Friday, May 4, 2012
Nobody messes with Judge Reggie Walton. Here is a great post from Mike Scarcella of BLT (Blog of Legal Times) on recent bench conferences in the Roger Clemens case. Defense attorney Mike Attanasio incited Walton's wrath this week when he ignored Walton's ruling and tried to go "beyond the scope of direct" during the cross-examination of Andy Pettitte.
According to Scarcella, Attansio was questioning Pettitte about a specific Clemens pitching performance that took place in 1999. Attansio wanted to delve into whether "Clemens was so depressed and beaten up then that he would start taking drugs to perform better." Prosecutor Steve Durham objected that this went beyond the scope of direct. Walton sustained the objection.
Attanasio then asked Pettitte whether he had ever seen Clemens "broken and beaten" after a game. This ticked Walton off: “I’m getting sick and tired of making rulings and counsel not listening to my rulings." Walton reminded Attanasio "that the defense does not have a right to build its case during the government’s pitch to jurors."
That's preposterous of course. Every good defense attorney tries to make his case during cross-examination, and Attanasio was allowed to ask other questions that technically went beyond the scope of direct. For example, Attanasio elicited Pettitte's key testimony that Clemens had never appeared to be pitching on steroids. I haven't read the transcripts yet, but it is unclear to me how far out of the strike zone the additional questioning strayed.
As any experienced litigator knows, courts are all over the map on the scope of cross-examination. Most federal judges allow a relatively expansive cross for reasons of judicial economy. Why make the defense call a witness to the stand in its own case, when you can save time by questioning the witness on cross? But a federal judge's ruling on whether to allow narrow or open-ended cross is virtually unassailable on appeal.
Attanasio did what most good defense attorneys would do in this situation. He ignored (sub silentio) a dubious ruling from Judge Walton and attempted to make the same point through a slightly altered question. That will work with many judges who aren't paying close attention, but it didn't phase Judge Walton.
Judge Walton has many fine qualities. He is intelligent, fair, and couragoeus. But he tends toward rigidity.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Two weeks ago Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York dismissed the indictment in one of the sillier prosecutions brought in that court in recent years. See article here and opinion here - Download Opinion. Julian P. Heicklen, an 80 year-old retired professor, was charged with jury tampering (18 U.S.C. 1503) for distributing at the courthouse steps pamphlets of the Fully Informed Jury Association ("FIJA") that advocated jury nullification.
The pamphlet stated, in part: "You may choose to vote to acquit, even when the evidence proves that the defendant 'did it,' if your conscience so dictates." It also suggested that jurors may choose to be less than candid when asked questions during jury selection about their ability to follow the law as instructed by the judge. It is "your moral choice," the pamphlet stated, whether to "give answers that are likely to get you excused from serving, or say whatever it takes to be selected, so you can do your part to see that justice is served."
Jury nullification, as commonly understood, goes only one way. It allows jurors to ignore their oaths and acquit a defendant even if they are convinced that her guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The potential effect of Heicklen's pamphleteering -- if it were to have any, which I question -- would be acquittals (or hung juries) in cases that otherwise would have resulted in jury verdicts of guilty.
The prosecutors in the Southern District were understandably upset. Heicklen was in a sense treading on their turf -- both the courthouse and the law. The prosecutors reacted aggressively, investigating by using an undercover agent and indicting based on an apparently unclear statute and in a bedrock area of First Amendment protection. In court, a prosecutor called Heicklen's advocacy "a significant and important threat to our judicial system."
Rather than the crucial decision to prosecute being made by independent, disinterested prosecutors, as it should always be, here it was made and carried out by the very prosecutors who were in a practical sense themselves the aggrieved parties or "victims." It was their cases -- their convictions -- that Heicklen arguably put in jeopardy by suggesting that jurors might still acquit even if they believed the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Southern District prosecutors were too conflicted and too involved to be allowed to make the decision whether to prosecute Heicklen (and they were too conflicted and too involved to make a reasoned, dispassionate and intelligent decision). The conflict here was not the potential or hypothetical conflict that prosecutors often argue should disqualify defense counsel, but an actual one. If the prosecutors felt Heicklen should have been prosecuted, they should have referred the ultimate decision to the Department of Justice in Washington. (While I do not know definitively that the Southern District prosecutors did not, if they had, I would have expected that the case would have been prosecuted by Central DOJ lawyers.)
There is an obvious imbalance in the criminal justice system. One litigant, the prosecutor, may charge the opposing litigant with perjury, the litigant's lawyer with obstruction and the litigant's advocate with jury tampering. The other litigant, the defendant (and his counsel), can only howl about agents who lie and prosecutors who secure convictions and jail sentences by concealing evidence. The power of one litigant to protect his case (or cases) by charging one seeking to undermine it (or them) is a drastic one that should be used with care and extreme caution. Here, prosecutorial discretion went awry.
Judge Wood's decision was calm, deliberate, and thorough, considering statutory construction, legislative history, judicial rulings and constitutional implications, and not, at least directly, criticizing the prosecution. Granting the defendant's pre-trial motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b) on the grounds that the facts did not state an offense, she ruled that the statute was limited to advocacy relating to a specific case, not a general philosophy, as here. Although Judge Wood ultimately relied on a plain language analysis and did not explicitly rule on the First Amendment issue, she indicated that Heicklen's conduct was constitutionally protected free speech.
The case represents governmental overreaching in a sensitive free speech area. Perhaps if the decision whether to prosecute were made at Central DOJ, it would have been different, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a highly respected and effective office, would have been spared an embarrassing defeat (and Mr. Heicklen spared a prosecution, although I suspect he rather enjoyed it).
The ultimate result may be that FIJA now has a license (in the form of a district court decision) to distribute literature suggesting nullification on the steps of federal courthouses, or nearby, throughout the nation. (Judge Wood did recognize that reasonable restrictions on such distribution under other laws may apply.)
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Here are ten basic observations regarding criminal discovery. They send a loud message that the proposed Senator Lisa Mukowski (Alaska) (along with Senators Inouye, Hutchinson, Begich and Akaka) "Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act" legislation is needed to codify the holding in Brady and add teeth to making certain that defendants receive a fair trial.
Ten Basic Premises:
- Most prosecutors play by the rules.
- One of the rules is you have to give up Brady material.
- Brady is going to be 50 years old in 2013.
- The ethics rules require prosecutors to give up exculpatory material.
- Some prosecutors have no clue what Brady material really is.
- In some cases prosecutors can’t tell if something is favorable to the defense because they don’t know what the defense will be presenting.
- Discovery in national security cases, terrorism, and cases where someone will get hurt needs to be treated differently.
- The chances of prosecutors being caught if they fail to give up Brady material is slim.
- If Brady material is not given or given late, most courts will find it to be harmless error.
- The chances of a prosecutor being disciplined for not giving up exculpatory material is slim.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
I expect that any day now one of my non-white-collar criminal clients will come to my office and ask me to incorporate him to protect him from future criminal liability. Of course, incorporation does not immunize an individual from criminal liability. Nor, generally, does it protect small corporations from prosecution.
However, it appears that just as massive corporations are "too big to fail," they are too big to prosecute. In the wake of the government's destruction of Arthur Andersen because of an ill-conceived, aggressive and ultimately unsuccessful indictment which caused the loss of thousands of jobs, DOJ has been highly reluctant to aggressively prosecute major corporations.
Although there are occasionally indictments of major corporations, most often these are disposed of by "deferred prosecutions," which are essentially delayed dismissals with financial penalties in numbers that are large in absolute terms but meager in comparison to the profits and assets of the corporation. To be sure, even when prosecuted to conviction, corporations do not go to jail and thus there may be little practical difference between a conviction of a corporation and a deferred prosecution. However, to the extent a goal of the criminal justice system is to achieve apparent fairness and equality, there is a genuine, if symbolic, reason for the prosecution of the large and powerful, whether they be individuals or corporations.
According to a thorough account in the New York Times this past Saturday, April 21, see here, Wal-Mart in Mexico, where the company has, according to the Times, one-fifth of its stores, engaged in a systemic countrywide scheme in which it spent millions of dollars to bribe hundreds of Mexican officials to gain favorable and expedited treatment and a competitive advantage. According to the Times, this conspiracy was not, as is often the case in corporate wrongdoing, the act of a rogue individual or group. Rather, it was orchestrated from the very top of the Wal-Mart Mexican hierarchy. Additionally, again according to the Times, when reports of this corruption reached Wal-Mart's U.S. headquarters, top executives took great pains to cover up the wrongdoing.
The alleged conspiracy, if the Times report is accurate, appears to be the kind of corporate crime, therefore, that deserves aggressive prosecution (not just an indictment and a deferred prosecution), especially if the government wants the Federal Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA") to be taken seriously. Of course, there may be statute of limitations or other fact-finding or evidentiary problems involved in putting together a case involving facts from 2005, the year, according to the article, the bribe payments were made. It is far easier to write an article reporting corruption than to prove it under the rules of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, DOJ does with respect to this matter.
Friday, April 6, 2012
In the wake of the Schuelke/Shields report and the introduction of new discovery legislation, one has to wonder whether the Supreme Court will take a case that raises a Brady discovery issue. At their doorsteps is the case of James A. Brown, a case from the Enron days. As previously noted (here) Brown, is a former Merrill Lynch executive who "was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his testimony before the Enron grand jury about a transaction between Merrill and Enron in late 1999." There are important issues here like the appropriate standard of review for Brady cases. Should it be "clear error" or should it be de novo. (see here) The case also examines "materiality," a term that has created some confusion. What must a prosecutor provide to the defense counsel. And isn't it odd that the adversary in the process is making the determination for what the defense is entitled to receive. The case looks at summaries being provided to defense counsel. Bottom line - summaries are not the same as the real thing.
In the reply brief recently filed, they argue-
"Here, as in Stevens, many exculpatory statements appear only in raw notes of government interviews of key players. In Brown, the Enron Task Force actually yellow-highlighted these notes before trial – along with prior testimony and FBI 302s – indicating that the information met the requirements of Brady and was material, but suppressed them anyway. While continuing to deny that any evidence fell within Brady, new prosecutors recently disclosed 6,300 pages including much (but still not all) of the evidence suppressed by the Task Force." (Reply Brief - Download FILED REPLY ON CERT.)
The government's brief sees things differently - Download SG OPP32312.
This case is distributed for conference on April 20th.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
We don't need new legislation insuring that defendants receive the exculpatory information they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution, because the DOJ has learned its lesson from the Ted Stevens case and will NEVER let something like that happen again.
For example, in the high-profile insider trading case of U.S. v. Rajat Gupta, the DOJ recently argued that its prosecutors did NOT have to review 44 SEC interview memos for Brady material, even though the memos summarized interview sessions jointly conducted by SEC and DOJ attorneys. According to SDNY prosecutors, the overall DOJ and SEC investigations were not technically "joint" in nature, so SDNY AUSAs had no Brady obligations with respect to the SEC memos. The SEC attorneys were capable of conducting the Brady review on their own. Yeah, right. Just like the FBI and IRS Special Agents were capable of conducting the Brady review in U.S. v. Stevens. I completely forgot about the Brady training that SEC attorneys receive on a regular basis. DOJ's position is not only contrary to SDNY and Second Circuit case law--it also violates the letter and spirit of the Ogden Memo, promulgated after Stevens to prevent future Brady debacles. I guess SDNY didn't get the memo. (They're special you know.) Judge Jed Rakoff was having none of it. See his Gupta Brady Ruling, issued last week, for details. In truth, all of the SEC memos should be turned over in their entirety to the defense, just as all of the 302s and MOIs in Stevens should have been turned over.
It is clear that the DOJ has learned almost nothing from the Ted Stevens case. Suppression of exculpatory and/or potentially exculpatory evidence is largely not an issue at the line level. The typical AUSA knows Brady/Giglio when he sees it, and knows to disclose it. The problems tend to arise in high profile cases, particularly those captained out of DC. The sickness extends to very high levels at the DOJ. The Stevens prosecution clearly showed this. The Bill Allen-Bambi Tyree subornation of perjury allegation, reported in 2004 to a federal judge by DOJ prosecutors in a sealed pleading, was classic Giglio material. It should have instantly been recognized as such by the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Public Integrity Unit and they should have ordered it turned over immediately to the defense. It wasn't and they didn't.
The DOJ has run out of scandals and excuses. Enough already. At long last, have they no shame?
Monday, March 26, 2012
1. Compost flows downhill.
2. I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. I'd rather be a supervisor than a line assistant.
3. If I am an experienced prosecutor and supervisor and agree to take over and lead the prosecution team a few days prior to the Indictment, I need to lead that team and take responsibility for my actions and the team's actions.
