Roberta Karmel

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Roberta Karmel

Roberta S. Karmel was an American lawyer, legal scholar and former government official who was the first female commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), serving from 1977 to 1980. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, who asked to help rein in the enforcement division. She replaced A.A. Sommer Jr. as a commissioner.[1]

She died in April of 2024 at the age of 86.[2][3][4][5]

Background[edit]

Roberta Sarah Segal was born in Chicago on May 4, 1937, to Jacob and Eva Segal. Her father, a lawyer for the City of Chicago and later in private practice, instilled in her a passion for law. Despite attending Austin High School, which had limited college placements, she gained admission to Radcliffe College, part of Harvard University. During her sophomore year, she married Paul Karmel, with whom she had four children.[6]

Graduating from Radcliffe in 1959 with a degree in history and literature. Karmel briefly clerked for a small securities firm before gaining acceptance to both Harvard and New York University law schools. Karmel defied her father's caution against law careers for women and pursued a law degree at New York University on a full scholarship.

After earning her law degree in 1962, she joined the enforcement division of the SEC's New York office. Despite having three children during her tenure, she rose to become assistant regional administrator, earning the nickname "the pregnant enforcer."

In 1969, she transitioned to the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, later moving to Rogers & Wells in 1972, often representing firms like Merrill Lynch. It was during her time at Rogers & Wells, a firm facing a sex discrimination suit, that her talents caught the attention of the Carter administration.

Her political connections and legal acumen led to her nomination as the first female commissioner of the SEC by President Carter in 1977.

During her tenure as a SEC commissioner, Karmel contended that the SEC was overstepping its statutory authority and engaging in coercive tactics towards companies. One instance she highlighted was the assertion that states, rather than the SEC, held the legal jurisdiction to determine board membership criteria for corporations.[7]

Additionally, she criticized the SEC's practice of resolving cases with companies through consent decrees and imposing remedial actions, effectively establishing rules for all public companies without proper legislative or regulatory procedures. This approach, which she termed "regulation by prosecution," served as the title of her book published in 1982.

Following her departure from the SEC in 1980, Roberta Karmel authored "Regulation by Prosecution: The Securities and Exchange Commission Versus Corporate America" in 1982. She furthered her impact by serving as a public director of the New York Stock Exchange from 1983 to 1989, becoming only the third woman to hold such a position.

Transitioning into academia, Karmel joined Brooklyn Law School in New York as a professor in 1986. Concurrently, she maintained a part-time partnership at the prominent New York law firm Kelley Drye & Warren. Throughout her career, she contributed significantly to the field of securities regulation, authoring numerous articles, including a bi-monthly column in the New York Law Journal.

She was the former Centennial Professor of Law at the Brooklyn Law School, retiring in 2021 after 36 years of service. She taught a variety of subjects including tort law, securities regulation, corporations, administrative law, and European Union law. She was renowned for her engaging teaching style and dedication to mentoring, particularly for female professors. Following her retirement, she was honored as a Professor of Law Emerita, holding the title of 1901 Distinguished Research Professor of Law.

As Chair Emerita of the board of trustees of the Practicing Law Institute, a member of the American Law Institute, and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, she played pivotal roles in advancing legal education and scholarship.[8]

Education[edit]

Karmel held a Bachelors of Arts degree, cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1959 and an LL.B. cum laude from New York University School of Law in 1962.[9]

References[edit]

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