Thursday, September 13, 2012
Cursing has become a common part of the speech of many Americans, and the f-word is frequently used in its non-sexual meaning as a stronger substitute for "hell" to emphasize the speaker's extreme displeasure or anger, as in "get the f--- off." However uncivil, even if used in inappropriate settings, the mere utterance of the word is unlikely to lead to arrest or imprisonment, in large part because of First Amendment protection.
Apparently, however, using such a word in complaining to a federal court clerk about the judge, even outside the presence of the judge, may be treated more seriously. As reported in the National Law Journal (see here), Robert Peoples, a disgruntled and seemingly difficult pro se plaintiff, after learning that a South Carolina district judge had summarily dismissed one of his cases because of his lateness to court, outside the presence of the judge told a clerk that the judge should "get the f--- off all my cases." The next day the judge initiated a criminal proceeding for contempt.
At a bench trial before a judge from a different district, the defense contended that Peoples' statements did not obstruct the administration of justice. The trial court rejected that argument, finding that Peoples' behavior had affected the administration of justice because "courtroom personnel . . . were temporarily delayed in conducting their routine business" in order to deal with him. Peoples has appealed to the Fourth Circuit, where the matter is sub judice.
It is doubtful that Peoples would have been prosecuted but for his use of a four-letter word. If merely complaining about a judge to a clerk, even vociferously, so that a clerk temporarily abandons her work constitutes contempt, many pro se litigants, and some lawyers, might be doing jail time.
The contempt power is a privilege special to judges, a vestige of the extraordinary ceremonial stature afforded them, as exemplified by the bailiff's order that all rise to honor the judge's entrance into a courtroom, the enthronement of the judge in a seat higher than all others, and the clerical black robe. The contempt power is sometimes used, and not infrequently abused, especially in the lower state courts, to jail summarily a difficult litigant. In my view, it should rarely, if ever, be employed to punish an unruly litigant not engaging in physical violence and if so only after due warning. Indeed, many judges I know proudly claim that they have never held a litigant (or attorney) in contempt.
The limited issues raised by the defendant in his brief to the Fourth Circuit do not concern whether judges deserve this special treatment. Nor does the appeal concern any matter of special or constitutional importance, including any that might free up use of the f-word, or limit punishment for doing so. Lawyers and litigants should still be careful to control their language in complaints about judges to court personnel.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Here is an interesting piece from the Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott, commenting on the Government Accountability Institute's new report, Justice Inaction: The Department of Justice's Unprecedented Failure to Prosecute Big Finance. According to Tapscott, the GAI "has concluded that conflicts of interest among President Obama's top Department of Justice appointees may explain why nobody on Wall Street has been prosecuted by the government following the economic meltdown of 2008." Notice those weasel words--may explain. I haven't read the report yet, but I'm not buying GAI's theory. DOJ's stunning failure to prosecute elite financial control fraud is coming from a pay grade much higher than Holder's.
Friday, August 10, 2012
The BLT reports here on the amicus brief filed by former federal prosecutors and judges in Ali Shaygan v. United States. At issue is whether the government can be fined and sanctioned under the Hyde Act, which covers vexatious, frivolous, or bad faith prosecutions, when the charges brought have an objectively reasonable basis in fact. In other words, can federal prosecutors act out of improper motives of bad faith and malice if they have a pretextual fig leaf to cover their actions? The WSJ Law Blog reports here on the brief, which was signed by yours truly, and greater lights.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Here is an excellent story by Michael S. Schmidt and Edward Wyatt in today's New York Times about DOJ's pathetic track record in prosecuting and convicting individual high profile fraudsters in connection with the financial crisis. Instead, companies pay whatever it takes by way of civil and (sometimes) criminal penalties in order to move on. For most of these companies it is a cost of doing business and a drop in the bucket. Make no mistake about it, the failure of this Administration's Justice Department to go after individual criminal fraud at the highest levels of the private sector is a decision that has been made at the highest levels of the public sector. The article quotes Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West as follows: “There is a lot of behavior that makes us angry but which is not necessarily illegal. If the evidence is there, we won’t hesitate to bring those cases.” Sorry Mr. West, but the most charitable interpretation of your remarks is that you don't know what the hell you're talking about.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
And there it is. Right on page 24 of the Second Circuit's opinion in U.S. V. Mahaffy, posted here yesterday. "None of this [the government's various rationales for withholding exculpatory and/or impeaching SEC transcripts] excuses the government's misconduct. The transcripts contained substantial Brady material, much of which was easily identified as such." In fact, an SEC attorney, cross-designated as a Special AUSA in the first squawk-box trial, identified some of the material as potential Brady to his trial team superiors before the first trial commenced.