4. If I am prosecuting a white collar case involving hundreds of FBI 302s and I don't hand them over to the defense before trial, I am virtually guaranteeing Brady error.
5. If I am prosecuting a white collar case involving hundreds of FBI 302s and I don't hand them over to the defense before trial AND I am going up against a United States Senator who is represented by a highly skilled law firm known for its tenacious tactics, I am a fool. I deserve what I get. But the people who work for me don't necessarily deserve what they get.
6. If I prosecute a sitting U.S. Senator in July, knowing that he is up for re-election in November and assuming that he will seek a speedy trial, I better have my discovery, especially my Brady discovery, ready to hand over on the day of the Indictment.
7. If my case has hundreds of 302s, it is likely that some of the agent's interview notes will contain material inconsistent with, or not referenced in, the 302s
8. If four prosecutors and one case agent interview the key prosecution witness three months before Indictment, and the interview goes poorly, AND no 302 is generated, people aren't going to think well of them. This is especially true if the FBI Special Agent later admits that no 302 was written because, "the debriefing...did not go well," and the prosecutors completely forget about the interview and the Brady information gleaned during it.
9. If I discover Brady information, it does not magically lose its character as Brady material because I decide to investigate further and develop contrary information.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Here is the Williams & Connolly Analysis of the Schuelke-Shields Report. It is an excellent dissection, by Brendan Sullivan and Robert Cary, of the rampant prosecutorial misconduct permeating the Ted Stevens case.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
In the interest of fairness, here are the responses of the federal prosecutors mentioned in the Schuelke-Shields Report. Submission of Brenda K. Morris, Submission of Edward P. Sullivan, Submission of James A. Goeke, Submission of Joseph W. Bottini, Submission of William M. Welch III, Submission on behalf of Nicholas A. Marsh.
Mr. Goeke also submitted his own separate appendix. Here it is. James A. Goeke Appendix.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
BLT has the story here. Holder was testifying on Capitol Hill. Senator Dianne Feinstein complained that Senator Stevens died "before he knew this was a faulty prosecution. That to me elevates this to a new height." In fact, the case was dismissed with prejudice due to prosecutorial misconduct while Stevens was very much alive.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
The official opening of the 26th Annual ABA White Collar Crime Conference began with opening remarks from Raymond Banoun, chair of the Institute, followed by remarks of the chair-elect of the ABA Criminal Justice Section, William "Bill" Shepherd of Holland & Knight. Shepherd noted how the ABA includes all aspects of criminal justice (prosecutors, judges, and criminal defense lawyers). He encouraged folks to get involved in the section.
The first panel, titled Recent Trials, featured three recent cases: Raj Rajaratnam, Loren Stevens, and the Lee B. Farkus trials.
The moderator, Ronald J. Nessim, took the speakers through several topics, including the Indictment, key pre-trial issues in each case, the media, discovery, proffers, parallel proceedings, joint defense agreements, and the trial.
Discussing the Farkus case, the prosecutor on the case -Charles Connolly-talked about the issue of how do you simplify a complex fraud scheme to make it understandable for the jury, and what schemes do you charge. Professor Bruce Rogow, defense counsel on the Farkus case, responded that the Indictment was too long and too difficult. Sara Bloom, the prosecutor handling the Lauren Stevens case said the indictment was narrowly tailed. Defense Counsel Reid Weingarten responded that he is still astonished that Lauren Stevens was indicted. Jonathan Streeter, prosecutor on the Rajaratnam case, noted that he did not try to include everything in the indictment. Simplification was a key theme throughout his comments on this panel. John M. Dowd, defending Rajaratnam, discussed the bill of particulars. He emphasized that the case was really not about wire fraud, although that was the basis for the wiretap.
The government power in these prosecutions was brought to life in the discussion of the venue issue in the Farkus case and the perp walk in the Rajaratnam case. The audience was clearly perturbed by the use of a perp walk in the Rajaratnam case, where the accused had cooperated for three years, had no record, was arrested in his apartment, handcuffed for some time at the station, and finally paraded in a perp walk. This was described by defense counsel as "toxic and prejudicial" and the audience applause to that statement sounded like there was agreement. Perp walks need to stop.
