January 08, 2013
Decision by Tagliabue in NFL "Bounty" Cases May Be Instructive in Criminal Sentencing
One of the many things that has bothered me about the criminal justice system is that there are no "grays." Everything is either criminal or non-criminal. Conduct that on one day is legally acceptable, even if perhaps sharp and unwholesome, on the next day will, if a penal statute goes into effect, be criminal and punishable by years in prison.
This fair-to-foul scenario is particularly troublesome in certain areas of white-collar law. On day one, for instance, conduct which exploits "loopholes" in the tax law may go from widely-practiced and legally-tolerated "tax avoidance" to now-prohibited and severely punishable "tax evasion." When this change from acceptable to criminal occurs by statute, there at least is some public notice and warning to potential wrongdoers, although such notice obviously never reaches many persons. When, however, the law, or potential law, changes overnight by an unpredictable or unexpected court decision or an indictment based on a novel theory of prosecution, the sudden changes to what is considered prosecutable is even more problematical.
I do not have any easy solution to this problem. We cannot expect the government to send out a hundred million notices that new criminal laws have been enacted (although we do, for instance, require financial institutions to notify all of their credit card customers of interest rate changes). Nor, of course, if such notices were sent, can we reasonably expect a hundred million people to read or understand them. Additionally, we do not want to prohibit prosecutors from imaginative use of legally permissible tactics to prosecute what is apparently morally wrong and harmful.
We should, however, in the sentencing area recognize that it is essentially unfair to punish a defendant as seriously for conduct that had previously been generally accepted or tolerated than for conduct clearly known at the time of the offense to be criminal. Under this theory, for instance, Michael Milken could reasonably be prosecuted, as he was in the late '80s, for essentially "parking" stock, an arguably "civil" violation never before prosecuted criminally, but could not reasonably be sentenced, as he was initially, to ten years in jail (later reduced upon a Rule 35 motion).
I have on a few occasions argued to a sentencing judge that she should give a less severe sentence because the defendant's conduct was at the time he committed it not widely known to be criminal or generally was not prosecuted. I have never been successful, at least to the extent a judge explicitly agreed (of course, judges often do not explicate their reasoning). I am aware of no case in which a court explicitly granted a departure or variance on these grounds (although there may well be some). Nor am I aware of any Sentencing Guidelines consideration of this issue.
The decision by arbitrator Paul Tagliabue in the National Football League's New Orleans Saints "bounty" case (In the Matter of New Orleans Saints Pay-for-Performance/Bounty, December 11, 2012) is interesting and relevant. See here. See also here. Tagliabue, the former National Football League commissioner and a lawyer, affirmed the findings of misconduct made by Commissioner Roger Goodell but vacated the disciplinary sanction for the four players involved, suspensions of from four games to one year. Tagliabue based his vacation on sanctions essentially on two grounds: first, that the players' actions were encouraged by the coaches and other officials of the Saints, and, second, that professional football had previously treated such conduct gently, if not tolerating it. Tagliabue strongly suggested that when an existing "negative culture" is addressed by strict prohibitions, the penalties for violations should be phased in.
I do not expect federal sentences to be "phased in" so that, for instance, a violation of a new law within two years of enactment be punishable by a sentence of up to two years, and thereafter by up to five, although I do not think such an idea is entirely far-fetched. I do hope, however, that in appropriate cases judges consider adjusting sentences downward when the conviction is based on new law or a new application of existing law, especially when the change caused a sudden prohibition of generally acceptable behavior in the prevailing culture, even a negative culture. Mr. Tagliabue's opinion will not, of course, be considered precedential in the criminal law, but application of its reasoning in certain criminal cases may be appropriate.
Related Article - Tagliabue tosses out player penalties in bounty case
July 17, 2012
Freeh Report on Paterno Reaches Speculative But Reasonable Conclusion
Joe Paterno was buried a second time last week -- partly by a report of former judge and FBI Director Louis Freeh and partly by accounts like that of the New York Times, which in a four-column lead story headlined "Abuse Scandal Inquiry Damns Paterno and Penn State," wrote "Mr. Freeh's investigation makes clear that it was Mr. Paterno . . . who persuaded the university president and others not to report Mr. Sandusky to the authorities . . . ." (emphasis added). See here. A reading of the report, however, shows that its conclusions as to Paterno are based on hearsay, innuendo and surmise. While a report such as the Freeh Report certainly need not be based on court-admissible testimony, if indeed the evidence referred to in the report constituted the sole basis for a criminal and/or civil charge against Paterno, the case undoubtedly would be thrown out and would not reach a jury.
The relevant evidence involving Paterno is as follows:
- In May 1998, with respect to an allegation that Sandusky had showered with an eleven year-old on the Penn State campus, Tim Curley, the Penn athletic director, notified his superiors that he had "touched base" with Paterno about the incident and days later sent to them an email "Anything new in this department? Coach [Paterno] is anxious to know where it stands."
- In February 2001, after he observed Sandusky sexually molesting a youth in a Penn State shower room, Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant, reported the incident to Paterno, who told him, "You did what you had to do. It is my job now to figure out what we want to do." The following day, a Sunday, Paterno reported the incident to Curley and Gary Schultz, a Penn State vice-president. Paterno waited a day or so not to "interfere with their weekend."
- Later in the month, Graham Spanier, the Penn State president, Schultz and Curley devised an action plan which included reporting the incident to the state welfare agency. A day or so later, Curley emailed Schultz and Spanier and said that he had changed his mind about the plan "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno] yesterday," and now felt that they should instead tell Sandusky to seek professional help and not report him to the welfare authorities unless he did not cooperate.
The first item, the 1998 Curley email, merely demonstrates that Paterno showed an interest in what was happening with reference to the 1998 incident, which ultimately was reported to both the welfare department and the local prosecutor and resulted in no findings or charges. Paterno reportedly in 2011, after the incident involving Sandusky's 2001 conduct and the failure to report it to authorities raised public attention, denied that he was aware of the 1998 incident. In fact, Paterno's testimony in the grand jury in which he purportedly denied any such knowledge was in response to an imprecise, general and unfocused question, and his answer was accordingly unclear. Additionally, the reported statement denying any prior knowledge was by his "family" and not by him.
