Friday, December 9, 2011
Former MF Global chief executive Jon Corzine chose not to invoke his constitutional right to silence and yesterday testified before a House committee. While Corzine's decision to testify surprised me (see here), his testimony was what I would have expected of a corporate officer in his position -- he saw no evil, heard no evil and did no evil. Indeed, Corzine was "stunned" when he was told that MF Global could not account for a reported $1.2 billion missing from customer funds.
Perhaps previewing a defense he may later present in a courtroom, Corzine said it was possible, although improbable, that his employees might have moved customer funds at what they believed was a direction from him. If so, however, he testified they must have misunderstood or misinterpreted what he said.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Former MF Global chief executive and former Senator and Governor Jon Corzine has reportedly been subpoenaed to testify this Thursday, December 8 before the House Agricultural Committee concerning MF Global.
The ostensible primary purpose of Congressional committee hearings is to gain information so that the Congresspersons can enact appropriate legislation. Cynics, however, might contend that a major purpose is to let the folks back home know that their Congressperson is tough on Wall Street.
In any case Corzine, on advice of his low-key high-quality counsel, Andrew Levander, will most likely assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and decline to answer questions. MF Global reportedly "borrowed" customer funds to support its precarious positions in foreign sovereign debt, commingling these funds with its own funds. Although I do not venture to state whether any crime was committed, or whether Corzine was involved in or knowledgeable of any wrongful activity, most criminal defense lawyers representing a hands-on head of a less-than-giant entity against which such accusations have been bruited at this stage would take a conservative approach and advise their client to remain silent. On the other hand, public figures, concerned with their political and public futures (although Corzine's future political career does not look rosy) and often with high estimations of their own powers of persuasion, sometimes feel that they must present their side of the story or else look like "criminals," and that they can do so effectively.
The obvious dangers of testifying are that the witness, whatever his culpability or lack of culpability, may make statements that may later be used as admissions in a criminal or other proceeding or, as in Roger Clemens' case, as the basis for a perjury charge. Of course, although the Supreme Court has pronounced that the protection of the Fifth Amendment applies to the innocent as well as the guilty, a refusal to answer questions is viewed by most people as an indication of guilt. Thus, the decision whether to testify is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.
Corzine, if he does not wish to testify, through his lawyers will likely seek, or has sought already, to eliminate the necessity of his physical appearance by submitting a letter explaining his intention to invoke his constitutional privilege. That request almost certainly has been or will be refused. Letters do not make good TV. Alternatively, Corzine likely will seek, or has already sought, to limit his appearance to a short statement stating his assertion of his constitutional right against self-incrimination. That request might also be refused. The Congresspersons may want Corzine to undergo a public flogging by "Q&R" -- question and refusal. That does make good TV.
Corzine could conceivably be granted use immunity and, since his resulting testimony could not then be used against him, be deprived of his Fifth Amendment protection and required to testify. However, since Oliver North's conviction was overturned based on the taint from his immunized Congressional hearing testimony, Congress has been extremely wary of using its immunity power.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza thinks Solyndra had the worst week in Washington, because its CEO and CFO invoked the Fifth Amendment's Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to Cillizza, the silence of the executives "won't win them any allies in Washington." What allies? These guys already have bruises all over their bodies from where politicians have been touching them with eleven foot poles. Cillizza believes that their taking five "ensures that the probe into how Solyndra won the initial loan in 2009...will not only continue...but grow." This is silly. A vigorous criminal investigation is already assured. If the execs had talked they only would have made the DOJ's job easier.
The first place a bank looks when a big loan goes bad is the borrower's application, including the financial statement. For decades the DOJ has operated as a criminal collection agency for our country's financial institutions. It only gets worse if the loan, in this case about a half billion, is guaranteed by Uncle Sugar. Add in the DC gang mentality attendant upon what has become a political scandal and you would have to be a cretin to open yourself up to possible charges of false statements, perjury, or obstruction of justice. This one was a no-brainer. Kudos to the executives and their attorneys for not being idiots.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed an amicus brief in the Ian Norris case - Download Norris v United States (11-91) Brief of NACDL as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner_FINAL It highlights some of the important issues in this case. (for background see here). It brings out important issues such as:
- "[T]he Third Circuit's ruling renders effective representation of both the corporate and individual clients ensnared in a government investigation impossible, and encroaches on the rights embodied in the Sixth Amendment."
- "The decision endorses Government efforts to compel counsel to testify against their clients."
