March 25, 2013
Private Defense Lawyers for the Poor Deserve Recognition
Last week, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Gideon decision, some of the nation's leading legal figures lauded the outstanding contributions made by the public defense bar. Public defenders indeed do deserve plaudits for their dedication and hard work in representing the poor and often despised. Most public defenders are devoted, diligent, relatively poorly paid, and work in difficult situation and under difficult conditions.
To me, however, the unsung heroes of the defense bar are those private lawyers who ably and diligently represent persons of modest income who are not poor enough to be provided free counsel by the state, but poor enough not to be able to pay substantial legal fees. Those lawyers, like public defenders, work in difficult situations and under difficult conditions. They often have no steady income, no employer-provided retirement or health benefits and sometimes no office. They do not have readily available ancillary services, such as advisory counsel, investigators, social workers and mitigation specialists. Often, they have to perform those functions themselves.
As insubstantial as the resources for public defense are, the resources available to many private lawyers -- whatever meager savings the client is willing to part with, whatever portion of the client's paycheck he has left over after paying for shelter and food and other expenses -- are often less.
This bar, to be sure, is an uneven one. Unlike public defenders, almost all of whom have at least a modicum of competence and expertise and devotion, some in the private bar are part-time or occasional criminal defense lawyers with little criminal experience and little dedication to the representation of their clients. Many, however, are able, experienced, energetic and devoted, despite being paid a fraction of what they deserve. Those unsung lawyers deserve credit and recognition.
January 28, 2013
Casey Anthony Seeks Bankruptcy Protection for Legal Fees
Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee Marie in 2011, has filed for bankruptcy in federal bankruptcy court in Florida. She has listed approximate assets of $1,100 and debts of $800,000, including $500,000 due Jose Baez, one of her defense attorneys. See here. I was pleased to see no debt listed for my colleague and friend Cheney Mason, who as Baez' co-counsel, added gravitas, savvy and experience to Ms. Anthony's defense team.
It is not surprising for a criminal defense lawyer not to be paid a large part of the legal fees owed to her. I venture that the average criminal defense lawyer is "beat" for some 10-20% of her fees. And I do not know how much Baez actually did receive in fees, but I am sure nothing like the fees many white-collar lawyers and firms often receive for representation in criminal matters of institutions or individuals, even those who never get close to being indicted. Of course, the Anthony case did provide Baez considerable fame.
January 24, 2013
Pre-trial Restraints Have Negative Side Effects
It is hard to argue against the idea of criminal forfeiture; fairness demands that one convicted of a crime give up his ill-gotten gains. A recent article in the New York Times seemed to give its full unstinting approval to federal asset forfeiture (see here).
However, asset forfeiture, aside from its several unfair procedural aspects, has its downsides. It has to an extent diverted prosecutorial resources from investigation and prosecution of more serious cases to "sitting duck" targets involved in lucrative but arguably harmless violations of law, such as offshore gambling enterprises.
And, primarily because of pre-trial restraints, it has, with the 5-4 imprimatur of the Supreme Court in Caplin & Drysdale v. United States, 491 U.S. 617 (1989), and United States v. Monsanto, 491 U.S. 600 (1989), turned the presumption of innocence on its head and allowed pre-trial restraint of funds to leave many defendants without sufficient funds to hire experienced, able (and often expensive) counsel of choice. While court-appointed counsel assigned to represent those now-indigent defendants are generally competent or better than competent, they often lack the experience, resources, aggressiveness and time to provide a first-rate defense. Thus, asset forfeiture often tilts the board in the prosecutor's favor.
Prosecutors are obviously aware that broad pretrial restraint of assets may skew the results of a litigation by preventing the defendant from hiring top-notch counsel. While I do not believe that prosecutors often seek pre-trial restraint for that reason, eliminating experienced and able counsel is an obvious byproduct of many such restraints.
Even in New York State, where the Legislature has, alone among the 50 states, specifically provided for expenditures of seized funds to pay reasonable legal fees, some prosecutors, notably the New York County District Attorney, have taken a strong position, "play[ing] hardball" in the words of a senior forfeiture prosecutor, against release of seized funds for legal fees to private counsel. In New York County, a defendant seeking release of restrained funds for private counsel must initially fill out a sworn 40-page detailed financial questionnaire to demonstrate her lack of access to funds for legal fees. On the other hand, a defendant in New York County who seeks assigned counsel paid for by public funds needs only to say he cannot afford counsel, and such a statement is rarely questioned.
The District Attorney in New York and many places elsewhere receives a portion of forfeited funds; thus, he has an extra incentive to fight the release of funds for private counsel, as well as to prosecute those with substantial assets. An objective observer might question whether the crucial decision whether to prosecute should be made by one with a financial interest in the proceeds of the prosecution. Compare Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927) (conviction at trial by magistrate/mayor where municipality retains part of fine proceeds violates due process).
