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Maverick Stance Puts the State's Top Securities Cop in Spotlight

Demetrios Boutris was all but unknown until this week, when he argued for a tougher deal on analysts.

November 27, 2002|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

To his fellow state securities regulators, California's Demetrios A. Boutris has been an all-but-unknown quantity.

He has been commissioner of the Department of Corporations -- the state's top securities cop -- for less than two years. He rarely shows up at meetings of the regulators' professional group, the North American Securities Administrators Assn., sending a deputy instead.

But Boutris' profile is rising quickly.

In a public and potentially nasty split with fellow regulators this week, Boutris said he thought a proposed settlement with Wall Street brokerage houses over analyst conflicts of interest was too lenient. He said other firms ought to be paying at least as much as the $100 million that Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to fork over in the spring to settle similar charges.

With that broadside, the 41-year-old Greek-born regulator has grabbed a slice of the spotlight that until now has been held mainly by friend and fellow Harvard Law grad Eliot Spitzer, who as New York attorney general has headed the investigation of Wall Street behavior during the 1990s bull market.

Securities chiefs from other states are angry at Boutris for possibly disrupting a deal that appeared to be nearing completion, according to a regulator familiar with the matter.

In an interview Tuesday, Boutris was unapologetic.

"What my fellow regulators should do is take principled stands relative to these negotiations," he said. Boutris said he was pushing back against what he regarded as "an artificial deadline" -- Thanksgiving -- for wrapping up the negotiations with the remaining dozen Wall Street firms.

His stance is bound to draw political heat both to him and his boss, Gov. Gray Davis, but Boutris said he isn't inclined to accept "take it or leave it" offers.

Though Boutris has been a bit of a cipher to the general public, he isn't publicity shy. He appeared on CNBC on Tuesday to explain his position on the Wall Street negotiations, and his aides were quick to provide background on their boss' up-by-his-bootstraps origins.

According to Boutris' account, he moved to San Diego from Athens at age 11, speaking no English and living with his divorced father, a room-service waiter at a hotel.

The youth not only became the first in his family to go beyond grade school, but also graduated first in his high school class of 250, made Phi Beta Kappa as a scholarship student at UC Berkeley and went on to Harvard Law School.

"This is not an ordinary bear -- he is a very bright guy," said Mickey Kantor, who as U.S. trade representative in the Clinton White House hired Boutris as an aide. It was a political reward for Boutris' serving as national director of Greek Americans for Clinton in 1992, but Kantor said Boutris handled the job well.

Like Spitzer, Boutris is thought by friend and foe alike to be using his post as a springboard for higher political office. Boutris dismissed the idea Tuesday, saying, "I'm not a political person. I don't hold elective office."

Unlike Spitzer, who has spent most of his career as a prosecutor and securities lawyer, Boutris has seen capitalism from the inside, serving a stint a few years ago as special counsel to renowned deal maker Ronald O. Perelman, whose firm controls Revlon Inc., Panavision Inc. and other companies.

Boutris says he puts in 10-to-12-hour workdays, plus a day every weekend, but he also is a family man. He is married to Aurelia Mika Chang, a Juilliard-trained concert pianist who has performed around the world, and has one child.

As a regulator, Boutris said, he has no desire to impede legitimate business. In fact, he noted that he has reduced state filing fees for the firms he oversees and has tried to streamline licensing.

"I'm a pragmatist," he said.


Demetrios A. Boutris

Positions: California corporations commissioner and special counsel to Gov. Gray Davis

Age: 41

Family: Married to concert pianist Aurelia Mika Chang; one child

Birthplace: Athens, Greece

Education: UC Berkeley, 1983; Harvard Law School, 1986

Career highlights:

* Practiced securities and banking law at law firms in L.A. and San Francisco, 1985-91

* Executive director and associate general counsel to U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, 1993-96

* Vice president and special counsel to financier Ronald O. Perelman, chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, 1996-99

* Legal affairs secretary and chief counsel to Gov. Davis, 1999-2001

* Appointed to current positions in March 2001

Source: Times research

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