Stanley Sporkin

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Stanley Sporkin
Stanley sporkin-photo3.jpg
Occupation Attorney (deceased)
Location Washington, D.C.
Website Homepage

During his lifetime Stanley Sporkin was known as a controversial and aggressive advocate for corporate ethics. He rose to prominence as an enforcement attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He went on to serve as general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before being named a judge on Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.


Sporkin was born in 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother was a homemaker. His father, Maurice, was an assistant district attorney and later a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas who once ordered the desegregation of a Philadelphia swimming pool in the 1950s. In a 2000 interview with the Washington Post, Sporkin said. “The whole concept I had of doing justice came from watching him, when he would do the right thing.”

Sporkin married Judith Imber and they had three children together. Mrs. Sporkin and their children survived him at his death on March 23, 2020, when Sporkin was 88 years old. [1]

Before attending Yale Law School, Sporkin worked for about a year as an accountant.

His first job after law school was with a law firm in Philadelphia. He later said that he was dismayed by clients' attitudes toward the law, saying “We’d tell a client that something was wrong, and then he’d ask, ‘But is it illegal?’”[2]

SEC's enforcer

After serving as a clerk to federal district judges in Delaware, Sporkin joined the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1961 to work on its Special Study of Securities Markets which was released in 1963. The study had been mandated by the U.S. Congress.

Sporkin moved on to work for the SEC's Division of Trading and Markets. In that role, he began an investigation into Robert Vesco, who was eventually charged with defrauding a mutual fund that he controlled of $224 million. Vesco went on the run and avoided prosecution by settling in Cuba.

Sporkin became an associate director of the division where he was mentored by Irving Pollack, who eventually became the first SEC director of the Division of Enforcement when it was created in 1972 by then-Chairman William Casey. Sporkin followed Pollack into the enforcement division and succeeded Pollack when he was named to the commission itself. [3]

Sporkin became director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement 1974. Intrigued by televised testimony during the 1973 Watergate hearing, Sporkin's division investigated how publicly traded companies registered with the SEC had channeled money to President Nixon's re-election campaign. This interest led to dozens of prosecutions of major U.S. corporations for illicit use of secret slush funds. SEC staff uncovered so many cases the agency created a voluntary self-reporting program under which more than 500 companies disclosed illicit payments.

Sporkin also uncovered bribes to foreign governments by U.S. companies seeking to do business abroad, which led to the adoption by Congress of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1976.[4]

With a track record of expansive and aggressive securities law enforcement, Sporkin invigorated the Division of Enforcement. After a few years with Sporkin as head of the enforcement division, the then-chairman of the SEC, Roderick Hills, said, "We’ve gone through a metamorphosis in the last year, from a handful of disclosures by the Watergate prosecutor’s office to an S.E.C. program involving 17 enforcement actions and 150 companies.”[5]

The Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs honored Sporkin in 1978 with a $10,000 Rockefeller Public Service Award for his “vigorous effort to enforce Federal securities laws" and for creating “a new era of corporate accountability.”[6] The next year, Sporkin received the 1979 President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service for contributing ". . . immeasurably to the maintenance of investor confidence in the fairness and efficiency of the Nation’s securities markets."[7]

General Counsel at CIA

Sporkin was appointed General Counsel of the CIA by its director, William Casey in 1981. He served there until 1985.

As CIA General Counsel he provided the director and thus President Reagan with a legal analysis arguing that the government's secret sales of arms to Iran could be justified on grounds of national security. Sporkin later testified that he was not aware at the time of providing the advice that the proceeds of the sales were to be used to fund the Contras, guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair.[8]

Judicial career

Sporkin was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1995, where he maintained a high profile as a controversial jurist. He retired in 2000.[9]

Judge Sporkin was assigned a number of headlining cases while he was on the bench. In the case of the bankruptcy of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, where the federal government had ceased the remaining assets, Sporkin accused its by-then celebrity CEO Charles Keating of "looting' the institution as well as pointedly asked about the liability of accountants and lawyers who looked the other way as the looting occurred.[10]

A D.C. Mayor's drug use

In an unusual move in 1989, while accepting a guilty plea, Judge Sporkin asked the convicted drug dealer if the dealer had sold drugs to the mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry as had been widely rumored at the time. The defendant requested a private meeting but the judge insisted that he answer on the record in public court. The drug dealer said that he had sold the mayor crack cocaine multiple times. This testimony helped lead to the eventual criminal conviction and imprisonment of the mayor.[11]

Microsoft anti-trust case

Judge Sporkin refused to certify a consent agreement presented by the Department of Justice in anti-trust case brought against Microsoft in 1995 because it did not go far enough to remedy the allegations. The Department of Justice had alleged that the company's actions in licensing its desktop software was anticompetitive. During a hearing on the matter, the judge had told the government's attorney "to clean up this mess," he advised Bingaman. [12]

The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Sporkin's decision and assigned the case to another judge, who later accepted the settlement, in an unusual move for an appeals court. Rebuking the judge, the appeals court also said that Sporkin "exceeded his authority" in rejecting the settlement.[13]


Sporkin graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1953 with a degree in accounting. After working as an accountant for a year, he attended Yale Law School from which he received a JD in 1957.[14]


  1. Stanley Sporkin, crusading SEC enforcer and tough-minded U.S. judge, dies at 88. Washington Post.
  2. Stanley Sporkin, Bane of Corporate Corruption, Dies at 88. New York Times.
  3. Stanley Sporkin, Ex-Head of SEC Enforcement Unit, Dies at 88. Bloomberg.
  4. Stanley Sporkin, Ex-Head of SEC Enforcement Unit, Dies at 88. Bloomberg.
  5. Stanley Sporkin, Bane of Corporate Corruption, Dies at 88. New York Times.
  6. Rev. Jackson and S.E.C. Official Among 7 Cited for Public Service. New York Times.
  7. 1979 President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission.
  8. Stanley Sporkin, Ex-Head of SEC Enforcement Unit, Dies at 88. Bloomberg.
  9. Judges. Federal Judicial Center.
  10. Stanley Sporkin, Bane of Corporate Corruption, Dies at 88. New York Times.
  11. Stanley Sporkin, Ex-Head of SEC Enforcement Unit, Dies at 88. Bloomberg.
  12. SEC Enforcer Stanley Sporkin Cracked Down on Corporate Bribery. Wall Street Journal.
  14. Stanley Sporkin, Ex-Head of SEC Enforcement Unit, Dies at 88. Bloomberg.