Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prosecutorial Overcharging is Not "Regular"

In an editorial published July 16, 2012 entitled "Trial Judge To Appeals Court:  Review Me" (see here), the New York Times, in the wake of Judge John Kane's opinion discussed here last week (see here), rightly criticized standard plea waivers in federal court, especially those that preclude appeals based on attorney ineffectiveness or prosecutorial misconduct.  The editorial, however, in alleging that in order to induce pleas     "[p]rosecutors regularly overcharge defendants with a more serious crime than what actually occurred" was largely off-the-mark, as Paul J. Fishman, the respected United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, claimed in a letter to the Times published on July 26, 2012 (see here).

Federal prosecutors do not, in my view, "regularly" overcharge defendants "with a more serious crime than what actually occurred," at least in white-collar cases (although they often pile on unnecessary if legally justifiable multiple charges).  As Mr. Fishman noted, DOJ has directed prosecutors to charge only provable crimes, and in my experience that directive is generally followed.  In many districts, notably with respect to white collar cases the Southern District of New York, guilty pleas are to the indicted charges or top count, and rarely only to less serious counts.  Since defendants are unlikely to plead guilty to unprovable charges, that practice indicates that the charging decisions are consistent with the law and the facts.

Indeed, there is little incentive for prosecutors to overcharge in order to induce pleas since defense lawyers are aware that the Sentencing Guidelines suggest that the sentencing judge should in any case consider all relevant conduct committed by the defendant, no matter to what crime the defendant has pleaded, and prevailing statutes (and often a conviction of multiple charges) virtually always provide the courts more than ample sentencing leeway.  Unlike many state statutory schemes, most federal statutes in the white collar area -- mail and wire fraud, for instance -- are generic and not scaled by degrees according to the amounts of money involved, such as state statutes concerning grand larceny in different degrees.  The Sentencing Guidelines levels, but not the statutory crimes, are determined primarily by the dollar loss figure.

This is not to say that most defendants do not face considerable institutional pressure to plead guilty (and, if possible, "cooperate" with the prosecution).  Defendants, depending on from which direction one looks, are either "punished" for going to trial or "rewarded" for pleading guilty by the Guidelines provisions for a near-automatic two or three level decrease for pleading (acceptance of responsibility, U.S.S.G. 3E1.1) and a near-automatic two level increase for a convicted defendant who has testified in her defense (obstruction of justice, U.S.S.G. 3C1.1).  Additionally, a defendant who pleads guilty usually receives a more generous interpretation of the Guidelines by the prosecutor, probation officer and the court, and a lessened fervor from the prosecution and more lenient attitude by the judge.  And, of course, the sweet carrot of a U.S.S.G. 5K1.1 letter for those who cooperate with the government is often, perhaps too often, the difference between a severe sentence and a lenient one.

(goldman)

August 28, 2012 in Legal Ethics, Obstruction, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Government Takes Harsher Position After Judge Rejects Plea Bargain Because of Appellate Waiver

Professor Douglas Berman, in his excellent blog, Sentencing Law and Policy, quoting a Denver Post article, writes that after a federal judge rejected a plea agreement urged by both parties because it included a standard appellate waiver, the prosecutor came back with a harsher offer, albeit one without an appellate waiver, which the defendant accepted.  See here and here.

Senior District Judge John Kane of Colorado refused to accept a deal involving Timothy Vanderwerff, a defendant accused of child pornography, because of the waiver provision.  That deal provided that the government would seek no more than 12 years in prison and the defendant seek no less than five.  The judge said that "indiscriminate acceptance of appellate waivers undermines the ability of appellate courts to ensure the constitutional validity of convictions and to maintain consistency and reasonableness in sentencing decisions."

In court papers Vanderwerff's attorney, federal public defender Edward Harris (who worked with me years ago) wrote that the prosecutors refused to agree to the same sentencing position deal without the appeal waiver and instead took a much harsher position.

One possible lesson from this case is that well-meaning judges, reacting to the government's increasing efforts to expand the terms of plea agreements to limit a defendant's ability to appeal and appellate courts' ability to review, might actually do harm to the individual defendant before them in rejecting a bargained-for agreement.  Another possible lesson is that the government does not take kindly to judges interfering with its de facto power to set plea bargaining parameters and may demonstrate its displeasure by treating even acquiescent defendants more harshly when the judge rejects a plea deal it has offered.

