Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Much Skin in the Game? A Review of Sidney Powell's Licensed To Lie

Imagine being so angry at prosecutorial shenanigans in one of your cases that you decide to write a book. A book that names names and settles scores. A book that details the Brady violations you believe occurred in your client's trial. A book that compares those purported violations to the undeniable Brady errors judicially noticed in the Ted Stevens prosecution. A book that identifies the DOJ officials connected to both your case and the Ted Stevens case and traces the rise, high within the ranks of DOJ and the White House, of the prosecutors you loathe. A book with a forward by none other than Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. Imagine this and you have imagined Sidney Powell's Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice

This book is a terrific read, particularly for anyone making a living in the world of federal white collar investigations and trials. Both the federal white collar specialist and the intelligent lay reader should find it engrossing. I particularly enjoyed the "you are there" descriptions of defense strategy sessions and courtroom hearings.

Powell played a minor role on the Arthur Andersen appellate team and the lead role in the post-trial defense of Enron Barge defendant, and former Merrill Lynch executive, Jim Brown. She covers most or all of the Enron Task Force sins that have long been the subject of controversy in the white collar defense bar, including the practices of: providing mere summaries, rather than full interview reports, of exculpatory materials to the defense; withholding certain exculpatory information altogether; withholding agent notes of witness interviews; creating composite 302s that fail to reveal changing witness statements over time; designating potential defense witnesses as targets, in effect threatening them with prosecution if they testify; convincing compliant trial judges to approve clearly faulty jury instructions.

Powell reminds us as well that every Enron-related conviction that went up on appeal resulted in a partial or complete reversal.  And although she had no involvement in the Ted Stevens case, Powell does an excellent job of summarizing, based on two publicly released investigations, the multiple material Brady/Giglio violations that occurred in that prosecution.  

And yet this book, as informative and fun to read as it is, has some problems.

For openers, Powell sees the world in black and white terms. You are with her or against her on this ride, and God help you if get on Sidney's bad side. You tend to get painted in black and white terms. Ergo:

Enron Task Force Chief Andrew Weissman is "a narrow faced man with a beak of a nose."

DOJ Criminal Division Chief Michael Chertoff is "sharp-featured."

DOJ's Rita Glavin has "long black hair, sharp features, an easy smirk, and an affinity for androgynous attire."

Original Enron Task Froce Chief Leslie Caldwell is "a short no-nonsense looking woman with closely cropped hair."

FBI Special Agent Raju Bhatia is "smarmy."

Enron Barge Case prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler, who later served President Obama as White House Counsel, has "a well known passion for expensive Chrisitan Louboutin red-soled stiletto heels." Those heels show up in more than one description of Ruemmler. 

Matthew Friedrich, later Acting Assistant AG in charge of the Criminal Division, has "a boyish face that easily appeared smug."

You get the picture. But if you are lucky enough to be on Sidney's side. Well:

Ike Sorkin is "a handsome man with thick gray hair."

Richard Schaeffer is "a tall handsome impeccably dressed New York lawyer."

And so on.

Fifth Circuit Judges who might rule against Powell are suspected of being politically biased or intellectually corrupt. Thus, in describing the panel she drew for her Fifth Circuit argument that Jim Brown deserved a new trial (based on multiple Brady violations), Powell wonders "if [Judge] Graves...might have some connection with Ruemmler. She, logically, would have been the person to advise the president on Graves' nomination and assist Graves in the confirmation process." Powell also wonders "if Friedrich had been part of the confirmation process with [Judge] Southwick. Friedrich's meteoric rise within the department placed him as  chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzalez when Southwick was nominated and confirmed." After the panel ruled unanimously against her, in an opinion authored by Judge Jerry Smith, Powell "struggled to grasp how a court that I had respected so much for so long could issue an opinion as result-driven, tortured, and just plain bad as this one was."

