Elon Musk / Tesla – purported SEC settlement, but corporate governance and board member judicial independence questions also remain

To say the least, it must have been a stressful couple of months for Tesla board members – how do you get your undisputed CEO leader and visionary to control himself, to take care of his mental and physical health, stop doing stupid or ill-advised things and making stupid or ill-advised public communications, and stop causing self-inflicted wounds? Or, at this point, how much do you need Mr. Musk to be the CEO of Tesla – can’t some other person take the helm – someone who is better qualified to build cars, and who also is an electric/battery power visionary? And where was the board in all of this? Well . . . we don’t know because they were silent to the public.  

You might have heard the news that the SEC filed suit against Mr. Musk last week as a result of an ill-advised and possibly unlawful public comment that he made. Yesterday (Saturday) I read two articles about possible settlement or actual settlement with the SEC. The following earlier-in-the-day article represents that Mr. Musk had rejected a settlement offer made by the SEC.  But please be aware that I never simply accept a news or other article as being correct – the article might be correct, or some of it might be correct, or none of it might be correct, you can be reasonably certain that the article is not entirely complete, and I also watch for the adjectives used and the opinions and conclusions reached as opposed to facts and whether or not those facts are supported with objective, credible evidence and sources. Thus, although I am using articles below, I am not representing or suggesting that they are correct or entirely correct. 

I found the first, earlier-in-the-day article interesting because of its discussion about the terms (presumably only some of the terms) of settlement purportedly offered by the SEC, and more interesting for the purported reasons why the settlement offer was rejected. The reasons for rejection, for example, do not include whether or not acceptance of the settlement would be in the best interests of Tesla and its stockholders. The reasons suggest that the settlement was rejected based on reasons personal to Mr. Musk, the reasons suggest a desire to maintain and not lose board control, and the reasons suggest a lack of board member involvement in whether or not the settlement should be accepted, and a lack of board member active diligent governance, oversight, and independence. Of course, obviously there are additional facts about which we are not aware.

In terms of board member independence, I am talking about possible lack of judicial independence, not independence as defined by stock exchange or similar rules, or whether or not the board member is an officer of Tesla. Board member judicial independence is an evolving and increasingly important attribute and evaluation – for example, does the board member truly diligently and prudently evaluate the issues at hand in the best interests of the stockholders and the company, and make decisions that are independent of the director’s self interests and independent of the director’s relationships with the executive officers and with the other directors. As you might be aware, judicial independence, for example, also takes into consideration business, financial, social, family, and friend interactions, relationships, and influences or pressures.

The following is the earlier-in-the-day article representing that settlement with the SEC was rejected and at least some of the purported reasons for the possible rejection – see a picture from the earlier-in-the-day first article below or  Click Here For Article

Musk reportedly doesn't settle with SEC

A later-in-the-day article then represented that settlement with the SEC had been accepted, and at least some of the purported terms of the settlement. I would view acceptance of the purported settlement as a good decision in the right direction for Tesla and its stockholders, and also for Mr. Musk. I will be interested in hearing who the two new directors will be, the process for and who nominates/selects the new directors and what Mr. Musk’s involvement will be in that process, and who the independent directors will be and whether they will be and are judicially independent as they should be judicially independent after taking into consideration that matters, issues and people over which they will have specific oversight and responsibility. See a picture from the later-in-the-day second article below or Click Here For Article

Musk reportedly settles with the SEC

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA), Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park, California office, with offices in northern and southern California.  My blogs: trust, estate, elder abuse and conservatorship litigation http://californiaestatetrust.com, D&O, boards, audit committees, governance, etc. http://auditcommitteeupdate.com, workplace http://workplacelawreport.com

David Tate, Esq., Overview of My Practice Areas (Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park, California office, with offices in northern and southern California. http://rroyselaw.com)

  • Civil Litigation: business, commercial, real estate, D&O, board and committee, founder, owner, investor, creditor, shareholder, M&A, and other disputes and litigation; and investigations
  • Probate Court Litigation: trust, estate, elder abuse, and conservatorship disputes and litigation
  • Administration: trust and estate administration and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries
  • Workplace (including discrimination) litigation and consulting
  • Board, director, committee and audit committee, and executive officer responsibilities and rights; and investigations