Whether the defendant will ultimately suffer is unclear, because the court now, presumably subject to appeal by either side (as well as any applicable mandatory minimums), has the ultimate power to set the defendant's sentence and may well choose to sentence him under the posture both sides agreed upon in the original plea bargain.

(goldman)

August 23, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New York D.A. Brings State Prosecution After Second Circuit Vacates Federal Conviction

Sergey Aleynikov, a former Goldman Sachs programmer whose federal conviction for stealing source code from the firm's computers had been vacated by the Second Circuit on the grounds that the statutes under which he was prosecuted did not cover his conduct, has been charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance with state charges relating to the same activities.

Arguably, the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy clause does not apply here because the United States and the State of New York are separate "sovereignties."  That "dual sovereignties" exception to the double jeopardy clause has been occasionally questioned but generally remains in force.  One possible exception that may apply here since presumably the D.A.'s case will rely on the federal investigation and prosecution (the federal case agent signed the affidavit supporting the state complaint) is when the two governments are acting in concert. 

Although there may be no federal constitutional bar because of the "dual sovereignties," New York statutory law does in some circumstances preclude a state prosecution after a trial for the same or similar offenses in another jurisdiction.  See New York Criminal Procedure Law Article 40.  Additionally, there is always the possibility that eventually the New York Court of Appeals, which recently has dusted off the New York State Constitution's equivalent of the Bill of Rights (Article 1, Section 6) in Fourth Amendment Cases, may apply the state's constitutional double jeopardy bar more broadly than federal courts have applied the federal constitutional bar.

A New York Times article (see here) about the case quotes Joshua Dressler, an Ohio State University law professor, as saying that this case provides "an exceptionally justifiable reason for the state prosecutor to use a state law to bring a prosecution."  I disagree.  Mr. Aleynikov has already undergone the trauma and expense and disruption of life that a criminal trial entails.  He has already served almost one year in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Even if convicted on state charges, I predict he will never serve an additional day in jail.

Thus, in some ways Mr. Aleynikov is a poster boy for application of the double jeopardy clause.  This case does not involve a situation in which a dismissal or acquittal in the initial proceeding was tainted by misconduct or was so bizarre that it seems viscerally unjust.  Rather, Mr. Aleynikov's case was reversed by a highly-respected court because a highly-respected prosecutorial office charged and convicted him and sent him to prison under statutes that did not apply.  This is not the kind of case that justifies a prosecutorial end-run around the Constitution. 

The Department of Justice's "Petite Policy" concerning federal prosecutions after state trials, as it has been applied, militates against a second prosecution after an unsuccessful prosecution in another jurisdiction when the first prosecution was generally fair.  Apparently, the New York County District Attorney has no such policy. 

(goldman)

August 14, 2012 in Computer Crime, News, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The DOJ: In Action or Inaction?

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.

(wisenberg)

August 11, 2012 in Fraud, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 10, 2012

50 Former Prosecutors (And Judges) Can't Be Wrong

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.

(wisenberg)

August 10, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

None Dare Call It Misconduct: Except For The Second Circuit

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.

(wisenberg)

August 7, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Securities | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Brady Violations. Again.

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.

(wisenberg)

August 6, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Securities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Haley, Madoff, JP Morgan Situations Show Need for Greater Regulation

Today's New York Times was a virtual treasure trove of white collar crime stories.  Among them were the following:

"South Carolina House Panel to Hear Ethics Complaints Against Governor" (see here) - South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is facing a legislative hearing on whether she acted unethically during her term in the legislature when she was paid $110,000 annually as a fundraiser for a hospital whose legislative goals she advocated.  Knowing nothing about South Carolina legislative ethics rules or criminal law, I do not venture to opine whether the Governor did anything improper.  However, the broad facts here are strikingly close to a series of cases in New York in which a hospital CEO, a state senator and a state assemblyman all were convicted and went to prison.  See here.  It seems to me there should be a restriction against a legislator working for an entity, at least in a loosely-defined job such as consultant or fundraiser, and advocating or supporting favorable legislation for that entity.

                                 *                    *                    * 

"Madoff's Brother Sets Plea Deal in Ponzi Case" (see here) - Peter B. Madoff, the brother of Bernard Madoff and the No. 2 man at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, will reportedly plead guilty tomorrow to falsifying documents, lying to regulators and filing false tax returns.  Peter Madoff reportedly served as the nominal compliance officer of his brother's wholly-owned securities firm and apparently exercised little or no oversight of the firm's operations, thereby providing his brother the freedom to steal billions.

