Securities and Exchange Commission (search) Enforcement Director Stephen Cutler (search), 43, will step down in a month to return to private practice as a lawyer, the SEC said on Thursday.

Cutler has headed the SEC unit that brings civil actions against fraudsters and other securities law violators since October 2001. He led the division through investigations of scandals at Enron (search), WorldCom, Adelphia, Qwest, Tyco, HealthSouth and many other companies.

"America's investors have been enormously well-served by Steve's keen intellect, superb judgment and abiding sense of justice," said SEC Chairman William Donaldson (search).

Cutler joined the SEC as deputy enforcement director in January 1999. He was previously a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.