Tuesday, February 26, 2013
In Caldwell v. Cablevision, 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 00783, the New York Court of Appeals two weeks ago unanimously affirmed a trip-and-fall civil defendant's verdict in which an emergency room physician subpoenaed by the defense as a fact witness was paid $10,000 for one hour of testimony to verify an entry he made in the "history" section of the hospital records. That note read that the plaintiff had "tripped over [her] dog while walking in the rain," seemingly contradicting the plaintiff's claim that she tripped because of an unfilled trench dug by the defendant.
The court was "troubled" by what was clearly an exorbitant fee paid to a witness for minimal testimony. The relevant statute provided that a witness was entitled to a fee of $15 per day and $.23 per mile travel, but the court wrote it was not improper to pay a witness "reasonable" compensation beyond those amounts for attending, testifying and preparing. The court noted that a witness, however, could not be paid based on the outcome of the litigation.
The court, disturbed by what it called a "disproportionate fee for a short amount of time" and realizing that an excessive payment tended to influence witnesses to testify favorably for the party that paid them, also stated "[a] line must be drawn." However, it not only failed to draw that line, but did not set forth any criteria for when a payment to a witness becomes a bribe. It did hold that the trial court should have tailored a specific jury instruction for the situation, but found the failure to do so was harmless error.
Initially, I thought the court's opinion might provide some limited protection to a New York criminal defense lawyer to offer a witness in a state case a substantial payment to overcome the typical witness reluctance to testify against the prosecution. After a moment's reflection, however, I concluded that such protection was illusory. A criminal defense lawyer who pays a fact witness $10,000 for an hour of testimony is likely to face indictment for bribery. What is acceptable in civil cases is often not acceptable in criminal cases, especially if one's adversary has the power to prosecute. Further, what is acceptable conduct by a prosecutor in criminal cases is often not acceptable if done by a defense lawyer.
Prosecutors routinely induce testimony from witnesses by offering "something of value" greater than money -- a witness' freedom from incarceration, something a defense lawyer obviously cannot offer. While one federal appellate court shook the foundations of federal prosecution offices by holding that the government could not induce testimony by offering such leniency to a witness, United States v. Singleton, 144 F.3d 1343 (10th Cir. 1998), that case was swiftly and soundly overruled en banc, 165 F.3d 1302 (10th Cir. 1999).
In white collar and other cases, the defense often is hampered by its inability to induce a witness to testify by offering something of value for fear that the defendant or her attorney will be prosecuted for bribing a witness. While the defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to subpoena and call fact witnesses (and to pay witness fees and the "reasonable value of lost time"), that right is considerably limited by the witness' Fifth Amendment right to assert his privilege against self-incrimination and decline to testify. Further, defense attorneys lack a mechanism (such as a grand jury) to test what an unamenable witness will state under oath.
One instance where witnesses are often necessary for a viable defense in white-collar cases is where the defendant claims she acted with a lack of criminal intent, often evidenced by a direction or assurance by superiors of the propriety of her conduct or her openness and expressions to her co-workers. Witnesses who might substantiate the defendant's good faith who were somewhat involved in, or just near, the questioned activity, generally at the direction of prudent counsel will often refuse to testify for fear they will be prosecuted. This foreclosure of potentially favorable testimony is sometimes reinforced by prosecution sabre-rattling, often disingenuous, that the witness himself is a potential defendant. Such a declaration almost always will frighten the witness from testifying and deter a judge from granting the witness immunity over prosecutorial objection. But see here.
Allowing white-collar defendants to "buy" (honest) testimony from a reluctant witness -- that is, to pay the witness to give up his constitutional right not to testify -- conceivably theoretically acceptable under the Caldwell case -- might somewhat level the playing field in which the prosecutor to a considerable extent controls who will testify for either side. However, until a court or legislature "draws a line" that clearly allows it, such a payment is fraught with danger to the defendant and the defense lawyer.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
A recent publication in the Case Western Reserve Law Review by Dain C. Donelson and Robert A.