In any case, while a denial, if made directly by Paterno or even an authorized agent, might arguably be admissible in court as evidence of consciousness of guilt, such evidence is weak proof of guilt since even wholly blameless people often make false statements distancing themselves from wrongdoing.
The second item, Paterno's response to McQueary is by itself of little moment and says no more than that Paterno, having been apprised of the incident, would now have to figure out what he and the others will do. Of course, one can read into that facially bland statement a more sinister meaning -- that Paterno intended to tell McQueary to remain silent. Such a meaning, however, is supported only by surmise and suspicion. The report also states that Paterno waited a day before reporting the information to Curley and Schultz so as not to "interfere with their weekends." This one-day delay is not meaningful.
The third item, Curley's change of mind after "talking it over with Joe," might, not unreasonably, albeit with a considerable leap, be construed to indicate that Paterno suggested not reporting the incident to the authorities. However, it might also be that Curley changed his mind on his own after airing his thoughts with Paterno and deciding that the earlier plan was not preferable. It is, of course, also possible that whatever Curley wrote, his mention of discussions with Paterno (without any direct or indirect report of Paterno's own views) was an attempt by Curley to minimize or shift personal responsibility from himself. In any case, any probative value this email has as to Paterno's intent is also based on speculation.
Freeh himself seems to recognize that his conclusions are far from "clear." He mentions that Curley and Schultz contended that they acted "humanely" and sought "the best way to handle vague and troubling allegations," that Paterno had told a reporter he had "backed away and turned it over to . . . people I thought would have a little more expertise," and that Spanier had denied knowledge "Sandusky was engaged in any sexual abuse of children."
He then rejects these explanations and concludes, "Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, the Special Investigative Counsel finds that is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University -- Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley -- repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the University's Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large" (emphasis added). During a press conference specifically focusing on Paterno's culpability, Freeh, seemingly inconsistently with the qualified "available witness statements and evidence" language of the report, appeared to exaggerate, "There's a whole bunch of evidence here." He continued, "And we're saying that the reasonable conclusion from that evidence is that [Paterno] was an integral part of this active decision to conceal" (emphasis added).
I tend to agree that Freeh's conclusion is the "more reasonable" hypothesis, but I do so based more on a visceral feeling and some understanding of Paterno's power and status at the university than an evidentiary basis. The "facts" demonstrating Paterno's "active" role in the cover-up are insubstantial and equivocal. The case against Paterno is, as a Scotch jury might say, "not proven." Perhaps we should require more substantial proof before we topple Paterno's statue -- figuratively and actually.
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.
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.
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.
May 15, 2012
Should the NFL Bounty Case Be Looked at By Outside Agencies?
Some years ago, I represented a landlord who was indicted and convicted for offering a bounty to a thug if he beat up the leader of the tenants' committee, which was opposing a rent increase. This behavior does not seem all that much different from what the National Football League has alleged New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma did. Vilma, four other players, and his coach Sean Payton and others, have been disciplined by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for allegedly conspiring to offer rewards to teammates to maim opposing players, particularly star quarterbacks.
News about this alleged conspiracy has been widely publicized, but I have yet to read of any current or impending federal or state criminal or legislative inquiry. While certain violence in football is accepted, deliberate maiming goes beyond any acceptable norms. Nonetheless, it would not surprise me that neither federal nor state prosecutors, especially in the New Orleans area, where Vilma and his alleged player co-conspirators played, view such an investigation as crowd-pleasing. Realistically, it is quite possible that a New Orleans jury would nullify and acquit Vilma even if there were convincing evidence against him.
In virtually every other area of business activity where there is a tenable allegation that a person had conspired to maim a competitor or opponent, there would be a serious prosecutorial investigation. In sports, what is ordinarily considered criminality, at least physical criminality, is often given a bye.
One might think that Congress has a legitimate reason and special responsibility to investigate alleged orchestrated maiming in professional football, a national sport/business. The National Football League, as it is now, exists due to Congressional largess. Congress has given the NFL a special exemption to antitrust rules which allows it to function as a lucrative monopoly with an all-powerful commissioner. Professional football (which to my wife's chagrin I watch virtually every fall Sunday), if fairly and properly played, is a dangerous game, as reflected by the frequent injuries and limited career span of its players, and the reported unusual rates of early brain damage, suicides and deaths among its retirees. When improperly played -- played with a purpose of injuring others -- it is even more brutal.
Of course, just as an indictment might not be popular with local fans, a Congressional investigation into football brutality would probably not be favorably received by the voters back home, who like their contact sports (at least professional sports) such as football and hockey to be rough. Congress appears to be more interested in whether baseball players engage in taking illegal drugs, which, if it harms anyone, hurts only themselves or perhaps also competing players who perform at a comparative disadvantage without such presumed aids. Such an investigation also continues to feed the anti-drug attitude Congress has fostered and to justify the harsh drug laws Congress has enacted. Of course, Congress might also be gunshy in view of the embarrassment that the baseball steroid investigation and resulting Roger Clemens trial became.
This is not to say that I presume Vilma is guilty. I have not seen or heard any concrete evidence that he in fact did orchestrate a bounty program. The NFL investigation was conducted in secret and with only a sparse controlled public report by the NFL of its findings. Vilma's attorney, in a letter roughly equivalent to a motion for discovery in a criminal case, has asked for 17 points of information. The NFL's response is essentially that its special counsel, Mary Jo White, a respected and liked, and generally prosecution-minded, former United States Attorney, has reviewed the secret evidence and has found it sufficient. The NFL also claims that it had shared some of the evidence with the alleged offenders and the NFL Players Association. The association, while supporting the players' right to arbitration, presumably represents both Vilma and the alleged offenders, and is barely a substitute for a single-minded advocate on Vilma's behalf.
Thus, Vilma, subject to possible reversal by arbitration or court action, will be punished with a suspension of one year (a significant time in a football player's limited career span), and the loss of millions of dollars without even rudimentary due process. And, unlike many persons suspended or fired from jobs, Vilma is practically unable to ply his trade anywhere else besides the monopolistic NFL.
I do not know enough about the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which apparently allows the Commissioner to be both prosecutor and judge, or about labor law to know whether Vilma has been treated properly. I do, however, have a visceral feeling that he deserves more rights than a secret investigation and a conclusory decree by a commissioner with dictatorial power.
Hardin Hijacks Cashman
Few things are more exhilarating to a criminal defense attorney than turning the government's witness into your own. This is exactly what Rusty Hardin did with Yankees GM and Senior VP Brian Cashman to close out last week's testimony in the Roger Clemens trial. It's not as if Cashman provided that much to the government in the first place. He testified on direct that the Yankees acquired Clemens from Toronto after the 1998 season. Clemens contemporaneously asked the Yankees to hire Toronto strength coach Brian McNamee. Cashman declined. There is no evidence that Clemens pressed the matter further at the time. Clemens was injury plagued in 1999, and had his worst ERA ever. After getting shelled in a 1999 playoff game at Fenway Park, Clemens asked Cashman to hire McNamee for the 2000 season. Cashman obliged. In 2000 Clemens rebounded with a great year.
On cross Hardin established that Clemens had experienced a very poor season with the Red Sox ten years previously, yet similarly rebounded the next season with a banner year. Hardin also had Cashman confirm that Clemens never complained when the Yankees ultimately fired McNamee. And Cashman smeared McNamee's character in response to Hardin's questions concerning the circumstances of McNamee's firing. Sprinkled throughout Cashman's responses to Hardin were glowing testaments to Clemens' work ethic, competitive spirit, decency, and sportsmanship.
At the end of the day, the Court accepted proposed questions for Cashman from the jury. One of them was as follows:
"Over the years that you've known Roger Clemens, is it fair to say you admire him as a great player and a leader?"
Judge Walton, who has been needlessly Talmudic in his approach to cross-examination questions veering "beyond the scope" of direct, nevertheless allowed the question, transposing it slightly. He asked Cashman:
"[O]ne of the jurors wants to know what your feelings are about Roger Clemens as a player and as a leader."
Here was Cashman's out of the ballpark response:
"One of the greatest players that I've ever seen, one of the best people, which goes to his leadership abilities. He, you know, he worked harder than everybody. He led by example. So a lot of times, you know, someone like Roger Clemens was given a great deal of ability. But not everybody honors that ability with the work ethic they put behind it. Roger did that.
And Roger at the same time was inclusive. You know despite his, you know, extreme accomplishments and his abilities and therefore celebrity that came from that, you know, his leadership is also shown in the fact that he, you know, treated the 25th man the same way he'd treat maybe the second best player on the team as well as the support staff. So, you know, there's a lot of aspects of being a leader. It's, you know, a true leader leads everybody, you know, the good ones and the bad ones. Roger led them all. So, he was a great player, a hard worker. His work ethic as well as his leadership ability was unquestionable."
May 07, 2012
Roger Clemens' Motion To Strike: 50-50 Doesn't Cut It
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.
May 04, 2012
Judge Walton Rules With Iron Hand In Roger Clemens Trial
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.
April 09, 2012
Baseball Investigators' Notes Should Be Disclosed To Government
BLT: The Blog of Legal Times reports that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington recently asked to review notes made by attorneys for DLA Piper, including George Mitchell, during interviews of persons such as Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski who are expected to be government witnesses in the trial of Roger Clemens. See here. Judge Reggie Walton had ordered that these notes, made by the lawyers in their investigation of drug use by baseball players, be produced to the defense over DLA Piper's objection. The government took no position on the defense application for production.
Now, claiming that the government "did not lift a finger" to secure the notes, Clemens' attorneys ask Judge Walton to deny the government access to the notes. Otherwise, the court will "reward the prosecution for taking a head-in-the-sand approach," they claim.
I cannot agree with Clemens' position. Discovery is not a one-way street either for the government or for the defense. Both parties should be equally entitled to the documents. Even objections to production of documents by third parties should not operate as a waiver to review the documents, if they are produced. Although the defense, unlike the government, has no obligation to produce material harmful to its case, when relevant documents are secured by court order from third parties, absent special circumstances such as privilege, they should be available to both sides. A contrary rule would conceal information from defendants much more than from prosecutors.
February 08, 2012
Prosecutorial Discretion Is The Better Part Of Valor: Lance Armstrong; FCPA Gabon Sting
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
January 24, 2012
Paterno's Death May Affect Trial of Penn State Officials
Joe Paterno is dead, his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports tarnished by his termination -- unjust, I believe -- on the grounds that he inappropriately failed to pursue vigorously an allegation of child sex abuse (see here, here and here).
Paterno's death and absence as a witness will likely have little or no effect on the trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach who was the subject of the allegation reported to Paterno by a Penn State graduate assistant coach, Mike McQueary. Paterno's only information about the Sandusky issues appears to have been the hearsay report by McQueary, and thus it is unlikely that he would have been a witness.
Paterno's unavailability, however, may have a considerable impact on the trials of Tim Curley, the former university athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a former university senior vice president, both of whom have been charged with failure to report the suspected child abuse and perjury. Both have been charged with falsely testifying that McQueary, when he spoke with them, did not mention serious or criminal sexual conduct. McQueary, whom the grand jury report (presumably written by the prosecutors) deemed "extremely credible," testified that he reported the specific act to both Curley and Schultz, and seemingly also to Paterno. Paterno's grand jury testimony, however, apparently was that what McQueary related to him was far less specific, and thus more ambiguous. Accordingly, while the grand jury report indicated that Paterno would be a corroborative witness for the prosecution in that he was told by McQueary of the alleged "sexual exploitation" and then reported what McQueary had said to Curley and Schultz, his testimony would apparently also have to an extent corroborated their defenses that McQueary was less explicit than he now claims.