November 02, 2012
Shaygan Set for Conference Distribution
The case of Ali Shaygan v. United States is set for distribution for conference on November 9, 2012 in the United States Supreme Court (see here). David Oscar Markus represents the Petitioner on a Hyde Amendment case that asks the question of "[w]hether the Government is exempted as a matter of law for Hyde Amendment sanctions under the statute’s prohibition on "bad faith" prosecutions despite subjective malice in its filing decision and extensive and pervasive prosecutorial misconduct during the course of the litigation, merely because there was probable cause to support the filing of the indictment." The Petition for Cert can be found here. See also Mike Scarcella, In the Supreme Court, a Fight Over Sanctions for Government Misconduct
The NACDL (here) raises the issue of the wide discretion afforded to prosecutors and how "'bad faith' surely includes situations where the government adds numerous charges for an illegitimate reason, such as retaliation for exercising a constitutional right, or engages in discovery abuse." The question here is whether the Hyde Amendment will have any teeth left, and whether there will be a check on government misconduct.
This case raises the important issue of whether there will be any ramifications to the government when it misuses its power.
June 05, 2012
Fifth Circuit Decision Has Many Inviting Issues for the Supremes
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences in U.S. v. Brooks, a case involving alleged "false reporting of natural gas trades in violation of the Commodities Exchange Act and the federal wire fraud statute."
Although the court distinguishes the Stein decision from the Second Circuit with the facts in this case, both cases had individual defendants who had their attorney fees cut off. In Brooks, the defense claimed it was from government pressure, but the Fifth Circuit said the factual findings were not present to confirm this conduct. The court found that the company's policy on payment of attorney fees was a discretionary policy. But when a company gets a deferred prosecution agreement one has to wonder if there is an incentive to show cooperation, albeit payment of attorney fees can not be a factor used.
There is also an interesting question of what constitutes "reports" for purposes of the CEA or CFTC regulations. This is an intriguing issue as one is basically violating federal law through a submission document. The Fifth Circuit rejected a void for vagueness argument here.
The Fifth Circuit also found the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction as meeting the recent Supreme Court decision in Global Tech, although they admit it does not use the same language. The question here is whether deliberately closing one's eyes is the same as taking "deliberate actions to avoid learning of the fact," the test set forth in Global Tech. I see a difference in that one is passive and the other is active. The Court seems to be satisfied with the evidence in this case, but one has to wonder if the Fifth Circuit should be quickly looking to change its pattern jury instruction to avoid this issue in future cases.
Then there is the question of defense witness immunity. A witness is on the prosecution witness list and is not called to testify because the prosecution has concerns about the witnesses truthfulness. The witness has not yet been sentenced (the government postponed sentencing for 39 months- obviously to be after this trial) and decides to take the Fifth Amendment. The prosecution called the witness the evening before the witness was to testify, but says the call was to determine if they needed to prepare the witness for cross-examination. The defense argues that the witness has exculpatory evidence for the defense. The defense asks for defense witness immunity and doesn't get it. One has to wonder whether the jury really had full information to resolve guilt or innocence? But the Fifth Circuit held otherwise.
And this is not a case where defendants are receiving light sentences. All the defendants were level one and yet all of their sentences exceeded 11 years imprisonment, with one receiving a 14 year sentence. Whoever thinks white collar offenders are getting off easy, needs to just look at this case to see that this is not the situation.
April 15, 2012
Indemnification Agreements - Pay the Lawyers
Many companies, as part of their compensation and benefits packages, have indemnification agreements that allow for payment of attorney fee expenses to company officers, directors, and others. Some may be surprised to learn that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have such agreements as part of Enterprise Bylaws or individual agreements. "Between 2004 and October 31, 2011, Fannie Mae advanced $99.4 million in legal expenses to cover the representation of" three former officers "in connection with government investigations and lawsuits stemming from accounting irregularities uncovered in 2004." The Office of Inspector General issued a report that offers some suggestions on reducing future costs. The "evaluation was led by Director of Special Projects David Z. Seide, and Investigative Counsel Stephen P. Learned contributed to its completion." The report can be found here.
April 13, 2012
How to Remedy Brady Violations
Circuit Judge Pryor not only voted to deny a rehearing en banc in the Ali Shaygan case seeking Hyde Amendment fees, but he went out of his way to explain his reasoning of why he was not supporting the factfinder district court judge. (see here). His opinion, one that seems likely to be headed for a higher review, looks at why he thinks a Hyde Amendment award was improper in this case. His decision spends several pages explaining what he believes was the evidence against the defendant, who by the way was acquitted after a trial by jury. He notes how defense counsel ( who he does not mention by name - it's David Oscar Markus) is "an elite defense attorney, and Shaygan's superb counsel took advantage of the opportunity to focus the attention of the jury on the alleged misconduct by the government in the collateral investigation."
