Friday, November 27, 2015
If you want to know why companies settle with the government, even when they aren't guilty of anything, look no further than Ally Financial LLC's $98 million "no admit or deny" settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over alleged racial bias in auto lending. As Wednesday's Wall Street Journal reports here, the CFPB chose questionable statistical methods, had questionable legal authority, and used the threat of unfavorable action by the Federal Reserve and the FDIC in a wholly separate matter, to coerce a settlement. Ally was eager to receive approval from the Fed and FDIC to convert to holding company status, in order to avoid having to shed some of its business units. The Fed was only too happy to oblige CFPB in its bullying tactics. As an internal CFPB memo makes clear, a Fed finding of improper discrimination would "most likely result in the denial of holding company status," but the Fed "also indicated that if Ally takes prompt and corrective action, it would consider such a factor in its determination." The House Financial Services Committee Report, Unsafe at any Bureaucracy, carefully documents CFPB's sordid tactics . Incredibly, CFPB referred the matter to DOJ. This kind of stuff happens, and dictates business litigation strategy with the government, quite often. So, when people complain that the failure to prosecute corporate insiders is inevitably suspicious in light of large civil settlements, I always want to know the industry, the company and other important details.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
The Yates Memo is all the rage. DOJ is saber-rattling at various CLE events and bloggers are holding forth on what it actually means. But wanting isn't getting. The question remaining is how to make sure that the company coughs up, or an investigation reveals, wrongdoing that occurred at the highest levels.
Here are two modest reform proposals I offer free of charge to the DOJ and FBI, based on my own experience defending individuals and. far less often, companies under investigation.
1. Modify Standard DOJ Proffer Letters. Mid-level corporate employees often possess very damaging information about those higher up the food chain. But these same mid-level employees can themselves be the subjects or targets of DOJ. At some point the employees are given the opportunity to proffer in front of the lead prosecutor. But the standard DOJ Proffer Agreement is riddled with loopholes. Assume that the proffer session does not result in a plea or immunity agreement and the employee is indicted. The primary loophole allows the government to use the proffered statement against the client at trial if the statement is in any way inconsistent with the defense presented. That's not much protection, which is why most seasoned white collar attorneys will not let a client with exposure proffer in front of DOJ. Thus, DOJ loses valuable information. DOJ should offer true non-Kastigar immunity for the information revealed in its proffer sessions. Nothing is lost by doing this, but much can be gained.
2. Demand Independent Internal Investigations. The first question every prosecutor should ask the corporation's outside attorney who is conducting an internal investigation or tendering an internal investigation report to DOJ is, "What is your reporting chain?" If outside counsel is not reporting to the Audit Committee or some other independent entity within the corporation there is absolutely no assurance that culpable upper management will be identified. Management can edit the final report and its conclusions to protect top executives and throw lower level employees to the DOJ wolves. Meanwhile, employees are less likely to truthfully cooperate with the internal investigation if they think the boss is reviewing interview reports every night after drinks. I am astounded at how often internal investigations are reported right up the chain of command at small and large publicly traded companies. DOJ prosecutors can make it clear that the procedural independence of the internal investigation will affect how the company is treated.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
There has been much talk recently regarding Section 2B1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, commonly referred to as the Fraud Guidelines. Earlier this year, I noted in a post that the American Bar Association had issued a report calling on the Sentencing Commission to revise Section 2B1.1. Specifically, this report contained a number of suggestions regarding loss calculations and the impact of the current loss table. Earlier this month, Ellen Podgor posted regarding the release of the Proposed Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines (Preliminary), which included proposed amendments to Section 2B1.1.
As readers begin to digest the proposed amendments from the Sentencing Commission and the Commission’s determination that they “have not seen a basis for finding the guideline to be broken for most forms of fraud…,” I wanted to provide a link to some additional information. The first is a video presentation by Commission staff regarding a detailed examination of economic crime data. The presentation was given at a January 9, 2015 public meeting and offers some extremely interesting analysis of data collected regarding sentencing under Section 2B1.1. The second is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation from the January 9, 2015 presentation. In particular, I direct readers to Figure 1, showing the growth in below range sentences since 2003, and Figure 5, showing the number of cases within range decreasing sharply as the loss figure in the case grows. For those who enjoy statistics, there is a wealth of information for consideration in these materials.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
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).
Friday, May 25, 2012
The Statement of Williams Connolly LLP, through Rob Cary, Brendan Sullivan, and Simon Latcovich, truly speaks for itself. We will have more to come on the DOJ's actions.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
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.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the supposed hallmarks of the American criminal justice system is the prudent exercise of prosecutorial discretion. But prosecutorial discretion, even when it works, is a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it allows for the flexibility and compromise without which most systems, even well-constructed ones, cannot function. A curse, because liberty should not depend upon the the character and wisdom of the person temporarily wielding power.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California has decided not to prosecute Lance Armstrong. An announcement to that effect was made last Friday. The L.A. Times story is here. A good Washington Post piece is here. Today's Wall Street Journal discusses the declination and a potential future probe of of improper leaks related to the case. (An internal investigation of some kind appears to be warranted given the massive leaking that has occurred.) According to the WSJ, the declination decision by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and his top aides went against the recommendation of the two line AUSAs handling the case. Maybe, but take it with a grain of salt. News stories about the internal machinations of prosecution teams often get it wrong.
Based on what I know about the case, the decision to decline appears to have been a no-brainer. Recent federal prosecutions involving alleged drug use by star athletes have expended enormous sums of money with mixed or poor results. In the Armstrong matter, the doping, if it occurred, was not itself a federal crime. Prosecutors would have been peddling a wire fraud theory under which Armstrong allegedly defrauded team sponsors by intentionally violating a contractual obligation to avoid improper drug use. Not very sexy. Twelve typical American jurors might well wonder at the start of such a case, "Why are we even here?" Finally, Armstrong is enormously popular and has a sterling defense team with unlimited resources.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) vows to continue its investigation, accurately noting that its "job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws." But USADA wants the grand jury materials. This would be a travesty, and is unlikely to happen. Federal grand jury materials are presumptively secret by law for good reason. Don't count on a federal court sanctioning transfer of grand jury materials to an agency like USADA.
In other declination news, the DOJ attorneys prosecuting the Gabon sting case have informed U.S. District Judge Richard Leon that DOJ is considering dropping all future prosecutions. A decision will be made by February 21. The BLT piece is here. Full disclosure: I briefly represented one of the defendants, and considered representing another of the defendants, neither of whom has gone to trial. My comments here are based on the public record. The two cases brought to date have resulted in three acquittals and two hung juries. Nobody going to trial has been convicted in what DOJ thought was a sure win. Whatever merit there was in initially bringing the case, reconsideration is in order. The two trials to date have revealed a number of weaknesses. First, this was a sting--a crime engineered by the U.S. Government. Second, the informant who helped orchestrate it was far more compromised than the typical informant in a white collar case. Third, in a key tape recorded conversation between that informant and one of the defendants, the defendant seeks to back out of the alleged unlawful transaction, but the informant reels the defendant back in by telling him that attorneys have approved the deal. Fourth, the inherent ambiguities and weaknesses in the FCPA itself.
If there has been a benefit to the Gabon FCPA prosecution it is this--it has taught the white collar defense bar that FCPA cases can be fought and won and, presumably, has taught DOJ that FCPA cases aren't as easy to win as they first appear.
February 8, 2012 in Celebrities, Corruption, Current Affairs, FCPA, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Media, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
My colleague Ellen Podgor recently commented here on Judge Emmet Sullivan's 11-21-11 ORDER in In Re SPECIAL PROCEEDINGS, the ancillary proceedings initiated by Judge Sullivan to investigate the multiple Brady violations committed by DOJ prosecutors in U.S. v. Theodore Stevens. The ensuing investigation was conducted, on Judge Sullivan's behalf, by veteran DC lawyers Hank Schuelke and William Shields, who have now issued a report that is, I hope, only temporarily under seal.
It is obvious from reading his Order that Judge Sullivan is still outraged. That's a good thing. Until enough federal judges get hopping mad about systemic DOJ Brady violations, we will have no real legislative discovery reform at the federal level.
In addition to the points highlighted by Professor Podgor, Judge Sullivan's Order notes the following findings and conclusions by Schuelke and Shields:
1. "[T]he investigation and prosecution of Stevens were 'permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness.'"
2. "[A]t least some of the concealment was willful and intentional, and related to many of the issues raised by the defense during the course of the Stevens trial."
3. Schuelke and Shields "found evidence of concealment and serious misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed--at least to the Court and to the public--but for their exhaustive investigation."
4. Schuelke does not recommend criminal contempt proceedings, because "in order to prove criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt under 18 U.S.C. [Section] 401 (3), the contemnor must disobey an order that is sufficiently 'clear and unequivocal at the time it is issued'... [but] no such Order existed in this case. Rather, the Court accepted the repeated representations of the subject prosecutors that they were familiar with their discovery obligations, were complying with those obligations, and were proceeding in good faith."
5. "Mr. Schuelke also notes that '[i]t should go without saying that neither Judge Sullivan, nor any District Judge, should have to order the Government to comply with its constitutional obligations, let alone that he should feel compelled to craft such an order with a view toward a criminal contempt prosecution, anticipating its willful violation.'"
6. "Mr. Schuelke 'offers no opinion as to whether a prosecution for Obstruction of Justice under 18 U.S.C. [Section] 1503 might lie against one or more of the subject attorneys and might meet the standard enunciated in 9-27.220 of the Principles of Federal Prosecution.'"
It is clear that most or all of this Report is going to be publicly released. It will be interesting to compare it to DOJ OPR's report, assuming that DOJ decides to release it. Two attorneys for two of the prosecutors under scrutiny have already announced that OPR's report clears their respective clients. DOJ has a long history of ignoring the critical comments of federal judges. The latest example of this took place in reference to the prosecution of former Blackwater employees. Despite Judge Ricardo Urbina's scathing factual findings regarding the conduct and credibility of the original set of prosecutors, they were treated to a laudatory/fawning DOJ press release upon reassignment. Urbina, like Sullivan, is one of the most respected federal judges in the country and his factual findings were not questioned or disputed on appeal.
Some final thoughts.
1. For every Emmet Sullivan (or Ricardo Urbina or Howard Matz) there are 10 federal judges who unquestioningly accept the Government's representations regarding Brady issues, irrespective of non-frivolous matters brought to their attention by the defense bar.
2. The defense attorney has an obligation to ferret out Brady issues through the filing of detailed, fact-specific Brady motions closely tied to the formal allegations in the case.
3. We must rapidly move toward open discovery in the federal criminal system, with appropriate safeguards in place to protect witnesses where necessary. The presumption, however, must always be in favor of open discovery. Many states have gone this route without any disastrous consequences. It is appalling that civil litigants have substantially more access to discovery at the federal level than do people who are literally fighting for their liberty.
4. In the meantime, federal prosecutors must be relieved of the burden of determining whether exculpatory information is material. DOJ already recommends this in the Ogden Memo, but it should go one step further and require it. The rule should be: IF IT HURTS MY CASE IN ANY WAY, TURN IT OVER! When a man judges himself, the verdict is always in his favor. When a federal prosecutor, in the heat of trial or pretrial battle, is deciding whether exculpatory evidence is material, the verdict will too often be that it is not. Let's end this invitation to injustice.
5. Of course, federal prosecutors do not think like criminal defense attorneys. That's okay. We don't want them to! But this is the very reason why they cannot ultimately be trusted to make the determination of what is or is not exculpatory. The competent defense attorney headed to trial or sentencing is constantly thinking about anything that will help the defense. Prosecutors are not trained or inclined to do this. Even when they are trying to fulllfil their Brady obligations, AND THE VAST MAJORITY OF FEDERAL PROSECUTORS ARE TRYING TO DO THIS, they cannot be trusted to spot the issues. This difference in outlook/inclination/thought processes really comes to the fore during the period leading up to sentencing hearings, when the prosecutor looks at the defense attorney like a deer in the headlights when reminded of his/her obligation to provide any and all mitigating evidence!
6. Please. Let's have no more: "We understand our Brady obligations and intend to abide by them." Congress should pass a statute requiring some form of detention for any prosecutor who utters this bromide.
November 23, 2011 in Contempt, Corruption, Current Affairs, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Media, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
According to TRAC the February 2011 statistics show an increase of 50.3% increase in white collar prosecutions from the prior month. (see here) More interesting is that white collar prosecutions are reported as being up 23.5 from levels reported in 2006. What is particularly good to see is that "aggravated identity theft" is the leading charge of the white collar charges in magistrate courts. But there are several deficiencies in this reporting process, such as what is considered within the category of white collar crime- see here.
(esp) (w/ disclosure that she is a B.S. graduate of Syracuse U.- home of the Trac Reports).
Monday, May 23, 2011
It is good to see that President Obama is using his pardon powers, granting eight pardons this past week. (See Press Release here) Clearly more pardons would have been better as there are many suffering from the collateral consequences of a conviction that should not have happened. Likewise, there are many that have significantly reformed their lives and are deserving of a second chance. Some observations about these pardons:
- Four of the eight included a conspiracy count.
- Three of the eight had a drug related charge.
- The largest sentence that had been given in any of these offenses was five years.
- Four had a sentence of no prison time.
- The most recent sentencing from these cases was 2001.
- Seven of the eight cases were prior to 2000.
- Only two cases were from the same state, that being Indiana.
An important question to ask is whether any of these cases should have been criminal activity in the first place. Did we really need to send someone to prison for "the possession and sale of illegal American alligator hides" in violation of the Lacey Act? Would a civil fine have been sufficient?
Friday, March 25, 2011
Commentary on Court Dismissal of Indictment Against Former VP & Associate General Counsel of GlaxoSmithKline
Check out - Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel, She Asked, Counsel Told: Case Against Glaxo Attorney Is Dismissed
The former VP and Associate General Counsel of GlaxoSmith Kline had been charged with a 6-count Indictment for the alleged crimes of obstruction (1512), falsification and concealment of documents (1519) and false statements (1000). The Indictment against Lauren Stevents has now been dismissed, but it is without prejudice.
Stevens claimed a defense to the charges of advice of counsel in her responses to the FDA's inquiry. The government response was that 18 USC 1519 is a general intent crime and therefore a "good faith reliance on advice of counsel is only a defense to specific intent crimes."
The court did not agree with the government, citing applicable sources that provide a solid basis for its holding. My take is that the statute clearly is requiring two intents - to "knowingly alters, destroys, multilates, conceals, coversup, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impeded, obstruct, or influence the investigation ....." With two intents it seems clear that one should use specific intent here.
But what is more questionable here is that the government thinks that specific intent should not be required here. Should you really prosecute someone who may not have had the specific intent to do these alleged acts? Will this achieve the deterrence from criminality that we desire? Irrespective of whether one accepts the government's claim that advice of counsel is an affirmative defense or the defense and court position that it negates the mens rea, is prosecution of this alleged conduct the way we want to spend valuable tax dollars?
This case is a perfect example of how we are failing to use our resources wisely. Do we really need to spend money prosecuting folks who may not have complied with a government discovery request properly? Or would the money be better spent using it for educating lawyers and others of how to respond to government inquiries correctly. And what happens if we turn the tables - should we start prosecuting Assistant United States Attorneys who do not comply with constitutional requirements of discovery, or would our resources be better spent educating them of the importance of upholding these constitutional rights.
Bottom line - don't refile this case.
Addendum - See here
Monday, March 7, 2011
Here's his testimony. Some highlights -
- "For decades, the government supported incentives for housing that distorted the market, created significant moral hazard, and ultimately left taxpayers responsible for much of the risk incurred by a poorly supervised housing finance market"
- "The Administration is committed to a system in which the private market – subject to strong oversight and strong consumer and investor protections – is the primary source of mortgage credit."
- "Alongside these efforts, Treasury, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Justice are coordinating the Administration’s interagency foreclosure task force, which is comprised of eleven federal agencies and also works closely with the state Attorneys General. In light of reports of misconduct in the servicing industry, the task force is currently reviewing foreclosure processing, loss mitigation, and disclosure requirements at the country’s largest mortgage servicers. Those that have acted improperly will be held accountable."
Friday, January 14, 2011
At the end of this past year, the Statewide Grand Jury in Florida issued its first Interim Report - Statewide Grand Jury Makes Anti-Corruption Recommendations in First Interim Report. (Report is here) According to the press release issued at that time -
"Key recommendations of the Statewide Grand Jury include:
- Expanding the definition of public employees to include private employees contracted by government entities that perform government services;
- Creating sentencing enhancements for offenses committed by officials who use their public position to facilitate their crimes;
- Creating an independent State Office of Inspector General, responsible for hiring and firing agency Inspectors General;
- Expanding definition of criminal bid tampering to include bid-rigging schemes; and
- Authorizing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations with a supermajority vote of commission members."
This report comes at an interesting time, as the American Law Institute is gearing up for a new project called Principles of Government Ethics.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
I believe that I subscribe to every DOJ press release service pertaining to federal criminal law. My favorite press releases to read are those put out by the FBI. World class self-promoters, the folks at the Bureau like to brag every time one of their investigations results in an arrest, indictment, guilty plea, trial conviction, or sentence. Following the FBI's press releases can give you a quick, informal, and unscientific sense of what's hot and happening in federal law enforcement--at least according to the FBI. Yesterday, the Bureau issued 19 press releases related to specific federal criminal cases. Fraud is in first at 8 press releases. Robbery comes in a strong second at 5. Child pornography is third with 2. Piracy, stolen firearms, stolen cars, and prescription drug abuse limp in at 1 each. White collar crime rules the roost. We're number one!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Here is Assistant AG Ronald Weich's letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers explaining DOJ's declination in the matter of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. And here is George Terwilliger's statement celebrating the declination. Terwilliger and Bob Bittman of White & Case represented Gonzales in the investigation.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Jennifer Niles Coffin and other members of the Sentencing Resource Counsel's Office have a wonderful new resource, and I vote it - very impressive - to assist with sentencing research. Here is how it was described to me:
"a website devoted to making available a large number of documents and materials from the Commission's public record that are not currently available on the Commission's website (and are otherwise difficult to obtain). These include nearly all public comment (including public comment regarding the initial guideline development process), written hearing testimony from early amendment cycles (and some others), hearing transcripts (before 1997), and various reports (including the mythical 1990 Firearms Working Group Report). The documents themselves are posted just as they appear in the records of the Sentencing Commission, and each document is fully searchable (although the site itself is not). The website address is www.src-project.org.
You can use these documents to figure out whether the provision was developed by the Commission in its characteristic institutional role, as the Sentencing Reform Act envisioned and as the Supreme Court has now re-emphasized. What comments did the Commission receive from stakeholders when it was contemplating the guideline or a subsequent change? What was said at the hearings? What did that staff report say? Because much of the administrative record is not available on the Commission's website (especially for the earlier amendment cycles), the answers to these questions have often remained mysteries.
You should think of this website as a library or repository for primary documents. The documents are arranged by category (public comment, transcripts, testimony, reports), so the website will be most useful when you have already targeted an amendment for an inquiry into its "legislative history" and you know the amendment cycle[s] in which the issue was under consideration. This information can be obtained by looking at the Historical Note in the Manual at the end of the guideline or policy statement at issue, then at the "Reason for Amendment" in Appendix C.
In addition, the Commission publishes every proposed and final action in the Federal Register. To find the administrative record of proposed amendments that were not adopted, or to find out whether the language of a proposed amendment evolved after the public comment period, search the Federal Register database on Westlaw or LEXIS for any notice of proposed amendments to the guideline or policy statement at issue. Then go to www.src-project.org (and the Commission's website, as appropriate) to examine the relevant materials."
(esp) (hat tip Todd Bussert)
Friday, January 15, 2010
GAO issued a third report on Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPA) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPA), this time titled - DOJ Has Taken Steps to Better Track Its Use of Deferred and Non-Prosecution Agreements, but Should Evaluate Effectiveness. The report recommends that:
"To assess its progress toward meeting its strategic objective of combating public and corporate corruption, the Attorney General should develop performance measures to evaluate the contribution of DPAs and NPAs towards achieving this objective."
There were 12 U.S. District and magistrate judges who provided comments that assisted in the report. A highlight sheet on the report states that "prosecutors, company representatives, monitors, and judges with whom GAO spoke more frequently cited disadvantages to greater judicial involvement - such as the lack of time and resources available to judges and concerns about the separation of powers and constitutionality of increased judicial involvement -than advantages to such involvement-such as the court's ability to act as an independent arbiter of disputes, increased transparency in the DPA process, and decreased perceptions of favoritism in selecting the monitor."
