May 2, 2007

Option Backdating: The Apple Saga - To Be Continued?

There has been quite a bit of commentary about what the SEC did - and didn't do - in the Apple option backdating case last week. As this SEC press release notes, the SEC brought charges against Apple's former General Counsel and former CFO Fred Anderson, but didn't seek a bar against them as an executive or director of another public company (nor has the SEC brought any action against the company itself). The former CFO currently serves as the head of eBay's audit committee.

From the complaint filed in US District Court by the SEC, it appears that Apple's CEO Steve Jobs was fully aware of the implications of what was going on with the backdating. It is interesting that the CFO discussed backdating with the CEO, then did it and apparently did not inform the auditors about it - but some argue he did not do it "intentionally"; it seems pretty clear to me from the complaint that the CFO did mean to backdate the options.

And right after the SEC announced what it intended to do in the Apple case, former CFO Anderson spoke up in this WSJ article to claim that Jobs misled him. And then this Joe Nocera column from Saturday's NY Times gives this story another twist, providing details about why certain mega-grants of options were awarded to Jobs in the first place.

Lawsuit Dismissed: Backdating Alone Not Sufficient to Prove Fraud - But Not Over?

A few weeks ago, Judge Alsup of the US District Court for the Northern District of California granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the consolidated shareholders’ derivative complaint filed in the connection with alleged backdating at CNET Networks, based on plaintiffs’ failure “to plead with particularity that demand on the board was excused as futile.”

But then, on Monday, Judge Alsup issued a follow-up order to his CNET dismissal, after receiving briefing from the parties. The Judge is allowing the plaintiffs to amend (noting in particular that they should be more specific about whether the company's compensation committee was allowed to delegate its authority), though he's denied them discovery. He's also opened up the possibility of staying the action while plaintiffs pursue discovery through Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law.

So although the original order might end up being useful to those of you mired in backdating litigation - as it shows that plaintiffs will have to allege more than merely that options grant dates differed from the measurement date, or even that the directors received backdated options - there could be future developments. We have posted copies of the order of dismissal dismissal and the follow-up order in the "Backdated Options/Grant Policies" Practice Area on CompensationStandards.com.


Much thanks to Kevin Muck and Felix Lee of Fenwick & West for keeping us apprised of the developments in this potentially important case - here is their memo on the dismissal (and here is a CFO.com article - and a D&O Diary Blog on it). And on a somewhat related note, Kevin LaCroix has a blog about the first settlement of a backdating-related class action lawsuit.

Chairman Cox: SEC Will Resolve Option Backdating Cases Soon

Last Wednesday, in this Reuters article, SEC Chairman Cox apparently stated that the SEC's investigation into improper awards of options at many of the 130 companies under examination will be resolved within the next few weeks...