Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Joe Paterno is dead, his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports tarnished by his termination -- unjust, I believe -- on the grounds that he inappropriately failed to pursue vigorously an allegation of child sex abuse (see here, here and here).
Paterno's death and absence as a witness will likely have little or no effect on the trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach who was the subject of the allegation reported to Paterno by a Penn State graduate assistant coach, Mike McQueary. Paterno's only information about the Sandusky issues appears to have been the hearsay report by McQueary, and thus it is unlikely that he would have been a witness.
Paterno's unavailability, however, may have a considerable impact on the trials of Tim Curley, the former university athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a former university senior vice president, both of whom have been charged with failure to report the suspected child abuse and perjury. Both have been charged with falsely testifying that McQueary, when he spoke with them, did not mention serious or criminal sexual conduct. McQueary, whom the grand jury report (presumably written by the prosecutors) deemed "extremely credible," testified that he reported the specific act to both Curley and Schultz, and seemingly also to Paterno. Paterno's grand jury testimony, however, apparently was that what McQueary related to him was far less specific, and thus more ambiguous. Accordingly, while the grand jury report indicated that Paterno would be a corroborative witness for the prosecution in that he was told by McQueary of the alleged "sexual exploitation" and then reported what McQueary had said to Curley and Schultz, his testimony would apparently also have to an extent corroborated their defenses that McQueary was less explicit than he now claims.
In another highly-publicized investigation involving a former college sports coach, former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, it has been reported that two of the four men who had accused Fine of molesting them when they were children have admitted that they committed perjury in connection with the case. One has admitted that he lied when he claimed Fine molested him. The second, the only one whose allegations fall within the applicable criminal statute of limitations, while still claiming that abuse occurred, has admitted doctoring purportedly supporting emails.
The Fine situation is a reminder that not every allegation of child sexual abuse is true. Indeed, in my experience, there is a far higher percentage of false accusations of sexual misconduct than of any other criminal activity. Thus, such accusations should be scrutinized especially carefully before they are acted upon by law enforcement or others.
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)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I have a nagging feeling that Penn State football ex-coach Joe Paterno may have lost the game on a bad call by the referee(s). Paterno, although not charged criminally, has been fired and vilified for what many suspect was his involvement in a cover-up to protect Penn State and its football program. While Paterno might arguably be faulted for a moral lapse for not personally reporting the allegation directly to public authorities, he did, promptly and probably accurately, report what he had been told to his administrative higher-ups, including the official in charge of the university police, one of the law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over on-campus crime.
The basic facts as regards Paterno, according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report (see here), are as follows: A 28-year old Penn State graduate assistant (known to be Mike McQueary) in March 2002 observed Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who had access to its football facilities, in a shower room subjecting a boy estimated to be 10 years old to anal intercourse. The following day, a Saturday, McQueary reported to Paterno "what he had seen." The next day, a Sunday, according to Paterno he called to his home Tim Curley, the university athletic director and his immediate nominal supervisor, and told Curley that McQueary had seen Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy." Subsequently, at a meeting with Gary Schultz, the Penn State senior vice president who oversaw the campus police, Paterno reported (according to Schultz) that Sandusky had engaged in "disturbing" and "inappropriate" conduct in the shower with a young boy.
Approximately one and one half weeks after the shower incident, in a meeting with Curley and Schultz, McQueary testified, he told them he had observed Sandusky having anal sex with a boy. Paterno was not present at that meeting.
Schultz, who was aware of an allegation against Sandusky in 1998 that was investigated with no resulting arrest, did not report the incident to the police. Curley and Schultz reported the incident to university now ex-president Graham Spanier as Sandusky "horsing around" in the shower with a "younger" child. Spanier testified that, as reported to him, the incident was not of a "sexual nature," and he made no report to authorities.
Curley was indicted for making a materially false statement under oath for denying that McQueary (presumably in the meeting not attended by Paterno) had told him that Sandusky had engaged "in sexual conduct or anal sex." Schultz was indicted for making a materially false statement under oath that the allegations made by the graduate assistant were "not that serious" and that he and Curley "had no indication that a crime had occurred."
Both Curley and Schultz were also charged with the then "summary offense" (less serious than a misdemeanor) of failure to report suspected child abuse. The applicable Pennsylvania statute (since amended), according to the grand jury report, mandated reporting by "the person in charge of the school or institution" to the Department of Public Welfare. Presumably that "person in charge" was ex-president Spanier, and Curley and Schultz, it seems, were charged as persons whose alleged playing down of the incident caused Spanier not to make a report.
The criminal case against Curley and Schultz, and the moral case against Paterno, is based to a considerable extent on the accuracy of the un-cross-examined testimony about an incident 9 years ago by McQueary, whom the grand jury, according to the report, found "extremely credible." It is far from clear exactly what McQueary told Paterno. Indeed, the grand jury report, which otherwise details what McQueary reported to Curley and Schultz with some specificity, describes what McQueary told Paterno only in very broad strokes -- "what he had seen." Paterno in a recent statement claimed McQueary did not mention the "very specific actions." Thus, it appears questionable whether McQueary had reported to Paterno that Sandusky and the child had engaged in anal sex. Accordingly, when Paterno reported to Curley that he heard Sandusky was "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature," he may well not have been watering down McQueary's report.
Indeed, Paterno is likely the major corroborative witness in the prosecution case against Curley and Schultz. (The boy, it appears, had not yet been identified.) The report states that Schultz and Curley "were notified by two different Penn State employees of the alleged sexual exploitation," those witnesses apparently being McQueary and Paterno. Paterno, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has announced, is not a criminal target.
The public, including me, sometimes feels some satisfaction when it learns of the fall of the rich and famous and the sports figures whom we believe get privileged treatment, and sometimes jumps to hasty conclusions of guilt which turn out to be wrong -- witness the Duke lacrosse players and probably Strauss-Kahn cases. The grand jury report, most likely written by the prosecution, even while presenting the prosecution case without any challenge by the defense, does not convince me that Paterno did anything wrong -- criminally, civilly or morally.
It may well be that it will ultimately be revealed that Paterno deliberately minimized Sandusky's reported conduct -- and participated in a cover-up -- or that his failure to assume the responsibility to report was a grievous error. The grand jury report did not concern moral guilt. And perhaps the prosecutors went out of their way not to criticize Paterno, who, it appears, will be a key witness for them at trial.
Perhaps Paterno acted or failed to act to avoid embarrassment to the university, the football program or himself and/or to protect a colleague from arrest and prosecution, or both. Perhaps he chose not to go directly to the police or welfare agency for the same or similar reasons. Paterno, after all, as a coach no doubt believes that "the team" comes first. He is, as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has intimated, also a creature of a different generation -- a generation which believed strongly in personal loyalty and was reluctant to "name names."
The grand jury report itself, however, does not make, and does not support, an allegation that Paterno deliberately participated in a cover-up.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton denied William Roger Clemens’ Motion to Prohibit Retrial and Dismiss the Indictment. If the New York Times is to be believed, Walton thinks that prosecutors “blatantly disregarded” his order barring testimony by Laura Pettitte. But the judge also ruled that “the current state of the law” prevents him from barring a second trial, despite the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause. I respectfully disagree.