The Supreme Court raised in footnote 7 of Arthur Andersen LLP that there was a split in interpreting "corruptly persuades"in 18 USC 1512(b). The Court did not resolve this split in Andersen.
The NACDL brief places front and center the question of what should be the scope of the Bevill test. It also shows the ramifications of continuing with this test, a test that runs counter an important constitutional principle. Lower courts have been looking to the Third Circuit Bevill test, but it has yet to be endorsed in any Supreme Court opinion. Norris, presents this issue with an added dimension of a statute that has mixed interpretations.
Monday, August 22, 2011
The Norris case provides an opportunity to consider the role of corporate counsel in dealing with a CEO, in addition to resolving a circuit split with the witness-tampering statute - 18 USC 1512(b). The defense raises the issue as to "whether a person 'corruptly persuades' another in violation of the statute by persuading him or her to decline to provide incriminating information to authorities, where the other person enjoys a privilege or right to so decline."
The underlying factual basis that sets the stage for this issue raises concerns that could use Supreme Court clarification. As noted here and here, the Third Circuit ruled that the district court "did not legally err in applying" the Bevill test. Deferring to the district court, the Third Circuit held that permitting the company's former counsel to testify at trial was not error as Norris had not met "his burden in asserting his privilege pursuant to the five-factor test set forth in Bevill. The defendant had argued that the Bevill standard should not "apply here, as here, both the individual and the corporation have an express attorney-client relationship with counsel."
Ian Norris, CEO of Morgan Crucible, originally faced three counts of obstruction of justice. He was acquitted of two counts following his extradition and trial in the United States, but was convicted of conspiracy to tamper with grand jury witnesses. A key witness against the defendant was corporate counsel. The trial court allowed corporate counsel to testify despite the defendant's argument that corporate counsel had represented Norris. Some of the evidence offered by the defense is included in the attachments to the cert petition. For example, the Antitrust Division explicitly asked counsel who he represented, saying "if your representation is limited to the corporation only, I would greatly appreciate your confirming that fact for me so that there are no misunderstandings as to the scope of your representation." (p. 181-82a). The exchange of letters has counsel telling the Antitrust Division that "[w]e presumptively also represent all current employees of the companies in connection with the matter." It also states - "[s]hould you wish to call other current employees, I assume that we would also represent those individuals." (p. 185a). Norris presents many other documents in the appendix to support his argument that corporate counsel represented him.
Norris Cert Petition - Download Norris Cert Petition (efile)
The government did not file a responsive brief and the Supreme Docket has the case distributed for a conference of September 26, 2011. See here.
See also Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel, Jailed CEO Ian Norris Appeals His Conviction to SCOTUS; D. Daniel Sokol, Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog, Norris Cert Petition to the Supreme Court
Friday, July 1, 2011
Dominique Straus-Kahn has received from the district attorney what most defendants never get -- early Brady material. Today's New York Times reports that "Strauss-Kahn Case Seen as Near Collapse" because prosecution investigators have discovered "major holes in the credibility" of the housekeeper who claims he sexually attacked her.
The District Attorney should be commended for the early disclosure of the purported victim's credibility problems. I cannot help wonder, however, whether such disclosure would have been made -- certainly so early -- in a case where the defendant did not have such considerable legal and investigative firepower that it could be predicted that his team would itself eventually discover at least some of the victim's credibility problems. I also would love to know, and am sure I never will, what the discussions were in the prosecutor's office about whether and when to disclose this Brady material. In this connection, I also wonder whether the resignation of the head of the sex crimes unit a few days ago is just a coincidence.
Brady revelations by prosecutors are rarely easily made, especially when they are serious enough, as may well be the case here, to destroy the prosecution case. It goes against the grain for any competitor -- and most prosecutors are competitors trying to win -- to provide information that will hurt his case, let alone destroy it. And I have no doubt that at least some of the prosecutors involved in this case still firmly believe that Strauss-Kahn did sexually attack the housekeeper and that all this stuff about money laundering and the like is besides the point or, in legal parlance, immateriaL.
Experienced prosecutors know that they can almost always get away with Brady violations. The number of prosecutions or disciplinary actions against prosecutors for Brady violations is miniscule. Appellate courts are generally loathe to reverse convictions for anything but egregious Brady violations, generally finding that the withheld information was immaterial. There are certainly generally well-meaning prosecutors who would have withheld the exculpatory information here to increase their chances of achieving what they believe is the just result. And there are others less well-meaning, and far fewer, who would have withheld the information to advance their own careers.
Response by Professor Larry Ribstein here. (esp)
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Hon. Roger Titus (nominated by George W. Bush) provides a moving statement in granting an acquittal of Lauren Stevens:
"I take my responsibility seriously. I practiced law for a long time and made a number of Rule 29 motions that -- or in the state system equivalent of them. I don't have a very good track record with those motions. In my seven and a half years as a jurist I have never granted one. There is, however, always a first."
The judge noted how attorney-client privilege material had been used in trial as a result of the prosecution obtaining them via a claim under the crime-fraud exception. He notes -
"With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and that's always the place to be in terms of wisdom, the Massachusetts Order was an unfortunate one, because I now have benefitted from a trial in which these documents that were ordered produced were paraded in front of me and the prosecutors were permitted to forage through confidential files to support an argument for criminality of the conduct of the defendant.
"What those records demonstrate to the Court is, first of all, that access should not have been granted to them in them in the first place. . . But they also show that this was a client that was not engaged to assist a client to perpetrate a crime or fraud. Instead, the privileged documents in this case show a studied, thoughtful analysis of an extremely broad request from the Food and Drug Administration and an enormous effort to assemble information and respond on behalf of the client."
"The responses that were given by the defendant in this case may not have been perfect; they may not have satisfied the FDA. They were, however, sent to the FDA in the course of her bona fide legal respresentation of a client and in good faith reliance of both external and internal lawyers for GlaxoSmithKline."
The court notes near the end of the Order:
"I conclude on the basis of the record before me that only with a jaundiced eye and with an inference of guilt that's inconsistent with the presumption of innocence could a reasonable jury ever convict this defendant."
"There is an enormous potential for abuse in allowing prosecution of an attorney for the giving of legal advice. I conclude that the defendant in this case should never have been prosecuted and she should be permitted to resume her career."
Transcript of Hearing - Download 110510STEVENS (hat tip to Ronald Levine- Post & Schell)
Monday, May 2, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
The Third Circuit recently ruled in a closely watched case, on the issue of whether corporate counsel had in fact represented an individual within the corporation and as such the attorney-client privilege should apply. (see here) The unpublished opinion of the court found no error on the part of the district court. Counsel for Appellant Norris has now filed for a rehearing en banc. Three issues are presented in this Petition:
"I. The Panel Decision Squarely Conflicts With Shramm, Arthur Andersen, and Aguilar as to the Requisite Specific Intent for a Conspiracy to Obstruct a Grand Jury Proceeding;
II.The Panel Decision Squarely Conflicts with Farrell's Holding that 'Corrupt Persuasion' Does Not Include Persuading an Alleged Co-Conspirator to Withhold Incriminating Information;
III. The Panel Decision Misapplied Bevill to Permit the Evisceration of a Corporate Officer's Personal Attorney-Client Privilege."
Petition for Rehearing En Banc - Download 2011-04-06 Petition for Rehearing En Banc
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
In a closely watched case (see here), the Third Circuit was asked to consider whether corporate counsel had in fact represented an individual within the corporation and as such the attorney-client privilege should apply. Defendant had argued that the Bevill standard should not "apply here, as here, both the individual and the corporation have an express attorney-client relationship with counsel." Reply Brief of Ian P. Norris - Download 2011-02-25 Norris Reply Brief.
The Third Circuit issued an unpublished opinion that resolves this issue in a paragraph, stating in part that:
"[t]he District Court in this case held an evidentiary hearing and ultimately determined that Norris failed to meet his burden in asserting his privilege pursuant to the five-factor test set forth in In the Matter of Bevill, Bresler & Schulman Asset Management Corp., 805 F.2d 120, 123 (3rd 1986). The District Court did not legally err in applying this test, and we see no clear error in the District Court's holding based on the facts elicited in the evidentiary hearing."
To all the corporate executives that are cooperating with corporate counsel thinking that the individual is representing them - beware....
Opinion- Download Opinion
Monday, March 14, 2011
Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel, has a wonderful article titled, Court to Rule in Case of Imprisoned U.K. Exec That Carries Major Privilege Implications.
This case is another interesting one with a dilemma on whether corporate counsel has in fact represented an individual within the corporation. There are unusual twists to this case, that may exceed the confines of the existing 5-part Bevill standard (805 F.2d 120 (3d Cir. 1986)). Defendant argues that the Bevill standard should not "apply here, as here, both the individual and the corporation have an express attorney-client relationship with counsel." Reply Brief of Ian P. Norris - Download 2011-02-25 Norris Reply Brief Defendant is represented on appeal by Christopher M. Curran, J. Mark Gidley, Eileen M. Cole, and Claire A. DeLelle of White & Case. This case and others are being watched closely by individuals within corporations and also corporate counsel. Many put the obligation on corporate counsel to clarify who they represent and more importantly, who they do not represent. But should the government also have an obligation here?