The district court had granted Shaygan's Hyde Amendment motion and ordered payment of $601,795.88 for attorney fees and costs. The award was a response to a finding of prosecutorial conduct including discovery violations. Circuit Judge Pryor comes to the defense of the prosecutors saying that "[t]hese public servants deserve better." He ends his affirmation of the denial for a rehearing en banc stating that "[t]he prosecution of Shaygan, triggered by the death of his patient and supported by substantial evidence, was not wrong." Check out John Pacenti's article in the Daily Business Review, Eleventh Circuit releases new opinion on Shaygan case, criticizes dissent
The two person dissent to this denial of a rehearing en banc by Circuit Judges Martin and Barkett present a very different picture. They note that U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold's "comprehensive fifty-page Order awarding Hyde Amendment attorneys fees to Dr. Ali Shaygan was 'crowded with thorough findings of fact' detailing government misconduct that took place in his prosecution." They state:
"This Court's opinion also strips our federal judges of a rarely needed, but critical tool for deterring and punishing prosecutorial misconduct. And the prosecutorial misconduct that happened in Dr. Shaygan's case deserved punishment."
This dissent outlines the discovery that was not provided to the defense despite a court order. They state "[t]he government violated Dr. Shaygan's rights, and now, contrary to what Congress has provided, he is left alone to pay the costs he suffered at the hands of these rule breakers."
This case sets up a wonderful review of what should be the role of the Hyde Amendment, who should be the finder of facts when there are allegations of misconduct, what should be the standard of review, and how best to remedy claims of discovery violations. This case also needs to be considered as Congress decides whether to pass Brady legislation.
June 17, 2011
NACDL's 1st Annual West Coast White Collar Conference, “Turning The Tables On The Government” – Keynote Address: Benedict P. Kuehne, Friday, June 17, 2011
Guest Blogger: Darin Thompson, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender (Cleveland,OH)
The Keynote Presentation, "Standing Tall: Criminal Defense Lawyers as Constitutional First Responder s in Today’s War on Crime," was given by Benedict P. Kuehne.
Benedict Kuehne spoke regarding the important role that criminal defense attorneys play in America. He noted that criminal defense lawyers often put at risk not only their fee, but their own liberty. Because the role of criminal defense lawyers is to safeguard our constitutional rights, that role itself is threatened. Mr. Kuehne used his personal story to examine these principles. In 2004, his office was searched pursuant to a federal warrant. He was the subject of a grand jury investigation into conspiracy and money laundering. His alleged crime related to legal advice he provided another criminal defense lawyer regarding the source of his fee.
This prosecution was part of an overall trend towards the broadening of the scope of money laundering prosecutions, Mr. Kuehne suggested, noting that money laundering has replaced conspiracy as the prosecution’s weapon of choice.
Mr. Kuehne noted that this prosecution theory threatened to chill the assertion of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the willingness of counsel to provide legal representation to individuals facing prosecution.
Mr. Kuehne then explored the history of litigation surrounding the specific statutory exemption for criminal defense fees. For 20 years, the government persisted in attempts to convince courts that the exemption did not mean what it said. These efforts, combined with the ability to seek forfeiture of fees, had a chilling effect on that Sixth Amendment right.
His case resulted in the decision U.S. v. Velez, vindicating the criminal defense fees exemption in money laundering cases. Mr. Kuehne's story is an inspiring one that clearly demonstrates the importance of the work that we defense lawyers do everyday.
NACDL's 1st Annual West Coast White Collar Conference, “Turning The Tables On The Government” – “Monsanto and More: Ethical Tactics for Getting Paid When the Government Gets There First,” Friday, June 17, 2011
Guest Blogger: Darin Thompson, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender (Cleveland,OH)
John Cline began the discussion with a hypo of an indicted individual who has millions of dollars that the government believes were garnered through criminal activity. Mr. Welk presented the government’s perspective and outlined the steps taken to identify the assets the government believes can be tied to the charged crimes. Typically this involves going to the Magistrate and obtaining seizure warrants for assets and then seizing them. If it involves real property, then they will go get a lis pendens.
Mr. Cline asked about ex parte restraining orders and when and how the government uses them. Mr. Welk explained that once he obtains the restraining order, he will typically approach the counsel for the client, inform them of the order, and then set up a plan. Typically the parties sit down and work out the issues together. Mr. Welk noted that going in ex parte can be extremely disruptive to the business and that is why the defense is willing to sit down. However, there is always a concern that the assets could disappear if the government does not come in strong.
Mr. Cline then sought the defense perspective from Ms. McNamara—what steps she takes when faced with an ex parte restraining order. She would first seek out help from an experienced forfeiture lawyer. This is because this process is quite draconian and it allows the government to basically step into the defendant’s shoes. However, given the practicality of the temporary restraining order, where the government must show its cards, the parties are usually willing to come to the table and talk.
