Thursday, January 10, 2013
Mike Attanasio (Cooley LLP) and Rusty Hardin (Rusty Hardin and Associates) were the opening speakers at the NACDL White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson.And, of course, they were spectacular in their discussion of their successful representation of Roger Clemens. The timing of this event was appropriate as it came the day that the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to vote Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame. (see here)
It really is sad to see the Baseball Writers' Association of America turning their heads at our judicial system, a system that found Roger Clemens not guilty of the crimes charged by the government. Clemens could have easily taken the 5th Amendment and never faced these charges. Instead, he did what innocent folks do - he believed in the judicial system and fought back. To now have the Baseball Writers' Association of America disregard this verdict is sad to see.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
One of the many things that has bothered me about the criminal justice system is that there are no "grays." Everything is either criminal or non-criminal. Conduct that on one day is legally acceptable, even if perhaps sharp and unwholesome, on the next day will, if a penal statute goes into effect, be criminal and punishable by years in prison.
This fair-to-foul scenario is particularly troublesome in certain areas of white-collar law. On day one, for instance, conduct which exploits "loopholes" in the tax law may go from widely-practiced and legally-tolerated "tax avoidance" to now-prohibited and severely punishable "tax evasion." When this change from acceptable to criminal occurs by statute, there at least is some public notice and warning to potential wrongdoers, although such notice obviously never reaches many persons. When, however, the law, or potential law, changes overnight by an unpredictable or unexpected court decision or an indictment based on a novel theory of prosecution, the sudden changes to what is considered prosecutable is even more problematical.
I do not have any easy solution to this problem. We cannot expect the government to send out a hundred million notices that new criminal laws have been enacted (although we do, for instance, require financial institutions to notify all of their credit card customers of interest rate changes). Nor, of course, if such notices were sent, can we reasonably expect a hundred million people to read or understand them. Additionally, we do not want to prohibit prosecutors from imaginative use of legally permissible tactics to prosecute what is apparently morally wrong and harmful.
We should, however, in the sentencing area recognize that it is essentially unfair to punish a defendant as seriously for conduct that had previously been generally accepted or tolerated than for conduct clearly known at the time of the offense to be criminal. Under this theory, for instance, Michael Milken could reasonably be prosecuted, as he was in the late '80s, for essentially "parking" stock, an arguably "civil" violation never before prosecuted criminally, but could not reasonably be sentenced, as he was initially, to ten years in jail (later reduced upon a Rule 35 motion).
I have on a few occasions argued to a sentencing judge that she should give a less severe sentence because the defendant's conduct was at the time he committed it not widely known to be criminal or generally was not prosecuted. I have never been successful, at least to the extent a judge explicitly agreed (of course, judges often do not explicate their reasoning). I am aware of no case in which a court explicitly granted a departure or variance on these grounds (although there may well be some). Nor am I aware of any Sentencing Guidelines consideration of this issue.
The decision by arbitrator Paul Tagliabue in the National Football League's New Orleans Saints "bounty" case (In the Matter of New Orleans Saints Pay-for-Performance/Bounty, December 11, 2012) is interesting and relevant. See here. See also here. Tagliabue, the former National Football League commissioner and a lawyer, affirmed the findings of misconduct made by Commissioner Roger Goodell but vacated the disciplinary sanction for the four players involved, suspensions of from four games to one year. Tagliabue based his vacation on sanctions essentially on two grounds: first, that the players' actions were encouraged by the coaches and other officials of the Saints, and, second, that professional football had previously treated such conduct gently, if not tolerating it. Tagliabue strongly suggested that when an existing "negative culture" is addressed by strict prohibitions, the penalties for violations should be phased in.
I do not expect federal sentences to be "phased in" so that, for instance, a violation of a new law within two years of enactment be punishable by a sentence of up to two years, and thereafter by up to five, although I do not think such an idea is entirely far-fetched. I do hope, however, that in appropriate cases judges consider adjusting sentences downward when the conviction is based on new law or a new application of existing law, especially when the change caused a sudden prohibition of generally acceptable behavior in the prevailing culture, even a negative culture. Mr. Tagliabue's opinion will not, of course, be considered precedential in the criminal law, but application of its reasoning in certain criminal cases may be appropriate.
Related Article - Tagliabue tosses out player penalties in bounty case
Sunday, January 6, 2013
One of the hot topics for corporate counsel is the conflict minerals legislation. Karen E.Woody of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP has a new article that was recently published in 81 Fordham Law Review (2012) titled "Conflict Minerals Legislation: The SEC's New Role as Diplomatic and Humanitarian Watchdog." SSRN describes it as:
"Buried in the voluminous Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is an oft-overlooked provision requiring corporate disclosure of the use of "conflict minerals" in products manufactured by issuing corporations. This article scrutinizes the legislative history and lobbying efforts behind the conflict minerals provision to establish that, unlike the majority of the bill, its goals are moral and political, rather than financial. Analyzing the history of disclosure requirements, the article suggests that the presence of conflict minerals in a company’s product is not inherently material information, and that the Dodd-Frank provision statutorily renders non-material information material. The provision, thus, forces the SEC to expand beyond its congressional mandate of protecting investors and ensuring capital formation by requiring issuers engage in additional non-financial disclosures in order to meet the provision’s humanitarian and diplomatic aims. Further, the article posits that the conflict minerals provision is a wholly ineffective means to accomplish its stated humanitarian goals, and likely will cause more harm than good in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In conclusion, this article proposes that a more efficient regulatory model for conflict minerals is the Clean Diamond Trade Act and the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme."