Wednesday, May 9, 2012
I mentioned in a recent post that Reggie Walton is a fair judge. That fairness was on display again yesterday in the Roger Clemens trial, when Walton prohibited federal prosecutors from introducing testimony and documents pertaining to Clemens' fat salary as a pitcher. Walton correctly concluded that the prejudicial effect of this evidence outweighed its supposed probative value. It is a very rare federal judge who will bar this kind of "lavish lifestyle" evidence. The government always wants it in, ostensibly to show that a defendant's alleged criminal conduct was part of an effort to maintain a lavish lifestyle. In reality, prosecutors simply want to prejudice the defendant in the eyes of jurors by showing them how rich he is, how "high-on-the-hog" he lives, and how different he is from you and me.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Two weeks ago Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York dismissed the indictment in one of the sillier prosecutions brought in that court in recent years. See article here and opinion here - Download Opinion. Julian P. Heicklen, an 80 year-old retired professor, was charged with jury tampering (18 U.S.C. 1503) for distributing at the courthouse steps pamphlets of the Fully Informed Jury Association ("FIJA") that advocated jury nullification.
The pamphlet stated, in part: "You may choose to vote to acquit, even when the evidence proves that the defendant 'did it,' if your conscience so dictates." It also suggested that jurors may choose to be less than candid when asked questions during jury selection about their ability to follow the law as instructed by the judge. It is "your moral choice," the pamphlet stated, whether to "give answers that are likely to get you excused from serving, or say whatever it takes to be selected, so you can do your part to see that justice is served."
Jury nullification, as commonly understood, goes only one way. It allows jurors to ignore their oaths and acquit a defendant even if they are convinced that her guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The potential effect of Heicklen's pamphleteering -- if it were to have any, which I question -- would be acquittals (or hung juries) in cases that otherwise would have resulted in jury verdicts of guilty.
The prosecutors in the Southern District were understandably upset. Heicklen was in a sense treading on their turf -- both the courthouse and the law. The prosecutors reacted aggressively, investigating by using an undercover agent and indicting based on an apparently unclear statute and in a bedrock area of First Amendment protection. In court, a prosecutor called Heicklen's advocacy "a significant and important threat to our judicial system."
Rather than the crucial decision to prosecute being made by independent, disinterested prosecutors, as it should always be, here it was made and carried out by the very prosecutors who were in a practical sense themselves the aggrieved parties or "victims." It was their cases -- their convictions -- that Heicklen arguably put in jeopardy by suggesting that jurors might still acquit even if they believed the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Southern District prosecutors were too conflicted and too involved to be allowed to make the decision whether to prosecute Heicklen (and they were too conflicted and too involved to make a reasoned, dispassionate and intelligent decision). The conflict here was not the potential or hypothetical conflict that prosecutors often argue should disqualify defense counsel, but an actual one. If the prosecutors felt Heicklen should have been prosecuted, they should have referred the ultimate decision to the Department of Justice in Washington. (While I do not know definitively that the Southern District prosecutors did not, if they had, I would have expected that the case would have been prosecuted by Central DOJ lawyers.)
There is an obvious imbalance in the criminal justice system. One litigant, the prosecutor, may charge the opposing litigant with perjury, the litigant's lawyer with obstruction and the litigant's advocate with jury tampering. The other litigant, the defendant (and his counsel), can only howl about agents who lie and prosecutors who secure convictions and jail sentences by concealing evidence. The power of one litigant to protect his case (or cases) by charging one seeking to undermine it (or them) is a drastic one that should be used with care and extreme caution. Here, prosecutorial discretion went awry.
Judge Wood's decision was calm, deliberate, and thorough, considering statutory construction, legislative history, judicial rulings and constitutional implications, and not, at least directly, criticizing the prosecution. Granting the defendant's pre-trial motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b) on the grounds that the facts did not state an offense, she ruled that the statute was limited to advocacy relating to a specific case, not a general philosophy, as here. Although Judge Wood ultimately relied on a plain language analysis and did not explicitly rule on the First Amendment issue, she indicated that Heicklen's conduct was constitutionally protected free speech.
The case represents governmental overreaching in a sensitive free speech area. Perhaps if the decision whether to prosecute were made at Central DOJ, it would have been different, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a highly respected and effective office, would have been spared an embarrassing defeat (and Mr. Heicklen spared a prosecution, although I suspect he rather enjoyed it).
The ultimate result may be that FIJA now has a license (in the form of a district court decision) to distribute literature suggesting nullification on the steps of federal courthouses, or nearby, throughout the nation. (Judge Wood did recognize that reasonable restrictions on such distribution under other laws may apply.)
Monday, April 30, 2012
In United States v. VandeBrake, (opinion- Download 111390P) the Eighth Circuit in a 2-1 opinion affirmed a 48-month sentence in an anti-trust case. The trial court had "varied upward from the advisory guidelines range based primarily upon VandeBrake's lack of remorse and the court's policy disagreement with United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual (U.S.S.G.) § 2R1.1." The trial court rejected, after giving notice to the parties, a binding plea agreement which called for a sentence of 19 months. Defendant-appellant argued that imposing "the longest sentence ever imposed in an antitrust case" was unwarranted here in comparison to the other case that received this same high sentence. The Appellate court affirmed the decision, but there's a concurring opinion and also a dissent.
The concurring opinion "disassociate[s itself] from the district court's comments about economic success and status, race, heritage, and religion." Chief Judge Riley writes - "I consider those comments inappropriate and not a proper reason for supporting any sentence."
The dissent by Circuit Judge Beam states in the opening paragraph - "even a multi-millionaire businessman has the right to be sentenced under the rule of law, especially rules recently put in place by the Supreme Court. Rich persons, poor persons and persons at all other economic strata should expect no less." The dissent states "the sentencing court's bald assumption that it has deferential discretion to substantially vary from all guidelines on policy grounds is reversible error." Judge Beam states:
"My research reveals that there were only a few hundred offenders sentenced for committing antitrust violations between FYs 1996 and 2011. The statistics also demonstrate that, over a period of 15 years, VandeBrake was the only antitrust offender sentenced above the guidelines range. Indeed, out of some 230 offenders The preliminary data for FY 2011 indicates that one antitrust offender was sentenced above the guidelines via an upward variance. Since VandeBrake was sentenced under § 2R1.1 since FY 1997, 83 were sentenced within the guidelines range and 146 were sentenced below the guidelines range. Similarly, since FY 1996, of the 288 offenders sentenced with an antitrust violation being the "primary offense," 95 were sentenced within the guidelines range and 192 were sentenced below the guidelines range." (Footnotes omitted)
Will DOJ join defense counsel on the same side in sending this case higher? They should. As noted here, Professor Berman looks at another white collar case with a high sentence. He states "I would bet a whole lot of money that on appeal federal prosecutors will defend this extremely long white-collar sentence as reasonable even though it surely does appear out of line with the sentences given to similar defendants convicted of similar crimes." As "ministers of justice" DOJ should support the defense if they are to continue their argument that sentences in white collar cases should remain within the guidelines.
Friday, April 13, 2012
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.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The Ninth Circuit en banc issued an opinion in the case of United States v. Nosal (Download US v Nosal 9th Cir 2012-04-10). It is not often that we see opinions that interpret section 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But it is also likely that this will be a hot area of the law as Hon. Kozinski, who authored the opinion in this case, begins with the line "[c]omputers have become an indispensable part of our daily lives."
The government charged the defendant with violations of 18 U.S.C.s 1030(a)(4) for allegedly "aiding and abetting" a companies employees "in 'exceed[ing their] authorized access' with intent to defraud." The trial court dismissed certain counts and the government appealed. In affirming the trial court's dismissal, the 9th Circuit states, "[b]asing criminal liability on violations of private computer use polices can transform whole categories of otherwise innocuous behavior into federal crimes simply because a computer is involved." The court finds that "[t]herefore, we hold that 'exceeds authorized access' in the CFAA is limited to violations of restrictions on access to information, and not restrictions on its use."
The Ninth Circuit makes a point of noting the jurisdictional split that exists with respect to this issue. The court states,
"[w]e therefore respectfully decline to follow our sister circuits and urge them to reconsider instead. For our part, we continue to follow in the path blazed by Brekka, 581 F.3d 1127, and the growing number of courts that have reached the same conclusion. These courts recognize that the plain language of the CFAA 'target[s] the unauthorized procurement or alteration of information, not its misuse or misappropriation.'"
The decision uses the Rule of Lenity and sends word to Congress that if it "wants to incorporate misappropriation liability into the CFAA, it must speak more clearly."
The court rejects an argument we often hear from the government - trust us - we won't prosecute cases that should not be prosecuted. The court noted that most individuals are unaware of the terms of service agreements of internet providers including one major company that until recently "forbade minors from using its services." The court stated, "we shouldn’t have to live at the mercy of our local prosecutor. . . And it’s not clear we can trust the government when a tempting target comes along."(citations omitted).
(esp)(hat tip to Evan Jenness)
Sunday, April 8, 2012
In a Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing en Banc, defense counsel raises that the Second Circuit did not consider the Supreme Court's recent decision in Global Tech (for more discussion on this case see here and here). The defense argues that the 2009 conviction of Frederic Bourke Jr. for conspiracy to violate the FCPA and for making false statements was affirmed, but the jury was not apprised that reckless conduct was insufficient for conscious avoidance. Global Tech was issued after oral argument in the case.
Petition for Rehearing - Download Bourkeca2rehearingpetition
Friday, April 6, 2012
In the wake of the Schuelke/Shields report and the introduction of new discovery legislation, one has to wonder whether the Supreme Court will take a case that raises a Brady discovery issue. At their doorsteps is the case of James A. Brown, a case from the Enron days. As previously noted (here) Brown, is a former Merrill Lynch executive who "was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his testimony before the Enron grand jury about a transaction between Merrill and Enron in late 1999." There are important issues here like the appropriate standard of review for Brady cases. Should it be "clear error" or should it be de novo. (see here) The case also examines "materiality," a term that has created some confusion. What must a prosecutor provide to the defense counsel. And isn't it odd that the adversary in the process is making the determination for what the defense is entitled to receive. The case looks at summaries being provided to defense counsel. Bottom line - summaries are not the same as the real thing.
In the reply brief recently filed, they argue-
"Here, as in Stevens, many exculpatory statements appear only in raw notes of government interviews of key players. In Brown, the Enron Task Force actually yellow-highlighted these notes before trial – along with prior testimony and FBI 302s – indicating that the information met the requirements of Brady and was material, but suppressed them anyway. While continuing to deny that any evidence fell within Brady, new prosecutors recently disclosed 6,300 pages including much (but still not all) of the evidence suppressed by the Task Force." (Reply Brief - Download FILED REPLY ON CERT.)
The government's brief sees things differently - Download SG OPP32312.
This case is distributed for conference on April 20th.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Supreme Court decisions in new areas of criminal law often lead professors and practitioners to predict startling changes in the legal landscape. Regarding the Frye and Cooper decisions I discussed earlier this week, Widener Law Professor Wesley M. Oliver told the New York Times that these cases "constitute the single greatest revolution in the criminal justice system since Gideon v. Wainwright . . . ." See here. I do not agree.
While I do expect that there will be some formalistic change in plea offer procedures so that offers will routinely be made in writing or on the record, I do not expect that these decisions will ultimately provide great benefits to many defendants or great detriments to many prosecutors. Most courts had already recognized that ineffective assistance arises when a defense lawyer fails to communicate a plea offer or gives incompetent advice regarding whether to accept it. True, Frye/Cooper allows, but does not mandate, relief even after trial for such ineffective assistance. And, there probably will be an increased number of post-trial petitions concerning alleged failures of counsel to communicate favorable pleas or competently advise whether to accept them. However, few of these challenges are likely to be ultimately successful.
Indeed, the obstacles set forth by the Supreme Court for a defendant convicted after trial to succeed are substantial. The defendant must demonstrate that the plea offer that counsel failed to communicate was both a formal and favorable one or that counsel gave constitutionally inadequate advice concerning it, that the defendant would have accepted the offer if it had been presented properly, that the offer would not have been cancelled by the prosecutor prior to execution and that the offer would have been accepted by the judge. Then, even if the prosecutor is required to reoffer the plea proposal, the judge may in her discretion sentence the defendant according to the conditions in the deal, to the same sentence he received after trial, or somewhere in between. Thus, even if the Court finds that the defendant was unconstitutionally deprived of a fair opportunity to accept a proffered plea offer, the defendant may ultimately receive the very same sentence he received after trial -- essentially no relief at all.
Justice Scalia in his dissent in Cooper found it "extraordinary" that the remedy for an unconstitutional conviction "should ever be subject at all to the trial judge's discretion," and that a "remedy could ever include no remedy at all."
Justice Scalia suspects, so he says, that the "squeamishness" in fashioning a remedy and the "incoherence" of the remedy provided is attributable to the majority's inner recognition that in fact there is "no real constitutional violation." I suspect that it is a compromise to secure a five-vote majority.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
[All of the facts in this post come from the 11th Circuit opinion in United States v. Ignasiak, publicly available on the 11th Circuit's website (here) or from PACER.]
Arthur Jordan used a counterfeit badge and posed as an on-duty U.S. Marshal in order to carry firearms onto commercial airplanes while on personal travel. He did this nine times. According to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Jordan's "criminal conduct" resulted in "multiple violations" of 18 U.S.C. Sections 912 and 1001 and 49 U.S.C. Section 46505, and "could have been charged as felonies."
But Jordan wasn't even charged with a misdemeanor. He got pretrial diversion from the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office, paid $2,000.00, and agreed never to carry firearms on an airplane again, except while on official business.
Jordan is not your everyday citizen. He is none other than Dr. Arthur Jordan, who goes around the country testifying as an expert for the U.S. Government in Health Care Fraud/Controlled Substances Act prosecutions against pain management physicians. He charges $300 per hour and, during his November 2008 testimony in U.S. v. Ignasiak, claimed to have earned around $30,000.00 as a government expert up to that point in time. Dr. Jordan was the key government expert against Robert Ignasiak in the latter's criminal jury trial, testifying for almost three days. (Roy Black was lead defense counsel during the trial.)
But there's much more to the story. Given its reversal, and its finding that the evidence was sufficient, the 11th Circuit declined to address the other issues raised by Ignasiak on appeal--except for one.
You see, none of the Ignasiak defense attorneys knew during the trial about Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" or his South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement. Several months after the Ignasiak guilty verdicts, the government filed the Government's In Camera Notice to the Court ("Notice"). The Notice, and an accompanying affidavit, were filed under seal. This post-trial Notice revealed Dr. Jordan's conduct and his South Dakota pretrial diversion deal to Judge Lacey Collier and Robert Ignasiak's defense team for the first time. The government requested that the Notice be kept under seal, in order to protect Dr. Jordan's privacy interests.
In the Notice, the government also argued that its prior failure to disclose the Arthur Jordan impeachment material did not violate Brady/Giglio, because the Ignasiak prosecutor had not personally known about Dr. Jordan's conduct, or the South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement, during the Ignasiak trial.
Judge Collier summarily granted the government's request to seal the Notice, despite defense opposition. The defense filed a New Trial Motion based on the alleged Brady/Giglio violations. Much of that litigation was conducted under seal. A few documents are publicly available, but they are heavily redacted. The defense lost its New Trial Motion as well.
The 11th Circuit did not decide whether the government's failure to discover and disclose Dr. Jordan's conduct, before or during trial, violated Brady/Giglio. But it did order the government's Notice unsealed and, through its opinion, disclosed Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" and pretrial diversion deal to the bench and bar. This was an admirable public service.
The 11th Circuit was clearly displeased by DOJ's effort to shield Dr. Jordan. As the Court succinctly put it:
"Perhaps ironically, by arguing that there was no Brady violation in this case because the AUSA prosecuting Ignasiak was unaware of Dr. Jordan’s history, it is actually the government that most persuasively highlights the value in unsealing the Notice. Indeed, should the Notice remain sealed, the significant likelihood is that in the next CSA prosecution in which Dr. Jordan testifies as an expert, both the prosecuting AUSA and the defense counsel will again be unaware of the highly relevant impeachment evidence contained in the Notice. And in that case, as in this one, should the truth ever come to light, the government could again point to its own ignorance and claim immunity from Brady error. Stated this way, we would have expected the government to condemn, rather than condone, such a problematic outcome."
In light of the 11th Circuit's opinion, several questions present themselves.
1. Who Protected Jordan? In other words, why did he get what looks on its face like a very favorable pretrial diversion deal from the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office? Who approved the deal and who within DOJ was informed about it? How long did the diversionary period last? Was it unusually short and, if so, why?
2. Who Revealed or Failed to Reveal Jordan's Conduct and Pretrial Diversion Deal? The Ignasiak prosecution team, from the Northern District of Florida, purportedly did not know about Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" or his South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement until after trial. Why not? The South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office is part of the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney network, and Dr. Jordan is fairly well known as a government expert in pain clinic cases. It is difficult to imagine that South Dakota prosecutors were not aware of Dr. Jordan's ongoing role as a government expert. Assuming that they were aware, why didn't this raise any red flags, and who, if anyone, made the decision to quarantine this obvious Brady/Giglio material? If this is a cover-up, how high did it go? Was Jordan's pretrial diversion completed before Ignasiak's trial? Was it still in force when Jordan traveled, as he surely must have, to Pensacola for trial prep? Wouldn't Jordan need permission from pretrial services in order to travel to Pensacola, and wouldn't he have to tell pretrial service the purpose of his trip? Did the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office know of the trip and its purpose? If so, why didn't it notify N.D. Florida?
3. Why Did N.D. Florida Try to Seal and Suppress Dr. Jordan's "Criminal Conduct" and Pretrial Diversion Deal? As the 11th Circuit correctly noted, the government's effort to seal its own Notice had the effect of shielding Dr. Jordan's misconduct from other federal prosecutorial offices. Even assuming, as the government argued in Ignasiak, that an AUSA in one federal district has no obligation to obtain Brady/Giglio from a fellow AUSA in another federal district, what possible justification is there for the active effort to suppress Brady/Giglio material that occurred post-trial in Ignasiak?
4. What Subsequent Prosecutions Have Been Sullied by the Ignasiak Brady/Giglio Suppression? Did the Florida AUSAs ask Dr. Jordan about any upcoming trials Jordan may have had on tap with other U.S. Attorney Offices? If so, did the N.D. Florida make an attempt to tell the other offices about Dr. Jordan? It unquestionably had an ethical duty to do so. What has been done since the Ignasiak opinion to look into this issue?
5. Does the DOJ Really Believe that Brady/Giglio Material Known Only to a Federal Prosecutor in South Dakota is not Brady/Giglio Material in any Other Federal District? What duty does DOJ impose upon its federal prosecutors to tell prosecutors in other federal districts about Brady/Giglio problems with testifying agents and expert witnesses? If there is no policy in this area, why not?
6. How Could This Happen? More to the point, how could this happen post-Stevens? The government filed its Notice in Ignasiak six months after DOJ moved to dismiss the Stevens Indictment with prejudice and six months after Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered his own investigation of Brady/Giglio violations. Apparently AG Holder's message fell on some deaf ears. And I guess the N.D. Florida never thought to re-examine its position, after the DOJ issued, to much fanfare, the Ogden Memo in early 2010. Even now, after the 11th Circuit's pointed comments, the government has not voluntarily moved to unseal the Notice, or the motions and responses from the New Trial Motion, in the Ignasiak case. Why not?
It is extremely difficult for me to believe that either AG Eric Holder or Assistant AG Lanny Breuer knew about the Arthur Jordan issue prior to last month's Ignasiak opinion. And therein lies the problem. Even an Attorney General and Criminal Division Chief publicly committed to rooting out Brady/Giglio abuses could not prevent the Arthur Jordan debacle.
What is the real lesson here? That prosecutors can't be trusted to make their own judgments about what is or is not exculpatory and material under Brady/Giglio. Disclosure must be the norm.
DOJ has done everything in its power to prevent meaningful statutory reform of Fed.R.Crim.App.16 and federal criminal discovery procedures. DOJ says that it can be trusted to prevent Brady/Giglio violations from occurring. The Ted Stevens prosecution is Exhibit 1 in the argument against DOJ. Now we have Exhibit 2. His name is Dr. Arthur Jordan.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Here is Judge Emmet Sullivan's Memorandum Opinion ordering unredacted release of Hank Schuelke's Report on prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens prosecution. Any comments or objections to the report by the attorneys involved are due by March 8 and will be published along with the Report.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Last Friday the DC Circuit affirmed a district court's refusal to amend or modify Abramoff cooperator Michael Scanlon's plea agreement. Scanlon sought to amend or modify his plea agreement prior to sentencing in light of Skilling v. United States. He had pled guilty to conspiracy to commit: bribery, money and property mail and wire fraud, and honest services mail and wire fraud. The Court of Appeals, through Chief Judge Sentelle, held that federal courts are statutorily prohibited from modifying or amending plea agreements. Scanlon could have moved to withdraw his guilty plea, but chose not to do so. The case is: U.S. v. Scanlon (D.C. Circuit 2012) (courts are not authorized to modify or amend plea agreements).
Last Thursday, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a health care fraud/controlled substances conviction on Confrontation Clause grounds, because the trial court admitted five autopsy reports, over objection, without hearing testimony from the medical examiners who performed them. The case is: U.S. v. Ignasiak (11th Cir. 2012) (admission of autopsy report violates Confrontation Clause).
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Third Circuit in United States v. Wright held that the Skilling decision requires an new trial in this case on the honest services fraud convictions and that "prejudicial spillover tainted their traditional fraud convictions." The court stated:
"An honest services fraud prosecution for bribery after Skilling thus requires the factfinder to determine two things. First, it must conclude that the payor provided a benefit to a public official intending that he will thereby take favorable official acts that he would not otherwise take. Second, it must conclude that the official accepted those benefits with the intent to take official acts to benefit the payor."
The court also stated that, "[i]n light of Skilling, the jury should have been instructed on the bribery theory but not the conflict-of-interest theory."
Sunday, January 15, 2012
The cert petition in James A. Brown v. United States (11-783) raises interesting questions regarding Brady. Brown, a former Merrill Lynch executive "was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his testimony before the Enron grand jury about a transaction between Merrill and Enron in late 1999." This case was part of the "Enron barge transaction" investigation. The cert petition states that "prosecutors steadfastly denied that they possessed any Brady evidence and claimed that their production of nineteen pages of court-ordered 'summaries' exceeded their constitutional obligations." The Fifth Circuit later found the "evidence was exculpatory and 'plainly suppressed,' but 'not material.'" This was despite the fact that items had been "yellow-highlighted" by prosecutors as "selected exculpatory statements in the evidence they submitted for the district judge's pretrial in camera review." Years after the trial "new prosecutors disclosed thousands of pages of actual notes, 302s, and testimony." This cases raises the issue of what is the correct standard of review under Brady and Kyles.
The petition asks the Court to "establish three clear rules to enforce the crucial constitutional protections established in Brady v. Maryland." It states:
"First, consistent with the majority of Circuits, this Court should establish that Brady decisions must be reviewed de novo. Second, this Court should reject the Fifth Circuit's novel and dangerous approach to determining materiality, and thereby refine and reinforce the Kyles test. Third, this Court should adopt and mandate the majority rule that exculpatory evidence is material per se if the government corrupts the adversary process by providing deficient summaries or affirmatively capitalizing on its suppression at trial."
Discovery issues need to be examined by the Court. This is a good case for the Court to stress the importance of defendants receiving timely discovery to allow for a fair and proper defense to the charges.
Petition for Cert - Download 2011 CERT PETITION FILED
Monday, January 9, 2012
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded a white collar case (United States v. Collins) saying that "the trial court committed prejudicial error when it failed to disclose the contents of a jury note and engaged in an ex parte colloquy with a juror accused of attempting to barter his vote." The three "c"s - judges with last names starting with the letter "C"- Calabresi, Chin and Carney - issued this opinion in a 14-count case involving conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. The foreman had sent a note to the court "asserting that one juror had attempted to barter his vote and was refusing to deliberate." "The court did not share the contents of the note with the parties or seek counsel's input before it conducted an ex parte interview with the accused juror." The Second Circuit held that the defendant was deprived "of his right to be present at every stage of the trial" and that this "deprivation was not harmless."
See also Chicago Tribune (AP), Winnetka lawyer wins new trial on NYC appeal
Mark Hamblett, NYLJ, Circuit Upsets Fraud Conviction of Ex-Mayer Brown Partner
(esp)(w/ a hat tip to Linda Friedman Ramirez)
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Jeffrey Skilling is trying for a second shot with the Supreme Court. On November 28, 2011 he filed a cert petition with the Court (see here). The questions presented are:
1. Whether Neder permits a court conducting a harmless-error analysis in the context of an "alternative theory" case to consider only the strength of the Government's case on the legally valid theory, without regard to whether the defendant contested that theory enough to create a factual dispute that rationally could have been resolved in the defendant's favor.
1. Whether Neder permits a court conducting a harmless-error analysis in the context of an "alternative theory" case to consider only the strength of the Government's case on the legally valid theory, without regard to whether the defendant contested that theory enough to create a factual dispute that rationally could have been resolved in the defendant's favor.
2. Whether a court conducting a harmless-error analysis in the context of an "alternative theory" case may categorically exclude the defendant's testimony in his own defense on the legally valid theory.
The government's response is due January 3, 2012.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Hat tip to Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice for his outstanding post on Judge James B. Zagel's unfortunate public criticisms of one of Rod Blagojevich's criminal defense attorneys, Lauren Kaeseberg. Kaeseberg had the temerity to file a post-judgment Emergency Motion For Evidentiary Hearing Regarding Potential Juror Misconduct, based on news reports that the Blagojevich jury foreperson was publicly displaying her juror questionnaire, arguably in violation of a prior court order. Zagel denied the motion from the bench, calling it "harebrained," according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Abdon Pallasch. The Lake County News-Sun, picked up the "harebrained" comment and placed it in the headline of its story about the ruling. Above the Law piled on with a frivolous post, and Kaeseberg has apparently been taking additional criticism on her web site. You can read the Emergency Motion above for yourself and draw your own conclusions. On its face, I see absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Judge Zagel also hit Kaeseberg, sworn in as an attorney in 2008, with the following zingers:
"The motion was prepared without any adequate thought." It looks thoughtful enough to me. Sometimes criminal defense attorneys, particularly in the post-sentencing, pre-notice of appeal context, have to move swiftly in order to obtain a fact-finding hearing, make a record, and/or preserve error.
"[The filing was] beyond my imagination." That's not exactly the legal standard.
"You should seek outside counsel...and send a letter of apology to the juror." Why? The Emergency Motion was temperate in its discussion of the foreperson, who "has made many public appearances since the verdict...touting her decision and role in the Blagojevich jury."
"By the absence of precedent, I assume you couldn't find precedent." As Greenfield correctly points out, lawyers don't always have on-all-fours (or, as they say in Chicago, "white horse") precedent at hand. The dedicated, imaginative lawyer works with principles and analogous cases and tries to make new precedent. It's called lawyering.
Pallach also reports Judge Zagel saying that he "could hold Kaeseberg in contempt of court but was cutting her slack because she was a fairly new lawyer." On its face, the motion does not seem to be improper at all, much less contemptuous. Perhaps there is some backstory here that we are not aware of. The press seldom reports everything. But this is a serious public allegation for a federal judge to throw at a young lawyer, particularly given the unexceptionable nature of the Emergency Motion.
Ms. Kaeseberg defended her motion in the press. She stands by it. She is proud of it. Good for her. She has guts. She should wear Judge Zagel's criticisms as a badge of honor.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Man Bites Dog, Hell Freezes Over, Fifth Circuit Reverses Child Porn Conviction For Insufficient Evidence
The decision was handed down earlier this week in U.S. v. Moreland. The majority opinion was written by Judge Dennis, who was joined by Judge DeMoss. From a practitioner's viewpoint, it is most notable for its discussion of every conceivable mitigating gloss on Jackson v. Virginia. The dissent, by Judge Jolly, had some fun with this: "The record does not reflect whether the jury box had more than twelve chairs, but we do know—and we know for sure—that two more jurors are trying to crowd into the box." The case involved two computers that three different people, including the Defendant, had access to.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
"In this Court’s experience, almost all of the prosecutors in the Office of the United States Attorney for this district consistently display admirable professionalism, integrity and fairness.