The leading case is Oregon v. Kennedy, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. In his majority opinion in Oregon v. Kennedy, Justice Rehnquist held that when a defendant successfully moves for a mistrial the Double Jeopardy Clause will not prevent a retrial unless the prosecutorial conduct giving rise to the successful motion for mistrial was intended to provoke the defense into moving for mistrial. Got that?
Rehnquist pointed out that when a prosecutor goads the defendant into moving for a mistrial, “the defendant’s valued right to complete his trial before the first jury would be a hollow shell if the inevitable motion for mistrial were held to prevent a later invocation of the bar of double jeopardy in all circumstances.” Rehnquist rejected a broader standard based on prosecutorial overreaching:
“The difficulty with the more general standards which would permit a broader exception than one merely based on intent is that they offer virtually no standards for their application. Every act on the part of a rational prosecutor during a trial is designed to ‘prejudice’ the defendant by placing before the judge or jury evidence leading to a finding of his guilt. Given the complexity of the rules of evidence, it will be a rare trial of any complexity in which some proffered evidence by the prosecutor or by the defendant's attorney will not be found objectionable by the trial court. Most such objections are undoubtedly curable by simply refusing to allow the proffered evidence to be admitted, or in the case of a particular line of inquiry taken by counsel with a witness, by an admonition to desist from a particular line of inquiry.”
In contrast, “a standard that examines the intent of the prosecutor, though certainly not entirely free from practical difficulties, is a manageable standard to apply. It merely calls for the court to make a finding of fact. Inferring the existence or nonexistence of intent from objective facts and circumstances is a familiar process in our criminal justice system.” Commentators and practitioners have not focused enough on this passage.
It is a commonplace in criminal law, both state and federal, that intent cannot always be established by direct evidence, but instead must often be inferred from circumstantial evidence. For example, the Third Circuit’s standard jury instruction on “Required State of Mind-Intentionally-Knowingly-Willfully” teaches that:
“Often the state of mind [intent, knowledge, willfulness, or recklessness] with which a person acts at any given time cannot be proved directly, because one cannot read another person’s mind and tell what he or she is thinking. However, (name’s) state of mind can be proved indirectly from the surrounding circumstances. Thus, to determine (name’s) state of mind (what (name) intended or knew) at a particular time, you may consider evidence about what (name) said, what (name) did and failed to do, how (name) acted, and all the other facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that may prove what was in (name's) mind at that time. It is entirely up to you to decide what the evidence presented during this trial proves, or fails to prove, about (name’s) state of mind.”
Every federal circuit, including the D.C. Circuit, has a similar instruction.
The Third Circuit instruction on “Intentionally” states that:
“The offense(s) of (state offense or offenses that include intentionally or with intent) charged in the indictment requires that the government prove that (name of defendant) acted “intentionally” [“with intent”] with respect to an (certain) element(s) of the offense(s). This means that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt either that (1) it was (name’s) conscious desire or purpose to act in a certain way or to cause a certain result, or that (2) (name) knew that (he) (she) was acting in that way or would be practically certain to cause that result.
In deciding whether (name) acted “intentionally” [“with intent”], you may consider evidence about what (name) said, what (name) did and failed to do, how (name) acted, and all the other facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that may prove what was in (name)’s mind at that time.”
Every federal circuit, including the D.C. Circuit, has a similar instruction.
In this regard, Justice Powell’s concurrence in Oregon v. Kennedy is also instructive. Powell noted that, because subjective intent is often unknowable, “a court - in considering a double jeopardy motion - should rely primarily upon the objective facts and circumstances of the particular case.” One of those objective facts and circumstances is whether there was a “sequence of overreaching” prior to the particular prosecutorial error which necessitated a mistrial.
Thus, Judge Walton, in determining whether the Government intended to provoke a mistrial was free under the law to fully examine all of the circumstances surrounding the Government’s violation of his order.
Every federal circuit also has a “Willful Blindness” instruction. The Third Circuit’s is typical. It states in part that:
“To find (name) guilty of (state the offense), you must find that the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense charged). In this case, there is a question whether (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense). When, as in this case, knowledge of a particular fact or circumstance is an essential part of the offense charged, the government may prove that (name) knew of that fact or circumstance if the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that (name) deliberately closed (his) (her) eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to (him) (her).
No one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious. Thus, you may find that (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense charged) based on evidence which proves that: (1) (name) was aware of a high probability of this (fact) (circumstance), and (2) (name) consciously and deliberately tried to avoid learning about this (fact) (circumstance).”
This is also known as the “Ostrich Instruction.” A defendant cannot hide his head in the sand about the facts in front of him. Let’s apply the concept to baseball.
When a pitcher throws a brushback pitch to a batter’s head, intending to intimidate the batter, he “knows” there is a possibility that the batter will be hit and injured. When that same pitcher throws a 100 mile an hour brushback pitch to the batter’s head, he “knows” that if the batter is hit, serious injury may result. But when that same pitcher has terrible control problems, is in a bad mood, and throws a 100 mile an hour brushback pitch to the batter’s head, he “knows” there is a high probability that the batter will be hit by the pitch and seriously injured.
Judge Walton was also free to apply the willful blindness concept, regularly applied by prosecutors and courts to convict criminal defendants, to the Government’s actions in the Clemens case.
It was the Government’s playing of the Elijah Cummings videotape to the jury on July 14, 2011, that provoked Judge Walton’s wrath and the defense’s reluctant, but successful, mistrial motion. Representative Cummings, in the course of cross-examining Roger Clemens before Congress, repeatedly mentioned Laura Pettitte’s affidavit. But Judge Walton had ruled this affidavit to be inadmissible. By playing the Cummings tape, the Government effectively snuck the affidavit into evidence through the back door. In trying to justify its use of the Cummings videotape on July 14, the Government never once said that it had made a mistake. Instead, AUSA Durham argued that “[t]here was no intention to run afoul of any Court ruling,” that the defense had possessed the videotape for months, and that the tape was in fact admissible.
There is absolutely no question that the Government intended to play the Cummings videotape, despite the Court’s prior ruling regarding Laura Pettitte’s affidavit. The defense and several commentators have made this point and the record unequivocally supports it. Judge Walton agrees. The prosecutors were deliberately playing it as close to the line as they could, hoping that they could get away with the Cummings videotape. They were throwing a brushback pitch at 100 miles an hour, but they were not paying enough attention to the umpire behind the plate.
And this was not an isolated incident. In determining whether the prosecutors intended to provoke a mistrial motion we are entitled to look at all of the facts and circumstances, including whether there was a “sequence of overreaching,” whether the prosecutors were “acting in [a] way [that] would be practically certain to cause” a mistrial motion, and whether the prosecutors were willfully blind to the likelihood that their win-at-all-costs philosophy would result in a mistrial. The prosecutors knew they were up against two of the finest criminal defense attorneys in the country, Rusty Hardin and Michael Attanasio. The prosecutors were therefore on notice that any conduct in violation of the Court’s orders would not go unchallenged.
On the question of whether the prosecutor’s engaged in a “sequence of overreaching,” I believe that not enough detailed attention has been paid to the Government’s violation of a separate Court order during opening statements. Nor has enough attention been paid to the Government’s attempts to justify this additional violation.
Let us now pay some detailed attention to this separate violation.
When Roger Clemens’ attorneys looked at the Government’s witness list on June 10, 2011, they spotted the names of four men who were trainer Brian McNamee’s former clients. The potential witnesses were Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Stanton, and Anthony Corso.
Eleven days later, Clemens filed Defendant’s Motion in Limine and Memorandum of Law (1 of 2) to Preclude Introduction of Other Witness Evidence Concerning Dealings and Discussions With Brian McNamee. In the introductory paragraph of his motion, Clemens attacked the prosecutorial strategy of guilt by association, noted that “[g]uilt under our system of government is personal” and that “inference[s] of guilt drawn by testimony regarding individuals other than defendant[s]” had been rejected by the D.C. Circuit, and sought “to preclude such improper evidence in all respects.”
Specifically, in the rest of his motion/memorandum, Clemens sought to exclude “evidence or argument that Brian McNamee provided or injected other witnesses with steroids or HGH” and “evidence or argument that Brian McNamee’s accounts of dealings with other witnesses are confirmed or consistent.”
Recognizing that “the evidence offered through Mr. Pettitte is so likely to be interrelated to the case against and in defense of Mr. Clemens that precluding it in its entirety would be impractical,” Clemens nevertheless sought to preclude the Government “from making improper argument that Brian McNamee provided or injected Andy Pettitte with HGH and told the truth about it.”
The Government vigorously opposed Clemens’ motion in an 11 page Opposition Brief. In footnote 5 of its brief, the Government stated that “[f]ormer players Pettitte, Knoblauch, Stanton, and Segui will also testify as to other relevant facts that defendant’s motion does not encompass. This includes but is not limited to: the reasons why players chose to use these drugs, and (2) team practices with respect to the dispensation of prescription drugs such as lidocaine and vitamin B12.”
This is an odd comment to hide in a footnote, particularly given Clemens’ stated desire to exclude guilt by association evidence “in all respects.”
Fast forward two weeks to the July 5, 2011, motions hearing. Judge Walton was obviously concerned about the prejudicial impact of testimony that McNamee had injected other players with illegal substances and told the truth about it. Stating his understanding that Clemens’ defense would be one of unknowing injection with such substances, Judge Walton wondered “how evidence that other individuals were getting these substances from Mr. McNamee and they knew they were getting, how that somehow could be imputed to Mr. Clemens. But I’ll hear from the government as to why this evidence is relevant, unless in some way the defense puts it in issue.”
After listening to arguments, the Court was unmoved. “I can understand why you’d want to do it, but my concern is that if his position is that yes, McNamee was giving me injections, but he was injecting me with what I thought were vitamins and other items that are not banned, the concern I would have is that if you bring in that evidence showing that these individuals were getting these substances from Mr. McNamee and they knew [what] they were getting, that the jury may say well, if they knew what they were getting from McNamee, then why wouldn’t Clemens also know that he was getting the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily compute. That may not be true. And so, I think there is a significant potential for him being unduly prejudiced by that evidence coming in.”
Judge Walton agreed to have his law clerk look at a D.C. Circuit case that the Government mentioned in its oral presentation and said that he would come back to the issue. But the Government immediately started reiterating its position, arguing its right “to rebut any notion that Mr. Clemens somehow thought that what McNamee was giving him was B-12 when, in fact, it wasn’t. This is also a central issue of proof in the Government’s case.”
Judge Walton said, “Okay. I’ll look at the case. I’m just still having some real problems with this because I can see how even with a cautionary instruction, assuming I could craft one that would be intelligible to the jury, I could see how they could still potentially misuse that evidence. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I use to get cortisone shots when I was playing football in college. And I had to rely upon what the trainer was giving me. And I would not want to be held responsible for having done something inappropriate based upon what that trainer was giving to other people. And that’s the concern that I have.”
The Court then moved onto other admissibility issues, including whether the Government could put on evidence that Andy Pettitte contemporaneously repeated his conversation with Clemens to his wife Laura Pettitte. The Court also ruled that this evidence was inadmissible, as long as Clemens was only arguing that Andy Pettitte misheard, rather than misremembered, the conversation with Clemens. If Andy Pettitte misheard Clemens admit to illegal steroid injections, his repetition of the conversation to Mrs. Pettitte does not rebut anything. The defense confirmed that this was its position.
Later the Court returned, as promised, to the issue of McNamee’s dealings with other players. “I fully appreciate that the jury is going to have to assess Mr. McNamee’s credibility, and that his credibility is going to be seriously attacked by the defense. But I don’t think, at least at this point, that the mere fact that they are going to seriously attack his credibility necessarily opens the door to bring in evidence regarding Mr. McNamee’s dealing with other players. Because as I say, my main concern is that if Mr. Clemens’ position, and I understand it is at least in part his position that he did not know what he was receiving, it seems to me that there’s a real danger, that the jury may say, well, if they all knew, and that’s especially I guess true in reference to players who are also on the same team, that why wouldn’t Mr. Clemens know? And I think that would be a problem, for them to in some way use the evidence regarding what he was doing with these other players to impute knowledge on the part [of] Mr. Clemens. But I’ll reserve a final ruling until I see what transpires during the trial. And if somehow I feel that the door has been opened, I may be inclined to change my position. But my tentative position is that the evidence is not going to come in.”
What happened next in the motions hearing is, to me, very important. The Court asked whether there were other matters to take up. Rusty Hardin said “I don’t believe so from the defense, Your Honor.” But the Government had something else to say.
Without specifically referencing footnote 5 of the Government’s Opposition Brief, AUSA Durham told the Court that “[t]he other players, as we point out in the motion, there are areas of testimony [that] are not the subject of the defense motion in limine that we set forth and proffer in our opposition pleading. I just want to make sure that I don’t run afoul of any of the Court’s ruling by mentioning that there were other players who may testify in this trial, who played for the Yankees during this time period.”
Judge Walton, clearly not remembering footnote 5, sought clarification: “That’s all you’re going to say?”
Durham responded: “Yes, pretty much. Yes.”
Hardin said: “No problem.”
Judge Walton said: “Okay. And other matters?”
And the motions hearing ended.
Three things should have been crystal clear after the motions hearing and the foregoing exchange.
1. The Government had lost two crucial evidentiary battles as a result of the defense motions in limine.
2. The Government would not be allowed to mention to the jury, without leave of Court, any drug use by other players who were Clemens’ contemporaries, particularly his Yankee contemporaries.
3. The Government would be allowed tell the jurors during opening statement that “there were other players who may testify in this trial who played for the Yankees during this time period.”
But that is all the Government would be allowed to say on this topic.
Fast forward eight days to opening statements on July 13, 2011.
AUSA Durham told the jury that four of the players named in the Mitchell Report “are willing to testify as witnesses in this trial. Three of those players…Mr. Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, these players all played for the New York Yankees in 2000 and 2001….Each of these players, Mr. Pettitte, Mr. Knoblauch and Mr. Stanton played for the New York Yankees in 2001 and 2001. And they’ll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, each one of them will tell you that they used the drug human growth hormone, this drug that’s injected into the abdomen with a small insulin needle. And they’ll tell you why they used it, and they used it to recover from injuries. They used it because there was a lot of pressure in Major League Baseball to play and perform. And at the high levels, there was great financial reward and great recognition.”
Defense counsel Hardin interrupted and asked to approach the bench. At the bench, Hardin reminded the Court of its ruling on the motion in limine.
AUSA Durham responded: “This is what I clarified with the Court, and I just want to make sure. When I stood at the plate, I said I want to make sure. I want to follow the Court’s ruling that I would refer to players, that players would testify as to why they used these substances.” This was, of course, a false statement. It may not have been intentionally false, but it was blatantly false. Durham continued, “I am not going to go into where they got them, how they got them or any of that. But I don’t believe this runs afoul at all of the Court’s ruling.”
Judge Walton said: “And that’s relevant for what purpose?”
Mr. Durham: “Why he would use these drugs. These are teammates of him. They play at the same time on the same team. It explains why in the world this man would choose to use these drugs.”
Mr. Hardin: “Not a one of them are going to say anything about Roger Clemens, even if it was allowed, using steroids. What they’re allowed to imply through this is that Roger Clemens must have used steroids because these players found it helped them. That’s incredibly irrelevant and prejudicial.”
Judge Walton, trusting the prosecutor and apparently having forgotten Durham’s precise words on July 5, said “I don’t doubt that you said what you said earlier, but I did not really rule ultimately on the issue as to whether this could come in under any circumstances. And I clearly had said it couldn’t come in for the purpose of suggesting that, because they knew what they were using, that Mr. Clemens would have known what he was using.” Walton told Durham “I have not given the leeway for this information to come in.” Walton instructed the jury to disregard Durham’s comments about other players using drugs.
The next day, after the Government played the Cummings videotape in violation of the Court’s order, Rusty Hardin reminded Judge Walton of this earlier violation:
“Well, let me mention, the problem we have is, is this is the second, so there must be a total misunderstanding on the government's part as to their obligations, because this happened during opening statement, too. I had to object during opening statement to a mentioning of other players. The Court ruled and reminded them that that was a violation of the motion in limine.”
AUSA Durham did not want to revisit that issue, but offered to get a transcript:
“When I asked the Court, I don't want to run afoul of the Court's ruling, can the government mention other players with respect to and in connection with why they used the drug as opposed to whom they got it from. There is no bad faith on the part of the government here in trying to prove this case.”
Once again, this was an inaccurate representation of what transpired during the motions hearing, but presumably Durham had not had an opportunity to review the motions hearing transcript.
Well after the mistrial, in its August 19, 2011, written response to Clemens’ motion to bar retrial on double jeopardy grounds, the Government again discussed its effort in the July 5 motions hearing to not “run afoul of any of the Court’s ruling.” But the Government did not quote in full, or in proper sequence, from AUSA Durham’s actual exchange with Hardin and the Court. Instead, the Government claimed that on July 5 it had “asked the Court for clarification of the scope of its tentative ruling,” and was clearly making “a reference to footnote five of the government’s opposition.” According to the Government, “defense counsel appeared to indicate that he had no objection to an opening statement reference to HGH abuse by other Major League players.”
This is a material misstatement of the record. And, unlike AUSA Durham’s mischaracterizations of the record in the heat of trial on July 13 and July 14, the Government had ample time--over a month--to carefully consider its words.
Judge Walton could have considered the Government’s continuing misrepresentation of the July 5 record in deciding whether the prosecutors intentionally provoked a mistrial. He could have considered all of the factors I have been discussing and fashioned an opinion with a good chance of surviving on appeal. After all, he does not believe that the seasoned prosecutors made a mistake. He believes that they deliberately violated his orders.
I do not profess to know exactly why Judge Walton ruled for the Government. By all accounts he is a fair, straightforward and intelligent jurist. [Full disclosure: I had a hearing in front of Judge Walton on Friday and did not receive the precise result I asked for.] Perhaps we will learn more if he issues a written opinion. I have no reason to think that his stated reason, as reported in the press, is not the real one.
Hardin and Attanasio are considering an interlocutory appeal. This would set up a difficult challenge. Perhaps they can argue that Judge Walton incorrectly thought his hands were tied, because he had no direct explicit proof of prosecutorial intent.
One thing is clear from Judge Walton’s comments during the motions hearing and from his actions during the first trial. He is determined to give Mr. Clemens a fair trial—to be, in the words of Chief Justice Roberts, an impartial umpire. And the Government will now be extremely limited in what it can put before the jury. Mr. Clemens has sought vindication, ever since he voluntary appeared before Congress to deny charges of illegal use of performance enhancing drugs. An acquittal by a jury of his peers is the most complete form of vindication that he will be able to achieve. Maybe he will get it, with Judge Walton behind the plate.
Friday, September 2, 2011
CNN has the story here. Judge Reggie Walton apparently blasted prosecutors, accusing them of deliberately violating his rulings during the truncated first trial. But Judge Walton believes that governing law prevents him from barring retrial on Double Jeopardy grounds. The leading Supreme Court case is Oregon v. Kennedy, 459 U.S. 812 (1982), which holds that a mistrial granted upon the request of a defendant, even if necessitated by government misconduct, only bars retrial on Double Jeopardy grounds if the prosecution intended to goad the defendant into moving for a mistrial.
September 2, 2011 in Celebrities, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Here is William Roger Clemens' Reply Memorandum supporting his Motion to Prohibit Retrial and Dismiss the Indictment, which was filed on Friday. Like the original defense Motion and the Government's Response, it is well written. I was surprised, however, by the defense's failure to spend more time on a particularly disingenous aspect of the Government's Response, relating to the prosecution's violation of a court order during opening argument. I'll have some commentary on this issue in a few days.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The transcript can be found on Talkleft here. Now Talkleft, along with the Daily Beast here and Houston Clearthinkers here present one view to consider in the key issue that remains to be decided by the court. On the other side you see Tom Schoenberg and Ann Woolner here who say that it is "likely" to be a new trial. The title to Del Quetin Wilber's story in the Washington Post shows his cards -Veteran prosecutors’ rookie mistake, no-nonsense judge lead to Clemens mistrial.A more neutral stance is taken by TJQuinn at ESPN here. But perhaps this is just a question that is too close to call, even with the replay.
You have one prior call by the judge of a violation which goes against the government. (The defense can use this to argue that they were on notice of the judge's ruling). You also have a clear cut present violation of his order and no mea culpa on the spot - although the prosecutor later says that "there was no intention to run afoul of any Court ruling." But the prosecutor also argues that the exhibits were admitted into trial without objection. The prosecutor even says that "this video clip and this transcript was turned over in early May." (but wouldn't that have been before the judge's order? )
On the other hand, the defense did not initially object to the admission of the tape and only raises the issue when the judge initiates a discussion of the issue. But then again - the defense did object for the record and move for a mistrial after the judge raises the issue.
But there's another subsidiary issue here. Did the government not turn over the evidence (a supposedly redacted video) in sufficient time for defense counsel to realize that it had not been redacted? One question is whether counsel in fact traded exhibits in sufficient time prior to trial that the defense could have realized that it was not a redacted tape/transcript and could have objected prior to it even coming in front of the jury. On the other hand, should defense counsel have had to verify everything that was supposed to be done by the court's order. In the transcript the defense says
"...that when the Court makes a ruling on a motion in limine, it's incumbent on the prosecutor to then redact or alter his exhibits, not hand them to counsel and tell us, I'm admitting 3-A through 3-H and expect counsel for the defense to read them in 30 seconds and then move them in. They should have been changed."
Does this justify a failure to immediately object. And did counsel have the exhibits in advance and just expect that the prosecution would do what the court had instructed.
So one goes in circles until the judge says "stop" and gives us a ruling. And that perhaps resolves this case. Although, as previously noted, it could go into extra innings if the judge rules against the defense (see here).
I keep wondering if we had better and more advanced (earlier) discovery to the defense if this would have presented as much of an issue.
But I also continue to say to the government that even if this is inadvertent, lets call an end to this game. We have significant crime and limited funds, lets use it wisely.
Addendum - Check out Maureen Dowd's op ed in the NYTimes, Why Are Prosecutors Striking Out?
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
As expected, Roger Clemens pled not guilty on Monday to charges of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress. He is represented by two of the ablest white collar criminal defense attorneys in the country—Rusty Hardin of Houston and San Diego’s Mike Attanasio. I know these men and their work. They are stellar lawyers.
The government asked Judge Reggie Walton to make Clemens surrender his passport in order to reduce the risk of flight. Honest. They really did. Give me a break. Walton didn’t buy it.
It is generally assumed that Clemens could have taken five before Congress and was therefore foolish to testify and subject himself to possible perjury charges. I’m not completely convinced of this, since the activity Congress was investigating at the time appears to have been beyond the statute of limitations. How can you incriminate yourself by truthfully admitting to something that you can no longer be prosecuted for?
At any rate, Clemens appeared without a subpoena, so there was no question of him not testifying. His attorneys will be able to argue to the jury that he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by appearing and testifying. Ergo, he must have been telling the truth. This can be a powerful argument in skilled hands, particularly in front of a DC jury, but it is better not to be forced to make it at all-better not to be indicted in the first place.
Roger's dilemma is the dilemma of the client with exposure, even limited exposure, who cannot or will not do the prudent thing and shut the hell up. It is best not to testify under oath, or even talk to the government, if you face potential criminal prosecution. Just ask Martha Stewart. But some high profile clients cannot take the perceived damage to their reputations involved in invoking the privilege. Clemens had the example of Mark McGwire in front of him. McGwire’s reputation was permanently and severely damaged by his refusal, on Fifth Amendment grounds, to answer a Congressional panel’s questions.
I know, I know; the privilege protects the innocent as well as the guilty. But nobody believes that in television land. Had Clemens publicly invoked the privilege, he would have been scarred for life. And he is not some dime-a-dozen, $40 million bonus CEO. He is one of the immortals.
The reputational dilemma is not confined to high-profile clients or the decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment. As a prosecutor, I saw defendants refuse to take plea offers, including misdemeanors with no jail time, because they could not admit wrongdoing to a spouse or child. It is a reminder that the strategy and tactics of criminal defense work are not always confined to logical analysis. The human, emotional element is ever present.
August 31, 2010 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Martha Stewart, News, Perjury, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The Washington Post story is here and has a link to the indictment. Nothing yet up on PACER. Clemens is charged in six counts with perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting here that baseball great Roger Clemens will soon be indicted by a federal grand jury for perjury.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
A defendant convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1542, a statute pertaining to a false statement in an application for a passport, argued unsuccessfully that materiality was required. The Second Circuit held that unlike section 1001, materiality was not an element of this particular statute. Authoring the opinion, Hon. Jose Cabranes noted that this issue was one of first impression for this circuit, the Second Circuit. The court used statutory interpretation analysis to hold that the language of materially was not in this particular statute. The court noted that its holding was in keeping with other circuits, citing to decisions from the 1st, 9th and 11th Circuits.
The element of materiality presents an interesting issue for courts. In some cases like the false statements statute (18 U.S.C. 1001), perjury (18 U.S.C. 1621), and false declarations (18 U.S.C. 1623), the statutes clearly require an element of materiality. In some cases the nature of the statute requires an element of materiality (See mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud) (See Neder v. United States).
Some, like myself, argue for requiring materiality with other statutes (arguing for an element of materiality in obstruction of justice cases- see here). A benefit of requiring materiality is that it can serve as a check on prosecutorial discretion. It can limit prosecutors who might try to proceed in trivial cases.
Opinion - United States v. Hasan
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Perjury is definitely in the news these days, with the FBI investigating Roger Clemens for his statements before a Congressional committee and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's testimony in a whistleblower lawsuit denying a relationship with an aide under review by the local prosecutors office. One of the highest profile perjury cases involves home run king (and apparently unwanted free agent) Barry Bonds, whose charges was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston because of flaws in the indictment. Judge Illston ordered the release of the transcript of Bonds' grand jury testimony in 2003 (available below) that now reveals the entirety of the nearly three-hour examination by two Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
While the indictment presents Bonds in a bad light by isolating specific instances of allegedly false answers, skimming through the full transcript shows just how disorganized the prosecutors seemed to be, and how at least one of them couldn't ask a simple question. Whether it was nervousness or perhaps being intimidated by Bonds, the questions come across almost like a stream of consciousness approach to the examination. Here's just one example of the kind of questions Bonds faced: "Let me ask the same question about Greg at this point, we'll go into this in a bit more detail, but did you ever get anything else from Greg besides advice or tips on your weight lifting and also the vitamins and the proteins that you already referenced?" (Pg. 23) Huh? Understanding that a transcript does not necessarily convey the full flavor of the actual interchanges, in reading through the questioning I'm struck by how convoluted the questions are, punctuated throughout with "I mean," "you know," and similar distracting phrases.
What makes perjury so difficult to prove is that the allegedly false answer is not necessarily the most important thing. As the Supreme Court noted in Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352 (1973), "Precise questioning is imperative as a predicate for the offense of perjury." Among the questions recited in the original indictment was this model of obfuscatory inquiry: "So, I guess I got to ask the question again, I mean, did you take steroids? And specifically this test the [sic] is in November 2000. So I'm going to ask you in the weeks and months leading up to November 2000 were you taking steroids . . . or anything like that?"
Prosecutors will no doubt come back with a new indictment of Bonds in the next couple weeks, one which is honed down and focused on just single questions and answers to avoid the duplicity problem that led to the dismissal. But they can only work with the transcript they have, and finding a clear question -- and answer -- may be quite a challenge. The questioning of Bonds was not a model of how to set a perjury trap, if that was the goal in having him testify. (ph)
Thursday, February 28, 2008
FBI Probing Whether Clemens Lied to Congress (AP) -- What a shocker!
House Ethics Committee Launches Investigation Into Conduct of Rep. Renzi (AP) -- The 35-count indictment came out almost a week ago, so this surely ranks as a "rapid response."