In another highly-publicized investigation involving a former college sports coach, former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, it has been reported that two of the four men who had accused Fine of molesting them when they were children have admitted that they committed perjury in connection with the case. One has admitted that he lied when he claimed Fine molested him. The second, the only one whose allegations fall within the applicable criminal statute of limitations, while still claiming that abuse occurred, has admitted doctoring purportedly supporting emails.
The Fine situation is a reminder that not every allegation of child sexual abuse is true. Indeed, in my experience, there is a far higher percentage of false accusations of sexual misconduct than of any other criminal activity. Thus, such accusations should be scrutinized especially carefully before they are acted upon by law enforcement or others.
January 20, 2012
The Lesson of Joe Paterno
Yesterday's New York Times has an extremely lengthy but disappointingly unilluminating article about the firing by the Penn State Board of Trustees of legendary football coach Joe Paterno (and also Penn State president Graham Spanier) for purportedly failing to take adequate action after being informed that former coach Jerry Sandusky had molested a boy in a Penn State locker room shower (discussed earlier here, here). The article reports that the Board telephoned Paterno and said, "The Board of Trustees has determined effective immediately you are no longer the football coach." Paterno immediately hung up. Shortly thereafter, his wife called the Board and said, "After 61 years he deserved better."
I agree with Mrs. Paterno. In the months since the Penn State grand jury report became public, I have seen nothing that to me indicates that Paterno acted improperly by promptly reporting the alleged incident to his superiors, even if not to law enforcement.
The lesson of Paterno's firing appears to be that, even if not required by statute or internal rule, one in authority in a corporation, government agency, institution of learning, or similar entity, should protect himself by reporting any tenable allegation of sexual abuse, whether or not substantiated and whether or not he believes it, to law enforcement. While such a rule might protect the reporter from termination, it might lead to a heyday for defamation lawyers, as well as severe harm to innocent people.
November 15, 2011
Did Paterno Get a Bad Call?
I have a nagging feeling that Penn State football ex-coach Joe Paterno may have lost the game on a bad call by the referee(s). Paterno, although not charged criminally, has been fired and vilified for what many suspect was his involvement in a cover-up to protect Penn State and its football program. While Paterno might arguably be faulted for a moral lapse for not personally reporting the allegation directly to public authorities, he did, promptly and probably accurately, report what he had been told to his administrative higher-ups, including the official in charge of the university police, one of the law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over on-campus crime.
The basic facts as regards Paterno, according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report (see here), are as follows: A 28-year old Penn State graduate assistant (known to be Mike McQueary) in March 2002 observed Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who had access to its football facilities, in a shower room subjecting a boy estimated to be 10 years old to anal intercourse. The following day, a Saturday, McQueary reported to Paterno "what he had seen." The next day, a Sunday, according to Paterno he called to his home Tim Curley, the university athletic director and his immediate nominal supervisor, and told Curley that McQueary had seen Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy." Subsequently, at a meeting with Gary Schultz, the Penn State senior vice president who oversaw the campus police, Paterno reported (according to Schultz) that Sandusky had engaged in "disturbing" and "inappropriate" conduct in the shower with a young boy.
Approximately one and one half weeks after the shower incident, in a meeting with Curley and Schultz, McQueary testified, he told them he had observed Sandusky having anal sex with a boy. Paterno was not present at that meeting.
Schultz, who was aware of an allegation against Sandusky in 1998 that was investigated with no resulting arrest, did not report the incident to the police. Curley and Schultz reported the incident to university now ex-president Graham Spanier as Sandusky "horsing around" in the shower with a "younger" child. Spanier testified that, as reported to him, the incident was not of a "sexual nature," and he made no report to authorities.
Curley was indicted for making a materially false statement under oath for denying that McQueary (presumably in the meeting not attended by Paterno) had told him that Sandusky had engaged "in sexual conduct or anal sex." Schultz was indicted for making a materially false statement under oath that the allegations made by the graduate assistant were "not that serious" and that he and Curley "had no indication that a crime had occurred."
Both Curley and Schultz were also charged with the then "summary offense" (less serious than a misdemeanor) of failure to report suspected child abuse. The applicable Pennsylvania statute (since amended), according to the grand jury report, mandated reporting by "the person in charge of the school or institution" to the Department of Public Welfare. Presumably that "person in charge" was ex-president Spanier, and Curley and Schultz, it seems, were charged as persons whose alleged playing down of the incident caused Spanier not to make a report.
The criminal case against Curley and Schultz, and the moral case against Paterno, is based to a considerable extent on the accuracy of the un-cross-examined testimony about an incident 9 years ago by McQueary, whom the grand jury, according to the report, found "extremely credible." It is far from clear exactly what McQueary told Paterno. Indeed, the grand jury report, which otherwise details what McQueary reported to Curley and Schultz with some specificity, describes what McQueary told Paterno only in very broad strokes -- "what he had seen." Paterno in a recent statement claimed McQueary did not mention the "very specific actions." Thus, it appears questionable whether McQueary had reported to Paterno that Sandusky and the child had engaged in anal sex. Accordingly, when Paterno reported to Curley that he heard Sandusky was "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature," he may well not have been watering down McQueary's report.
Indeed, Paterno is likely the major corroborative witness in the prosecution case against Curley and Schultz. (The boy, it appears, had not yet been identified.) The report states that Schultz and Curley "were notified by two different Penn State employees of the alleged sexual exploitation," those witnesses apparently being McQueary and Paterno. Paterno, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has announced, is not a criminal target.
The public, including me, sometimes feels some satisfaction when it learns of the fall of the rich and famous and the sports figures whom we believe get privileged treatment, and sometimes jumps to hasty conclusions of guilt which turn out to be wrong -- witness the Duke lacrosse players and probably Strauss-Kahn cases. The grand jury report, most likely written by the prosecution, even while presenting the prosecution case without any challenge by the defense, does not convince me that Paterno did anything wrong -- criminally, civilly or morally.
