SEC Crypto Unit Leader Resigns After Spearheading Coinbase Lawsuit

Ladan Stewart once led federal lawsuits against Ripple and Coinbase, but may now turn crypto advocate in the private sector.

By Andrew Throuvalas

3 min read

One of the U.S. government’s most combative anti-crypto lawyers has resigned from her post to take a job in the private sector.

Ladan Stewart was a leader in the Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). She is now joining the international law firm White & Case, where she will help build its crypto and cyber defense practice.

“Crypto is here to stay—that’s become very clear with the launch of a slew of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds,” Steward told Bloomberg Law during a recent interview. “Given the complexity and the turbulent enforcement arena, legal questions surrounding crypto are going to be at the forefront for some time.”

The announcement confirms what was quietly revealed in a court filing last month: Stewart is withdrawing from the agency’s lawsuit against Coinbase after helping spearhead charges against the crypto exchange in June.

At the time, the SEC accused Coinbase of illegally listing several crypto tokens on its platform that qualified as securities, despite never registering as a securities exchange. Coinbase maintains that none of the assets on its platform qualify as “investment contracts” and, therefore, cannot be called securities.

Based on oral arguments presented last month, legal experts interviewed by Decrypt found Coinbase’s argument compelling and grew optimistic that the exchange could score an outright dismissal of the SEC’s case. Their analysis came  two days after Stewart withdrew as counsel for the SEC.

In December, Andreessen Horowitz and Paradigm lawyer Michael R. Dreeben separately withdrew from the case after filing a brief supporting Coinbase's arguments.

It's unclear what clients Stewart might represent at White & Case. Her profile on the White & Case website touts her “unparalleled expertise in crypto enforcement and litigation, enabling her to advise clients navigating the ever-shifting regulatory landscape surrounding the crypto industry.”

The firm has previously represented companies like Microsoft, Abbvie Inc., and GoldenTree Asset Management. According to Bloomberg ETF analyst Eric Balchunas, it also advised Fidelity on legal matters regarding its Bitcoin spot ETF.

White & Case did not immediately respond to Decrypt's request for comment.

The SEC was initially reluctant to approve Bitcoin spot ETFs due to market manipulation concerns but later capitulated after losing a major lawsuit to Grayscale in August. After approval last month, such ETFs have absorbed over $5 billion in net flows.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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