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)
Friday, June 11, 2010
GUEST BLOGGER-SOLOMON L. WISENBERG
The Boston Globe carries this article today by John R. Ellement, echoing Massachusetts prosecutors' complaints that defense lawyers in the Bay State are "exploiting" the Supreme Court's 2009 Confrontation Clause decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. (Melendez-Diaz applied the Supreme Court's earlier Crawford v. Washington holding to forensic analysts' laboratory reports.) According to the article, "the state’s 35 chemists have been ordered to prepare for court 1,606 times, but actually testified only 184 times." Allegedly, some defense attorneys insist that state chemists appear for trial in hopes that scheduling conflicts will prevent their attendance and result in dismissal. Imagine that.
Although the story is generally well-written, Ellement fails to explain, in even the most rudimentary form, the Confrontation Clause principles behind the high Court's ruling. Thankfully, he does quote Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' President John H. Cunha Jr., who reminds Ellement that "[t]o just come in there with a piece of paper that says somebody is guilty is contrary to our system,’’ and that “[c]ross-examination is supposed to test the evidence. . . . The U.S. Constitution is not a technicality.’’ No doubt Cunha made the Confrontation Clause point in more detail that failed to make its way into print.
The article is not without some irony. One of the bellyachers who Ellement quotes, concerning the supposed deleterious effects of Melendez-Diaz, is John A. Grossman, "the Patrick administration’s top specialist on forensic sciences." Grossman seems to have spoken to the press as part of an official effort to negatively assess Melendez-Diaz. Yet Ellement also reports, near the tail end of the piece, that, "yesterday, the Patrick administration announced it had appointed a UMass Memorial Medical Center official to take over the State Police lab, a job that has been vacant since 2007 after mismanagement of forensic evidence was discovered." (emphasis added).
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
As noted here, New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance issued via his Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso a Memo pertaining to charging organizations. One aspect caught my eye - privileges and attorney fees. The Memo states:
"... although the Office will not ordinarily request that an organization waive valid claims of attorney-client privilege or work product protection in order to be credited for its cooperation, where an organization relies on the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine to obstruct the investigation, or when it refuses to disclose relevant facts that will further the investigation, these factors will militate against cooperation credit. Similarly, although the Office will not ordinarily be influenced by an organization’s decision to provide for the legal expenses of its directors, officers, employees, or agents, or its decision to enter into an appropriate joint defense agreement, if such practices are made as part of an effort to obstruct, in any way, an investigation or prosecution, or if they result in relevant information’s becoming unavailable to the investigation, they will be considered in any decision whether to prosecute the organization." (footnote omitted)
On a brighter note, the policy does recognize the importance of collateral consequences in making a decision to charge a corporation.
Being corporate counsel seems to be more challenging these days in that the individual needs to be apprised of all the laws in the applicable jurisdictions - which these days can be international. He or she also has to be familiar with the policy guidelines for the different entities they operate within - which could be many states.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
NACDL's 5th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar - "Choppy Waters - The Ethics of Privilege and Disclosure," Thursday, October 1, 2009
Guest Blogger: Peter D. Hardy, Post & Schell, P.C. (Philadelphia, PA)
Moderator: Gerald B. Lefcourt
Gerald Lefcourt noted that it has been over 46 years since the Brady decision was issued, yet we still have no firm definition of Brady that most federal prosecutors can follow. There are varying and conflicting practices amongst prosecutors in regards to definitions and the proper time frame for disclosures. Moreover, incidents of Brady violations or potential violations are not uncommon.
Robert Cary represented Senator Ted Stevens. The heart of the defense was a note that Senator Stevens had sent to Bill Allen, the key government witness and the builder making improvements on the Senator’s chalet, which stated in part that the Senator wanted to make sure that Allen got fully paid, and that “friendship is one thing, but compliance with these ethics rules is another[.]” The government responded to this note by eliciting testimony from Allen that the note was just the Senator trying to concoct a cover story. After the guilty verdict, the second FBI agent on the case filed a self-described whistleblower complaint regarding conduct by the prosecution team. The Court ordered the government to provide discovery regarding the complaint, and a new prosecution team was put in place. New discovery contradicted directly the government’s theory and evidence at trial that Allen regarded the note as a mere cover story. Carey described the Attorney General as a hero for moving to dismiss the case. All of this happened only after a long trial and post-trial process (as well as Senator Stevens losing his re-election bid). Judge Sullivan, who oversaw the case, is to be commended for being careful and not simply taking the government’s word.