Prentice, Scienter Pleading and Rule 10b-5: Empirical Analysis and Behavioral Implications. From the abstract:
Pleading requirements are the keys to the courthouse. Nowhere is this more true than with rule 10b-5 class action securities fraud claims. Provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 impose special pleading burdens upon plaintiffs regarding the scienter element and bar them from discovery when defendants file a motion to dismiss. This Article begins with a doctrinal history of the scienter element of a rule 10b-5 claim that indicates that many key legal questions remain unsettled and that application of legal rules to specific factual allegations regarding a particular type of defendant—external auditors—is extraordinarily muddled. To determine whether the impression arising from this extensive but nonsystematic examination of the case law is accurate, we also empirically examine rule 10b-5 claims against auditors and confirm that few facts are consistently viewed by the courts as indicating the presence (or absence) of scienter. This lack of clarity in the law and its application makes it difficult for either plaintiffs or defendants to evaluate the settlement value of claims. Furthermore, the law’s excessive vagueness affords judges virtually untrammeled discretion. The literature of behavioral psychology and related fields indicates that excessive discretion exacerbates problems that arise from unconscious judicial bias.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process -- the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what -- is almost entirely discretionary. Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today's society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in. This Essay discusses the problem in the context of recent prosecutorial controversies involving the cases of Aaron Swartz and David Gregory, and offers some suggested remedies, along with a callfor further discussion.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
David Oscar Markus, Southern District of Florida Blog, A Call to the Judiciary
Sherri Qualters, National Law Jrl, law.com, Lawyer gets home confinement for failing to report
boss's mortgage fraud
Texas State Securities Board, Foreign Notes Scammer Sentenced to 80 Years in State Prison
Casey Sullivan, Reuters (Chicago Tribune), Prominent NY prosecutor enters private practice
Thomson/Reuters, Money News, Former Goldman Director Seeks Reversal of Insider Trading
Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg News, Gupta Says in Appeal Trial Judge Hampered Defense Case
Todd Ruger & Jenne Greene, National Law Jrl, Securities bar predicts White will be 'tough sheriff' at SEC
Sherri Qualters, National Law Jrl, Alleged hacker's prosecutor defends case, stressing low
DOJ Press Release, BP Exploration and Production Inc. Pleads Guilty, Is Sentenced to Pay Record $4 Billion for Crimes Surrounding Deepwater Horizon Incident
Court Accepts Guilty Plea to Felony
Manslaughter, Environmental Crimes and Obstruction of Congress Prior to Imposing Historic Sentence
Katie Couric Show, Cheating? Lying? Why Do We Do It?
Mike Scarcella, BLT Blog, Prosecutors Mounting New Case Against Blackwater Security Guards
Monday, February 4, 2013
Announcement from the Fordham Law Moot Court Board
Each spring, Fordham University School of Law hosts the Irving R. Kaufman Memorial Securities Law Moot Court Competition. Held in honor of Chief Judge Kaufman, a Fordham Alumnus who served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Kaufman Competition has a rich tradition
of bringing together complex securities law issues, talented student advocates, and top legal minds.
This year’s Kaufman Competition will take place on March 22-24, 2013. The esteemed final round panel includes Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr., of the Tenth Circuit; Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., of the Sixth Circuit; Judge Jane Richards Roth, of the Third Circuit; and Commissioner Troy A. Paredes, of
the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The competition will focus on two issues that arise in the fallout of Ponzi schemes: whether the “stockbroker safe harbor” of the Bankruptcy Code applies to Ponzi scheme operators, and the application of SLUSA, which was recently granted cert by the Supreme Court.
We are currently soliciting practitioners and academics to judge oral argument rounds and grade competition briefs. No securities law experience is required to participate and CLE credit is available.
Information about the Kaufman Competition and an online Judge Registration Form is available on our website, www.law.fordham.edu/kaufman. Please contact Michael N. Fresco, Kaufman Editor, at KaufmanMC@law.fordham.edu or (561) 707-8328 with any questions.