"In this Court’s experience, almost all of the prosecutors in the Office of the United States Attorney for this district consistently display admirable professionalism, integrity and fairness.So it is with deep regret that this Court is compelled to find that the Government team allowed a key FBI agent to testify untruthfully before the grand jury, inserted material falsehoods into affidavits submitted to magistrate judges in support of applications for search warrants and seizure warrants, improperly reviewed e-mail communications between one Defendant and her lawyer, recklessly failed to comply with its discovery obligations, posed questions to certain witnesses in violation of the Court’s rulings, engaged in questionable behavior during closing argument and even made misrepresentations to the Court."
"Consequently, the Court throws out the convictions of Defendants Lindsey Manufacturing Company, Keith E. Lindsey and Steve K. Lee and dismisses the First Superseding Indictment."
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Judge Emmet Sullivan's Order in relation to the Stevens case summarizing some of the findings of the special report by Hank Schuelke and William Shields was reported last week by my editor Ellen Podgor here and discussed in depth by my co-editor Solomon Wisenberg here. I add some thoughts on Brady violations in general.
First, as Mr. Wisenberg points out, few Brady violations are intentional. Although there are some rogue prosecutors who deliberately conceal what they know is information which would be beneficial to the defendant, the vast majority of Brady violators are well-meaning prosecutors who in their focus on their proof do not realize that certain information would be helpful to the defense.
Second, Brady is counterintuitive. Requiring a participant in any contest to provide information to his adversary which will decrease his chance of winning goes against the grain. Expecting a prosecutor who believes that such information is merely a means of enabling a guilty person to get off (since the material in question presumably has not changed the prosecutor's mind that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) to provide it to his opponent is even more problematical.
Third, Brady violations are not uncommon, although few are revealed. Since Brady violations are done in secret and the concealed evidence is unlikely ever to reach the light of day, most are undetectable. As Judge Sullivan's Order notes, many of the Brady violations in the Stevens case would never have been revealed but for the exhaustive investigation by the court's appointed investigators. And, this case, it should be remembered, involved a U.S. Senator represented by Brendan Sullivan, a superb, highly-respected and aggressive lawyer, and an outstanding law firm with considerable resources, not an overwhelmed court-appointed attorney with limited time and resources.
Fourth, as Mr. Wisenberg notes, prosecutors are rarely punished for Brady violations. Most judges either ignore the violations or gently chide the prosecutors. DOJ internal reviews of alleged prosecutorial misconduct are viewed by defense lawyers and many judges as whitewashes. Disciplinary committees historically have treated errant prosecutors gently in the few cases of prosecutorial misconduct of which they become aware, and prosecutions of prosecutors for obstruction of justice and the like for withholding evidence are virtually nonexistent.
Fifth, the legal standards for Brady disclosure are confused. Most prosecutors and judges think of Brady material as "exculpatory" material, that is, something that might have a significant impact on the determination of guilt, a standard that, to most prosecutors, eliminates all but a very few items of evidence. In fact, what should be disclosed is evidence "favorable" to the accused, a much broader category than "exculpatory." Additionally, many prosecutors believe that the standard used by reviewing courts to determine whether non-disclosure of Brady evidence requires reversal -- whether it is "material" -- is the proper standard to be used by a trial prosecutor in the initial disclose-or-not determination. "Materiality" in this context is essentially a "harmless error" standard of review used to decide whether the withheld evidence mandates reversal, not the standard to determine whether to disclose in the first instance. Just as a prosecutor's argument in summation may be improper, even if unlikely to result in reversal, concealment from the defense of favorable evidence is improper, even if not so serious that it later will be found "material" by an appellate court.
In sum, under current conditions, Brady just doesn't work. More explicit guidelines, as recently published by DOJ, will help, as would standing court orders making a violation contemptuous (as has seemingly not happened in Stevens) and stronger punishments for violations by judges, prosecutorial agencies, and disciplinary committees (and perhaps also a statute criminalizing deliberate and knowing Brady violations). But, in the end, the only real solution to Brady violations may just be, as Mr. Wisenberg suggests, open discovery in criminal cases.