Now We’re Creatively Interpreting Sarbanes-Oxley to Include Fish

Jonathan Weil enlightens us via Bloomberg View:

There is a delightful article about a fishy case before the U.S. Supreme Court that deserves a broader audience than it probably got yesterday on the Law Professor Blogs Network. Here's the opening paragraph by Ellen Podgor, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida, who teaches in the area of white-collar crime:

18 U.S.C. § 1519, known as the "anti-shredding provision" of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, makes it a crime for anyone who "knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object" with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation (emphasis added). Congress passed this statute in the aftermath of the Enron debacle. But did they ever envision that a prosecutor would use this statute against a commercial fisherman for allegedly having undersized grouper fish that were thrown overboard following the issuing of a civil fishing citation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission?

Even though a fish is a tangible object, the obvious answer is probably not. The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, says that shouldn't matter — regardless of whether Congress envisioned that a law targeting Arthur Andersen-style document destruction would ever be used to prosecute a fisherman for disposing of a few fish.

This is a pretty liberal interpretation of a rule meant to prevent, say, unscrupulous accounting firms from cranking up their shredder.

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