Pelosi Calls For Grand Jury Investigation Of Bolten, Miers (The Politico) -- Talk about falling on deaf ears, and this one took two weeks to formulate.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and ranking member Representative Tom Davis sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey asking for an investigation of possible perjury by Roger Clemens about his use of steroids and HGH -- and his attendance at a party in 1998 at Jose Canseco's house. The letter (available below) does not come out and explicitly accuse Clemens of being a liar while under oath during his February 5 deposition or February 13 Congressional testimony, but it does say that "Congress cannot perform its oversight function if witnesses who appear before its committees do not provide truthful testimony. Perjury and false statements before Congress are crimes that undermine the integrity of congressional inquiries. For these reasons, we take evidence that a witness may have intentionally misled the Committee extremely seriously." Of course, Representative Waxman said after the hearing that he regretted even holding it, and nothing of any legislative importance occurred during the session, but thos minor annoyences won't stand in the way of a criminal referral.
What started out as a perjury trap has now been sprung on Clemens, with the FBI sure to begin an investigation because Congress wants one. It was clear that either Clemens or his former trainer, Brian McNamee, was lying because they told diametrically opposed stories. But the question now is whether a federal prosecutor could prove Clemens committed perjury, a much more difficult task than just saying "I don't think he's telling the truth." The Committee also released a memorandum (available below) from the staff that outlines the various contradictions in Clemens' testimony, based largely on the testimony of McNamee and former teammate Andy Pettitte, who discussed two conversations with Clemens about using HGH. The memo contains no new surprises, and sets forth the inconsistencies in Clemens' testimony in great detail.
The problem is that the standard used by the Committee staff is not what a prosecutor must use to decide whether to pursue a case. The analysis points out places where what Clemens said was "implausible" or that certain facts "bolster" McNamee's statements. But a perjury prosecution that will ride on the credibility of McNamee will involve much more than just whether there is a rational basis to believe him rather than Clemens. A criminal prosecution will involve asking a jury to believe that McNamee is truthful, not just plausible.
McNamee admitted during the Committee hearing that he has made a number of inconsistent, or even false statements, in addition to not disclosing the syringes and gauze pads he claims were used to inject Clemens until well after his interview for the Mitchell Report. Pettitte is a more credible witness, but he only remembers two conversations, one of which took place nearly ten years ago. Will Pettitte bring down his old friend, or will he waffle just enough that his testimony might not be sufficiently credible to a jury?
Perjury is among the most difficult crimes to prove because the government must establish that the defendant told an outright lie, and not just that the person dissembled or made statements that seem implausible. The standard for sending a referral to the Department of Justice is quite low, basically something doesn't look right, and an investigation can be initiated just to placate Congress. Even sending out grand jury subpoenas and calling witnesses to testify does not require anything more than a suspicion that wrongdoing occurred, which is certainly the case with the Clemens-McNamee smackdown. But the leap to proving perjury is significant, and as I've said before, if McNamee is the linchpin of the case then it will be a very difficult one to win. (ph)
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The government's response to the motion to dismiss filed by Barry Bonds argues that the indictment is not ambiguous or duplicitous -- yet the filing contains a typographical error that indicated Bonds failed a drug test a year later than alleged in the indictment. If you're going to defend the precision of the charges, then the brief should at least be read carefully enough to ensure it is accurate, or the whole issue of sloppy drafting comes to the surface.
The brief (uncorrected version available below) responds to the defense arguments that the questions are too ambiguous to be the basis for a perjury charge, and that by citing multiple false statements in a single count the charges are duplicitous in violation of Bonds' due process rights. The government's position on duplicity seems to concede that each count could in fact charge separate violations of the perjury statute, but essentially tries to shrug off the problem. According to the brief, "[T]he government may remedy any duplicity in the indictment against Bonds by asking the grand jury to return a superseding indictment charging separate counts for each allegedly perjured statement. Accordingly, rather than electing among the charges in a duplicitous count, the government may elect to obtain a superseding indictment if the defendant is unwilling to remedy any duplicity by agreeing to a jury instruction that requires the jury to be unanimous in finding that at least one of the statements alleged in each count constituted perjury." Thus, if pushed by Bonds (and the court) to cure the duplicity problem, prosecutors may just seek another indictment with more counts of perjury, perhaps as many as ten or twelve.
In arguing that the first perjury charge is not based on ambiguous questions, the brief states, "At trial, the government’s evidence will show that Bonds received steroids from Anderson in the period before the November 2001 positive drug test, and that evidence raises the inference that Anderson gave Bonds the steroids that caused him to test positive in November 2001." The indictment references Bonds failing a drug test in November 2000, but not in 2001. The media immediately picked up on this, but the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco said it was just a typo, that the brief was referring to the November 2000 failed drug test cited in the indictment, and has since filed a corrected version. That type of mistake does not enhance the credibility of the prosecutors, especially when the issue is the clarity of the questions.
The government's primary argument on ambiguity is that the questions are sufficiently clear, although perhaps a bit inartful, and that Bonds never indicated he was confused. Thus, the issue of ambiguity is one for the jury and not for the court. The Supreme Court's seminal decision in Bronston v. United States on perjury, however, makes it clear that a court can decide as a matter of law whether a question is sufficient to be the basis for a perjury charge, and to determine whether the defendant's answer is literally true. That is clearly Bonds' first line of defense, that poor questioning by prosecutors caused him to make statements he did not intend to be false, even if they were a bit misleading. Throw in an attack on IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, the government's lead investigator who was also at the Roger Clemens hearing, as the embodiment of outrageous government conduct, and there may be enough there to raise a reasonable doubt. While it is tough to win dismissal of an indictment at this stage, there may well be some significant reworking of the document because of its drafting problems. (ph)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Home run king Barry Bonds moved to dismiss the perjury and obstruction of justice indictment (brief available below), asserting that the charges are duplicitous -- one of my all-time favorite legal arguments -- and that the questions posed were so ambiguous that his answers were not false as a matter of law. A count of an indictment is duplicitous when it charges two crimes in a single charge, which is to be distinguished from multiplicity, which is charging the same crime in two different charges. The more common duplicity claim involves two separate crimes charged in one count, but here the claim is that there are different responses that may be untruthful, so that the government has too many potential instances of perjury in each count.
The four perjury counts contain a number of questions and answers, so it is difficult to identify any one with particularity that is perjurious. The problem posed by a duplicitous charge is that there is no way for a jury to convict on one offense and acquit on another offense contained in the same count. Similarly, because the jurors have two crimes to consider in a single count, they may convict without reaching a unanimous agreement on either. For example, if some jurors believe one response by Bonds was untruthful while others believed a second response in the same count was a lie, then they could all agree that he committed perjury but not based on the same answers. The problem a defendant faces when there is duplicity in the charges is that it's not clear which of the statements the prosecution will focus on, and indeed the government could shift its theory in response to the defense.
While Bonds raises a valid point about the number of questions and answers in each count, in the government's defense I suspect prosecutors wanted to provide the context for his answers, many of which are fairly clear denials (i,e. "no" in some instances). Moreover, even if the district court found that the perjury counts were duplicitous, the remedy is usually not dismissal but an order to the government to seek a superseding indictment from the grand jury that cleans up the charges or perhaps a bill of particulars to identify one specific answer in each count that it will prove as perjury. It may be that the government will seek more charges by breaking up the counts, so that rather than facing four counts of perjury, Bonds will face eight or twelve. The motion also attacks the obstruction charge on essentially the same ground.
Bonds' second argument goes to the heart of a perjury charge -- the ambiguity in the questions means that he did not answer the questions untruthfully, or at least did not know his answers were false. The key perjury case is Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352 (1973), in which the Supreme Court held that "the perjury statute is not to be loosely construed, nor the statute invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner-so long as the witness speaks the literal truth. The burden is on the questioner to pin the witness down to the specific object to the questioner's inquiry." If the questions are ambiguous and the prosecutor does not ask a clear question or seek to clarify the answer, then the defendant cannot be convicted for the responses. Thus, compound questions, and questions using broad terms or imprecise dates, can open the door to a "not guilty" verdict. The problem for Bonds is that the ambiguity defense is usually one left to the jury, and it is the rare case in which a court decides as a matter of law that the questions were so defective that no rational jury could find the answer was untruthful. While this gives us a preview of where the defense is headed at trial, it is unlikely to succeed at this stage of the proceedings.
As often happens when a sports figure is involved in a case, the temptation is to toss in an analogy (or perhaps a simile) to the athlete's sport is just too hard to resist, even if it only causes the reader to groan. In the brief, the attorneys write with regard to the duplicity in the indictment, "Even Barry Bonds cannot be expected to make contact with a fastball, slider, and knuckler thrown him simultaneously." Please, no one this side of Tim Wakefield throws a knuckle ball any more, and the best sucker pitch in baseball is the splitter. Let's hope the government does not respond by likening the defense filing to the typical defensive shift put on when Bonds comes to bat. (ph)
Friday, January 4, 2008
While the odds of this happening are probably no better than 10,000-1, there is always the possibility that home run king Barry Bonds might decide to work out a plea agreement to limit his potential punishment from the perjury and obstruction of justice charges he faces. The prosecution of former Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones may give something of a guide to how Bonds could resolve the case, if prosecutors we willing to go along. Jones agreed to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement in connection with the Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) investigation, and she has filed a brief (available below) requesting a sentence that will involve no prison time, only probation. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the sentence range is 0-6 months, a position the government agrees with. In her filing, Jones' lawyer argues that the District Court should take into consideration the substantial collateral consequences of her guilty plea on her reputation:
The guilty plea in this matter and the circumstances surrounding it have been a very painful and life-changing experience for Marion Jones-Thompson. She has been cast from American hero to national disgrace. This part of her story will forever be one of personal tragedy. To be clear, the public scorn, from a nation that once adored her, and her fall from grace have been severe punishments. She has suffered enormous personal shame, anguish, and embarrassment. She has been stripped of her gold medals, her accomplishments, her wealth and her public standing.
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Gall emphasizing the discretion district judges have to fashion individualized sentences makes this type of argument potentially persuasive, and it would not be a surprise if Jones received probation or, at worst, home confinement. While prosecutors have only recommended that the judge sentence within the Guidelines range, they have not taken any position on the actual sentence, and I suspect they would have no objection to straight probation for Jones.
Could Bonds get the same deal? The indictment in his case involves perjury and obstruction, and if convicted the base offense level under Sec. 2J1.3 of the Guidelines would be 14 rather than the 6 that Jones began with under Sec. 2B1.1. Jones also received the benefit of the two-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, which kept her in the lowest sentencing range. If Bonds is convicted, he faces a minimum Guidelines range of 15-21 months. A plea bargain could be fashioned to have him plead guilty to making a false statement under Sec. 1001 rather than perjury because his grand jury testimony would come within that statutory provision. As such, he could also be in the same position as Jones, assuming prosecutors were willing to make such a deal and, more importantly, Bonds agreed to it. There might even be the possibility of a nolo plea to a single Sec. 1001 charge, or perhaps even a criminal contempt that could involve a deferred prosecution agreement, similar to the resolution of perjury charges against NBA star Chris Webber, who only paid a fine. Unlikely, to be sure, but possible.
Bonds, however, is fighting to do more than just avoid a conviction, but also to save his legacy as a baseball player. When that consideration gets thrown into the mix, the potential ppunishment diminishes in importance. Nevertheless, the Jones sentencing provides an outline as to what Bonds' lawyers might be able to negotiate, especially because the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California signed off on the Jones plea agreement and sentencing. (ph)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
There is nothing quite like a high-profile scandal to attract Congressmen like moths to a flame, and the Mitchell Report on steroid and HGH use in baseball is one of the brightest flames around these days. Two Congressional Committees have scheduled hearings in January on the issue, inviting former Senator George Mitchell and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to testify. Back in March 2005, in the first round of publicity-mongering on steroids in baseball, the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee invited a number of major leaguers to testify about steroid use. That hearing produced Mark McGwire's famous non-assertion of the Fifth Amendment when he proclaimed he would only talk about the future -- who cares about what a retired baseball player does after his playing days -- and Rafael Palmeiro aggressively asserting that he never used steroids -- only to test positive a couple months later, thus ending his career.
The prospect of such enticing nuggets showing up on YouTube may well result in one or more invitations to superstar pitcher Roger Clemens to testify about his reported steroid use. Clemens is the highest profile player, perhaps after Barry Bonds, named in the Mitchell Report, and he issued the following statement denying the assertions in the Report: "I want to state clearly and without qualification: I did not take steroids, human growth hormone or any other banned substances at any time in my baseball career or, in fact, my entire life. Those substances represent a dangerous and destructive shortcut that no athlete should ever take." A USA Today story (here) quotes Representative Tom Davis as stating that no players will be subpoenaed, but they are free to appear voluntarily and testify under oath.
The source of the information about Clemens is a former trainer, Brian McNamee, who is reported to have spoken to Mitchell and his investigators pursuant to a proffer agreement with federal prosecutors that limits any subsequent use of his statements against him while requiring him to be truthful. This type of limited immunity, sometimes called a "Queen for a Day" agreement, usually is a prelude to a plea bargain with the government that will include a recommendation of leniency from prosecutors based on the defendant's cooperation. There is no report at this point that McNamee has agreed to plead guilty to any charges, and there's a chance prosecutors could decide not to charge him or even grant full immunity. Either way, the limited protection does not mean he is a credible witness automatically.
Given Clemens' denial and McNamee's statements to Mitchell, could there be much better theater than having them both appear on Capitol Hill, a surefire lead story on the evening news? While statements to the media are not subject to the perjury or false statement laws, much to the consternation of many journalists, testimony before Congress is under oath. If you were Clemens' attorney, would you have your client testify, especially if there were others out there aside from McNamee who could provide information against him? On the other hand, given the clarity of his denial of steroid and HGH use, can counsel advise Clemens not to testify if given the opportunity? While Clemens declined to speak with Mitchell, now that his name it out in public, there will be enormous pressure on him to go to Capitol Hill. In his statement he said "I plan to publicly answer all of those questions at the appropriate time in the appropriate way." Is a Congressional hearing the "appropriate" forum, or was he thinking about perhaps going on Larry King?