Placing an investment firm's proprietor's brother as compliance officer is akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.  It seems there should be, if there is not, a law, rule or regulation prohibiting a close relative, like a spouse, parent, child or sibling, from being the responsible compliance officer in a substantial investment firm owned entirely (as here) or largely by one's relative.

                               *                    *                    * 

"JP Morgan Trading Loss May Reach $9 Billion" (see here) - The amount of JP Morgan's trading losses from its London office could be as much as $9 billion -- four and one-half times as much as the company announced originally.  While JP Morgan has in view of its considerable profits downplayed the magnitude of the loss, which its chief executive officer Jamie Dimon estimated in May could possibly be as much as $4 billion, obviously a $9 billion loss takes a much greater bite out of the firm's profitability, and conceivably may even raise some questions as to the firm's viability.

We now know, in the wake of bailouts and government support, that the federal government is both the de facto and de jure insurer of major banking institutions.  One might ask whether a government insurer, like a private insurance company, should not be able to set specific rules to curb risky activities which might trigger the insurer's support.  To update Congressman Barney Frank, there are now nine billion more reasons for increased governmental regulation.

                                 *                    *                    * 

Like many other white collar defense lawyers, I am strongly against overcriminalization.  On the other hand, I am equally strongly against underregulation.  One of the principal reasons I favor greater and clearer rules and regulations is to give potential white-collar offenders reasonable notice of what is criminal and what is not, and not leave that decision, as frequently happens now, to a federal prosecutor's interpretation of the amorphous fraud laws.

A significant portion of the white-collar defendants I have represented in the last forty years, including many of those who were convicted, have actually believed that their actions were not criminal.  In some cases, this was simply because they lacked a moral compass.  In the financial world, where the primary, and often sole, goal is to take other people's money away from them, many people do not consider whether what they do is morally right or wrong, or are so amoral that they are incapable of making that distinction.  Tighter regulation will at least tell them what is prohibited and what is not.

(goldman)

June 28, 2012 in Current Affairs, Fraud, News, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Barclays Bank to Pay - $160 Million - as Part of Non-Prosecution Agreement

A DOJ Press Release reports, Barclays Bank PLC Admits Misconduct Related to Submissions for the London Interbank Offered Rate and the Euro Interbank Offered Rate and Agrees to Pay $160 Million Penalty

Some highlights of the press release -

  • "Barclays Bank PLC, a financial institution headquartered in London, has entered
    into an agreement with the Department of Justice to pay a $160 million penalty
    to resolve violations arising from Barclays’s submissions for the London
    InterBank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and the Euro Interbank Offered Rate (EURIBOR),
    which are benchmark interest rates used in financial markets around the world..."
  • "To the bank’s credit, Barclays also took a significant step toward accepting
    responsibility for its conduct by being the first institution to provide
    extensive and meaningful cooperation to the government."
  • "Barclays’s cooperation has been extensive, in terms of the quality and type of
    information and assistance provided, and has been of substantial value in
    furthering the department’s ongoing criminal investigation." 
  • "The agreement requires Barclays to continue cooperating with the department in
    its ongoing investigation."
  • "As a result of Barclays’s admission of its misconduct, its extraordinary
    cooperation, its remediation efforts and certain mitigating and other factors,
    the department agreed not to prosecute Barclays for providing false LIBOR and
    EURIBOR contributions, provided that Barclays satisfies its ongoing obligations
    under the agreement for a period of two years.  The non-prosecution agreement
    applies only to Barclays and not to any employees or officers of Barclays or any
    other individuals."

Commentary - As a non-prosecution agreement it does not go through the courts and DOJ has the power to enforce or proceed should it believe there is a violation of the agreement. It also sounds like the white collar defense bar may have some new clients as the government has secured the cooperation of the company to go after individuals.