It may well be that it will ultimately be revealed that Paterno deliberately minimized Sandusky's reported conduct -- and participated in a cover-up -- or that his failure to assume the responsibility to report was a grievous error. The grand jury report did not concern moral guilt. And perhaps the prosecutors went out of their way not to criticize Paterno, who, it appears, will be a key witness for them at trial.
Perhaps Paterno acted or failed to act to avoid embarrassment to the university, the football program or himself and/or to protect a colleague from arrest and prosecution, or both. Perhaps he chose not to go directly to the police or welfare agency for the same or similar reasons. Paterno, after all, as a coach no doubt believes that "the team" comes first. He is, as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has intimated, also a creature of a different generation -- a generation which believed strongly in personal loyalty and was reluctant to "name names."
The grand jury report itself, however, does not make, and does not support, an allegation that Paterno deliberately participated in a cover-up.
September 04, 2011
U.S. v. Roger Clemens: The Government's Brushback Pitch
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton denied William Roger Clemens’ Motion to Prohibit Retrial and Dismiss the Indictment. If the New York Times is to be believed, Walton thinks that prosecutors “blatantly disregarded” his order barring testimony by Laura Pettitte. But the judge also ruled that “the current state of the law” prevents him from barring a second trial, despite the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause. I respectfully disagree.
The leading case is Oregon v. Kennedy, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. In his majority opinion in Oregon v. Kennedy, Justice Rehnquist held that when a defendant successfully moves for a mistrial the Double Jeopardy Clause will not prevent a retrial unless the prosecutorial conduct giving rise to the successful motion for mistrial was intended to provoke the defense into moving for mistrial. Got that?
Rehnquist pointed out that when a prosecutor goads the defendant into moving for a mistrial, “the defendant’s valued right to complete his trial before the first jury would be a hollow shell if the inevitable motion for mistrial were held to prevent a later invocation of the bar of double jeopardy in all circumstances.” Rehnquist rejected a broader standard based on prosecutorial overreaching:
“The difficulty with the more general standards which would permit a broader exception than one merely based on intent is that they offer virtually no standards for their application. Every act on the part of a rational prosecutor during a trial is designed to ‘prejudice’ the defendant by placing before the judge or jury evidence leading to a finding of his guilt. Given the complexity of the rules of evidence, it will be a rare trial of any complexity in which some proffered evidence by the prosecutor or by the defendant's attorney will not be found objectionable by the trial court. Most such objections are undoubtedly curable by simply refusing to allow the proffered evidence to be admitted, or in the case of a particular line of inquiry taken by counsel with a witness, by an admonition to desist from a particular line of inquiry.”
In contrast, “a standard that examines the intent of the prosecutor, though certainly not entirely free from practical difficulties, is a manageable standard to apply. It merely calls for the court to make a finding of fact. Inferring the existence or nonexistence of intent from objective facts and circumstances is a familiar process in our criminal justice system.” Commentators and practitioners have not focused enough on this passage.
It is a commonplace in criminal law, both state and federal, that intent cannot always be established by direct evidence, but instead must often be inferred from circumstantial evidence. For example, the Third Circuit’s standard jury instruction on “Required State of Mind-Intentionally-Knowingly-Willfully” teaches that:
“Often the state of mind [intent, knowledge, willfulness, or recklessness] with which a person acts at any given time cannot be proved directly, because one cannot read another person’s mind and tell what he or she is thinking. However, (name’s) state of mind can be proved indirectly from the surrounding circumstances. Thus, to determine (name’s) state of mind (what (name) intended or knew) at a particular time, you may consider evidence about what (name) said, what (name) did and failed to do, how (name) acted, and all the other facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that may prove what was in (name's) mind at that time. It is entirely up to you to decide what the evidence presented during this trial proves, or fails to prove, about (name’s) state of mind.”
Every federal circuit, including the D.C. Circuit, has a similar instruction.
The Third Circuit instruction on “Intentionally” states that:
“The offense(s) of (state offense or offenses that include intentionally or with intent) charged in the indictment requires that the government prove that (name of defendant) acted “intentionally” [“with intent”] with respect to an (certain) element(s) of the offense(s). This means that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt either that (1) it was (name’s) conscious desire or purpose to act in a certain way or to cause a certain result, or that (2) (name) knew that (he) (she) was acting in that way or would be practically certain to cause that result.
In deciding whether (name) acted “intentionally” [“with intent”], you may consider evidence about what (name) said, what (name) did and failed to do, how (name) acted, and all the other facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that may prove what was in (name)’s mind at that time.”
Every federal circuit, including the D.C. Circuit, has a similar instruction.
In this regard, Justice Powell’s concurrence in Oregon v. Kennedy is also instructive. Powell noted that, because subjective intent is often unknowable, “a court - in considering a double jeopardy motion - should rely primarily upon the objective facts and circumstances of the particular case.” One of those objective facts and circumstances is whether there was a “sequence of overreaching” prior to the particular prosecutorial error which necessitated a mistrial.
Thus, Judge Walton, in determining whether the Government intended to provoke a mistrial was free under the law to fully examine all of the circumstances surrounding the Government’s violation of his order.
Every federal circuit also has a “Willful Blindness” instruction. The Third Circuit’s is typical. It states in part that:
“To find (name) guilty of (state the offense), you must find that the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense charged). In this case, there is a question whether (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense). When, as in this case, knowledge of a particular fact or circumstance is an essential part of the offense charged, the government may prove that (name) knew of that fact or circumstance if the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that (name) deliberately closed (his) (her) eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to (him) (her).
No one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious. Thus, you may find that (name) knew (state the fact or circumstance, knowledge of which is required for the offense charged) based on evidence which proves that: (1) (name) was aware of a high probability of this (fact) (circumstance), and (2) (name) consciously and deliberately tried to avoid learning about this (fact) (circumstance).”
This is also known as the “Ostrich Instruction.” A defendant cannot hide his head in the sand about the facts in front of him. Let’s apply the concept to baseball.
