Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Post-Ruan Problem: Jury Instructions Tying "Usual Course of Medical Practice for a Legitimate Medical Purpose" to Standard of Care

In a recent post, I  briefly discussed the offense instruction in U.S. v. Romano--a post-Ruan illegal distribution case out of the Southern District of Ohio. I noted that the jury charge in Romano, "tied the concept of 'usual course of professional practice for a legitimate medical purpose'  to a 'standard of medical practice generally recognized and accepted in the State of Ohio.'"  I think this type of instruction, often used in the pre-Ruan era, should be considered improper in post-Ruan times. Although Ruan left many questions unsettled for now, the Supreme Court made it clear that no objective "reasonable physician" standard can constitutionally be superimposed onto the government's obligation to prove scienter beyond a reasonable doubt. Justice Breyer did say that criteria such as  "legitimate medical medical purpose" and  "usual course course of professional practice" were objective in nature and that the more unreasonable the defendant's beliefs and misunderstandings were, "especially as measured against objective criteria," the more likely it is that the jury will find that a defendant knew his conduct was unauthorized. But the Romano instruction risks having the jury equate "standard of care," a staple of civil malpractice cases, to "legitimate medical purpose" and "usual course of professional practice." Criminal defense practitioners in illegal distribution prosecutions of physicians and other medical professionals are all too familiar with government experts who are willing to testify that this or that particular practice or procedure by the defendant physician did not comport with a state or national standard of care. It is one thing to allow testimony of this type in order for the government to show how far a particular defendant deviated from the broad consensus of medical opinion and to further show how this deviation, in combination with other facts in the case, is circumstantial evidence of scienter. It is something different I believe to import this unexplained into the offense instruction.  The Ninth Circuit has long held that a physician defendant cannot be convicted of unlawful distribution merely by showing that he or she intentionally violated a standard of care. The government must also show that he or she acted without a legitimate medical purpose. I realize that the distinctions being discussed here can be extremely subtle in nature, but that is exactly why they can lead to jury confusion. For this reason, I much prefer the U.S. v. Saloumeh Rahbarvafaei Offense Instruction which referenced standards of care, but did so in the following context: "There are no specific guidelines in the law defining what is the usual course of professional practice or defining a legitimate medical purpose. Therefore, in determining whether the defendant acted outside the usual course of professional practice, you may consider the standards to which medical professionals generally hold themselves, including standards of care among medical professionals. However, any finding of criminal liability must ultimately depend on the mental sate of the defendant herself, not what a hypothetical 'reasonable' medical practitioner would do or intend. Because of the need for the government to prove the defendant's criminal intent, this case is different from a medical malpractice case."

(wisenberg)

October 12, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2022

Another Post-Ruan Acquittal: United States v. Saloumeh Rahbarvafaei

Congratulations are in order for Licensed Physician's Assistant Saloumeh Rahbarvafaei and her defense attorneys, Federal Public Defenders Erin Murphy and Michael Driscoll, Jr. Rahbarvafaei was acquitted in late August on all eight charged counts of illegal distribution of a narcotic controlled substance. The case was out of the Central District of California. Michael Fitzgerald was the judge. This is the third total victory for a defendant health care professional that I am aware of since Ruan v. United States was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2022. Here is the U.S. v. Saloumeh Rahbarvafaei Offense Instruction on the elements of illegal distribution. It is the best one I have seen so far in the post-Ruan era. Keep in mind that 9th Circuit jury instructions in this area were already among the most defense friendly in the country. More to come on jury instruction permutations, post-Ruan, in future installments.

(wisenberg)

October 10, 2022 in Defense Counsel, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Post-Ruan Jury Instructions: A Mixed Bag

Three recent post-Ruan cases, two resulting in acquittals and one in a guilty verdict, yielded three different offense instructions for illegal distribution of a controlled substance by a physician.

In United States v. Bothra, et al., which went to the jury on the morning that the consolidated cases of Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States (hereinafter Ruan) were handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the trial judge used a simple one page instruction, closely hewing to the bare bones holding of the Supreme Court. There was no good faith defense instruction (over defense objection) and no deliberate ignorance instruction. Here is the United States v. Bothra et al. Jury Instruction on Illegal Distribution. All Defendants were acquitted on all charges.

