By Sheila Pursglove
If you want insight into news headlines like the Bernie Madoff and Enron scandals, or the current Wall Street protests, look no further than Peter Henning, professor at Wayne State University Law School.
Henning, who teaches courses in Corporations, White Collar Crime, Professional Responsi-bility and the Legal Profession, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Securities Liti-
gation, brings years of practical experience, having worked as a senior attorney in the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and as a trial attorney at the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
He’s more than familiar with insider trading, penny stock fraud, market manipulation, accounting irregularities, and bank fraud.
“At the SEC, I learned how the financial markets worked, especially that money is a commodity like anything else that is bought and sold, so everything has a price,” he says.
When working at the Justice Department, he learned in particular how important the role of the government can be in the daily lives of people.
“I remember being asked once by a judge during a hearing, ‘What is the position of the United States?’ At that moment, it struck me that I was representing the power of the federal government, which is quite intimidating. I recall having to take a breath for a moment because was no longer speaking just on my own behalf, but binding the government through what I would say,” he says. “I try to impress on students that when they represent a client, it’s more than just speaking or acting on your own behalf, that there are significant consequences to what you will be doing.”
Henning was always interested in government, and worked on a couple of political campaigns in high school.
“I learned that trying for elective office is not much fun, so I became much more interested in working behind the scenes.”
Henning taught in the College of Business Administration at Loyola Marymount and at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose – a path that eventually brought him to Wayne Law in 1994. “I learned to love teaching when I taught in a high school, and knew that was my ultimate calling,” he says. “While I enjoyed practicing law, it was designed to enable me to get into teaching.”
Clearly it was the right career path. He has received several Teacher of the Year Awards, the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Donald H. Gordon Teaching Award from the alumni of the Law School.
“The best part of my day is when I’m in the classroom, and interacting with students outside of class. Law students have great energy and an enthusiasm for learning about the law that is invigorating,” he says.
“I especially like the Wayne State students because they are striving to be the best, and don’t expect to have anything handed to them on a silver platter. They understand they will have to build their legal careers, and it’s a great joy to see them a few years after graduation being so successful. And they always remember how loud I am in class – no one has ever fallen asleep that I’m aware of.”
Henning’s scholarship focuses primarily on white-collar crime, constitutional criminal procedure, and attorney ethics. His articles in the Boston College Law Review, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Washington University Law Quarterly, South Carolina Law Review, and Nebraska Law Review include the role of federalism in the interpretation of federal criminal law, the mail fraud statute, prosecutorial misconduct, Fifth Amendment rights of witnesses before a grand jury, and defense discovery in white collar crime prosecutions.
Henning holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Loyola Marymount University and master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University.
“I was intrigued by both the history of ideas and how they were developed by different schools of thought,” he says. “Philosophy is a chance to think about how people reason and understand the world around them, and make decisions.”
He earned his law degree, magna cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as a Notes and Comments Editor on The Georgetown Law Journal.
The progression from philosophy to law was a natural one, he says. “Law has deep roots in philosophy, dealing with questions about knowledge, intention, and most importantly how people relate to one another. It was a natural move, and after teaching high school for two years, it seemed like the logical direction I should take.”
Henning, who clerked for Chief Judge Murray M. Schwartz of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, recently co-authored The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption: The Law and Legal Strategies; and has co-authored several other books, including Criminal Law: Concepts and Practice: White Collar Crime: Law and Practice; Mastering Criminal Procedure, Volume 1; and the Criminal volumes of the late Professor Charles Alan Wright’s Federal Practice and Procedure treatise, among the most cited reference works in judicial opinions on issues related to federal rules and practice.
An elected member of the American Law Institute, and treasurer of the American National Section of the International Association of Penal Law, Henning is often quoted in newspapers, including The Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on local radio and television programs. He also writes the blog White Collar Watch for The New York Times and has written Op-Ed pieces for several publications including The Detroit Free Press.
He speaks before local professional organizations such as the Young Entrepreneurs Organization and the Risk Managers Society, and has presented papers at conferences at Georgia State University, the University of Buffalo, and American University. He also serves as a neutral arbitrator through the NASD Dispute Resolution’s arbitration program to resolve customer and broker claims involving securities.
In May, Henning spoke at Baruch College in New York on “The Madoff Clawbacks: Whose Money Is It?” and in April, at the Center for Corporate Citizenship’s presentation on corporate criminal prosecutions, spoke on “Corporate Citizenship and White Collar Crime in the Age of Enron and Madoff.”
“The Madoff Ponzi scheme shows the power of the financial markets to destroy the lives of people,” he says. “So many supposedly sophisticated people were taken in by a brazen lie that, in hindsight, was easily uncovered, but no one cared to look too deeply. We trust other people with our financial well-being, and that’s not a bad thing. But everyone has to take responsibility for their money and how they will protect themselves, so the fact that you believe someone is trustworthy should not mean giving them the keys to your financial house.”
Although the Los Angeles native had never set foot in Detroit before interviewing at Wayne Law, he and wife Karen and three daughters have happily settled in the Great Lakes State. Karen has been on the faculty at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law since 2008.
“So we’re now a double law teacher family, which may be scary,” Henning says.
The transplanted Californian enjoys the Motor City, and has adopted the Detroit Lions as his team, but says, “As a Lions fan, you learn to enjoy the ride, no matter where it takes you.”