When a pitcher throws a brushback pitch to a batter’s head, intending to intimidate the batter, he “knows” there is a possibility that the batter will be hit and injured. When that same pitcher throws a 100 mile an hour brushback pitch to the batter’s head, he “knows” that if the batter is hit, serious injury may result. But when that same pitcher has terrible control problems, is in a bad mood, and throws a 100 mile an hour brushback pitch to the batter’s head, he “knows” there is a high probability that the batter will be hit by the pitch and seriously injured.
Judge Walton was also free to apply the willful blindness concept, regularly applied by prosecutors and courts to convict criminal defendants, to the Government’s actions in the Clemens case.
It was the Government’s playing of the Elijah Cummings videotape to the jury on July 14, 2011, that provoked Judge Walton’s wrath and the defense’s reluctant, but successful, mistrial motion. Representative Cummings, in the course of cross-examining Roger Clemens before Congress, repeatedly mentioned Laura Pettitte’s affidavit. But Judge Walton had ruled this affidavit to be inadmissible. By playing the Cummings tape, the Government effectively snuck the affidavit into evidence through the back door. In trying to justify its use of the Cummings videotape on July 14, the Government never once said that it had made a mistake. Instead, AUSA Durham argued that “[t]here was no intention to run afoul of any Court ruling,” that the defense had possessed the videotape for months, and that the tape was in fact admissible.
There is absolutely no question that the Government intended to play the Cummings videotape, despite the Court’s prior ruling regarding Laura Pettitte’s affidavit. The defense and several commentators have made this point and the record unequivocally supports it. Judge Walton agrees. The prosecutors were deliberately playing it as close to the line as they could, hoping that they could get away with the Cummings videotape. They were throwing a brushback pitch at 100 miles an hour, but they were not paying enough attention to the umpire behind the plate.
And this was not an isolated incident. In determining whether the prosecutors intended to provoke a mistrial motion we are entitled to look at all of the facts and circumstances, including whether there was a “sequence of overreaching,” whether the prosecutors were “acting in [a] way [that] would be practically certain to cause” a mistrial motion, and whether the prosecutors were willfully blind to the likelihood that their win-at-all-costs philosophy would result in a mistrial. The prosecutors knew they were up against two of the finest criminal defense attorneys in the country, Rusty Hardin and Michael Attanasio. The prosecutors were therefore on notice that any conduct in violation of the Court’s orders would not go unchallenged.
On the question of whether the prosecutor’s engaged in a “sequence of overreaching,” I believe that not enough detailed attention has been paid to the Government’s violation of a separate Court order during opening statements. Nor has enough attention been paid to the Government’s attempts to justify this additional violation.
Let us now pay some detailed attention to this separate violation.
When Roger Clemens’ attorneys looked at the Government’s witness list on June 10, 2011, they spotted the names of four men who were trainer Brian McNamee’s former clients. The potential witnesses were Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Stanton, and Anthony Corso.
Eleven days later, Clemens filed Defendant’s Motion in Limine and Memorandum of Law (1 of 2) to Preclude Introduction of Other Witness Evidence Concerning Dealings and Discussions With Brian McNamee. In the introductory paragraph of his motion, Clemens attacked the prosecutorial strategy of guilt by association, noted that “[g]uilt under our system of government is personal” and that “inference[s] of guilt drawn by testimony regarding individuals other than defendant[s]” had been rejected by the D.C. Circuit, and sought “to preclude such improper evidence in all respects.”
Specifically, in the rest of his motion/memorandum, Clemens sought to exclude “evidence or argument that Brian McNamee provided or injected other witnesses with steroids or HGH” and “evidence or argument that Brian McNamee’s accounts of dealings with other witnesses are confirmed or consistent.”
Recognizing that “the evidence offered through Mr. Pettitte is so likely to be interrelated to the case against and in defense of Mr. Clemens that precluding it in its entirety would be impractical,” Clemens nevertheless sought to preclude the Government “from making improper argument that Brian McNamee provided or injected Andy Pettitte with HGH and told the truth about it.”
The Government vigorously opposed Clemens’ motion in an 11 page Opposition Brief. In footnote 5 of its brief, the Government stated that “[f]ormer players Pettitte, Knoblauch, Stanton, and Segui will also testify as to other relevant facts that defendant’s motion does not encompass. This includes but is not limited to: the reasons why players chose to use these drugs, and (2) team practices with respect to the dispensation of prescription drugs such as lidocaine and vitamin B12.”
This is an odd comment to hide in a footnote, particularly given Clemens’ stated desire to exclude guilt by association evidence “in all respects.”
Fast forward two weeks to the July 5, 2011, motions hearing. Judge Walton was obviously concerned about the prejudicial impact of testimony that McNamee had injected other players with illegal substances and told the truth about it. Stating his understanding that Clemens’ defense would be one of unknowing injection with such substances, Judge Walton wondered “how evidence that other individuals were getting these substances from Mr. McNamee and they knew they were getting, how that somehow could be imputed to Mr. Clemens. But I’ll hear from the government as to why this evidence is relevant, unless in some way the defense puts it in issue.”
After listening to arguments, the Court was unmoved. “I can understand why you’d want to do it, but my concern is that if his position is that yes, McNamee was giving me injections, but he was injecting me with what I thought were vitamins and other items that are not banned, the concern I would have is that if you bring in that evidence showing that these individuals were getting these substances from Mr. McNamee and they knew [what] they were getting, that the jury may say well, if they knew what they were getting from McNamee, then why wouldn’t Clemens also know that he was getting the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily compute. That may not be true. And so, I think there is a significant potential for him being unduly prejudiced by that evidence coming in.”
Judge Walton agreed to have his law clerk look at a D.C. Circuit case that the Government mentioned in its oral presentation and said that he would come back to the issue. But the Government immediately started reiterating its position, arguing its right “to rebut any notion that Mr. Clemens somehow thought that what McNamee was giving him was B-12 when, in fact, it wasn’t. This is also a central issue of proof in the Government’s case.”