In United States v. Given, the trial court gave a lengthier and more traditional instruction, requested by the defense and agreed to by the government. The lone Defendant was acquitted on all counts. Although the Given jury instructions were obviously influenced by Ruan, the trial court surprisingly included some of the very language invalidated criticized and questioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ruan. Here is the U.S. v. Michael Given Offense Instructions. The trial court declined the government's request to give a deliberate ignorance instruction.

In United States v. Romano, the trial court tied the concept of "usual course of professional practice for a legitimate medical purpose"  to a "standard of medical practice generally recognized and accepted in the State of Ohio." The court gave a deliberate ignorance instruction in tandem with a broad instruction on inferring intent. The Defendant was convicted on several counts. Here is the U.S. v. Romano Jury Instruction--Definition of the Crime. Here are the U.S. v. Romano Jury Instructions--Inferring Required Mental State and Deliberate Ignorance.

Clearly there will be quite a few kinks to work out in post-Ruan  jury instructions until a coherent pattern emerges.

(wisenberg)

October 9, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Post-Ruan Acquittals and Dismissals

Last June, in the consolidated cases of Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States (hereinafter Ruan) the U.S. Supreme Court considered the mens rea required to convict a physician charged with illegal distribution of narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act. The Court held as follows: "After a defendant produces evidence that he or she was authorized to dispense controlled substances, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that he or she was acting in an unauthorized manner, or intended to do so." The stunningly broad ruling was 9-0 on the final outcome, but 6-3 on the majority's reasoning. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas and, far the most part, Justice Barrett, concurred in the result only. They did not join the majority's holding that, once the defendant meets the burden of producing any evidence that he or she was authorized to write prescriptions, the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to act, or knew he or she was acting, "in an unauthorized manner" falls on the government. But all nine Justices agreed that at least a portion of the jury instructions in each trial were defective because they injected objective reasonableness requirements into their good faith definitions. It is too early to predict with any certainty how the case law will develop in the post-Ruan world. Never underestimate the willingness of individual U.S. Attorney offices to find ways around inconvenient Supreme Court opinions. The convictions of Dr. Ruan and Dr. Kahn were not even overturned. Instead, the appellate judgments were vacated and the cases were sent back to their respective Courts of Appeals to determine whether the faulty instructions were harmless.

But here are some recent developments. In United States v. Bothra, et al. an Eastern District of Michigan case that went to the jury the very day Ruan came out, all Defendants were acquitted on all counts, 54 in total. In U.S. v. Given, in the Northern District of Florida, the lone Defendant was acquitted on all 33 counts. It should be noted that the government's evidence in each case was weak.

In United States v. Kim, in the Western District of Oklahoma, the the court granted the government's motion to dismiss without prejudice. The government seemed to concede that, in light of Ruan, the Indictment was defective.

Finally, in United States v. Brian August, a case in which I represented the Defendant, the United States filed, and the trial court promptly granted, a Motion to Dismiss, conceding that, among other things, the case could not go forward under the Ruan standard.

While these are promising signs, the dust has not yet begun to settle on post-Ruan developments. As I will explain in subsequent posts, the Ruan opinion leaves many questions unanswered. Is a physician-Defendant entitled to a subjective good faith instruction or no good faith instruction? Does the Defendant meet his or her burden of presentation merely by showing that he/she is authorized to prescribe narcotics? Must the government prove that a physician-Defendant had no legitimate medical purpose for his/her prescription and that he/she was operating outside the usual course of his/her medical  practice or only one of these two factors? What should a proper jury instruction look like?

I will be posting more on these issues in the coming days, weeks, and months.

(wisenberg)

 

October 8, 2022 in Fraud, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Verdict | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 5, 2022

Appointment of a Special Master - Court Order in Trump Case

When the affidavit on the warrant was released, albeit redacted, it was clear that this was a situation where the government asked for materials for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) but received only some of the materials, and that a search was conducted to get the rest of the materials, although it remains to be seen whether they obtained everything initially requested. The Search Warrant referenced the Obstruction of Justice statute 18 U.S.C. 1519. (see here).  As a backdrop to this search was the fact that there exists a Presidental Records Act that controls Presidential records. (44 U.S.C. 2201 et. seq.) So irrespective of the former President's claim that he declassified these documents (a mindboggling admission), they were still subject to be returned to the National Archives. (see here).