Interestingly none of the defense counsel expressed major discovery problems in their cases. Connolly, the prosecutor on the Farkus case, noted how they made the sixty million documents available to defense – they made a mirror imagine for defense and set up weekly conference calls with the defense. That said, John M. Dowd pointed out problems with items such as the affidavit for the wiretap and Bruce Rogow discussed problems with respect to cooperation in the Farkus case coming on the eve of trial. He also noted how the inability during trial to go into certain motivations by cooperating witnesses made his case difficult.
Reid Weingarten emphasized that one needs to think carefully before agreeing to a proffer. He noted that once you make a proffer it is problem putting the client on the witness stand.
Sara Bloom and Reid Weingarten briefly discussed how the government refused to waive a jury trial, despite the defense agreeing to do so in the Stevens case. There was also a discussion about joint defense agreements, and John Dowd noted that when you put a joint defense agreement in writing that is the first act of mistrust.
A key word used throughout this panel by the government was simplify - one needs to make a white collar case understandable to the jury.
(esp)(Blogging from Miami)
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
[All of the facts in this post come from the 11th Circuit opinion in United States v. Ignasiak, publicly available on the 11th Circuit's website (here) or from PACER.]
Arthur Jordan used a counterfeit badge and posed as an on-duty U.S. Marshal in order to carry firearms onto commercial airplanes while on personal travel. He did this nine times. According to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Jordan's "criminal conduct" resulted in "multiple violations" of 18 U.S.C. Sections 912 and 1001 and 49 U.S.C. Section 46505, and "could have been charged as felonies."
But Jordan wasn't even charged with a misdemeanor. He got pretrial diversion from the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office, paid $2,000.00, and agreed never to carry firearms on an airplane again, except while on official business.
Jordan is not your everyday citizen. He is none other than Dr. Arthur Jordan, who goes around the country testifying as an expert for the U.S. Government in Health Care Fraud/Controlled Substances Act prosecutions against pain management physicians. He charges $300 per hour and, during his November 2008 testimony in U.S. v. Ignasiak, claimed to have earned around $30,000.00 as a government expert up to that point in time. Dr. Jordan was the key government expert against Robert Ignasiak in the latter's criminal jury trial, testifying for almost three days. (Roy Black was lead defense counsel during the trial.)
But there's much more to the story. Given its reversal, and its finding that the evidence was sufficient, the 11th Circuit declined to address the other issues raised by Ignasiak on appeal--except for one.
You see, none of the Ignasiak defense attorneys knew during the trial about Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" or his South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement. Several months after the Ignasiak guilty verdicts, the government filed the Government's In Camera Notice to the Court ("Notice"). The Notice, and an accompanying affidavit, were filed under seal. This post-trial Notice revealed Dr. Jordan's conduct and his South Dakota pretrial diversion deal to Judge Lacey Collier and Robert Ignasiak's defense team for the first time. The government requested that the Notice be kept under seal, in order to protect Dr. Jordan's privacy interests.
In the Notice, the government also argued that its prior failure to disclose the Arthur Jordan impeachment material did not violate Brady/Giglio, because the Ignasiak prosecutor had not personally known about Dr. Jordan's conduct, or the South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement, during the Ignasiak trial.
Judge Collier summarily granted the government's request to seal the Notice, despite defense opposition. The defense filed a New Trial Motion based on the alleged Brady/Giglio violations. Much of that litigation was conducted under seal. A few documents are publicly available, but they are heavily redacted. The defense lost its New Trial Motion as well.
The 11th Circuit did not decide whether the government's failure to discover and disclose Dr. Jordan's conduct, before or during trial, violated Brady/Giglio. But it did order the government's Notice unsealed and, through its opinion, disclosed Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" and pretrial diversion deal to the bench and bar. This was an admirable public service.
The 11th Circuit was clearly displeased by DOJ's effort to shield Dr. Jordan. As the Court succinctly put it:
"Perhaps ironically, by arguing that there was no Brady violation in this case because the AUSA prosecuting Ignasiak was unaware of Dr. Jordan’s history, it is actually the government that most persuasively highlights the value in unsealing the Notice. Indeed, should the Notice remain sealed, the significant likelihood is that in the next CSA prosecution in which Dr. Jordan testifies as an expert, both the prosecuting AUSA and the defense counsel will again be unaware of the highly relevant impeachment evidence contained in the Notice. And in that case, as in this one, should the truth ever come to light, the government could again point to its own ignorance and claim immunity from Brady error. Stated this way, we would have expected the government to condemn, rather than condone, such a problematic outcome."