Judge Walton said, “Okay. I’ll look at the case. I’m just still having some real problems with this because I can see how even with a cautionary instruction, assuming I could craft one that would be intelligible to the jury, I could see how they could still potentially misuse that evidence. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I use to get cortisone shots when I was playing football in college. And I had to rely upon what the trainer was giving me. And I would not want to be held responsible for having done something inappropriate based upon what that trainer was giving to other people. And that’s the concern that I have.”
The Court then moved onto other admissibility issues, including whether the Government could put on evidence that Andy Pettitte contemporaneously repeated his conversation with Clemens to his wife Laura Pettitte. The Court also ruled that this evidence was inadmissible, as long as Clemens was only arguing that Andy Pettitte misheard, rather than misremembered, the conversation with Clemens. If Andy Pettitte misheard Clemens admit to illegal steroid injections, his repetition of the conversation to Mrs. Pettitte does not rebut anything. The defense confirmed that this was its position.
Later the Court returned, as promised, to the issue of McNamee’s dealings with other players. “I fully appreciate that the jury is going to have to assess Mr. McNamee’s credibility, and that his credibility is going to be seriously attacked by the defense. But I don’t think, at least at this point, that the mere fact that they are going to seriously attack his credibility necessarily opens the door to bring in evidence regarding Mr. McNamee’s dealing with other players. Because as I say, my main concern is that if Mr. Clemens’ position, and I understand it is at least in part his position that he did not know what he was receiving, it seems to me that there’s a real danger, that the jury may say, well, if they all knew, and that’s especially I guess true in reference to players who are also on the same team, that why wouldn’t Mr. Clemens know? And I think that would be a problem, for them to in some way use the evidence regarding what he was doing with these other players to impute knowledge on the part [of] Mr. Clemens. But I’ll reserve a final ruling until I see what transpires during the trial. And if somehow I feel that the door has been opened, I may be inclined to change my position. But my tentative position is that the evidence is not going to come in.”
What happened next in the motions hearing is, to me, very important. The Court asked whether there were other matters to take up. Rusty Hardin said “I don’t believe so from the defense, Your Honor.” But the Government had something else to say.
Without specifically referencing footnote 5 of the Government’s Opposition Brief, AUSA Durham told the Court that “[t]he other players, as we point out in the motion, there are areas of testimony [that] are not the subject of the defense motion in limine that we set forth and proffer in our opposition pleading. I just want to make sure that I don’t run afoul of any of the Court’s ruling by mentioning that there were other players who may testify in this trial, who played for the Yankees during this time period.”
Judge Walton, clearly not remembering footnote 5, sought clarification: “That’s all you’re going to say?”
Durham responded: “Yes, pretty much. Yes.”
Hardin said: “No problem.”
Judge Walton said: “Okay. And other matters?”
And the motions hearing ended.
Three things should have been crystal clear after the motions hearing and the foregoing exchange.
1. The Government had lost two crucial evidentiary battles as a result of the defense motions in limine.
2. The Government would not be allowed to mention to the jury, without leave of Court, any drug use by other players who were Clemens’ contemporaries, particularly his Yankee contemporaries.
3. The Government would be allowed tell the jurors during opening statement that “there were other players who may testify in this trial who played for the Yankees during this time period.”
But that is all the Government would be allowed to say on this topic.
Fast forward eight days to opening statements on July 13, 2011.
AUSA Durham told the jury that four of the players named in the Mitchell Report “are willing to testify as witnesses in this trial. Three of those players…Mr. Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, these players all played for the New York Yankees in 2000 and 2001….Each of these players, Mr. Pettitte, Mr. Knoblauch and Mr. Stanton played for the New York Yankees in 2001 and 2001. And they’ll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, each one of them will tell you that they used the drug human growth hormone, this drug that’s injected into the abdomen with a small insulin needle. And they’ll tell you why they used it, and they used it to recover from injuries. They used it because there was a lot of pressure in Major League Baseball to play and perform. And at the high levels, there was great financial reward and great recognition.”
Defense counsel Hardin interrupted and asked to approach the bench. At the bench, Hardin reminded the Court of its ruling on the motion in limine.
AUSA Durham responded: “This is what I clarified with the Court, and I just want to make sure. When I stood at the plate, I said I want to make sure. I want to follow the Court’s ruling that I would refer to players, that players would testify as to why they used these substances.” This was, of course, a false statement. It may not have been intentionally false, but it was blatantly false. Durham continued, “I am not going to go into where they got them, how they got them or any of that. But I don’t believe this runs afoul at all of the Court’s ruling.”
Judge Walton said: “And that’s relevant for what purpose?”
Mr. Durham: “Why he would use these drugs. These are teammates of him. They play at the same time on the same team. It explains why in the world this man would choose to use these drugs.”
Mr. Hardin: “Not a one of them are going to say anything about Roger Clemens, even if it was allowed, using steroids. What they’re allowed to imply through this is that Roger Clemens must have used steroids because these players found it helped them. That’s incredibly irrelevant and prejudicial.”
Judge Walton, trusting the prosecutor and apparently having forgotten Durham’s precise words on July 5, said “I don’t doubt that you said what you said earlier, but I did not really rule ultimately on the issue as to whether this could come in under any circumstances. And I clearly had said it couldn’t come in for the purpose of suggesting that, because they knew what they were using, that Mr. Clemens would have known what he was using.” Walton told Durham “I have not given the leeway for this information to come in.” Walton instructed the jury to disregard Durham’s comments about other players using drugs.
The next day, after the Government played the Cummings videotape in violation of the Court’s order, Rusty Hardin reminded Judge Walton of this earlier violation:
“Well, let me mention, the problem we have is, is this is the second, so there must be a total misunderstanding on the government's part as to their obligations, because this happened during opening statement, too. I had to object during opening statement to a mentioning of other players. The Court ruled and reminded them that that was a violation of the motion in limine.”
AUSA Durham did not want to revisit that issue, but offered to get a transcript:
“When I asked the Court, I don't want to run afoul of the Court's ruling, can the government mention other players with respect to and in connection with why they used the drug as opposed to whom they got it from. There is no bad faith on the part of the government here in trying to prove this case.”
