gurbir Grewal will take the helm of SEC enforcement on July 26, after serving as New Jersey's top law enforcement official since 2018.

SEC recruits New Jersey attorney general to lead enforcement

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday named New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal as the next leader of the agency's enforcement division, putting in place a well-known public sector figure to police Wall Street misdeeds.

Grewal, 48, will take the helm of SEC enforcement on July 26, after serving as New Jersey's top law enforcement official since 2018. Grewal is one of the state's longest-serving attorneys general and made history as the first Sikh American to hold the position.

"The enforcement division has a critical role to play in finding and punishing violations of the law," Grewal said in a statement. "I’m excited to get to work with the talented team of public servants to uncover and prosecute misconduct and protect investors."

SEC Chair Gary Gensler, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the agency, has faced pressure to recruit an enforcement leader who would be tough on Wall Street after progressives blasted his decision to hire corporate defense lawyer Alex Oh to the post in April. Oh resigned less than a week on the job after a federal judge reprimanded her and others defending Exxon Mobil in a lawsuit brought by Indonesian villagers.

Grewal, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, garnered a reputation in New Jersey for being tough on former President Donald Trump. He led the state in filing dozens of lawsuits against the former president’s administration, spanning a range of issues, from loosened environmental protections to the Affordable Care Act. He also led on issues of police reform and gun violence. He oversaw the state’s securities bureau, which during his tenure took action related to cryptocurrency offerings, subprime auto lending and predatory student loans.

“Through his efforts standing up to the Trump administration's attacks on New Jersey and our diverse communities, instituting historic reforms in policing and leading the fight against gun violence, Attorney General Grewal has been an invaluable member of our administration and a dedicated public servant to the residents of New Jersey," Murphy said. "Though we'll miss his leadership, I know he's the right person to protect investors all across the nation, and I congratulate SEC Chair Gensler for this outstanding selection."

Before his position with the state, Grewal worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey’s criminal division, as well as the Eastern District of New York. Prior to his government service, he worked in private practice from 1999-2004 and 2008-2010 at the law firm Howrey LLP. His private sector work included representing public companies in proceedings with financial regulators and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations.

Wall Street watchdog groups applauded Grewal's hiring after complaining for years that SEC enforcement failed to hold powerful financial institutions accountable, in particular when the agency recruited corporate lawyers to lead those efforts.

Better Markets President and CEO Dennis Kelleher, who advocates for tougher finance industry oversight, said Grewal "appears to be the opposite of a Wall Street defense lawyer, which is a welcome break with the past, and exactly what the SEC division of enforcement needs.”

“It is terrific to see Gensler empower a high-energy figure already firmly ensconced within public service to serve as head of the SEC's critical enforcement division," said Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser, who led opposition to Oh's hiring in April. "The demands on the SEC's enforcement division are large and growing fast, making experience excelling at handling a diverse set of challenges on behalf of the public interest especially important."

Most recently in New Jersey, Grewal has been the top law enforcement leader during turbulent times in policing, and his priorities have reflected that. He overhauled rules governing police use of force, allowing cops to use deadly force as an “absolute last resort.” In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, he also required the release of the names of law enforcement officers whose misconduct led to their termination, demotion or suspensions of five days or more over the past 20 years.

Murphy will name an interim attorney general this week to fill the remainder of Grewal's four-year term, Murphy spokesperson Alyana Alfaro said.

Matt Friedman contributed to this report.