So, what should be done? Judge Gertner explained that the solution needs to involve the rules (ethical, court, and criminal procedure). The case law has slid into an outcome-determinative approach, which makes it very hard for the prosecutor to predict. The materiality standard is colliding with the harmless error doctrine. Brady had more to do with a failure to turn over evidence impugning the system, rather than predictions regarding potential outcomes. The definition of Brady should be re-assessed, and there also should be deadlines set for when information should be turned over: for example, 28 days before.
Professor Green described how the ABA code of ethics set forth in the 1970s a discovery rule for prosecutors: you must turn over information that would tend to negate the guilt of the accused. Everyone had assumed that this rule overlapped with Brady. But, the rule is not co-extensive with Brady – for example, it does not have a materiality standard. Rather, it categorically requires the disclosure of favorable information, or information which might lead to favorable evidence. A materiality test is really directed at post-conviction review, and is not well suited to govern the conduct of prosecutors at the time they are making their discovery decisions. Defense attorneys also need to know about exculpatory information in order to assess a case and decide whether or not to proceed to trial.
Paul Shechtman described federal plea agreements in New York which require waivers by the defendant of either impeachment and/or all exculpatory information. These plea waivers apparently run afoul of the rules just described by Professor Green. Current cases strongly suggest that prosecutors need more education regarding their obligations under Brady, in order to be better able to appreciate the exculpatory value of evidence. We need to reassess Brady, which has been hijacked by the materiality doctrine. The burden now is on the defendant to show materiality. In Brady, Justice Marshall wrote in dissent that the test instead should be harmless error, in which the government has the burden to show that the conviction should not be reversed. The materiality requirement invites courts to preserve convictions, despite poor decisions and poor decision-making processes by prosecutors.
Larry Thompson described a case in Detroit in which the prosecutor made false statements to the Court, and actually was prosecuted himself. Judge Gertner noted that part of the problem here is lack of meaningful remedies. There is professional discipline, but discipline is unlikely.
NACDL's 5th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar - "Pay to Play - The Current Wave of Public Corruption Cases," Thursday, October 1, 2009
Guest Blogger: Linda Friedman Ramirez, P.A. (Tampa St. Petersburg, FL)
Panel Moderator: Abbe David Lowell
NACDL's 5th Annual White Collar Crime Conference kicked off today with the Pay to Play
panelists jumping into a thorough discussion of the key issues in the
defense of a public corruption case via a hypothetical created by panel
moderator Abbe Lowell.
The panel agreed that attorneys are needed for all individuals and
entities subpoenaed. The first question is whether joint defense
agreements are more problematic than helpful. There seemed to be a
consensus that there might be some benefits, particularly when working
with attorneys with whom there has been no prior experience or quirky
clients, but most panelists expressed reservations about their use.
Next up - the panelists discussed the subpoena for records relating
to the legislative process and the Speech and Debate privilege. Who
asserts? The panel propounded on the importance of collaboration
between the attorney for Alice and the attorney for House. Also, how to
handle keeping back documents that may be privileged and the concept of
using a privilege log? TheDOJ’s view of the Speech and Debate clause is in a great deal of flux, and DOJ’s view has changed radically. Further, if it is a federal subpoena does this change anything? And how does the counsel for Funhouse
handle its own subpoena? The four panelists explored the issues
relevant to subpoenas for contribution records and the intersection
with the First Amendment.
Another important issue for practitioners is how to respond to precharge or pretrial publicity in high profile cases, including responding to questions by investigative reporters. Clients often have a strong desire to speak to the public. Different responses from the panelists: give clients a limited script; have the attorney act as spokesperson -- though that raises the concern for attorneys of moving into the realm of public relations; hiring surrogates.
Also, what happens if a client wants to make his case to the prosecutor? Is this a good strategy? Of course the most important issues are whether the facts are sufficient for a prosecution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1346? Is conflict of interest + non-disclosure enough under this statute? This was the meat of the panel and the discussion was exciting and demonstrated the knowledge of the panel. Also, Moderator Abbe Lowell injected into the discussion 18 U.S.C. 666, which is the jurisdictional statute for prosecution of offenses committed by state public officials and the requirement of a connection with the receipt of federal funds 18 U.S.C 666 (b).