Once again, this was an inaccurate representation of what transpired during the motions hearing, but presumably Durham had not had an opportunity to review the motions hearing transcript.
Well after the mistrial, in its August 19, 2011, written response to Clemens’ motion to bar retrial on double jeopardy grounds, the Government again discussed its effort in the July 5 motions hearing to not “run afoul of any of the Court’s ruling.” But the Government did not quote in full, or in proper sequence, from AUSA Durham’s actual exchange with Hardin and the Court. Instead, the Government claimed that on July 5 it had “asked the Court for clarification of the scope of its tentative ruling,” and was clearly making “a reference to footnote five of the government’s opposition.” According to the Government, “defense counsel appeared to indicate that he had no objection to an opening statement reference to HGH abuse by other Major League players.”
This is a material misstatement of the record. And, unlike AUSA Durham’s mischaracterizations of the record in the heat of trial on July 13 and July 14, the Government had ample time--over a month--to carefully consider its words.
Judge Walton could have considered the Government’s continuing misrepresentation of the July 5 record in deciding whether the prosecutors intentionally provoked a mistrial. He could have considered all of the factors I have been discussing and fashioned an opinion with a good chance of surviving on appeal. After all, he does not believe that the seasoned prosecutors made a mistake. He believes that they deliberately violated his orders.
I do not profess to know exactly why Judge Walton ruled for the Government. By all accounts he is a fair, straightforward and intelligent jurist. [Full disclosure: I had a hearing in front of Judge Walton on Friday and did not receive the precise result I asked for.] Perhaps we will learn more if he issues a written opinion. I have no reason to think that his stated reason, as reported in the press, is not the real one.
Hardin and Attanasio are considering an interlocutory appeal. This would set up a difficult challenge. Perhaps they can argue that Judge Walton incorrectly thought his hands were tied, because he had no direct explicit proof of prosecutorial intent.
One thing is clear from Judge Walton’s comments during the motions hearing and from his actions during the first trial. He is determined to give Mr. Clemens a fair trial—to be, in the words of Chief Justice Roberts, an impartial umpire. And the Government will now be extremely limited in what it can put before the jury. Mr. Clemens has sought vindication, ever since he voluntary appeared before Congress to deny charges of illegal use of performance enhancing drugs. An acquittal by a jury of his peers is the most complete form of vindication that he will be able to achieve. Maybe he will get it, with Judge Walton behind the plate.
August 30, 2011
Clemens' Reply Memo
Here is William Roger Clemens' Reply Memorandum supporting his Motion to Prohibit Retrial and Dismiss the Indictment, which was filed on Friday. Like the original defense Motion and the Government's Response, it is well written. I was surprised, however, by the defense's failure to spend more time on a particularly disingenous aspect of the Government's Response, relating to the prosecution's violation of a court order during opening argument. I'll have some commentary on this issue in a few days.
April 13, 2011
News Reports on Verdict in Barry Bonds Trial
Maura Dolan, LATimes, Barry Bonds Convicted of Obstruction of Justice in Steroids Case
Ben Forer, ABC News, Barry Bonds Convicted of Obstruction of Justice, but Jury Hung on Other Charges
Fox News, Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice
Juliet Macur, NYTimes, Bonds Guilty of Obstruction of Justice
Laird Harrison & Dan Levine, Reuters, U.S. jury finds Barry Bonds guilty on one count
Alan Duke, CNN, Bonds convicted of obstruction of justice
Why is it that the headlines tend to focus on the conviction and not the counts that did not result in a conviction (although it is noticed that ABC News did not do this). Was this long investigation and trial worth it? Is this how our tax dollars should be spent?
For background see here.
August 31, 2010
Roger's Reputational Dilemma
As expected, Roger Clemens pled not guilty on Monday to charges of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress. He is represented by two of the ablest white collar criminal defense attorneys in the country—Rusty Hardin of Houston and San Diego’s Mike Attanasio. I know these men and their work. They are stellar lawyers.
The government asked Judge Reggie Walton to make Clemens surrender his passport in order to reduce the risk of flight. Honest. They really did. Give me a break. Walton didn’t buy it.
It is generally assumed that Clemens could have taken five before Congress and was therefore foolish to testify and subject himself to possible perjury charges. I’m not completely convinced of this, since the activity Congress was investigating at the time appears to have been beyond the statute of limitations. How can you incriminate yourself by truthfully admitting to something that you can no longer be prosecuted for?
At any rate, Clemens appeared without a subpoena, so there was no question of him not testifying. His attorneys will be able to argue to the jury that he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by appearing and testifying. Ergo, he must have been telling the truth. This can be a powerful argument in skilled hands, particularly in front of a DC jury, but it is better not to be forced to make it at all-better not to be indicted in the first place.
Roger's dilemma is the dilemma of the client with exposure, even limited exposure, who cannot or will not do the prudent thing and shut the hell up. It is best not to testify under oath, or even talk to the government, if you face potential criminal prosecution. Just ask Martha Stewart. But some high profile clients cannot take the perceived damage to their reputations involved in invoking the privilege. Clemens had the example of Mark McGwire in front of him. McGwire’s reputation was permanently and severely damaged by his refusal, on Fifth Amendment grounds, to answer a Congressional panel’s questions.
I know, I know; the privilege protects the innocent as well as the guilty. But nobody believes that in television land. Had Clemens publicly invoked the privilege, he would have been scarred for life. And he is not some dime-a-dozen, $40 million bonus CEO. He is one of the immortals.
The reputational dilemma is not confined to high-profile clients or the decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment. As a prosecutor, I saw defendants refuse to take plea offers, including misdemeanors with no jail time, because they could not admit wrongdoing to a spouse or child. It is a reminder that the strategy and tactics of criminal defense work are not always confined to logical analysis. The human, emotional element is ever present.
August 31, 2010 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Martha Stewart, News, Perjury, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sports, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
August 19, 2010
Roger Clemens Indicted
The Washington Post story is here and has a link to the indictment. Nothing yet up on PACER. Clemens is charged in six counts with perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress.