Thursday, May 31, 2012
As noted here, John Edwards was found not guilty on one count, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining counts. Prosecutors should now move on and not retry Edwards on these remaining counts.
The government has expended enough taxpayer money on this case and Edwards most likely has had to incur the cost of his defense. Prosecutors have already hurt Edward's reputation with the evidence presented at trial - so there is no punishment basis for proceeding further. Evidence not presented at trial left the murky question of whether this money was even a political contribution, and the testimony of Federal Election Commissioner Scott E. Thomas that was not heard by the jury raises additional issues on campaign contributions. But the place to resolve this is not in the criminal courtroom. More importantly, if skilled folks can differ on this question then one certainly should not hold someone criminally liable.
No one walks out unhurt by this trial. And that is the huge cost that comes with a prosecution. It is for this reason that prosecutors need to consider carefully prior to charging anyone with criminal conduct.
News media initially said that there was a verdict in the Edwards case, but it proved to be somewhat of a false alarm. The jury reached a verdict on one count, but the court did not take the verdict and sent them back to continue with more deliberations in the hope that they would reach a verdict in the remaining five counts.
Nine days of deliberations - isn't that enough? And the jury did not even hear important defense evidence by former Federal Election Commissioner Scott E. Thomas.
Some have been claiming that corporate prosecutions are down in numbers. It certainly has not seemed that way, so I was glad to see the numbers, which demonstrate that corporate sentencings have been average over the past few years.
Lisa Rich, Director of the Office of Legislative and Policy Affairs at the United States Sentencing Commission provided the following corporate statistics for the recent Federal Sentencing Conference (although I have reworded some of what she provided): In FY 2011, there were 160 organizational cases and 151 pled guilty and 9 were convicted after jury trials. Probation was ordered in 111 cases and 31 had court ordered compliance/ethics programs. Three cases received credit for self-reporting and 44 received credit for cooperating with the government. But of the approximately 74 cases in FY2011 for which the Commission had Chapter 8 culpability information, there were no entities receiving full credit for having an effective compliance program. Not one of the 74 cases received credit under subsection (f).
These statistics do not reach the full corporate efforts by DOJ since they fail to include non-prosecution agreements or deferred prosecution agreements that have not gone through chapter 8. So some bottom line observations: 1) if the government decides to prosecute a corporation - it has an incredibly high chance of success; 2) more emphasis needs to be put into teaching corporations how to operate an effective compliance program; 3) studies need to examine whether by using deferred and non-prosecution agreements the government is increasing prosecutions against corporate individuals (it certainly seems likely that this would be the case).
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
In In re: Pacific Pictures the Ninth Circuit looks at "whether a party waives attorney-client privilege forever by voluntarily disclosing privileged documents to the federal government." The court starts with the principle that "voluntarily disclosing privileged documents to third parties will generally destroy the privilege." The court rejects the petitioners argument that disclosing documents to the government is different from disclosing them to civil litigants and that a selective waiver should apply. The court notes that legislative attempts to change the evidence rules to allow for selective waiver have failed so far.
The court also does not enforce a confidentiality letter between the corporation and the government. The court states:
"The only justification behind enforcing such agreements would be to encourage cooperation with the government. But Congress has declined to adopt even this limited form of selective waiver."
The court rejected a claim that "adopting such a rule will drastically impair law enforcement attempts to investigate espionage against 'attorneys, financial institutions, medical providers, national security agencies, judges, large corporations, or law firms.'"
Entities provide significant materials to the government as part of deferred and non-prosecution agreements. Not having a privilege needs to be considered by corporate counsel in deciding what to give to the government.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
I have not read the 672-page Department of Justice report finding that federal prosecutors Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goelke acted recklessly -- but not intentionally -- in withholding exculpatory information from Sen. Ted Stevens at his trial for corruption. Nor have I read the 525-page Scheulke/Shields report commissioned by Judge Emmet Sullivan that concluded to the contrary that their misconduct was intentional. I therefore am hesitant to say that the DOJ finding was wrong.
I have little hesitancy, however, in criticizing the lenient punishment meted out by DOJ. Bottini was suspended without pay for 40 days, Goelke for 15. Even if, as the DOJ report contends, they did not act intentionally but did act with "reckless disregard" of their constitutional obligations to provide exculpatory evidence, the slap on the wrist of a loss of net income from $5,000 to $12,000 respectively (along with a compensating two to seven weeks of extra vacation) appears inappropriate.
The determined "reckless" conduct was, among other things, the failure to disclose evidence concerning Stevens' willingness to pay for the renovations in question, and a contractor's expectation that the cost of the renovations would be added to Stevens' bill, evidence central to the case. Its disclosure might well have prevented Stevens' conviction, loss of reputation and Senate seat, and (but for his death in a plane crash) probable imprisonment.
If a truck driver causes serious personal injury by reckless driving, is there any doubt he would be fired? The injury to Senator Stevens was serious; the punishment was far too gentle.
* * *
In a way, the finding of reckless misconduct reflects worse on DOJ than a finding of intentional misconduct. According to the DOJ report, these were not rogue prosecutors deliberately concealing evidence. Rather, they were seasoned and respectable prosecutors who recklessly ignored a most basic constitutional obligation, not to conceal exculpatory evidence. The finding leads to serious questions about DOJ's training and professionalism and leads me to wonder (again) how many serious Brady violations by other seasoned and respectable prosecutors go undetected.
David Voreacos & Greg Farrell, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wal-Mart Not Alone in Late Disclosure of Bribe Probe
Mike Scarcella, law.com, At odds in the Stevens case - Internal DOJ report shows fighting over punishment of prosecutors
Dan Ariely, WSJ, Why We Lie (hat tip to David Gerger)
Adam Liptak, NYTimes, A Tough Judge’s Proposal for Fairer Sentencing
Kristen Hays, Reuters, Judge says Enron's Skilling can seek new trial
Mike Scarcella, BLT Blog, DOJ Preparing to Release Internal Probe of Ted Stevens Case
Grant McCool, Reuters, Gupta insider trading jury to hear Rajaratnam tapes; Walter Pavlo, Forbes, Prosecutors Say Rajat Gupta Close To Rajaratnam, But Does It Matter?; NYDaily News, Rajat Gupta's trial: Prosecutors play FBI wiretaps
Samuel Rubenfeld, WSJ, Former NY Lawmaker Bruno Faces New Corruption Charges
Robert Barnes, Washington Post, Supreme Court faces pressure to reconsider Citizens United ruling
AP, Washington Post, Jurors in John Edwards’ campaign corruption trial take weekend break, resume Monday
John May, The FCPA Blog, Facilitation: A Jury Question
Patricia Hurtado & Seth Stern, Bloomberg, U.S. Said to Start Probe of $2 Billion JPMorgan Loss
Michael Pollick, Herald Tribune, Marian Morgan's big mistake: Not taking a plea
Mike Scarcella, BLT Blog, Roger Clemens Presses Constitutional Dispute with Congress