Here are some interesting dates. Jury selection in the squawk-box retrial began on March 30, 2009. The government rested on April 14, 2009, as did the defense. The jury returned its verdict on April 22. Ted Stevens had been found guilty in Washington DC in October 2008 and, as Judge Sullivan has noted, "[d]uring the course of the five-week jury trial and for several months following the trial there were serious allegations and confirmed instances of prosecutorial misconduct that called into question the integrity of the criminal proceedings against Senator Stevens." Attorney General Holder moved to set aside the Ted Stevens verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice due to gross Brady-related misconduct on April 1, 2009. Judge Sullivan granted the government's motion on April 7, 2009. According to the Mahaffy opinion, the second set of squawk-box prosecutors deliberately chose not to revisit any of the disclosure decisions made by the first trial team. New York prosecutors must not read the DC papers.They did not start to sift through the SEC transcripts until after the second trial concluded.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Here is the Second Circuit's opinion (U.S. v. Mahaffy) from last Thursday in the EDNY's Squawk-Box case, vacating the convictions due to Brady violations and an untenable honest services jury charge.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Guest Blogger – Rochelle Reback
In light of the prevalence of ESI discovery in white collar cases it is ironic that an important principle regarding electronic discovery is developed for us in an indigent's drug smuggling case. But, we'll take it! In United States v. Stirling ( Download Altonaga order granting new trial(1)) yesterday, District Judge Altonaga found that notwithstanding the government’s technical compliance with its ESI discovery obligations under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(1)(B) by furnishing an exact replica of defendant's hard drive to the defense, the government's electronic discovery dump in this case so seriously impaired the defendant’s trial strategy that there should be a new trial. Not known to defendant's attorney, on the disclosed and mirrored hard drive were some of defendant's Skype chat logs which the government's forensic expert was able to open and view only by using a specialized computer program. The Skype chats were not visible in any other way. But neither the existence of the Skype chats on the hard drive, nor the expert's employment of the specialized program to view them were disclosed to the defense until after defendant testified. In rebuttal the prosecutor called their expert and used these Skype chats to impeach defendant to devastating effect as they contradicted much of his trial testimony. Stirling was convicted.
Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, Judge Altonaga ordered a new trial in "the interest of justice," even though the government had warned the defense that if Stirling took the stand and testified falsely, there was [unidentified] evidence on the computer which the Government would use in its rebuttal to impeach him. Finding that this was not like the cases cited by the government where courts have consistently refused to require the government to identify exculpatory or inculpatory evidence within a larger mass of disclosed evidence, Judge Altonaga wrote that the standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(b)(2)(E)(ii) should also apply in criminal cases and the government should be required to produce ESI in a "reasonably usable form." She found the government's "technical compliance with its discovery obligations under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 (a)(1)(B) by the furnishing of an exact replica of the hard drive" to not be enough. The government "never told defense counsel that incriminating Skype chats could be extracted from the disk or that they even existed." Judge Altonaga agreed with defense counsel that "production of something in a manner which is unintelligible is really not production." She ruled that "If, in order to view ESI, an indigent defendant such as Stirling needs to hire a computer forensics expert and obtain a program to retrieve information not apparent by reading what appears in a disk or hard drive, then such a defendant should so be informed by the Government, which knows of the existence of the non-apparent information. In such instance, and without the information or advice to search metadata or apply additional programs to the disk or hard drive, production has not been made in a reasonably usable form. Rather, it has been made in a manner that disguises what is available, and what the Government knows it has in its arsenal of evidence that it intends to use at trial."
One has to wonder if the "interest of justice" result would have been the same if the defendant in this case was not indigent and did not have to seek the court's assistance for experts and more sophisticated computer resources to unlock the hidden mysteries of the electronically stored information.
(reback) –(with hat tips to Donna Elm and Robert Godfrey)
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences in U.S. v. Brooks, a case involving alleged "false reporting of natural gas trades in violation of the Commodities Exchange Act and the federal wire fraud statute."
Although the court distinguishes the Stein decision from the Second Circuit with the facts in this case, both cases had individual defendants who had their attorney fees cut off. In Brooks, the defense claimed it was from government pressure, but the Fifth Circuit said the factual findings were not present to confirm this conduct. The court found that the company's policy on payment of attorney fees was a discretionary policy. But when a company gets a deferred prosecution agreement one has to wonder if there is an incentive to show cooperation, albeit payment of attorney fees can not be a factor used.
There is also an interesting question of what constitutes "reports" for purposes of the CEA or CFTC regulations. This is an intriguing issue as one is basically violating federal law through a submission document. The Fifth Circuit rejected a void for vagueness argument here.
The Fifth Circuit also found the Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction as meeting the recent Supreme Court decision in Global Tech, although they admit it does not use the same language. The question here is whether deliberately closing one's eyes is the same as taking "deliberate actions to avoid learning of the fact," the test set forth in Global Tech. I see a difference in that one is passive and the other is active. The Court seems to be satisfied with the evidence in this case, but one has to wonder if the Fifth Circuit should be quickly looking to change its pattern jury instruction to avoid this issue in future cases.
Then there is the question of defense witness immunity. A witness is on the prosecution witness list and is not called to testify because the prosecution has concerns about the witnesses truthfulness. The witness has not yet been sentenced (the government postponed sentencing for 39 months- obviously to be after this trial) and decides to take the Fifth Amendment. The prosecution called the witness the evening before the witness was to testify, but says the call was to determine if they needed to prepare the witness for cross-examination. The defense argues that the witness has exculpatory evidence for the defense. The defense asks for defense witness immunity and doesn't get it. One has to wonder whether the jury really had full information to resolve guilt or innocence? But the Fifth Circuit held otherwise.
And this is not a case where defendants are receiving light sentences. All the defendants were level one and yet all of their sentences exceeded 11 years imprisonment, with one receiving a 14 year sentence. Whoever thinks white collar offenders are getting off easy, needs to just look at this case to see that this is not the situation.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Corporate Social Responsibility and Supply Chains Practice: Proposed Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rules
Thursday, May 31, 2012
As noted here, John Edwards was found not guilty on one count, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining counts. Prosecutors should now move on and not retry Edwards on these remaining counts.
The government has expended enough taxpayer money on this case and Edwards most likely has had to incur the cost of his defense. Prosecutors have already hurt Edward's reputation with the evidence presented at trial - so there is no punishment basis for proceeding further. Evidence not presented at trial left the murky question of whether this money was even a political contribution, and the testimony of Federal Election Commissioner Scott E. Thomas that was not heard by the jury raises additional issues on campaign contributions. But the place to resolve this is not in the criminal courtroom. More importantly, if skilled folks can differ on this question then one certainly should not hold someone criminally liable.
No one walks out unhurt by this trial. And that is the huge cost that comes with a prosecution. It is for this reason that prosecutors need to consider carefully prior to charging anyone with criminal conduct.
Some have been claiming that corporate prosecutions are down in numbers. It certainly has not seemed that way, so I was glad to see the numbers, which demonstrate that corporate sentencings have been average over the past few years.
Lisa Rich, Director of the Office of Legislative and Policy Affairs at the United States Sentencing Commission provided the following corporate statistics for the recent Federal Sentencing Conference (although I have reworded some of what she provided): In FY 2011, there were 160 organizational cases and 151 pled guilty and 9 were convicted after jury trials. Probation was ordered in 111 cases and 31 had court ordered compliance/ethics programs. Three cases received credit for self-reporting and 44 received credit for cooperating with the government. But of the approximately 74 cases in FY2011 for which the Commission had Chapter 8 culpability information, there were no entities receiving full credit for having an effective compliance program. Not one of the 74 cases received credit under subsection (f).
These statistics do not reach the full corporate efforts by DOJ since they fail to include non-prosecution agreements or deferred prosecution agreements that have not gone through chapter 8. So some bottom line observations: 1) if the government decides to prosecute a corporation - it has an incredibly high chance of success; 2) more emphasis needs to be put into teaching corporations how to operate an effective compliance program; 3) studies need to examine whether by using deferred and non-prosecution agreements the government is increasing prosecutions against corporate individuals (it certainly seems likely that this would be the case).
Friday, May 25, 2012
The DOJ filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss (Download USA v Lindsey, etc., et al.___ecf.ca9.uscourts) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the FCPA case involving Lindsey Manufacturing Co., its CEO and CFO. The government had filed an appeal on December 1, 2011 following an Order of District Judge Howard Martz, who ruled that the Lindsey prosecution had been tainted by a pervasive pattern of flagrant government misconduct. Contributing Blogger Solomon Wisenberg posted here excerpts from this initial Order. By today's dismissal, the government is finally dropping this prosecution and it also ends the efforts to get the company to forfeit $24 million.
Attorney Jan Handzlik of Venable LLP stated, "This is a great day for the fair administration of justice. We couldn't be happier for Keith, Steve and the 110 loyal, hard-working employees of Lindsey Manufacturing Company. This dismissal further vindicates Dr. Lindsey's belief in our system of justice and in his innocence. Keith and Steve were steadfast in their belief that the government had not played fair and that the truth would come out."
Congratulations also go to Janet Levine (CrowellMoring), who also represented an accused in this case. Both Jan Handzlik and Janet Levine were the inaugural recipients of the White Collar Criminal Defense Award given at the NACDL White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson (see here).
The Statement of Williams Connolly LLP, through Rob Cary, Brendan Sullivan, and Simon Latcovich, truly speaks for itself. We will have more to come on the DOJ's actions.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Here is the Houston Chronicle's take on today's proceedings in U.S. v. William Roger Clemens. Brian McNamee was allowed to testify on re-direct that he injected three other players with HGH. Judge Walton gave the jury a limiting instruction that the testimony could only be used to bolster McNamee's credibility--not to infer Clemens' guilt. Still, this was a significant break for the government.
I am now batting 0 for 2 in my most recent predictions. I predicted that Judge Walton would strike some of Andy Pettitte's testimony and that the judge would not let McNamee talk about injecting other players. So take this next observation wiht a grain of salt. To me, the jurors' questions at the end of each day show their skepticism regarding the government's case and the credibility of key government witnesses.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
The name says it all. On Friday the Clemens prosecutors filed the Government's Motion to Admit Evidence of Brian McNamee's HGH-Based Interactions With Other Players and His Cooperation Relating to the Same to Rehabilitate the Witness. Call it anything you want, it is nothing more than an attempt to convict Clemens through guilt by association. As Judge Walton said before the first trial, in keeping this evidence out:
"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.”
“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."
Judge Walton's original ruling, which shocked the government, was provisional:
"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.”
Now the government is making its move. Of course the prosecutors would have filed this motion irrespective of how McNamee's cross-examination actually went. They immediately violated the Court's order during opening statement of the first trial by mentioning other Yankee players who received illegal substances.
I'm betting that Judge Walton keeps the evidence out.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sitting on the bench in a high profile case is not easy on any lawyer or the judge for that matter. Everyone is scrutinizing your motions, your rulings, and even what you may be wearing. Co-blogger Solomon Wisenberg noted here how the judge has the ability to move the Clemens trial along. This may be true - but I am not sure that he should.
Giving time for each attorney to state their objections, restate their objections, preserve the record, and yes, restate them even again, is important for everyone. Judge Walton is noted for giving defendants a fair trial - albeit he is also known for being tough if one is convicted. This is all the more reason to make sure that everything is properly on the record, should the defense be unsuccessful at trial.
I am firmly convinced that when prosecutors or defense counsel deliberately clog up a case with needless motions and objections, the jury may eventually catch on. And when prosecutors deliberately attempt to break the stride of the defense counsel or weaken the presentation with objections and distracting arguments, don't always assume it will benefit the prosecution. And keep in mind, that if there is a conviction the appellate court gets to read the entire record and they will have the opportunity to see the motions being made, the arguments supporting the motions, and they will have the opportunity to discern whether one side was deliberately wasting time with worthless motions.
So making sure everything is on the record, and that all arguments are heard is not such a bad thing.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Judge Walton says that the jury is bored at the Clemens trial, and of course he blames the lawyers. Maybe he should look in the mirror. The proceedings would have moved much faster had the Court put a stop to the government's pettifogging objections to cross-examination questions that allegedly strayed beyond the scope of direct.
