Tuesday was Eric Werner’s second day as the new regional director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Fort Worth Office, and he already had hundreds of new emails to answer.
“There is definitely a lot going on,” Werner told The Texas Lawbook in an exclusive interview. “This region is huge and growing at great speed. With Schwab and Fidelity and all the companies moving to this region, I’m worried about resources. If we doubled our staff, we would still keep everyone completely busy.”
“We are trying to do more with less,” he said. “It’s a ton of work that needs to be done.”
Werner knows staffing and the SEC’s caseload. He’s been a lawyer with the federal enforcement agency for 26 years, starting as a law school intern in January 1995. He’s been a staff attorney, legal advisor in the office of the SEC’s general counsel and, until Monday, associate director of enforcement of the Fort Worth office, which enforces federal securities laws involving publicly traded companies, financial institutions, broker-dealers and investment advisors in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.
Werner’s staff in Fort Worth includes about 100 professionals, but only 24 investigative enforcement attorneys. The SEC has authorized him to hire two more, which he plans to do in the next few months. And he needs to fill his previous position: associate director of enforcement.
Werner replaces David Peavler, who left the SEC in December to join the Dallas office of Jones Day.
“I got a lot of insight into the job and what it can be from David Woodcock, Shamoil [Shipchandler] and David Peavler,” Werner said, referring to the last three regional directors. All three provided comments of support in interviews with The Texas Lawbook on Tuesday.
He said he has the benefit of working alongside SEC Associate Director Marshall Gandy, who leads the examination division of the SEC’s Fort Worth office and is also a veteran of the federal agency.
“It is a challenge to keep the staff motivated due to remote work,” Werner said, noting that the SEC’s Fort Worth offices are going through renovations for the next few months.
Werner said the SEC’s Fort Worth office has nearly 150 active cases on its docket, including multiple investigations that are the result of whistleblower activity.
About 20 percent of the office’s caseload are offering fraud cases and another 20 percent are accounting and issuer fraud matters, he said. More than five percent are insider trading prosecutions.
“My job is to protect investors — to be fair when it is needed and to be firm when it is needed,” he said.
Werner, like Peavler, Shipchandler and Woodcock before him, said he wished the SEC had a branch office in Houston, which is the largest city in the U.S. without an SEC presence.
“Houston is such an integral part of commerce, with many large publicly traded companies,” he said. “It doesn’t help that we are not there with boots on the ground. In a perfect world, we would have people there.”