Royse Law Firm – Overview of Firm Practice Areas – San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin

  • Corporate and Securities, Financing and Formation
  • Corporate Governance, D&O, Boards and Committees, Audit Committees, Etc.
  • Intellectual Property – Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Trade Secrets
  • International
  • Immigration
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Labor and Employment
  • Litigation (I broke out the litigation as this is my primary area of practice)
  •             Business & Commercial
  •             IP – Patent, Trademark, Copyright, Trade Secret, NDA
  •             Accountings, Fraud, Lost Income/Royalties, Etc.
  •             Internet Privacy, Hacking, Speech, Etc.
  •             Labor and Employment
  •             Mergers & Acquisitions
  •             Real Estate
  •             Owner, Founder, Investor, D&O, Board/Committee, Shareholder
  •             Lender/Debtor
  •             Investigations
  •             Trust, Estate, Conservatorship, Elder Abuse, and Administrations
  • Real Estate
  • Tax (US and International) and Tax Litigation
  • Technology Companies and Transactions, Including AgTech and HealthTech, Etc.
  • Wealth and Estate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, and Disputes and Litigation

Disclaimer. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside or outside of California, and also does not provide legal or other professional advice to you or to anyone else, or about a specific situation – remember that laws are always changing – and also remember and be aware that you need to consult with an appropriate lawyer or other professional about your situation. This post also is not intended to and does not apply to any particular situation or person, nor does it provide and is not intended to provide any opinion or any other comments that in any manner state, suggest or imply that anyone or any entity has done anything unlawful, wrong or wrongful – instead, each situation must be fully evaluated with all of the evidence, whereas this post only includes summary comments about information that may or may not be accurate and that most likely will change over time.

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PCAOB Adopts New Audit Report-Should Be Interesting-Still Has To Be Adopted By The SEC

The following is a link to the PCAOB website page discussing the PCAOB’s June 2017 adoption of a new audit report which in part requires the disclosure of critical audit matters (CAM) for certain audits conducted under PCAOB standards. Here’s the link to the PCAOB page CLICK HERE

The new report standard still must be adopted by the SEC. If adopted, some of the new report standards will first apply to annual audits for years ending on or after December 15, 2017; however, the critical audit matter reporting would not apply until 2019 at the earliest for certain entities.

As the PCAOB notes, there is a need to make the audit report more relevant. In fact, there is a need to make both external and internal audit and auditors more relevant.

More will follow on this; however, I usually don’t spend signification time on new laws, statutes, regulations, rules and standards until (1) they are in fact enacted or adopted, and (2) it is near the time of actual use or requirement.

I do note, however, that this new report and the CAM provision is an interesting development, which perhaps should have occurred years ago. If you click on the above link, and then on the actual standard itself, you will also see that the standard contains worthwhile discussions about critical audit matters, materiality and other topics that are relevant to the standard.

Best, David Tate, Esq. (and CPA, California inactive). Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park Office, California.

Royse Law Firm – Practice Area Overview – San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin

  • Corporate and Securities, Financing and Formation
  • Corporate Governance, D&O, Boards and Committees, Audit Committees, Etc.
  • Intellectual Property – Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Trade Secrets
  • International
  • Immigration
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Labor and Employment
  • Litigation (I broke out the litigation because this is my primary area of practice)
  •             Business
  •             Intellectual Property – Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Trade Secrets
  •             Trade Secrets, NDA, Financial & Accounting Issues, Fraud, Lost Income, Royalties, Etc.
  •             Privacy, Internet, Hacking, Speech, Etc.
  •             Labor and Employment
  •             Mergers & Acquisitions
  •             Real Estate
  •             Owner, Founder, Investor, Board & Committee, Shareholder, D&O, Lender/Debtor, Etc.
  •             Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith
  •             Investigations
  •             Trust, Estate, Conservatorship, Elder Abuse, Etc., and Contentious Administrations
  • Real Estate
  • Tax (US and International) and Tax Litigation
  • Technology Companies and Transactions Including AgTech, HealthTech, etc.
  • Wealth and Estate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, and Disputes and Litigation

 

What’s up with this – the SEC disclaims a Dodd-Frank Annual Report by its Staff?