The judge has also, according to the latest press reports, characterized Rusty Hardin's lengthy cross-examination of Brian McNamee as confusing.
I stopped in on the trial yesterday morning during Hardin's cross-examination of McNamee. Although there was no smoking gun moment, it was an accomplished cross that ably exposed McNamee's shifty, evasive personality. Near the end, Hardin asked a perfectly acceptable question, the point of which was to stress that McNamee would have been valuable to Clemens as a private trainer irrespective of McNamee's ability to provide illegal drugs. The prosecution objected. Rather than simply ruling on the objection, Walton engaged in an unnecessarily lengthy exchange with the attorneys on the finer points of evidentiary law. You would have thought they were discussing the Ex Post Facto Clause or the Magna Carta.
The trial judge has great discretion to move a case along--even a big case. This doesn't mean that the Court should prevent either side from putting on its evidence or vigorously questioning witnesses. The Clemens case would benefit from quicker bench rulings on objections, particularly objections that only serve to break the other side's pace and stride. The government objections that I witnessed on Wednesday did not merit the lengthy treatment they were given by the Court.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
The white collar crime blog, for two years (see here and here), has given the collar for the case most needing review to the case of Sholom Rubashkin. The case has an incredible gathering now from a spectrum of individuals and groups across political and ideological views. The Petition for Cert is here and background on the case is here. Here are some of the interesting updates on this case -
Washington Legal Foundation - Urges High Court to Review Unreasonably Harsh Sentence for Small-Business Owner
Amici Brief for Justice Fellowship & Criminal Law & Sentencing Professors and Lawyers - Download 11-1203 amici brief (a wonderful brief authored by David Deitch and Alain Jeff Ifrah that points out the jurisdiction split among Circuits and why it is important for Appellate "judges to state on the record that they have considered each non-frivolous argument for variance under the factors listed in Section 3553(a)" and how and why each such argument affected the sentence imposed.
Amicus Brief of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) - Download APRL Amicus Brief in Rubashkin (a strong brief written by W. William Hodes that provides the importance of this case from the perspective of "an independent national organization of lawyers and legal scholars whose practices and areas of academic inquiry are concentrated in all aspects of the law of lawyering." The brief focuses on the jurisdiction split regarding Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure. The brief also points out important ethics issues that warrant review in this case.)
Hopefully, someone is listening.
Monday, May 7, 2012
I'd say you had a pretty good week if you got a key government witness to agree there is a 50-50 chance he misheard or misunderstood a purportedly damning admission by your client. That's what happened last week (week one) in the Roger Clemens re-trial, through Mike Attanasio's cross of Andy Pettitte. This morning, team Clemens filed Defendant's Motion to Strike Portions of the Trial Testimony of Government Witness Andy Pettitte. The Motion is an excellent piece of work. The argument?
1. The threshold for establishing admissibility of a preliminary fact question under Federal Rule of Evidence 104 is preponderance of the evidence. Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
2. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, relevant evidence "means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
3. Even if relevant, the testimony's probative value is substantially outweighed, under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, by the "danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury." This is particularly true in light of the Government's statement to the jury, during its opening, that Clemens told Pettitte "he had used human growth hormone and that it helped him with recovery." The real-life fifty-fifty version on the stand didn't cut it.
4. Judge Walton specifically warned the parties before trial about making promises they couldn't keep in opening statements. He said that if it occurred here he would "not hesitate to tell this jury that they must totally disregard any such statements of that nature. I'll specifically identify what those statements were and tell them there was no evidence to that effect, and therefore, they cannot consider that in deciding this case." Judge Walton should make good on his promise, because fifty-fifty doesn't cut it.
Team Clemens also noted that the government could have revisited the conversation during re-direct, but deliberately skirted the issue.
My prediction is that this motion will be granted in some form. It certainly doesn't mean that Clemens is out of the woods. Ted Stevens' outstanding trial team won several motions during trial and Judge Sullivan gave Stevens some very scathing anti-government jury instructions--to no avail. (Of course, in the Stevens case, the government was deliberately hiding important exculpatory material.) But such an instruction will undoubtedly greatly benefit Clemens. It will essentially knock-out a key portion of the government's case.
Kudos to the defense team for an outstanding cross and an excellent motion. One of the nice things about this trial is that co-counsel Attanasio is finally getting some of the national media attention he has long deserved.