By David S. Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 11:09 PM
As George H. Painter was preparing to retire recently as one of two administrative law judges presiding over investor complaints at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he issued an extraordinary request:
Please don't assign my pending cases to the other judge.
In a notice recently released by the CFTC, Painter said Judge Bruce Levine, his longtime colleague, had a secret agreement with a former Republican chairwoman of the agency to stand in the way of investors filing complaints with the agency.
"On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow," Painter wrote.
Painter continued: "Judge Levine, in the cynical guise of enforcing the rules, forces pro se complainants to run a hostile procedural gauntlet until they lose hope, and either withdraw their complaint or settle for a pittance, regardless of the merits of the case."
The CFTC oversees trading of the nation's most important commodities, including oil, gold and cotton. The agency's administrative law judges handle cases in which investors allege that trading professionals or financial firms violated the rules.
Asked to address Painter's notice, a CFTC spokesman declined to comment because, he said, the issue was a personnel matter.
An attorney adviser to Levine, Thaddeus Glotfelty, said that the official position of the CFTC press office was to decline comment and that "Judge Levine has determined to go along with that."
In his notice about his impending retirement, Painter said he could not "in good conscience" simply leave his seven reparation cases to Levine, and he recommended that the CFTC try to enlist another administrative judge from elsewhere in the federal government. The notice was written in mid-September, but released by the CFTC weeks later.
Levine was the subject of a story 10 years ago in the Wall Street Journal, which said that except in a handful of cases in which defunct firms failed to defend themselves, Levine had never ruled in favor of an investor.
Gramm could not be reached for comment. Her husband, former senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), said he would pass along a message but added, "I doubt she's going to want to get involved in this."
Wendy Gramm is listed as a distinguished senior scholar at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, but a spokeswoman for the center, Catherine Behan, said Gramm is not active there.
Gramm was head of the CFTC just before president Bill Clinton took office. She has been criticized by Democrats for helping firms such as Goldman Sachs and Enron gain influence over the commodity markets. After leaving the CFTC, she joined Enron's board.
Research director Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.