Now we see a  court discussion as to whether these documents that he allegedly declassified are subject to executive privilege. Despite President Trump no longer being the executive, the court leaves that issue open for further legal argument (see here). 

It is one thing to find that alleged attorney-client privilege material may be interspersed with folders marked classified information and/or personal clothing, and appoint a special master to keep the attorney-client material from anyone's view. Appointing a special master for potential attorney-client privileged material, whether it be the lawyer or the client is a better way to review attorney-client privileged material than a government filter or taint team. (see here)

It is hard to imagine that someone would have classified material, and would nevertheless allow that material to be left in an unsecured location amongst other material.  We are not dealing with a teenager needing to clean their room - but rather the former top head of this country possessing what might be highly sensitive information. And it is good to see the judge allowing the classification review and/or intelligence assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to continue, not impeded by her restraint of the government using other materials. 

But the executive privilege claim discussed by the court is confusing me. On one hand the court is saying there might be  privileged material and on the other hand former President Trump has stated that he declassified the material. Clearly, these are two different concepts, but is it privileged material or has it been declassified and should it be open to the public.  If it is privileged material that was not turned over when the first request was made, then the Trump team should have been in court arguing to retain information as privileged material well before the search.  If it was all declassified than why was it not turned over to the Archives upon the government's request. Will the former president really argue that all this alleged declassified material is now material subject to an executive privilege? And irrespective of whether it was declassified or it is executive privileged material, why was it not turned over under NARA.

(esp)

 

September 5, 2022 in Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Obstruction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Fourth Circuit Affirms Andrew Powers Conviction: General Allegation of Venue Sufficient

The Fourth Circuit has affirmed the wire fraud conviction of Communique founder Andrew Powers. The opinion is here. Powers argued that the Indictment failed to properly allege venue, because it did not specify where each alleged fraudulent wire and mailing were sent from or received. The Fourth Circuit held, unsurprisingly, that the general allegation of venue lying in the EDVA was all that was required to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to allege venue. No more detail was required in the charging instrument.

(wisenberg)

July 6, 2022 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2022

Massive Victory for Physicians and the White Collar Bar in the Government's War Against Doctors

We have posted several times over the past year about the consolidated cases of Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States, pending at the U.S. Supreme Court this term. The cases involved the level of scienter required to convict doctors of illegal distribution of Schedule II Narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act. The opinion in Ruan v. U.S. and Kahn v. U.S. is now out and it is even better than most of us thought it would be. "After a defendant produces evidence that he or she was authorized to dispense controlled substances, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that he or she was acting in an unauthorized manner, or intended to do so." The ruling was 9-0 on the final outcome, but 6-3 on the majority's reasoning. Justice Alito, joined  by Justice Thomas and, far the most part, Justice Barrett, concurred in the result only. They did not join the majority's holding that, once the defendant meets the burden of production, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt shifts back to the government. All nine Justices agreed that the jury instructions in the two trials were defective because they injected objective reasonableness requirements into their good faith instructions. Many issues remain to be resolved in these Pain Doctor cases, but the victory here is truly sweeping. Doctors have been convicted nationwide over the past several years under what amounts, in many circuits, to a civil malpractice/negligence standard. Those days now appear to be gone.

(wisenberg)