In light of the 11th Circuit's opinion, several questions present themselves.
1. Who Protected Jordan? In other words, why did he get what looks on its face like a very favorable pretrial diversion deal from the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office? Who approved the deal and who within DOJ was informed about it? How long did the diversionary period last? Was it unusually short and, if so, why?
2. Who Revealed or Failed to Reveal Jordan's Conduct and Pretrial Diversion Deal? The Ignasiak prosecution team, from the Northern District of Florida, purportedly did not know about Dr. Jordan's "criminal conduct" or his South Dakota pretrial diversion agreement until after trial. Why not? The South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office is part of the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney network, and Dr. Jordan is fairly well known as a government expert in pain clinic cases. It is difficult to imagine that South Dakota prosecutors were not aware of Dr. Jordan's ongoing role as a government expert. Assuming that they were aware, why didn't this raise any red flags, and who, if anyone, made the decision to quarantine this obvious Brady/Giglio material? If this is a cover-up, how high did it go? Was Jordan's pretrial diversion completed before Ignasiak's trial? Was it still in force when Jordan traveled, as he surely must have, to Pensacola for trial prep? Wouldn't Jordan need permission from pretrial services in order to travel to Pensacola, and wouldn't he have to tell pretrial service the purpose of his trip? Did the South Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office know of the trip and its purpose? If so, why didn't it notify N.D. Florida?
3. Why Did N.D. Florida Try to Seal and Suppress Dr. Jordan's "Criminal Conduct" and Pretrial Diversion Deal? As the 11th Circuit correctly noted, the government's effort to seal its own Notice had the effect of shielding Dr. Jordan's misconduct from other federal prosecutorial offices. Even assuming, as the government argued in Ignasiak, that an AUSA in one federal district has no obligation to obtain Brady/Giglio from a fellow AUSA in another federal district, what possible justification is there for the active effort to suppress Brady/Giglio material that occurred post-trial in Ignasiak?
4. What Subsequent Prosecutions Have Been Sullied by the Ignasiak Brady/Giglio Suppression? Did the Florida AUSAs ask Dr. Jordan about any upcoming trials Jordan may have had on tap with other U.S. Attorney Offices? If so, did the N.D. Florida make an attempt to tell the other offices about Dr. Jordan? It unquestionably had an ethical duty to do so. What has been done since the Ignasiak opinion to look into this issue?
5. Does the DOJ Really Believe that Brady/Giglio Material Known Only to a Federal Prosecutor in South Dakota is not Brady/Giglio Material in any Other Federal District? What duty does DOJ impose upon its federal prosecutors to tell prosecutors in other federal districts about Brady/Giglio problems with testifying agents and expert witnesses? If there is no policy in this area, why not?
6. How Could This Happen? More to the point, how could this happen post-Stevens? The government filed its Notice in Ignasiak six months after DOJ moved to dismiss the Stevens Indictment with prejudice and six months after Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered his own investigation of Brady/Giglio violations. Apparently AG Holder's message fell on some deaf ears. And I guess the N.D. Florida never thought to re-examine its position, after the DOJ issued, to much fanfare, the Ogden Memo in early 2010. Even now, after the 11th Circuit's pointed comments, the government has not voluntarily moved to unseal the Notice, or the motions and responses from the New Trial Motion, in the Ignasiak case. Why not?
It is extremely difficult for me to believe that either AG Eric Holder or Assistant AG Lanny Breuer knew about the Arthur Jordan issue prior to last month's Ignasiak opinion. And therein lies the problem. Even an Attorney General and Criminal Division Chief publicly committed to rooting out Brady/Giglio abuses could not prevent the Arthur Jordan debacle.
What is the real lesson here? That prosecutors can't be trusted to make their own judgments about what is or is not exculpatory and material under Brady/Giglio. Disclosure must be the norm.