Of course, Congress would learn nothing of any importance from having Clemens testify, just like no real legislative purpose was served in 2005 when McGwire, Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and others were dragged in front of the Committee -- but not Barry Bonds, as it turns out. The invitation is really asking Clemens to step into a perjury traps because Congressional testimony is under oath, and hence subject to a perjury prosecution. The trap is easily avoided, if Clemens is not subpoenaed to testify, because he can just decline the invitation while castigating the media. Indeed, he may already have laid the groundwork for such a position when his statement included the following: "I am disappointed that my 25 years in public life have apparently not earned me the benefit of the doubt." Perhaps he will simply ask for the benefit of the doubt, but at what cost to his credibility if there's an open invitation to reiterate under oath what he has already said to the media. (ph)
Friday, December 7, 2007
Above the Law has eyewitness reports (here) on the initial appearance and arraignment of Barry Bonds. In addition to the usual procedures, such as Bonds being released without having to post bond or surrender his passport, it appears that the conflict of interest issue with one of his new attorneys, Christine Arguedas, is an issue, at least for the moment. From various reports, it sounds like prosecutors raised the question about one of Bonds' lawyers representing other witnesses in the case, which is probably Arguedas' representation of witnesses in the Balco grand jury investigation in which Bonds allegedly committed perjury. Of course, a defendant can waive the conflict, but the court is not required to accept it. This may be the first test regarding the relationship between the two sides, and if the government takes a hard line and files a motion to disqualify then things are likely to get pretty frosty.
The defense also said it will seek dismissal of the indictment, which will probably require briefing and a hearing on the motion. The next court date is February 7, at which time the judge may set a trial date. With a flurry of motions like to come soon, it is unlikely the case will be completed before the end of the 2008 season, which raises the question whether any major league team will take a chance and sign Bonds to a contract. (ph)
UPDATE: Here's the text of the court's order recounting the hearing:
The defendant’s appearance maybe waive at the next appearance. The appropriate waivers shall be filed in advance of the next hearing. The government indicated that there may be a conflict issue with certain defense counsel. The government shall e.file a letter indicating the situation as they see it and the Court will determine if a hearing is necessary. If the Court determines that a hearing is necessary, the defendant must be present. Defendant indicated that they may file a motion to dismiss the indictment.
Home run king Barry Bonds is supposed to appear in federal court for his initial appearance -- and most likely an arraignment -- on perjury and obstruction of justice charges contained in a federal indictment issued in San Francisco. A Wall Street Journal article (here), by Bay Area legal maven Justin Scheck, points out the problems Bonds has had in hiring a new attorney with significant federal court experience to conduct the defense at trial. The article notes that Bonds met with John Keker, of Keker & Van Nest, a nationally-known white collar defense lawyer who has defended, among others, former investment banker Frank Quattrone, who was also charged with obstruction of justice arising from a forwarded e-mail. There may have been an issue in hiring Keker because he represented the baseball players union in its fight to keep the government from getting the results of drug tests players took (see a New York Daily News story here). In discussing the approach to Keker, and various in-fighting among Bonds' current legal team, the WSJ article raises in my mind the question whether a lawyer would really even want Bonds as a client.
There are obvious benefits to being the attorney for one of the most famous players in professional sports history, in a trial that will gain national -- and probably even international -- attention. Bonds' lead counsel will be on television daily whenever there is any court proceeding, and the chance to have your picture appear over the shoulder of an ESPN SportsCenter anchor on a regular basis is publicity you just can't buy. The lawyer will join the pantheon of well-known defense counsel in this country, one of the "usual suspects" who will begin to appear regularly in a variety of cases, or be asked to comment on them. Pretty tempting, isn't it?
But from this ivory tower, I have to say that there are certainly a few major red flags that a lawyer has to think about seriously before undertaking the representation. The article notes that Bonds asked Keker for a discount on his $900 hourly rate, and wanted another law firm to review the billings. That certainly goes against the grain in white collar cases, in which cost is often not an obstacle. Bonds' past baseball income plus future earnings potential, regardless of the outcome of the case, probably means he can afford Keker's rate. There's nothing wrong with asking for a discount, and it makes good business sense to double check bills. Not the best way to begin a relationship, but it shouldn't be a showstopper, either.
If that was all, then the fact that Bonds wants a discount and will flyspeck bills would hardly be of interest beyond the stereotype of the allegedly cheapskate athlete. But the article also says that "Keker was concerned he wouldn't have control over Mr. Bonds's public relations and legal strategies and bridled at the prospect of collaborating with the player's current legal team." [Italics added] That starts to spell trouble for the lawyer. The fact that Bonds' current legal team is a bit on the dysfunctional side is problematic, but if the strings in the case will be pulled by someone else, then there is a significant danger for the lawyer. A defense lawyer being pulled in different directions, or forced to clear legal strategies through the "home office," may not be effective. Trust is a two-way street, and if the lawyer is not going to be trusted, then why take on the case?
It is always difficult to control a high-profile client who is used to being in charge of everything -- look no further than Lord Conrad Black, when the judge in his case threatened to take action against him for out-of-court comments during the trial if his lawyers didn't muzzle him. I'm not saying the lawyer has to control everything, but a trial is a lot like any theatrical production in which everyone has a role to play. The client who believes he or she can "talk my way out of this" or who showers the government with disdain, no doubt believing it is richly deserved, is looking for trouble. Heaven forbid the client demand the opportunity to testify to "explain" everything for the jury so they will understand how misunderstood the defendant really is -- that drooling person would be the prosecutor waiting for the cross-examination. Especially in a perjury and obstruction prosecution, portraying the defendant as an honest person whose statements were just misunderstood is paramount, but the defendant may be the worst person to say that. The hardest decision in a case, especially a white collar prosecution, is whether the defendant will testify, and there can only be two people involved: the lead counsel and the client. If there is a fight over control of the case from the beginning, then it means other agendas may be playing out, with the trial lawyer getting the blame if things go wrong.
So, would you really want to be Barry Bonds' lawyer? Tough call, but it would be pretty cool to appear on SportsCenter right after the Patriots highlights. (ph)
UPDATE: The San Jose Mercury News reports (here) that Bonds has added two Bay Area attorneys: Allen Ruby and Christine Arguedas. Ruby has represented the NFL in one of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis' many lawsuits against the league, and Arguedas is well-known in white collar crime circles for her work recently on behalf of various corporate executives caught up in options backdating, including the former GC at Apple, and the former general counsel of Hewlett-Packard in that company's pretexting imbroglio.
Arguedas has represented others in connection with the Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) steroids investigation, including witnesses who appeared before the grand jury. That gives her some familiarity with the case. While it can be dicey to represent different people involved in a grand jury investigation, I doubt there is a conflict of interest problem for her because there does not seem to be any overlap between the witnesses who testified before the Balco grand jury and those who are likely to be called in the Bonds trial. It remains to be seen, however, whether prosecutors will look for a potential conflict of interest as the basis to move to knock Arguedas off the case. Another interesting question will be whether Ruby or Arguedas takes the lead in the case, or whether they are co-leaders of the defense -- which one gets to be on SportsCenter. No word yet on whether either discounted his/her fees for the case. (ph)