June 27, 2022 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 13, 2022

The Timothy Shea Mistrial: It's Tough To Dismiss An Obstinate Juror

SDNY Judge Analisa Torres granted a mistrial last week in the federal fraud trial against "We Build A Wall" Defendant Timothy Shea. On June 2, 11 of the jurors sent a note to the judge, asking that a 12th juror be dismissed because he allegedly refused to deliberate, based on what appeared to be his Trumpian political comments and bias.  The hold-out denied the charges, and accused his fellow jurors of liberal political bias. Judge Torres questioned the juror on the record, but in private away from the public and the other jurors. According to the New York Times account, "she asked whether the juror had 'biases or personal views' that would prevent him from being 'fair and impartial,' whether he could determine facts subject to her explanation of the law and whether he could consult with other jurors. The juror replied no to the first question and yes to the second two." Judge Torres declined to kick the hold-out off the jury, gave a modified Allen charge, and told the jury to continue deliberations. By Tuesday they were at a total impasse and a mistrial was declared. Shea's counsel, John Meringolo had already filed a motion for mistrial, based on Judge Torres' modification of the Allen charge and the 11 jurors' alleged breach of jury secrecy when the jury note revealed their numerical division. It doesn't look like Judge Torres ever ruled on that motion. She didn't need to, once the jury reached a total impasse. 

Recall that the case concerned the alleged fraudulent diversion of funds solicited under the premise of finishing then-President Trump's wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Shea allegedly conspired with others, including former Trump advisor Steve Bannon who was pardoned by Trump. Venue could have been had in a number of jurisdictions, but the prosecutors chose SDNY. Gee. I wonder why. So did the 12th juror. Was the 12th juror truly refusing to deliberate or was he simply unconvinced of Shea's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the Times, the other jurors spoke of the hold-out's refusal, "to deliberate based on evidence." Hmmm. Does that mean the evidence as they saw it, but not the hold-out? You can see the danger in dismissing hold-outs in this context, particularly in a politically charged case. Any 11 could complain about the hold-out's recalcitrance and "refusal to deliberate." Was there truly a "refusal to deliberate" or 11 bullies ganging up on a principled hold-out? We'll never know of course. The Second Circuit law is very clear on this issue. Once the hold-out answered Judge Torres's questions in the manner he did, he could not be removed. Under United States v. Thomas, 116 F.3d 606, 608 (2nd. Cir. 1997), a juror can be dismissed "for a refusal to apply the law as instructed only where the record is clear beyond doubt that the juror is not, in fact, simply unpersuaded by the prosecution's case." That standard was simply not met in Shea's case. This was the right result under the case law. Meringolo's objection to the modified Allen charge was based on Judge Torres's additional admonition that the jurors not be swayed "by sympathy, emotion, or political views or opinions." (emphasis added).

Here is the New York Times story. Here is Meringolo's U.S. v. Timothy Shea Letter Motion for Mistrial.  

(wisenberg)

June 13, 2022 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Oral Argument in Ruan and Kahn

Here is a transcript of the March 1, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court Argument in Ruan and Kahn. Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States are consolidated cases involving the kind of good faith instruction, if any, required when physicians are indicted and tried for illegally dispensing controlled substances. We have previously posted about these cases here, here, and here. More to come soon on these cases and the issues surrounding them.

(wisenberg)

March 16, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 21, 2022

Latest Filings in Ruan and Kahn Pain Management Physician Cases

We have posted previously, here and here, about the anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision in the consolidated cases of Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and consolidated the two cases last November. Oral argument is set for March 1, 2022. The cases involve the appropriate jury instruction to be given, and the required proof of scienter, when the government prosecutes pain management physicians for illegal distribution of Schedule II controlled substances under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). More precisely, as pointed out in the Joint Motion of Petitioners Ruan and Kahn for Divided Argument, the case "presents the question whether, and to what extent, a physician may assert a good faith defense to charges under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)." There is a longstanding circuit split regarding the type of good faith instruction a defendant is entitled to in this type of case. Is the defendant entitled to the traditional subjective good faith instruction or can the government impose an objective component to good faith, such that the charged physician must act in accordance with what "a reasonable physician should believe" to be proper medical practice? The Petitioners wisely sought to divide their arguments, because the respective good faith instructions given in their trials differed and because they have different views on whether the two prongs of 21 C.F.R. § 1306.04(a) should be read and proven in the conjunctive or disjunctive--that is, whether the government must prove both that a physician lacked a legitimate medical purpose and was acting outside the usual course of professional practice, or whether the government must prove just one of those prongs. 

The larger issue lurking behind theses cases, which may or not be fully addressed by the Supreme Court's anticipated decision, is that pain management physicians are routinely convicted, at least in objective good faith circuits, under what amounts to a malpractice standard. Government experts testify that defendant physicians failed to meet the standard of care and missed/ignored various red flags. The "usual course of professional practice" is confused with the "standard of care" and an "objective"  good faith instruction often operates as the coup de grace against the charged physician.

Here is the Ruan v. U.S. and Kahn v. United States--Brief For the United States, filed on January 19. 

Here is the Xiulu Ruan Reply Brief, filed last week.

Here is the Shakeel Kahn Reply Brief, also filed last week.

(wisenberg)

February 21, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Michael Sussman's Motion to Dismiss

Here is the Sussman Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State an Offense, filed in Special Counsel John Durham's 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 false statement prosecution against former Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussman. Sussman's argument is that even if the facts laid out in Durham's Indictment are true, they fail, as a matter of law, to allege/establish the essential Section 1001 element of materiality or to establish a sufficient nexus between Sussman's alleged falsehood and the agency (FBI) decision purportedly capable of being affected. Keep in mind that Sussman's alleged false statement to FBI General Counsel James Baker was that he was not acting on behalf of any client in reporting the Alfa Bank tip to Baker, when, in truth and in fact, Sussman was there representing and acting on behalf of Tech-Executive 1 and the Clinton Campaign. The materiality portion of the Sussman Indictment has always struck me as weak, but very little is required of the government in order for it to prove materiality in a Section 1001 prosecution. Sussman's real problem in winning on this motion is decades of case law holding that an indictment setting out the statutory elements of the offense, along with minimal factual allegations, is sufficient to allege an offense as a matter of law.  In other words, the defendant is not allowed to go beyond the indictment's allegations in litigating whether it alleges an offense. There appears to be no recognition of this case law in the Sussman brief. Durham was not required to put much meat on the skeletal elements of the offense. But he chose to do so, presenting a 27-page speaking indictment to the grand jury. There is some scattered authority for the proposition that an indictment setting out in detail what appear to be the full  and undisputed facts behind the offense, in addition to the statutory elements, can be defeated by accepting those facts as true and arguing that the do not constitute the purported offense being charged. See for example, U.S. v. Ali, 557 F.3d 715, 719-20 (6th Cir. 2009). That's what Sussman is up to here. Durham's response will surely be that he has set out the required statutory elements plus additional contextual detail and that the Government must be allowed to show its full factual case to the jury in order to prove why, under said factual particulars, Sussman's alleged lie was material. 

(wisenberg)

February 18, 2022 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Fifth Circuit Reverses Tax Counts

Last week in United States v. Pursley, the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded all counts of conviction against appellant Jack Pursley. Appellant had been charged with a Klein conspiracy and three tax evasion counts.  The convictions were reversed because: 1) the trial court refused to give a requested instruction requiring the jury to find that the charged offenses were committed within the 6 year statute of limitations period; and 2) the trial court neglected to make a ruling as to how long the statute of limitations had been suspended pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 3292 (suspension of limitations to obtain foreign evidence). Under Section 3292 (b), "a period of suspension under this section shall begin on the date on which the official request is made and end on the date on which the foreign court or authority takes final action on the request." According to the Fifth Circuit, the trial court must make the factual determination as to the date on which the foreign court or authority took final action on the request for evidence, assuming that there is a dispute as to this issue, but failed to do so here. It is often not at all clear when such final actions by foreign authorities take place. Sometimes the foreign authority will state that it has taken final action, but continue to send documents after this date. Sometimes the foreign authority will not indicate whether  it is taking its final action. The case has a good discussion of statute of limitations issues in tax evasion cases.

(wisenberg)

 

January 17, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Briefs Filed in Ruan and Kahn.

Last November, guest bloggers Eugene Gorokhov and Jonathan Knowles posted here about the Supreme Court's granting of certiorari in Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States, two federal Circuit Court of Appeals decisions that effectively eviscerate the scienter requirement in criminal cases charging physicians with illegal distribution of Schedule II drugs. There is a longstanding split between those federal circuits that have criminalized malpractice and those requiring the government to actually prove beyond a reasonable doubt that physician defendants had a subjective intent to prescribe drugs for no legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of their professional practices. Other circuits fall in-between, allowing hybrid jury instructions with objective and subjective intent elements. Amicus Briefs and the Petitioners' Briefs were filed in late December. I am posting some of them here. The smart money is on the Court substantially clarifying and strengthening the government's obligation to prove knowing or intentional efforts by physicians to prescribe outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. 

Brief of Petitioner Shakeel Kahn

Ruan Brief for the Petitioner

Ruan - Amicus Brief of Due Process Institute

National Pain Adv Ctr Amicus Brief

Amicus Brief of NACDL

(wisenberg)

January 10, 2022 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Three New Opinions on the Meaning of Corrupt Obstruction

Three federal district court opinions on the meaning of "corruptly" obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1512 (c)(2), have been issued in the past month. Each case is from a different federal district judge in the District of Columbia. Although each case pertains to the actions of alleged participants in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot, the cases also have significant implications for future white collar prosecutions--implications that should benefit white collar defendants. Here are the opinions in  U.S. v. Nordean, U.S. v. Caldwell, and U.S. v. Sandlin. More to come on this issue in the next week.

(wisenberg)

 

 

January 1, 2022 in Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Man Bites Dog. Hell Freezes Over. Third Circuit Reverses Section 1001 Conviction Based on Government's Failure to Prove Materiality.

Need I say more? It is a truism that materiality is an exceedingly easy element to prove in a prosecution brought under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. It is even easier to sustain on appeal. But in U.S. v. Joseph Johnson, the Third Circuit held that the government failed to prove materiality under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 (a) (2), which prohibits “knowingly and willfully... mak[ing] any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” in a matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Joseph R. Johnson was a Bill Cosby supporter who filed a fraudulent pleading in a federal civil action brought by one of Cosby's alleged victims. Specifically, Johnson filed a praecipe that used the signature of the alleged victim's actual attorney, but which was filed without the attorney's knowledge and which contained unsupported allegations that Cosby's alleged victim had failed to report income. Almost immediately after the false pleading was discovered it was stricken from the record by the civil trial judge. Johnson was then indicted under Section 1001 for making a false material representation to the civil trial judge. Materiality requires evidence that the false statements were of the kind "capable of influencing the decisionmaker" and that "could have bearing on an actual decision entrusted to the decisionmaker." In Johnson, the only decisionmaker identified by the prosecution was the civil trial judge, who testified in general that he extracted information whenever he looked at the docket and then took action based on that information. But, according to the Third Circuit, "given the subject matter of the underlying litigation and posture of the case, there is no evidence that this false statement, even if considered by the Judge, could have been relevant, much less material, to any decision." In other words, the stricken meshugannah pleading would not have been relevant or admissible in the alleged victim's case. The only thing it was relevant to was the judge's decision to strike it from the docket, which was not enough. The Third Circuit, without explicitly saying so, seemed to believe that no proof the government might have offered would have sufficed to show materiality in this instance. Assistant Federal Defender Abigail Horn successfully argued the appeal for Johnson and congratulations are in order. I doubt there have been very many successful federal criminal defense appeals on the materiality issue.

(wisenberg)

December 4, 2021 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

It Is All In the Emails - Mueller Report Review

Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order today that dissects two claims raised in Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washinton v. U.S. Dept. of Justice related to the Mueller Report. It notes that "CREW brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), seeking the production of documents that Attorney General Barr reviewed in advance of his public announcement concerning the report transmitted to him by Special Counsel Mueller."  Key to this analysis was looking at applicable exemptions under FOIA.

The Court found Document 6 properly withheld, but Document 15 did not have a like finding. The agency attempted to use the deliberative process provilege and the attorney-client privilege under exemption 5. The court stated:

As noted above, summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits in FOIA cases, when “they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.” Judicial Watch, Inc., 726 F.3d at 215, quoting Consumer Fed’n, 455 F.3d at 287. But here, we have both.

The court stated:

The review of the unredacted document in camera reveals that the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.

Perhaps a deeper investigation is needed here.  Examining prosecutorial discretion on when obstruction of justice is proper and when it is not, is something that needs review. In my recent Article, "Obstruction of Justice: Redesigning the Shortcut,"  I argue that there needs to be a consistent framework for obstruction of justice and not one that can be rearranged dependent upon the Attorney General or others. 