DOJ has done everything in its power to prevent meaningful statutory reform of Fed.R.Crim.App.16 and federal criminal discovery procedures. DOJ says that it can be trusted to prevent Brady/Giglio violations from occurring. The Ted Stevens prosecution is Exhibit 1 in the argument against DOJ. Now we have Exhibit 2. His name is Dr. Arthur Jordan.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
The Wall Street Journal editorial page weighs in on FCPA prosecutions here this morning, bewailing DOJ's increasingly broad construction of the statute and calling for reform. The editorial hits the FCPA nail right on the head, noting Mother Justice's recent setbacks in three FCPA cases, but also noting that big companies settle FCPA cases for outrageously large sums instead of shouldering the risks and further financial burdens of protracted litigation against the DOJ and SEC.
Don't expect any of this to change without a statutory fix. DOJ has proven itself remarkably tone deaf, stubborn, and obtuse with respect to FCPA enforcement. Besides, FCPA investigations bring in the big bucks, concomitantly creating a specialty practice that is easily marketable to the private and in-house bar after government employment.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Here is Judge Emmet Sullivan's Memorandum Opinion ordering unredacted release of Hank Schuelke's Report on prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens prosecution. Any comments or objections to the report by the attorneys involved are due by March 8 and will be published along with the Report.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the supposed hallmarks of the American criminal justice system is the prudent exercise of prosecutorial discretion. But prosecutorial discretion, even when it works, is a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it allows for the flexibility and compromise without which most systems, even well-constructed ones, cannot function. A curse, because liberty should not depend upon the the character and wisdom of the person temporarily wielding power.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California has decided not to prosecute Lance Armstrong. An announcement to that effect was made last Friday. The L.A. Times story is here. A good Washington Post piece is here. Today's Wall Street Journal discusses the declination and a potential future probe of of improper leaks related to the case. (An internal investigation of some kind appears to be warranted given the massive leaking that has occurred.) According to the WSJ, the declination decision by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and his top aides went against the recommendation of the two line AUSAs handling the case. Maybe, but take it with a grain of salt. News stories about the internal machinations of prosecution teams often get it wrong.
Based on what I know about the case, the decision to decline appears to have been a no-brainer. Recent federal prosecutions involving alleged drug use by star athletes have expended enormous sums of money with mixed or poor results. In the Armstrong matter, the doping, if it occurred, was not itself a federal crime. Prosecutors would have been peddling a wire fraud theory under which Armstrong allegedly defrauded team sponsors by intentionally violating a contractual obligation to avoid improper drug use. Not very sexy. Twelve typical American jurors might well wonder at the start of such a case, "Why are we even here?" Finally, Armstrong is enormously popular and has a sterling defense team with unlimited resources.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) vows to continue its investigation, accurately noting that its "job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws." But USADA wants the grand jury materials. This would be a travesty, and is unlikely to happen. Federal grand jury materials are presumptively secret by law for good reason. Don't count on a federal court sanctioning transfer of grand jury materials to an agency like USADA.
In other declination news, the DOJ attorneys prosecuting the Gabon sting case have informed U.S. District Judge Richard Leon that DOJ is considering dropping all future prosecutions. A decision will be made by February 21. The BLT piece is here. Full disclosure: I briefly represented one of the defendants, and considered representing another of the defendants, neither of whom has gone to trial. My comments here are based on the public record. The two cases brought to date have resulted in three acquittals and two hung juries. Nobody going to trial has been convicted in what DOJ thought was a sure win. Whatever merit there was in initially bringing the case, reconsideration is in order. The two trials to date have revealed a number of weaknesses. First, this was a sting--a crime engineered by the U.S. Government. Second, the informant who helped orchestrate it was far more compromised than the typical informant in a white collar case. Third, in a key tape recorded conversation between that informant and one of the defendants, the defendant seeks to back out of the alleged unlawful transaction, but the informant reels the defendant back in by telling him that attorneys have approved the deal. Fourth, the inherent ambiguities and weaknesses in the FCPA itself.
If there has been a benefit to the Gabon FCPA prosecution it is this--it has taught the white collar defense bar that FCPA cases can be fought and won and, presumably, has taught DOJ that FCPA cases aren't as easy to win as they first appear.
February 8, 2012 in Celebrities, Corruption, Current Affairs, FCPA, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Media, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Last week, after President Obama announced a purportedly new initiative, see here and here, to combat fraud, government law enforcement officials, criticized for their lack of activity, promised action in the very near future. It is not clear whether the indictment returned Wednesday in the Southern District of New York for crimes committed four years ago is the action referred to. It certainly is not an earth-shattering case.
On Wednesday, three former Credit Suisse traders were indicted for inflating the worth of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to avoid recognition of market losses and thereby increase their bonuses. See here.
The CDOs consisted of pooled, presumably at least in part subprime, mortgages that were sold to investors in packages by presumably reputable institutions with high ratings provided by presumably reputable credit agencies. The presence of large amounts of overvalued CDOs in firm inventories is considered by some a major cause of the financial crisis.
Unlike securities such as listed stocks, there was no liquid market for these mortgage securities and therefore no easily ascertainable market value. Some financial firms were hesitant to mark down these failing obligations because it would considerably decrease reported earnings. Here, it is alleged -- and two of the three indicted have pleaded guilty -- that the traders knowingly concealed the loss in value and secured a bogus evaluation from a friendly small investment bank in order to support the inflated value of the securities. The overvaluation -- or failure to recognize the loss -- resulted in increased compensation for the traders, whose year-end bonuses were based considerably on the profits of their groups.
This case is interesting for several reasons. It is one of the relatively few brought so far that concern alleged criminal wrongdoing after the financial crisis arose. Most previous criminal prosecutions involving failed mortgages have focused on the origination of mortgages and comparatively small-time people such as aggressive mortgage brokers, perjurious buyers and conniving lawyers, and not their securitization.
It is also one of the few instances in which employees of a major financial institution have been prosecuted criminally in a case related to the financial crisis. Nonetheless, it would be a stretch to say that this overvaluation, discovered and corrected by Credit Suisse in days, had a major impact.
This is one of the rare criminal accusations, to my knowledge, involving mismarking or deliberately overvaluing illiquid assets in order to inflate profits. These valuations have a major effect on the profit and loss statements of financial institutions, including hedge funds, and the consequent bonuses or incentive compensation of traders and managers. False marking, often using evaluations by supposed experts or comparable institutions of the worth of securities with no easily-defined market value, is an area which deserves more governmental scrutiny and probably more governmental legal action.
Of course, care must be taken to distinguish deliberate falsity from good faith but erroneous evaluation in this uncertain area.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Previously discussed here, was the cert petition filled in James A. Brown v. United States (11-783),a case that raises interesting questions regarding Brady. As noted, Brown, is a former Merrill Lynch executive who "was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his testimony before the Enron grand jury about a transaction between Merrill and Enron in late 1999." An amicus brief has been filed in this case that includes several different defense groups and several leading law professors. They weigh in on the important question raised in this brief - the appropriate standard of review for Brady cases. Should it be "clear error" or should it be de novo.
The case also examines "materiality," a term that has creates some confusion. What must a prosecutor provide to the defense counsel. And isn't it odd that the adversary in the process is making the determination for what the defense is entitled to receive. The case looks at summaries being provided to defense counsel. Bottom line - summaries are not the same as the real thing.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
President Obama's State of the Union Address spoke to many important issues. One was financial crime. He said "[w]e will also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people's investments." (see full text Wash Po here). He later states, "[s]o pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count."
Some may recall that back in 2009 President Obama created the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force that had as its purpose "to hold accountable those who helped bring about the last financial crisis as well as those who would attempt to take advantage of the efforts at economic recovery." (see here) I am a bit uncertain how this existing body will or will not interact with the new Financial Crimes Unit, but the concept of further enforcement in this area sounds impressive. Perhaps more funding will be supplied to the SEC through this initiative so that they can properly regulate improprieties and avoid Ponzi schemes of the past. Perhaps more FBI investigators will be hired to work on building these cases. I applaud the President for this one - especially if he goes in this direction.
On the other hand, we really do not need new legislation to make "the penalties of fraud count." The legislation is there, and if one looks at the website of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, there have been a significant amount of prosecutions with existing statutes. (see here). The statutes are there -it is the money that is needed to make these difficult and often complex cases. Please don't add more to the already approximately 4,500 federal statutes out there.
So more regulatory oversight, more prosecutors and SEC folks working on financial matters will help. But the legislation and penalties are already there. I look forward to seeing this Financial Crime Unit up and running and cracking down on improprieties in our financial world.