Thursday, May 10, 2012

United States v. Rubashkin

The white collar crime blog, for two years (see here and here), has given the collar for the case most needing review to the case of Sholom Rubashkin.  The case has an incredible gathering now from a spectrum of individuals and groups across political and ideological views.  The Petition for Cert is here and background on the case is here. Here are some of the interesting updates on this case -

Washington Legal Foundation - Urges High Court to Review Unreasonably Harsh Sentence for Small-Business Owner

Amici Brief for Justice Fellowship & Criminal Law & Sentencing Professors and Lawyers  - Download 11-1203 amici brief  (a wonderful brief authored by David Deitch and Alain Jeff Ifrah that points out the jurisdiction split among Circuits and why it is important for Appellate "judges to state on the record that they have considered each non-frivolous argument for variance under the factors listed in Section 3553(a)" and how and why each such argument affected the sentence imposed.

Amicus Brief of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) - Download APRL Amicus Brief in Rubashkin (a strong brief written by W. William Hodes that provides the importance of this case from the perspective of "an independent national organization of lawyers and legal scholars whose practices and areas of academic inquiry are concentrated in all aspects of the law of lawyering." The brief focuses on the jurisdiction split regarding Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure. The brief also points out important ethics issues that warrant review in this case.)

Hopefully, someone is listening. 

(esp)

May 10, 2012 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Judge Walton Keeps Out Prejudicial Material In Roger Clemens Trial

I mentioned in a recent post that Reggie Walton is a fair judge. That fairness was on display again yesterday in the Roger Clemens trial, when Walton prohibited federal prosecutors from introducing testimony and documents pertaining to Clemens' fat salary as a pitcher. Walton correctly concluded that the prejudicial effect of this evidence outweighed its supposed probative value. It is a very rare federal judge who will bar this kind of "lavish lifestyle" evidence. The government always wants it in, ostensibly to show that a defendant's alleged criminal conduct was part of an effort to maintain a lavish lifestyle. In reality, prosecutors simply want to prejudice the defendant in the eyes of jurors by showing them how rich he is, how "high-on-the-hog" he lives, and how different he is from you and me.

(wisenberg) 

May 9, 2012 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, Media, News, Obstruction, Perjury | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roger Clemens' Motion To Strike: 50-50 Doesn't Cut It

I'd say you had a pretty good week if you got a key government witness to agree there is a 50-50 chance he misheard or misunderstood a purportedly damning admission by your client. That's what happened last week (week one) in the Roger Clemens re-trial, through Mike Attanasio's cross of Andy Pettitte. This morning, team Clemens filed Defendant's Motion to Strike Portions of the Trial Testimony of Government Witness Andy Pettitte. The Motion is an excellent piece of work. The argument?

1. The threshold for establishing admissibility of a preliminary fact question under Federal Rule of Evidence 104 is preponderance of the evidence. Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.

2. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, relevant evidence "means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.

3. Even if relevant, the testimony's probative value is substantially outweighed, under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, by the "danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury." This is particularly true in light of the Government's statement to the jury, during its opening, that Clemens told Pettitte "he had used human growth hormone and that it helped him with recovery." The real-life fifty-fifty version on the stand didn't cut it.

4. Judge Walton specifically warned the parties before trial about making promises they couldn't keep in opening statements. He said that if it occurred here he would "not hesitate to tell this jury that they must totally disregard any such statements of that nature. I'll specifically identify what those statements were and tell them there was no evidence to that effect, and therefore, they cannot consider that in deciding this case." Judge Walton should make good on his promise, because fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.

Team Clemens also noted that the government could have revisited the conversation during re-direct, but deliberately skirted the issue.

My prediction is that this motion will be granted in some form. It certainly doesn't mean that Clemens is out of the woods. Ted Stevens' outstanding trial team won several motions during trial and Judge Sullivan gave Stevens some very scathing anti-government jury instructions--to no avail. (Of course, in the Stevens case, the government was deliberately hiding important exculpatory material.) But such an instruction will undoubtedly greatly benefit Clemens. It will essentially knock-out a key portion of the government's case.