I don’t get this. See the two below screenshots. The first screenshot is of the cover page from the SEC’s annual report about Dodd-Frank. And the second screenshot is from a following page with the SEC disclaiming the report which was prepared by the SEC staff. The SEC issues an annual report, and then disclaims it, alleging that the report was from the SEC’s staff, which isn’t sufficiently reliable? I don’t believe that a company or an individual could get away with that?

sec-annual-report-to-congress-on-the-dodd-frank-cover-page

sec-annual-report-to-congress-on-the-dodd-frank-disclaimer

 

Here is the link for the entire report,

https://www.sec.gov/whistleblower/reportspubs/annual-reports/owb-annual-report-2016.pdf

I’m not criticizing the report, necessarily, just the disclaimer. How can you disclaim a report on your behalf by your own staff? Did the SEC review the report? I hope so.

Best to you, Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California.

 

New ISO Anti-Bribery Standard – Will It Give Companies An Absolute Defense?

ISO has published its new international anti-bribery standard, ISO 37001. You can find select information about the new standard HERE and at http://http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards/management-standards/iso37001.htm .

The short PowerPoint presentation in part says:

The Standard benefits an organization by providing:

  • Minimum requirements and supporting guidance for implementing or benchmarking an anti-bribery management system
  • Assurance to management, investors, employees, customers, and other stakeholders that an organization is taking reasonable steps to prevent bribery
  • Evidence in the event of an investigation that an organization has taken reasonable steps to prevent bribery.

SO HERE’S AN INTERESTING QUESTION: will compliance with the standard give the company a free pass on bribery liability with the SEC and other state and federal entities and agencies if in fact a bribery occurs? I bet not. However, consider that generally liability does not result unless the person or entity charged has breached or failed to satisfy the applicable standard or duty of care (except in select situations, e.g., such as strict liability or products liability, etc.), and that breach or failure causes damages. Thus, if the applicable standard becomes ISO 37001, and if that standard is met or satisfied, it certainly is arguable that no fault or liability should result if a bribery occurs.

Best to you, Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California. See also Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (updated October 2016), tates-excellent-audit-committee-guide-10202016-final-with-appendix-a

The Business Judgment Rule – a short animation (for fun, but also correct):

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Defense 07182016

DTatePicture_Square

Updated Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide – Attached – Use It – Pass It Along – Free

Below is a link to my updated Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (updated October 20, 2016). Please use it, and pass it to other people who would be interested, such as audit committee members, directors, officers, accountants, internal and external auditors, in-house counsel, compliance professionals, and other people.

I do note that as I was updating these materials, and going through the entire Guide, it definitely hit me that all of the specifically enacted statutes, regulations, rules and pronouncements definitely could cause an audit committee member to not be able to see the forest for the tress. So let’s also not forget to look at the situation as a whole.

Although the Guide is 186 pages, I do expect some significant updates soon, and perhaps prior to the end of 2016. Many of the updates will be posted to this blog first, and then to the Guide. I am looking forward to the COSO enterprise risk management (ERM) updated framework.

Best to you. Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California.

Here is a link to the updated Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (updated October 20, 2016), tates-excellent-audit-committee-guide-10202016-final-with-appendix-a

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Defense 07182016

The business judgment rule – an animated video:

 

DTatePicture_Square

Sustainability Disclosures – From PWC – Audit Committee Need to Know?

I’m forwarding this along – sustainability disclosure guidance from PWC – click on the following link for the materials and the discussion, CLICK HERE

And I am thinking that there could be a need for increasing audit committee member expertise in the sustainability disclosure area.

Below is a snapshot from the PWC website, followed by a link to Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (updated January 2016), followed by the Audit Committee 5 Lines of Diligence and Defense. Thank you. Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California.

PWC Sustainability Disclosure Guidance

 

See also my Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide, updated January 2016, Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide 01032016 with Appendix A Final

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Defense 07182016

DTatePicture_Square

 

Lennox International discloses alleged $425 (no zeroes) Russia bribe – from the FCPA Blog

I just thought this was interesting because of the small dollar amount, it is a short read from the FCPA Blog, about Lennox International self-reporting a $425 bribe. Of course, depending on the status of the audit committee’s investigation, it is possible that they could find more. And, as we know, dollar amount is not the only criteria for determining materiality – qualitative criteria can also be important.

Click on the following link for the discussion, Click Here.