(esp)

May 4, 2021 in Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Obstruction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Be Careful What You Ask For: Third Circuit Vacates Two Sentences For Defense Breaches Of Plea Agreement

In two cases consolidated for appeal, U.S. v. Yusuf and U.S. v. Campbell, the Third Circuit reversed downward variances based on defense breaches of the plea agreement. Both cases came out of the District of New Jersey and both involved plea agreements that recognized the sentencing court's ability to downwardly vary, but forbade the defense from arguing for a departure or variance below the recommended Guidelines range. The agreements also forbade the government from arguing for a departure or variance above the recommended range. Yusuf pled guilty to aggravate identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Campbell pled guilty to felon in possession. Both cases involved mitigating circumstances that typically garner downward variances. Both cases involved sympathetic judges who all but encouraged defense breaches based on their searching inquiries during sentencing. Both cases stand for the proposition that there is a difference between defense counsel presenting the sentencing judge with all relevant facts about the defendant and the offense, including mitigating facts, and defense counsel asking for a downward variance, either directly or through questions to the client. This distinction is critical for defense counsel to keep in mind, even in response to questions for the court. In Campbell, defense counsel had the client ask the court for no jail time. In Yusuf, a much closer case in the Third Circuit's view, defense counsel suggested a sentence below the recommended Guidelines range. The Court distinguished defense counsel's sentencing hearing arguments in Yusuf from those of counsel for Yusuf's co-defendant Adekunle. (Adekunle's case was not on appeal and he had been sentenced by a different judge.) Adekunle's lawyer had reminded the sentencing court of its duty to consider proportionality, and the sentences handed down to co-defendants, but never asked for a downward variance and reminded the court twice that she was bound by the plea agreement: "I am constrained from arguing a below guideline sentence." The government also argued in Campbell that presenting character letters to the court asking for probation violated the plea agreement. The Third Circuit declined to reach this issue, which had not been preserved at sentencing, based on its finding that counsel's arguments alone constituted a breach. The Court cautioned district court judges at sentencing, "to be particularly mindful of the strictures on counsel when plea agreement provisions like the ones here are in place."

(wisenberg)

April 3, 2021 in Computer Crime, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2020

COVID19 & Jury Trial

Judge Gary R. Brown issued a Memorandum & Order in U.S. v. Cohn allowing for a waiver of a jury trial despite government objection. In this unusual move, in these unusual times, he is allowing for a securities fraud related case to proceed to a bench trial with the defendant's consent, but without the government's approval. See here.

(esp)

August 28, 2020 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Michael Flynn Update: D.C. Circuit Sets Argument Times and Asks Parties to Address Judge Sullivan's Possible Disqualification

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today announced the allocation of oral argument time in the Michael Flynn Mandamus case, In re Flynn. This was expected. Twenty minutes each were allotted to General Flynn, the Department of Justice, and Judge Emmet Sullivan. The Court "FURTHER ORDERED that, in addition to the issue set forth in the court's order filed July 30, 2020, the parties be prepared to address at oral argument the effect, if any, of 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a) and 455(b)(5)(i) on the District Court judge's Fed. R. App. P. 35(b) petition for en banc review." This was unexpected. The Court further Ordered "One counsel per side to argue."

Under the Federal Rules of Appellate procedure, only a party may petition a full appellate court for a rehearing en banc. Judge Sullivan is the person who filed the petition in In re Flynn. Both the Department of Justice and General Flynn argued in response to Judge Sullivan's Petition for En Banc Rehearing that he had no standing to even file such a Petition, because he was not a party to the Petition for Mandamus. But the full Court had not indicated, until yesterday, that it wanted to hear about that issue.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." 

Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(i), a judge "shall also disqualify himself" if "He...is a party to the proceeding."

What is going on here? As noted above, originally, the full court only wanted to hear oral argument on whether Mandamus was the appropriate remedy under the facts of the case.

Judge Sullivan has not disqualified himself from the underlying case of U.S. v. Flynn.