Second, Powell posits a past DOJ Golden Age, when prosecutors were fair and committed to doing justice, and contrasts it unfavorably with our present era of so-called corruption. Here's a news flash for Ms. Powell. There was never a Golden Age of prosecutorial fairness in the DOJ. There have always been good prosecutors and bad prosecutors, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys have long played a prosecutorial game quite legally and openly rigged in favor of the house.

Last, but by no means least, Powell refuses to deal seriously, or to deal very much at all, with Judge Jerry Smith's Fifth Circuit panel opinion denying Jim Brown a new trial. Powell passionately argues throughout the book that the government hid Brady material from Brown's trial defense team in a grave miscarriage of justice. Virtually every argument she makes, in front of every federal tribunal, is meticulously rendered in 400 plus pages. But her discussion of Judge Smith's opinion is curiously brief, covering two pages, and fails to address Smith's main points.

The Enron Barge case concerned an allegedly sham transaction between Enron and Merrill Lynch to purchase Enron barges. The government maintained that the deal was a sham, and not a real purchase, because Enron orally promised/guaranteed to take Merrill out of the transaction, by buying back the barges, or finding a third party buyer, within six months. Although Jim Brown and the other Enron Barge defendants saw their fraud convictions  overturned by the Fifth Circuit, Brown had also been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for grand jury testimony regarding his understanding of the transaction.

Prosecutors refused to disclose the FBI's raw notes of Andrew Fastow's interviews to Brown's trial team, instead providing summaries. The raw notes, unlike the summaries, quoted Fastow as saying that he "never used the word promise" in conversations about a buy-back with Merrill executives. Judge Smith pointed out, however, that "any potential exculpatory value of the passages from the Fastow notes that were not disclosed to the defense is eliminated when we read them in context rather than looking just to the portions of the sentences that Brown cherry-picks."

Smith pointed to other portions of the raw notes and explained that:

 The notes say, to give only a few examples, (1) “It was [Enron’s] obligation to use ‘best efforts’ to find 3rd party takeout + went on to say there would be 3rd party b/c AF is manager of third party,” (emphasis added); (2) “LJM was 3rd party + was already found;” (3) “[Fastow] told [Merrill Lynch] that [Enron] would get [Merrill Lynch] out, would get [illegible] or LJM to buy out;” and (4) “Come June 2000, if [Enron] did not have a buyer then LJM would step in to buy out.”

In other words, Fastow controlled a captive third party, LJM, and could effectively guarantee that if a buyer could not be found, LJM would take Merrilll out of the transaction in six months. Judge Smith noted that:

[T]he sentences that Brown cites from the Fastow notes do not say that the agreement as a whole was a “best efforts” agreement, pace Brown’s testimony; they say only that Enron would use its “best efforts” to find a buyer but that Fastow guaranteed that LJM2, which he controlled, would be that buyer if no one else was found. Indeed, Fastow admitted that, “[i]f call was transcribed—it should have blown the accounting.”

 Now I'm perfectly willing to believe, and in fact I assume, that the Enron Barge defendants, including Jim Brown, got a really raw deal and should never have been indicted. And I'm also willing to hear a good argument that Judge Smith got his Brady analysis backasswards. But in a book devoted to exposing Brady error, written by one of the country's foremost appellate lawyers, I expect more than two pages of cursory, conclusory attacks on a key federal appellate decision. Powell fails to fairly present, much less refute, Judge Smith's specific points (incorrectly referring to his careful 19 page opinion as a "meager" nine pages). I call this a material omission.

(wisenberg)

 

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Comments

Excellent review of what sounds like a fascinating, if flawed, book.

Posted by: Patrick J. Cotter | Oct 28, 2014 9:07:48 AM

I enjoyed this entry. Everyone remembers Enron and Arthur Anderson for what they did. But that is about it. It is nice to read about how the court room procedure went. As an aspiring forensic accountant, it makes me excited to one day be in these situations.

Posted by: Tyler Depew | Oct 28, 2014 3:02:26 PM

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