See also Jenna Greene, BLT Blog, Barclays Agrees to Pay $360M to Settle with CFTC, DOJ
over Interest Rate Manipulation

(esp)

June 27, 2012 in Defense Counsel, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Investigations, Prosecutors, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Politics and Justice

AG Holder has issued a statement in response to the House Panel Vote (on party lines) to recommend holding him in contempt for not providing items to the committee -

In his statement, Holder states-

“In recent months, the Justice Department has made unprecedented accommodations to respond to information requests by Chairman Issa about misguided law enforcement tactics that began in the previous administration and allowed illegal guns to be taken into Mexico.  Department professionals have spent countless hours compiling and providing thousands of documents -- nearly 8,000 -- to Chairman Issa and his committee.   My staff has had numerous meetings with congressional staff to try and accommodate these requests and yesterday, I met with Chairman Issa to offer additional internal Department documents and information that would satisfy what he identified as the Committee’s single outstanding question." (more here)

(esp)

June 20, 2012 in Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fifth Circuit Decision Has Many Inviting Issues for the Supremes

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.

(esp) 

June 5, 2012 in Attorney Fees, Defense Counsel, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Should Edwards Be Retried?

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.

(esp)

May 31, 2012 in Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Verdict | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DOJ "Punishment" of Stevens Prosecutors Too Lenient

I have not read the 672-page Department of Justice report finding that federal prosecutors Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goelke acted recklessly -- but not intentionally -- in withholding exculpatory information from Sen. Ted Stevens at his trial for corruption.  Nor have I read the 525-page Scheulke/Shields report commissioned by Judge Emmet Sullivan that concluded to the contrary that their misconduct was intentional.  I therefore am hesitant to say that the DOJ finding was wrong.

I have little hesitancy, however, in criticizing the lenient punishment meted out by DOJ.  Bottini was suspended without pay for 40 days, Goelke for 15.  Even if, as the DOJ report contends, they did not act intentionally but did act with "reckless disregard" of their constitutional obligations to provide exculpatory evidence, the slap on the wrist of a loss of net income from $5,000 to $12,000 respectively (along with a compensating two to seven weeks of extra vacation) appears inappropriate.

The determined "reckless" conduct was, among other things, the failure to disclose evidence concerning Stevens' willingness to pay for the renovations in question, and a contractor's expectation that the cost of the renovations would be added to Stevens' bill, evidence central to the case.  Its disclosure might well have prevented Stevens' conviction, loss of reputation and Senate seat, and (but for his death in a plane crash) probable imprisonment.

If a truck driver causes serious personal injury by reckless driving, is there any doubt he would be fired?  The injury to Senator Stevens was serious; the punishment was far too gentle.

                                                           *          *          *

In a way, the finding of reckless misconduct reflects worse on DOJ than a finding of intentional misconduct.  According to the DOJ report, these were not rogue prosecutors deliberately concealing evidence.  Rather, they were seasoned and respectable prosecutors who recklessly ignored a most basic constitutional obligation, not to conceal exculpatory evidence.  The finding leads to serious questions about DOJ's training and professionalism and leads me to wonder (again) how many serious Brady violations by other seasoned and respectable prosecutors go undetected.

(goldman)

May 29, 2012 in Legal Ethics, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Government Dismisses Lindsey Manufacturing Case Appeal

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).

(esp)

May 25, 2012 in FCPA, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Statement of Williams & Connolly on DOJ's "Laughable" Punishment of Ted Stevens's Prosecutors

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.

(wisenberg)

May 25, 2012 in Contempt, Corruption, Government Reports, Legal Ethics, Obstruction, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

DOJ Press Release Treads on Presumption of Innocence

The Department of Justice yesterday announced the indictment of four Georgia residents for tax fraud.  The press release (see here) stated, as is required by the ABA Fair Trial and Free Press Standards, ". . . the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."  Nonetheless, the headline read "Georgia Tax Cheats Indicted for Conspiring to Defraud the United States," certainly not affording these defendants the presumption of innocence to which the DOJ release paid lip service.

The indictment was announced by the new Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division, Kathryn Keneally, until recently my able and respected colleague in the New York City criminal defense bar.  My assumption is that AAG Keneally neither wrote nor reviewed the headline.

(goldman)

May 24, 2012 in Legal Ethics, Prosecutors, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clemens Daily Wrap-Up

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.

(wisenberg)

May 21, 2012 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, Media, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trying to Re-Open the Door in Roger Clemens Case

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.

(wisenberg)

May 20, 2012 in Celebrities, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Roger Clemens Trial - In Defense of the Judge

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.

(esp)

May 19, 2012 in Celebrities, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Notes From The Roger Clemens Trial: The Jury Is Bored

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.

(wisenberg) 

May 17, 2012 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Judicial Opinions, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)