Does the full Court simply want the parties to now be prepared to argue whether Judge Sullivan had standing to file the Petition for Mandamus? Are they saying, in effect, "We know Judge Sullivan would not make himself a party without disqualifying himself. Since he hasn't disqualified himself, is this further proof that he isn't a party and does not have standing in our Court?" Do they even want to hear from Sullivan on the 11th if he is not a party? If so, why did they grant his counsel 20 minutes to argue the case? Are they signaling Judge Sullivan to reassign the case below prior to the 11th?

Or does the Court merely want to hear argument on whether, in the event that Mandamus is denied, the case should be assigned to another judge because Judge Sullivan's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" or, more likely,  because he has made himself a "party to the proceeding" ?  (General Flynn has already argued for reassignment to another judge. DOJ did not ask for this.) In other words, is the Court basically saying to Judge Sullivan" "Since we voted to grant your Petition for Rehearing, haven't we implicitly accepted your status as a party? And if we have accepted your status as a party, how can you remain as the trial judge in Flynn's case, even if we deny the Mandamus Petition?"

I would think that the Court really wants to hear the reassignment issue, but the wording of the order leaves this open to question. Here is In re Flynn 8-5-20 Order re Oral Argument and 28 U.S.C. 455(a) and (b)(5)(1)

(wisenberg)

 

August 5, 2020 in Current Affairs, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Where We Are Now In The Michael Flynn Case

           The full United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday granted Judge Emmet Sullivan’s Motion for Rehearing En Banc, vacating a decision by one its three-judge panels, and will soon decide whether to grant General Michael Flynn’s Petition for a Writ of Mandamus against Judge Sullivan. Flynn seeks the Writ of Mandamus in order to force Judge Sullivan to immediately grant the Department of Justice’s May 7, 2020 Motion to Dismiss the criminal case against him, a motion consented to by Flynn. Regardless of the full Court’s ultimate ruling on the mandamus issue, DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss will have to be granted sooner or later under governing legal precedents. No federal appellate court has ever sustained a district court’s refusal to grant an unopposed government motion to dismiss an indictment.

        There are two separate but related legal issues at stake before the Court of Appeals. First, does the law require Judge Sullivan to grant DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss in the absence of a grave constitutional issue, reducing Sullivan’s function to a ministerial one? Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a) requires “leave of court” when the government moves to dismiss an indictment, but an abundance of federal case law holds that the district court’s role is in fact quite limited when the government moves to dismiss a criminal case and the defendant consents. Second, is mandamus the appropriate remedy for Flynn given that Judge Sullivan has yet to rule on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss? Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, typically reserved for situations where the remedy provided at law is inadequate. Judge Sullivan had not yet ruled on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss when Flynn filed his Petition for a Writ of Mandamus. Why didn’t Flynn just wait for Judge Sullivan to rule and for DOJ to appeal Sullivan’s order if he denied the motion?

        The DOJ has argued that Judge Sullivan’s: 1) appointment of retired federal judge John Gleeson as an amicus, or friend of the court, for the specific purpose of opposing DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss; and 2) Judge Sullivan’s indication that he intends to examine closely DOJ’s motives in filing the Motion to Dismiss, will themselves be an improper intrusion into Executive Branch functions, in violation of Separation of Powers. Flynn has argued that these same factors, along with Sullivan’s setting of a drawn out briefing schedule, harms him financially and reputationally by delaying the immediate relief he is entitled to.

        What is likely to happen next?

        Argument before the Court sitting En Banc has been set for August 11, but the Court wants no further briefing. The Court’s Order states that the parties “should be prepared to address whether there are ‘no other adequate means to attain the relief’ desired. Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380 (2004).” Cheney is a key Supreme Court case involving the intersection of Separation of Powers and Mandamus case law. In other words, the key issue before the full D.C. Circuit is whether mandamus is premature. Should Judge Sullivan have been allowed to hold a hearing and make a ruling before Flynn went to a higher court seeking mandamus relief or did the very mechanisms set in place by Sullivan create an improper intrusion into Executive Branch matters and a harmful delay in the relief to which Flynn was entitled?

        Even if the Court of Appeals ultimately holds that mandamus is premature, expect the full Court to set clear standards as to what Judge Sullivan can and cannot do (and how long he can take) in ruling on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss. And make no mistake about it. The DOJ’s Motion will ultimately be granted.

(wisenberg)

July 31, 2020 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)