Kudos to the defense team for an outstanding cross and an excellent motion. One of the nice things about this trial is that co-counsel Attanasio is finally getting some of the national media attention he has long deserved.

(wisenberg)

May 7, 2012 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Media, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Judge Walton Rules With Iron Hand In Roger Clemens Trial

Nobody messes with Judge Reggie Walton. Here is a great post from Mike Scarcella of BLT (Blog of Legal Times) on recent bench conferences in the Roger Clemens case. Defense attorney Mike Attanasio incited Walton's wrath this week when he ignored Walton's ruling and tried to go "beyond the scope of direct"  during the cross-examination of Andy Pettitte.

According to Scarcella, Attansio was questioning Pettitte about a specific Clemens pitching performance that took place in 1999. Attansio wanted to delve into whether "Clemens was so depressed and beaten up then that he would start taking drugs to perform better." Prosecutor Steve Durham objected that this went beyond the scope of direct. Walton sustained the objection. 

Attanasio then asked Pettitte whether he had ever seen Clemens "broken and beaten" after a game. This ticked Walton off: “I’m getting sick and tired of making rulings and counsel not listening to my rulings." Walton reminded Attanasio "that the defense does not have a right to build its case during the government’s pitch to jurors."

That's preposterous of course. Every good defense attorney tries to make his case during cross-examination, and Attanasio was allowed to ask other questions that technically went beyond the scope of direct. For example, Attanasio elicited Pettitte's key testimony that Clemens had never appeared to be pitching on steroids. I haven't read the transcripts yet, but it is unclear to me how far out of the strike zone the additional questioning strayed.

As any experienced litigator knows, courts are all over the map on the scope of cross-examination. Most federal judges allow a relatively expansive cross for reasons of judicial economy. Why make the defense call a witness to the stand in its own case, when you can save time by questioning the witness on cross? But a federal judge's ruling on whether to allow narrow or open-ended cross is virtually unassailable on appeal.

Attanasio did what most good defense attorneys would do in this situation. He ignored (sub silentio) a dubious ruling from Judge Walton and attempted to make the same point through a slightly altered question. That will work with many judges who aren't paying close attention, but it didn't phase Judge Walton.

Judge Walton has many fine qualities. He is intelligent, fair, and couragoeus. But he tends toward rigidity.

(wisenberg)

May 4, 2012 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Prosecutorial Discretion Went Awry in Nullification Case

Two weeks ago Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York dismissed the indictment in one of the sillier prosecutions brought in that court in recent years.  See article here and opinion here - Download Opinion.  Julian P. Heicklen, an 80 year-old retired professor, was charged with jury tampering (18 U.S.C. 1503) for distributing at the courthouse steps pamphlets of the Fully Informed Jury Association ("FIJA") that advocated jury nullification.

The pamphlet stated, in part:  "You may choose to vote to acquit, even when the evidence proves that the defendant 'did it,' if your conscience so dictates."  It also suggested that jurors may choose to be less than candid when asked questions during jury selection about their ability to follow the law as instructed by the judge.  It is "your moral choice," the pamphlet stated, whether to "give answers that are likely to get you excused from serving, or say whatever it takes to be selected, so you can do your part to see that justice is served." 

Jury nullification, as commonly understood, goes only one way.  It allows jurors to ignore their oaths and acquit a defendant even if they are convinced that her guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The potential effect of Heicklen's pamphleteering -- if it were to have any, which I question -- would be acquittals (or hung juries) in cases that otherwise would have resulted in jury verdicts of guilty.

The prosecutors in the Southern District were understandably upset.  Heicklen was in a sense treading on their turf -- both the courthouse and the law.  The prosecutors reacted aggressively, investigating by using an undercover agent and indicting based on an apparently unclear statute and in a bedrock area of First Amendment protection.  In court, a prosecutor called Heicklen's advocacy "a significant and important threat to our judicial system." 

Rather than the crucial decision to prosecute being made by independent, disinterested prosecutors, as it should always be, here it was made and carried out by the very prosecutors who were in a practical sense themselves the aggrieved parties or "victims."   It was their cases -- their convictions -- that Heicklen arguably put in jeopardy by suggesting that jurors might still acquit even if they believed the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Southern District prosecutors were too conflicted and too involved to be allowed to make the decision whether to prosecute Heicklen (and they were too conflicted and too involved to make a reasoned, dispassionate and intelligent decision).  The conflict here was not the potential or hypothetical conflict that prosecutors often argue should disqualify defense counsel, but an actual one.  If the prosecutors felt Heicklen should have been prosecuted, they should have referred the ultimate decision to the Department of Justice in Washington.  (While I do not know definitively that the Southern District prosecutors did not, if they had, I would have expected that the case would have been prosecuted by Central DOJ lawyers.) 

There is an obvious imbalance in the criminal justice system.  One litigant, the prosecutor, may charge the opposing litigant with perjury, the litigant's lawyer with obstruction and the litigant's advocate with jury tampering.  The other litigant, the defendant (and his counsel), can only howl about agents who lie and prosecutors who secure convictions and jail sentences by concealing evidence.  The power of one litigant to protect his case (or cases) by charging one seeking to undermine it (or them) is a drastic one that should be used with care and extreme caution.  Here, prosecutorial discretion went awry.

Judge Wood's decision was calm, deliberate, and thorough, considering statutory construction, legislative history, judicial rulings and constitutional implications, and not, at least directly, criticizing the prosecution.  Granting the defendant's pre-trial motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b) on the grounds that the facts did not state an offense, she ruled that the statute was limited to advocacy relating to a specific case, not a general philosophy, as here.  Although Judge Wood ultimately relied on a plain language analysis and did not explicitly rule on the First Amendment issue, she indicated that Heicklen's conduct was constitutionally protected free speech.

The case represents governmental overreaching in a sensitive free speech area.  Perhaps if the decision whether to prosecute were made at Central DOJ, it would have been different, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a highly respected and effective office, would have been spared an embarrassing defeat (and Mr. Heicklen spared a prosecution, although I suspect he rather enjoyed it).

The ultimate result may be that FIJA now has a license (in the form of a district court decision) to distribute literature suggesting nullification on the steps of federal courthouses, or nearby, throughout the nation.  (Judge Wood did recognize that reasonable restrictions on such distribution under other laws may apply.)

(goldman)

May 3, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In the News & Around the Blogosphere

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tom Dewey May Be Rolling Over in His Grave

In an ironic twist, the New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney's Office is investigating the recently-deposed chairman of Dewey LeBouef, the firm that still carries the name of Thomas Dewey, the near-president who rose to national prominence as a gangbusting nonpolitical Manhattan District Attorney.

The investigation, apparently based on facts brought to the District Attorney's attention by disgruntled partners as the firm teeters on the verge of extinction, concerns whether the former chairman, Steven H. Davis, committed financial improprieties.  One area of investigation reportedly is whether Davis misled investors, presumably insurance companies and/or banks, about the firm's financial condition, see here, perhaps involving its commitments to highly-compensated partners, many lateral hires.  American Lawyer last month announced that it was revising the figures it published based on the firm's report of its finances since those numbers differed from what the firm reported to the media.  The firm defended its numbers, claiming that it used different methodologies at different times. 

Certainly, different financial reports made at different times using different methodologies for different purposes may reasonably be different.  And, even giving false figures to American Lawyer may not be criminal (I hesitate to state so definitively in this day of overcriminalization of law and overreaching by law enforcement).  However, false statements to lenders or investors, who potentially will incur severe losses, because of the firm's inability to pay its debts, is a less certain matter.

The firm has mounted its own internal investigation -- by two of its partners.  While I have no reason to believe that the investigation will be less than thorough and fair (and will likely save considerable money), the firm might have more prudently hired independent investigators invulnerable to accusations of conflict of interest, if only for public relations purposes.  Of course, if the firm dissolves, any internal investigation may fall by the wayside.

(goldman)

May 1, 2012 in Investigations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)