The S.E.C.'s press release on its insider trading case against Raj Rajaratnam is headlined "SEC Charges Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Raj Rajaratnam with Insider Trading." The release begins, "The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged billionaire Raj Rajaratnam and his New York-based hedge fund advisory firm Galleon Management LP with engaging in a massive insider trading scheme that generated more than $25 million in illicit gains." It seems to me that Mr. Rajaratnam may be guilty or innocent, but, either way, whether he is a billionaire is a fact that the government need not to include in the press release announcing the charges against him. We are supposed to have a rule of law in this country that applies equally to those who are billionaires and those who are indigent. It's one thing for the press to engage in this sort of sensationalist shorthand -- Michael Bloomberg jokes that when he first ran for mayor, he thought his name had been changed to "billionaire Michael Bloomberg." But the prosecutors at the S.E.C. are government officials, officers of the court. They ought to bend over backward to avoid the appearance of singling out targets for special treatment because of their wealth.
If Mr. Rajaratnam had been charged with making the entire $1 billion through insider trading or fraud, that would be one thing. But he hasn't been. The Rajaratnam press release appears to be a departure from the SEC's usual practice. The agency's release on Allen Stanford had the more muted headline, "SEC Charges R. Allen Stanford, Stanford International Bank for Multi-Billion Dollar Investment Scheme." There was no reference to "Billionaire Allen Stanford." The SEC's press release on its charges against Mark Cuban was headlined simply "SEC Files Insider Trading Charges Against Mark Cuban," and the text referred to "Dallas entrepreneur Mark Cuban," not "billionaire Mark Cuban." The Cuban case was dismissed by a court, though the SEC is appealing the dismissal. If the SEC is going to include an estimate of a person's net wealth as a routine matter in announcing the filing of charges -- "three-hundred-thousandaire John Doe, four-millionaire Jane Doe" -- that would be one thing. But it doesn't do that. Instead, it's running a public campaign against Mr. Rajaratnam that emphasizes his wealth in a way that may ultimately make it more difficult for him to get a fair trial if his case eventually goes before a jury.