I wonder what defense attorneys would have said if they had been consulted on this question.
Prior Reports - Prosecutors Adhered to Guidance in Selecting Monitors for Deferred Prosecution and Non-Prosecution Agreements, but DOJ Could Better Communicate Its Role in Resolving Conflicts;Preliminary Observations on DOJs Use and Oversight of Deferred Prosecution and Non-Prosecution Agreements
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In the wake of recent events that demonstrate discovery violations (see here), DOJ has issued three new policies here. It is wonderful to see that DOJ is beefing up its discovery practices and taking a hard look at what should happen in the future. It also sounds like a better management system is being considered. But that said, looking at the actual guidance memo, here are a few preliminary comments -
- After telling prosecutors that they need to familiarize themselves with Brady, Giglio and other discovery rules and statutes, the paragraph ends with a statement that this new memo "provides prospective guidance only and is not intended to have the force of law or to create or confer any rights, privileges, or benefits." Yes, this is the standard language one finds throughout the DOJ manual. But wait a minute -- although DOJ guidelines can be guidelines, these mandates are constitutional, statutory, and rules - they often do have the force of law. This fact should be emphasized to prosecutors.
- The memo states - "Prosecutors should never describe the discovery being provided as 'open file.'" The memo explains the fears of missing something. It seems odd that the DOJ doesn't want prosecutors to accept credit when they do the right thing and provide all discovery. Saying not to call it "open," for fear of missing something, implies that this is not a policy that recognizes the value of an "open file" system that can work well and provide efficiency. And taking this one step further -- if it is not acknowledged as an "open discovery" practice, and something is missed - will it sound any better to the accused who failed to receive their discovery material?
- The memo gives no real guidance as to when a prosecutor has to turn over Jencks material, and leaves it to the individual offices to create their individual rules. It is ironic that DOJ wants sentencing consistency, but doesn't want discovery consistency. Should a defendant in Wyoming have different rights to witness statements than the defendant in New York?
- It is good to see memorialization of witness statements is important. But only turning over "material variances in a witness's statements?" Shouldn't all variances be turned over?
- It is interesting how the memo provides an extensive review process of discovery material - will this hold up getting the materials to defense counsel? Also will defense counsel be given an equal amount of time to review these materials and time to conduct additional investigation that may be warranted as a result of the materials provided?
- And yes, it is important to protect witnesses and national security - but should DOJ be the one deciding when they think they can withhold evidence? Shouldn't that be for neutral parties like the judiciary?
It is good to see DOJ trying to do a better job than past administrations, but what really needs to be done is setting forth clearer rules and statutes by independent parties, as opposed to a working group made up of "senior prosecutors from throughout the Department and from United States’ Attorney Offices, law enforcement representatives, and information technology professionals," so that our system does "do justice" as desired by AG Holder.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
In a recent press release, President Barak Obama announced that he was establishing an interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The executive order (13519) lists a long list of individuals offices that will be represented on this task force (e.g. Homeland Security, FTC, SBA). Yes, TARP is also at the table. At the head of the task force is the Attorney General with the Deputy AG directing the work of the task force. The task force clearly has a mission of coordinating efforts for financial fraud prosecutions. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the task force is found near the end of the executive order - "The Task Force shall replace, and continue the work of, the Corporate Fraud Task Force" which had been created by a 2002 Executive Order. The use of a task force is not new for DOJ. In addition to the Corporate Fraud Task Force, we have seen task forces like the Katrina Hurricane Task Force that focused on fraud. (see here).
One aspect that is particularly good to see as an aspect of this task force is its "Outreach" section. It states:
AG Holder comments on this new task force here.
Outreach. Consistent with the law enforcement objectives set out in this order, the Task Force, in accordance with applicable law, in addition to regular meetings, shall conduct outreach with representatives of financial institutions, corporate entities, nonprofit organizations, State, local, tribal, and territorial governments and agencies, and other interested persons to foster greater coordination and participation in the detection and prosecution of financial fraud and financial crimes, and in the enforcement of antitrust and antidiscrimination laws.