It would be great if investors who got fleeced by a bad broker got most of their money back like Larry “JR Ewing” Hagman.
The actor who played the rapacious Texas oil baron got more than $11 million in damages and legal fees from Citigroup’s Smith Barney brokerage (now run by Morgan Stanley) unit in a securities arbitration award. Despite his instructions to the contrary, his broker had shifted most of Hagman’s portfolio into stocks, which got burned in the 2008 meltdown. Citi denies any wrongdoing.
Yet Hollywood is not Main Street. Not by a Texas mile. Most investors aren’t made whole when burned by brokers, nor do they reap punitive damages. Most are offered — and agree to — settlements from the brokers.
“In the hundreds of cases I read (in 2008), what appeared to be punitive damages were awarded in less than 5% of the cases,” said Louis Straney, a securities arbitration consultant based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Even attorney’s fees and costs are rare, awarded less than 15% of the time.”
The brave minority that chooses to fight the system faces long odds in arbitration hearings. The securities arbitration forum is run by FINRA, a unique industry-run organization that somehow is allowed to police itself, license brokers and protect Wall Street’s interests.