A member of the audience asked about money that the lawyer already has, such as a retainer. Mr. Welk explained that there is a wide diversity of views on how to handle this situation. He will typically sit down with the attorney and work out an arrangement, typically involving a return of a portion of the money.
Ms. McNamara noted that there has been an uptick in asset forfeiture since the Madoff case but Mr. Welk noted that it was really a coincidence of timing. Rather, he noted that the uptick was a product of at least five years of work by the Asset Forfeiture Working Group. It just happened that their work aligned with the Madoff case.
Mr. Cline then asked the panelists to discuss negotiations that frequently happen in order to avoid an evidentiary hearing. Both parties usually go in hoping to cut a deal and come out with a clear plan. Ms. McNamara explained that the government typically comes in with a pragmatic approach, but that is not always the case.
The panelists engaged with the audience on the interaction between bail and forfeiture, the potential conflict for the defense attorney in seeking to protect the client’s assets in general and specific to defense fees, and the question of government authority over third-party assets. Mr. Welk noted that while the government has authority to seize third-party assets, but the courts don’t like that.
Mr. Cline closed the panel with a discussion the potential for prosecutors to clawback fees that have been unfrozen for defense. Mr. Welk said this is rare and there are other venues to explore, one of which is a strongly worded letter to counsel explaining that it is the government’s belief that all the client’s money comes from illegal activity and thus any money accepted may be subject to forfeiture. There is serious debate over the use of these letters, but defense counsel should be aware of them and on the lookout.
October 01, 2010
NACDL's 6th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar – “Making Ends Meet: Obtaining Insurance Advancement & Indemnity in White Collar Cases,” Friday, October 1, 2010
In his “Advice to a Young Tradesman,” Benjamin Franklin included the time honored maxim that “time is money.” If that is clear to anyone, it is clear to defense attorneys. Evan Jenness, an NACDL Board member, and Lee Shidlofsky, offered helpful advice to defense practitioners interested in maximizing their ability to collect attorney fees from employers and insurers. This third breakout session of the final morning of the seminar provided several tips for obtaining advancement and indemnity for defense costs from an insurance company during an investigation and any subsequent prosecution or enforcement action. Jenness who practices in Santa Monica, CA, and Lee Shidlofsky of Austin, TX, addressed the issues thoroughly.
Jenness first summarized the multiple sources of indemnification. They include corporate charters and by-laws, partnership agreements, employment contracts, employer insurance policies, and severance agreements. In some states, there are statutes requiring companies to indemnify (e.g., California)
Jenness reminded the audience that advancement is separate from, though related to, indemnification. Companies often try to avoid or delay advancing fees. Clients are often asked for an undertaking requiring the employee to repay the company if the employee is ultimately convicted of a crime, and sometimes are even asked for security to make the undertaking enforceable. Jenness encouraged challenges to those attempts on the basis that the company could have required a secured undertaking in its by-laws or employment contract.
Jenness also encouraged defense attorneys who are unable to get a written promise from the company or its insurer to pay right away to challenge it immediately. As backup protection against recalcitrance from the company, defense attorneys may need to include language in retention agreements requiring a retainer from the client to be used if initial efforts to get paid by the company and insurance company fail.
Jenness discussed Delaware’s provision of nearly unlimited capacity for companies to indemnify employees and officers, and noted that even if an employee is employed at will, some states provide that advancement and indemnity are available.
Jenness offered several pracice tips: 1) Don’t assume your client isn’t entitled to coverage under a D&O policy due to lower rank in the company. Many policies are interpreted to cover lower ranking employees. 2) Find sample indemnity agreements by industry on the internet. Use them in negotiating the terms of employment and severance contracts. 3) There is no requirement that you share work product and privileged information with the third party fee payer. Redact bills that are forwarded to the third party payer. If the company/carrier balks because they don’t know what they are being asked to pay for, then very narrow descriptions may have to be included.
Shidlofsky reported that D&O policies are typically broad. Just because a client is under investigation for criminal or intentional conduct and there are “bad conduct” exclusions in the policy, it does not mean there is no coverage. And, most policies require a final determination of the bad conduct before coverage can be denied. There may be coverage disputes, but they are worth fighting.
Shidlofsky also offered a few key practice tips: 1) Provide notice to the insurer as soon as you obtain knowledge of the investigation. Failure to provide prompt notice can result in reduced or no coverage. 2) Read the definitions of “loss” and “wrongful act” in the policies very carefully. There is limited case law interpreting these terms, but the more modern trend in policies is to provide coverage even at the investigation stage. Much litigation is underway on these issues. 3) Evaluate whether the policy requires advancement of fees and costs, or reimbursement only. Absent clear language on this, many states require advancement of fees and costs.
Effective defense efforts take time and, therefore, money. With some tenacity and diligent searching through the sources of potential indemnification, you just might find enough money to do the job right.
June 02, 2010
DA Vance on Attorney-Client Privilege and Fees
As noted here, New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance issued via his Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso a Memo pertaining to charging organizations. One aspect caught my eye - privileges and attorney fees. The Memo states:
"... although the Office will not ordinarily request that an organization waive valid claims of attorney-client privilege or work product protection in order to be credited for its cooperation, where an organization relies on the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine to obstruct the investigation, or when it refuses to disclose relevant facts that will further the investigation, these factors will militate against cooperation credit. Similarly, although the Office will not ordinarily be influenced by an organization’s decision to provide for the legal expenses of its directors, officers, employees, or agents, or its decision to enter into an appropriate joint defense agreement, if such practices are made as part of an effort to obstruct, in any way, an investigation or prosecution, or if they result in relevant information’s becoming unavailable to the investigation, they will be considered in any decision whether to prosecute the organization." (footnote omitted)
On a brighter note, the policy does recognize the importance of collateral consequences in making a decision to charge a corporation.
Being corporate counsel seems to be more challenging these days in that the individual needs to be apprised of all the laws in the applicable jurisdictions - which these days can be international. He or she also has to be familiar with the policy guidelines for the different entities they operate within - which could be many states.
October 02, 2009
NACDL's 5th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar - "Getting Paid, Not Charged--Avoiding Indictment by Collecting Fees Ethically," Friday, October 2, 2009
Guest Blogger: Jon May, Chair, White Collar Crime Section, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Over the last ten years, and particularly as a result of the indictment of prominent Miami Attorney Ben Kuehne, criminal defense counsel have had cause to be concerned that they could be the subject of prosecution solely for taking a legitimate legal fee. In this morning’s presentation by Jane Moscowitz and Martine Pinales, lawyers found reasons to be hopeful that such fears may be overblown, at least as to potential prosecution. Forfeiture of fees, on the other hand, remain a significant concern.
The Kuehne prosecution is an instance of ideology trumping common sense. Benedict P. Kuehne is the most unlikely of government targets. As Jane Moscowitz, who is one of his attorneys observed, Ben is the best of all of us. He is not just a leader of the bar—having been the President of the Miami-Dade County Bar Association and a member of the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar—he has devoted countless hours to pro bono activities on behalf of organizations representing the interests of African-Americans, Hispanics, Gays and others. He was also one of Al Gore’s principal attorneys during the Florida recount. Not surprisingly, he was Roy Black’s choice for counsel when Roy Black needed an attorney to vet the legal fees he was to be paid to represent notorious Colombian cartel leader Fabio Ochoa.
Roy Black was ultimately paid $5 million for his representation of Ochoa. Ben Kuehne earned approximately $175,000 for vetting this fee. Ben was indicted for conspiracy to launder, what the government recognized, and the indictment stated, was a bona fide legal fee. This is despite the fact that the money laundering statute 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1957 contains a specific exemption for the receipt of funds necessary to preserve the Sixth Amendment. It was the government’s position before the District Court and just recently before the Eleventh Circuit in their appeal from the dismissal of this count, that the decision of the Supreme Court in Caplin and Drysdale nullified this exemption. The district court, however, was persuaded that it was the intent of Congress to protect counsel from prosecution, even if attorney’s fees could be forfeited. It appears from the tenor of the oral argument, which I was present to see, that the government’s theory is being met with the same level of skepticism that it received by Judge Cooke.
Martin Pinales discussed his experience dealing with government efforts to seize legal fees. Even in instances where the AUSA states that she has no intent to seize fees, counsel can be faced with a post trial effort by the government’s money laundering/forfeiture counsel to claw back those fees. Strategies were discussed for dealing with that problem. One way is to be paid by a third party from monies totally unconnected to any alleged criminal activity. Where money is obtained from the defendant, it is important to insure that the money did not come from any source named in a forfeiture count. And counsel should do due diligence even as to assets that could be later characterized as a substitute asset. It was also important to have your retainer agreement tie fees received to services provided. Where the funds are clearly substitute assets, counsel who takes these steps will have a better chance of demonstrating that they are bona fide purchasers for value in later forfeiture proceedings.
During the seminar, other important issues were raised. In many districts, counsel do not have to worry about their fees if their clients cooperate. Doesn’t that create a conflict of interest? You can charge a flat fee so long as you can demonstrate that it was earned. But don’t call it non-refundable (unless you practice in Florida, but it still has to be reasonable). The final irony, and outrage, discussed was the fact that the indictment against Ben also includes forfeiture count. The government is seeking to forfeit from Ben, the $5 million that Roy Black received.
April 10, 2009
It's Not Just the Stevens Case - DOJ Needs A Better Compliance Program
A "not guilty" verdict was returned on a drug case in Miami, but what happened during the investigation and prosecution of this case has now resulted in an award of $601,795.88 under the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment allows for attorney fees when a "prevailing criminal defendant" can demonstrate "that the position the government took in prosecuting him was vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith." (see Order, infra, citing U.S. v. Gilbert).
Hon. Alan S. Gold, in the Southern District of Florida, issued an Order awarding these attorney fees and enjoined the US Attorneys who practice in that court from "engaging in future witness tampering investigation of defense lawyers and team members in any ongoing prosecution before [this judge] without first bringing such matters to [the judge's] attention in an ex parte proceeding." The judge also issued a public reprimand against the US Attorneys office and specifically 2 AUSAs. And it does not end there, as the judge also makes it clear that a disciplinary body needs to review this matter. (Court's Order - Download 08-20112 (Shaygan) Prosecutorial Misconduct FINAL )
The judge presents a thoughtful Order that gives credit to the USA's office for taking "immediate efforts to investigate" this matter when it came to light. After all, the taping of defense counsel and a defense investigator, by government informants, does present serious concerns. The failure to disclose this material is more problematic. The judge tells of Brady, Giglio, and Jencks issues in this case.
Hon. Alan S. Gold could not have said it better when he stated,
"It is the responsibility of the United States Attorney and his senior staff to create a culture where 'win-at-any-cost' prosecution is not permitted, Indeed, such a culture must be mandated from the highest levels of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney General. It is equally important that the courts of the United States must let it be known that, when substantial abuses occur, sanctions will be imposed to make the risk of non-compliance too costly."
DOJ, the enforcer against corporate misconduct and the one who requests the appointment of monitors in deferred prosecution agreements, may seem to be having its own issues. One has to give the department credit for recognizing their lack of compliance in the Stevens case and agreeing to dismiss it. Likewise one has to give the government credit in this recent Miami case, in that the DOJ stated that they "made serious mistakes in a collateral investigation that was an offshoot of this case and stands ready to pay the additional attorneys' fees and costs incurred by the defendant as a result." Clearly the new AG Holder is taking a strong position against prosecutorial misconduct and sending that clear message to those in his office, something that is wonderful to see happening. But if this were a corporation that had committed misconduct, would these acknowledgments and payment be sufficient? The deferred prosecution agreement would require monitoring, and there would be a need to assure that there was now compliance. Mind you, I am not suggesting that a monitor in another deferred prosecution agreement case, John Ashcroft, be appointed here. But the concern is that both of the cases mentioned here had attorneys who could present these claims. My concern rests with the many cases that might have similar claims of misconduct but no attorney to bring the issues to light.
September 09, 2008
Olis & Legal Fees
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Jamie Olis filed suit to recover legal fees. See Olis sues Dynegy over legal bills The Second Circuit's affirming of the Stein decision certainly provides strong support for those individuals who might have been a collateral consequence of companies that were trying to secure a deal with the Government and therefore agreed not to pay legal fees of employees that might normally have been paid by the company. Stripping individuals of counsel as part of a negotiated plan with the government raises serious questions about the ability of the individuals to secure adequate representation. Whether that occurred here, remains to be seen. But re-examining government practices that might have deprived individuals of appropriate legal counsel is important.
(esp)(w/ a hat to Bill Olis)
August 28, 2008
Commentary on Stein (KPMG)
Chief Judge Jacobs of the Second Circuit authored the 68 page opinion that affirms Judge Kaplan's prior ruling (see here and here) in the KPMG related matter. The lower court had dismissed the defendants' indictments. In affirming the lower court opinion, the Second Circuit states -
"We hold that KPMG’s adoption and enforcement of a policy under which it conditioned, capped and ultimately ceased advancing legal fees to defendants followed as a direct consequence of the government’s overwhelming influence, and that KPMG’s conduct therefore amounted to state action. We further hold that the government thus unjustifiably interfered with defendants’ relationship with counsel and their ability to mount a defense, in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and that the government did not cure the violation. Because no other remedy will return defendants to the status quo ante, we affirm the dismissal of the indictment as to all thirteen defendants." (footnotes omitted)
The Second Circuit stated that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel held that the amendment "protects against unjustified governmental interference with the right to defend oneself using whatever assets one has or might reasonably and lawfully obtain." The court noted that-
"Defendants were indicted based on a fairly novel theory of criminal liability; they faced substantial penalties; the relevant facts are scattered throughout over 22 million documents regarding the doings of scores of people,; the subject matter is "extremely complex,"; technical expertise is needed to figure out and explain what happened; and trial was expected to last between six and eight months, As Judge Kaplan found, these defendants "have been forced to limit their defenses . . . for economic reasons and . . . they would not have been so constrained if KPMG paid their expenses." We therefore hold that these defendants were also deprived of their right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. (citations and footnote omitted)
The best line from the case - "But if it is in the government’s interest that every defendant receive the best possible representation, it cannot also be in the government’s interest to leave defendants naked to their enemies."
The government did not lose this case, as some might say. In fact, they won. When justice is done for all, as is reflected in this opinion -- the prosecution, defense, and society wins.
April 03, 2008
Government Files Answer to 2255 Motion in Olis
The Government filed its Answer to the Motion to Vacate Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. s 2255, Motion for Summary Denial, and Supporting Memorandum of Law in the case of Jamie Olis. Olis, who was associated with Dynegy, was convicted for his alleged role related to "Project Alpha." He was initially sentenced to 292 months and that sentence was reduced 72 months. One of the key issues here is whether the government interfered with the accused's right to fund his defense.This is a crucial issue as white collar cases carry with them enormous legal bills.
Government Answer & Motion - Download 346GovtAnswer.pdf
February 09, 2008
Indicted for Writing Opinion Letters
Would the government actually indict an attorney premised upon allegations that the attorney wrote several opinion letters for another lawyer? As surprising as it might seem, the answer is "yes." The government has indicted Attorney Ben Kuehne for his alleged writing of six opinion letters based upon his investigation of whether funds being paid to an attorney were proceeds of criminal conduct.
Several observations and comments on the Indictment and the accompanying Motion to Seal:
- The indictment is preceded by a page titled - "Motion to Seal." It is signed by a "trial attorney - DOJ." It requests the indictment be sealed "for the reason that the named defendants may flee and the integrity of the ongoing investigation may be compromised." - Did the government really believe that Attorney Ben Kuehne would flee? A later sentence states that"many of the named defendants are foreign nationals." But the government fails to limit the language used in the prior sentence that explicitly states "that the named defendants may flee" to only those who might be foreign nationals. That is a powerful statement to claim that a prominent Miami attorney might flee. If they didn't mean to apply this statement to him, is it prosecutorial over-reaching, an attempt to taint the accused, or just sloppy drafting?
- The indictment alleges that Kuehne's opinion letters were inaccurate in stating that some of the moneys had come from an individual/company that "his investigation" "had determined.... were reputable and well-established, without any connection to illegal activities." The indictment claims that some of these opinions were untrue because moneys had in fact come from "undercover law enforcement operations." ---- Isn't the very purpose of an undercover operation to make it seem like things are real? Is this a situation of accusing someone of issuing incorrect opinion letters because the government did a good job of misleading him?
- Count Six of the Indictment charges Obstruction of Justice. The charge is expressed in a total of 2 sentences. It states:
"From on or about January 23, 2003, continuing to the date of this indictment, the defendants, .......did corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice; that is investigations by the grand jury; to wit, endeavoring to influence, obstruct, and impede a federal investigation, as set forth above. In violation of Title 18, United States Code, s 1503." (names omitted)
A charge without any facts? Did the government actually put a mere restatement of section 1503 as the basis of a criminal charge against an attorney? Co-blogger Peter Henning called the Indictment of Ben Kuehne a "head-scratcher," but that was prior to receiving the document. But after reading it, I'd go a step further - they have actually indicted an attorney for obstruction of justice and alleged no facts in this count to support the charge. It almost sounds like a case the 11th Circuit reversed, U.S. v. Thomas, 916 F.2d 547 (11th Cir. 1990).
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this indictment is that it represents yet another instance of the government interfering in the payment of attorney fees for the criminally accused. As opposed to going to court and asking for the fees to be returned as improper, they have opted to proceed with criminal charges that in some cases carry up to 20 years.
Indictment - Download us_v_kuehne_indictment_oct_2007.pdf
February 06, 2008
Wilkes in More Hot Water
As if defense contractor Brent Wilkes isn't in a heap of trouble already from his convictions for bribing former Representative Randy ""Duke" Cunningham to obtain no-bid Pentagon contracts, now he's accused of lying about his finances to get court-appointed counsel for a second corruption trial. As discussed in a recent post (here), the Presentence Report on the Cunningham convictions recommends a sixty-year prison term -- essentially life -- based on the gains from the bribery to Wilkes company, ADCS Inc. The second case involves alleged bribery of former top CIA official Dusty Foggo, and because of national security issues, all the lawyers in the case needed to have a top secret clearance to review materials. Unfortunately for Wilkes, his lawyer from the first trial, Mark Geragos, declined to undergo the background check required for the clearance -- it's not clear why -- and so Wilkes needed new counsel. He briefly had another lawyer, Eugene Iredale,* who never officially entered an appearance, and then sought court-appointed counsel based on an ex parte financial affidavit, which the district court granted. Wilkes is now represented by the Federal Defenders office, but the government is seeking to have them removed from the case because of alleged misstatements about his purported financial need in the affidavit.
In a brief (available below) seeking to revoke the appointment of counsel, reimbursement of the costs of the Federal Defenders, and release of the financial affidavit, the government asserts:
Based upon a sealed ex parte financial affidavit, defendant Wilkes convinced the Court that he was unable to retain counsel to represent him in Criminal Case No. 07CR0329. Yet, at the time this affidavit was provided to the Court, Defendant and his wife were: (1) in the process of distributing over $2.5 million in cash proceeds; (2) the owners of a residence in Poway that had equity of approximately $800,000; and (3) owners of two properties in Rancho Bernardo and one in Chula Vista. Following the appointment of public counsel, defendant Wilkes, unknown to the Court or the government, distributed over $1 million in assets, including $100,000 in cash provided to the Wilkeses (apparently for spending money), $40,000 to their divorce attorneys, and an untold amount of cash that was transferred to their children’s trust accounts. The use of public funds while defendant continues to spend his ill-gotten gains must stop.
If the court strips Wilkes of the court-appointed lawyers, then the pending trial will have to be postponed until he retains new counsel, who will have to undergo the requisite background check. Moreover, if the court finds that Wilkes' financial affidavit was false, it could lead to a separate perjury charge and a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice -- although if he receives anything near the recommended sentence for the Cunningham bribery, any additional term won't matter too much. Wilkes has filed a motion (available below) for a new trial on the first convictions, arguing that the government violated its Brady obligation and that he was prejudiced by the denial of a continuance. These motions are difficult to win, and the grounds asserted are not the type that usually lead to overturning a verdict. (ph)
* Law-Geek Trivia: The attorney who briefly entered the case on Wilkes's behalf before the appointment of the Federal Defenders, Eugene Iredale, is a well-known defense lawyer who was disqualified because of a potential conflict of interest in Wheat v. United States, 486 U.S. 153 (1988), the Supreme Court case that established the broad discretion district courts have in criminal cases to disqualify counsel.
December 19, 2007
Outside Lawyer Charged in Refco Fraud -- Who Pays the Legal Fees?
The lead outside lawyer for the now-defunct commodities brokerage Refco Inc. was indicted on charges of aiding the company's CEO in hiding debts by engaging in "round-trip" transactions at the end of quarters. The eleven-count indictment (available below) includes conspiracy, false filing, wire fraud, bank fraud, and securities fraud counts in connection with the spectacular collapse of Refco, which went into bankruptcy only two months after its initial public offering. The prosecution is part of a growing trend in which corporate lawyers are finding themselves as targets of investigations and defendants in criminal and civil enforcement actions -- the SEC filed charges against the lawyer, too.
The prosecution raises an interesting question for me about the payment of attorney fees for the indicted lawyer. The defense will probably cost at least $10 million if the criminal case goes to trial, and could reach $20 million is there is a conviction and an appeal. Defense counsel is from Cooley Godward's New York office, so the rates will not be cheap. The lawyer is a partner at Mayer Brown and was head of its derivatives group, so he certainly has been well-paid, but the financial drain in this type of case is enormous. For executives at public companies, there is usually an indemnification clause in the corporate by-laws or an employment agreement to cover the attorney's fees that also includes in most cases an advancement requirement. For example, corporate defendants like Conrad Black and Joseph Nacchio had a substantial portion of the attorney's fees in their prosecutions covered by their former corporate employers.
I doubt an outside lawyer would be covered by a corporate indemnification clause for work on behalf of the business. It may be that the retainer agreement would require the company to cover any costs related to the representation, although in this case Refco is in bankruptcy and unlikely to pay anything toward the defense, especially when the alleged fraud is what triggered its collapse. Mayer Brown is an LLP, and its partnership agreement may have an indemnification clause similar to what one would see in a corporation. I'm not familiar enough with such things -- being up in an ivory tower -- so I can't say whether that is a realistic possibility. Advancement of fees is perhaps of greater importance because a defendant would prefer not to have to wait until the end of the case to get the funds to pay the lawyers, who cannot work on a contingency basis in a criminal case.
A recent filing by former Milberg Weiss partner Stephen Schulman seeks payment of his attorney's fees in a criminal prosecution against the firm and a number of its former partners that is illustrative of a claim for fees by outside counsel. Schulman filed his claim to compel arbitration (available below) because the firm cut off payment of the fees after he agreed to plead guilty and a grand jury indicted former name partner Melvyn Weiss. The legal fees until Schulman's guilty plea were $4.5 million, which have been paid, and he has incurred another $1.2 million since then that the firm has refused to pay. The Milberg Weiss partnership agreement states, "Any amounts for which a Partner becomes liable in connection with the rendition of services to a client . . . whether or not insured or insurable against (and whether or not insurance has been or is obtained) shall be an expense of the Partnership." Schulman's claim is not based solely on this provision, but it does provide an example of a partnership provision that may provide some protection for outside lawyers who are charged with a crime or in a civil enforcement action related to their work for a client.
With the increased focus on attorneys by federal prosecutors and the SEC, it may be a good time for lawyers to check the indemnification provisions in their firm's organizing documents to see just how much protection they have. (ph)