By the close of the panel it was clear that an hour and a half was not nearly enough time to explore this topic!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in United States v. Ruehle,a case that opens by saying "[w]e here explore the treacherous path which corporate counsel must tread under the attorney client privilege when conducting an internal investigation to advise a publicly traded company on its financial disclosure obligations." The lower court had suppressed "all statements from former CFO William J. Ruehle to attorneys from Irell & Manella LLP, Broadcom's outside counsel, regarding the stock option granting practices at Broadcom." In reversing this decision, the Ninth Circuit, rejected the lower court finding that Ruehle "had a reasonable belief that Irell and Manella were his lawyers prior to the June 1, 2006 interrogation by Irell, and that he never gave informed written consent, either to the dual representation by Irell or the disclosure of privileged information to third parties..." The Ninth Circuit found that the lower court had "applied a liberal view of the privilege that conflicts with the strict view applied under federal common law, which governs here." The Ninth Circuit stated that it "reject[s] the district court's contrary finding that an expectation of confidentiality was established because, upon review of the record, we are left with the 'definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed' and thus we determine that this factual finding was clearly erroneous." Some thoughts on this decision:
- Although at first glance it may seem like the Ninth Circuit is usurping a factual finding of the lower court, there is more to this picture - it is factual finding, yes, but one that had been determined by a different legal standard. What is interesting here is that the Ninth Circuit chose not to remand to the lower court when changing the operative standard for determining the issue. On the other hand, the court's decision implies that the evidence does not create a factual question.
- Every corporate officer needs to be aware that statements made during an internal investigation may end up in the government's lap. One can't always count on an attorney client privilege to protect these statements.
- Outside counsel's job in conducting internal corporate investigations may have just been made more difficult as one wonders if corporate officers will want to cooperate in corporate counsel's internal review.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The threat of indictment to a corporation is huge, and one need only look at what happened to Arthur Andersen LL.P to reach this conclusion. In the aftermath of Andersen, many corporations have entered into deferred and non-prosecution agreements with the government, paying huge fines but avoiding prosecution. With their "backs against the wall" the companies agree to many controversial terms, including in some cases the waiver of the attorney-client privilege. The net result to the government is not only money, but also evidence that can be used to proceed against individuals within the company.
But how does this scenario play out in the long run. The case of U.S. v. The Williams Companies provides an interesting glance at what can happen when the attorney-client privilege is violated by the company. Williams, an opinion issued this past week by the DC Court of Appeals has the individual asking for discovery in the criminal case, and wanting the government to produce the discovery they received from the company. The problem is that the company does not want the evidence to be produced to the defendant. So the court is left to rule on "a third-party appeal of a discovery order in a criminal case compelling the government to produce 'all materials disclosed' by the third party pursuant to its cooperation with federal investigators during a criminal investigation of the third party and others." The court remands the case to the district court to assess "which documents were material to the defense."
The moral of the story is - you may think that your back is against the wall to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement, but before you agree to waive the attorney-client privilege, be aware of the long-term ramifications of this decision.
(esp) (blogging from Chicago)
Sunday, February 15, 2009
On February 13, 2009, Senator Arlen Specter introduced a bill "to provide appropriate protection to attorney-client privileged communications and attorney work product." (See Thomas here - go to S. 445) The bill:
"Prohibits federal prosecutors and investigators across the executive branch from requesting or conditioning charging decisions on an organization’s reasonable assertion of attorney-client privilege or decision to pay of attorneys fees for an employee. This bill emphasizes that the right to counsel is chilled unless the confidential communications between attorneys and their clients are protected by from compelled disclosure. The Department of Justice has changed its rules three times in the past few years, and attorneys and clients need clarity and an unchanging rule Cosponsors include: Senators Carper, Cochran, Kerry, Landrieu, and McCaskill."
(esp) (w/ a hat tip to Tiffany M. Joslyn)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
John Wagner of the Washington Post has an article titled, Ethics Counsel Testimony Is Sought in Currie Probe. It is an important investigative piece as it reports on a subpoena that was served on the Maryland legislature's ethics counsel. The federal investigation appears to involve Senator Ulysses Currie and the feds seem to want attorney-client privileged material of the ethics counsel. It is hard to imagine that federal prosecutors would not realize the ramifications of such a move. Once you start subpoenaing testimony from an ethics counsel, individuals will stop seeking the advice of that counsel. The net result will be less compliance with the law.
(esp) (hat tip to Neal R. Sonnett)