Friday, November 21, 2014

Sorry for the slow blogging

It's been a crazy week, but we've had some great guest posts.  Thanks for those!

We'll end the week with a post about judges starting to question these fake stings.  From the NY Times:

“Stash-house stings” like this one in 2013 have sent more than 1,000 of the country’s most “violent, hardened criminals” to prison, sometimes for terms of decades, according to the bureau, which has made a specialty of the ruses. The agency says it has conducted about 365 of these stings over the last decade, removing from the streets career criminals who are “willing to kill and be killed,” with less risk to agents and neighbors than raids on real stash houses.
But this year, the judge in this Los Angeles case dismissed the charges against two of the defendants on the rarely invoked grounds of “outrageous government conduct.” Judge Otis D. Wright II of Federal District Court described the bureau in his March decision as “trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas — all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past.”
Similar prosecutions have nearly always held up in court, and the agency strongly defends its methods and choice of targets. But over the last year, a growing number of federal judges have questioned the tactic.
A second judge in Los Angeles dismissed similar charges in May. The federal appeals court in Chicago last week mandated a new trial to allow evidence of possible entrapment. Other judges have demanded data from the bureau to help them explore whether the stings, which nearly always land black or Hispanic defendants, involve illegal racial targeting.
The stash-house stings are a prime example of thespreading federal use of undercover agents in many fields, a trend that law enforcement officials say is efficient and safe but that raises unease among civil liberties advocates.
On Thursday, a federal appeals court in California heard the government’s motion to reinstate criminal charges in the case that Judge Wright criticized, and itscall that the judge be removed from the case for bias.
“The conspiracy was real; the guns were real; the defendants’ intent to use them to violently rob a cocaine stash house was real; and the defendants’ criminal histories were real,” the federal prosecutors argued in their brief. The supposed stock of cocaine had to be set high, they said, to make the proposal credible.
In May, also in Los Angeles, Judge Manuel L. Real of Federal District Court dismissed charges against three other men, saying the government “steers too close to tyranny.” He said that the agents initially knew little about the defendants except that “they were from a poor neighborhood and minorities.” The government has appealed.
And last week, in another setback for federal agents, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuitmandated a new trial for a defendant in a Chicago suburb who said he had been pressured into planning the robbery for which he was sentenced to nearly 27 years. The trial judge had erred, the circuit court ruled, by not allowing an entrapment defense.
In a separate line of attack on the drug stings, defendants in Chicago and elsewhere have filed motions to require the bureau to provide data on the racial makeup of sting targets, and information on how the agency selects its targets.
In one case, the agency asked the court to dismiss charges rather than be required to comply. In several others, after judges found at least suggestive evidence of racial targeting and approved the data request, the agency has complied, though the information remains under seal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Judge Robin Rosenberg Invested as District Court Judge by ADAM RABIN

Adam Rabin, the author of this post, is a partner at McCabe Rabin.  Photo credit to Daniel Portnoy Photography.

On November 14, Southern District of Florida Chief Judge Michael Moore swore in Judge Robin Rosenberg as a District Court Judge before many federal and state court judges, bar leaders, family and friends.   The ceremony was moving and captured the personal side of Judge Rosenberg.

The investiture led off with Jonathan Paine, the son of the late U.S. District Judge James C. Paine, whom Judge Rosenberg clerked for after graduating from Duke Law School.  Jonathan spoke of how life comes full circle sometimes with Judge Rosenberg’s getting sworn in the same court room as Judge Paine had presided back when Rosenberg was clerking for him.

Past President of The Florida Bar, Scott Hawkins, presented the Bible and spoke of the nearly 75 hearings that he had before Judge Rosenberg in a hotly contested state court case over the last few years and how she never raised her voice once or lost her composure during the proceedings.

Fourth DCA Judge Robert Gross, with whom Judge Rosenberg occasionally sat as an associate judge, spoke of her work ethic and legal acumen.  Judge Gross also told a story on how his clerk performed an appellate review of a case that Judge Rosenberg handled as a trial court judge and had to enter a separate order on 70 different motions.  One by one, she did not just enter granted or denied.  Instead, she engaged in a separate, individualized legal analysis on each motion with findings and conclusions. The law clerk commented to Judge Gross that he had never seen anything like it.

Judge Rosenberg’s husband, former Palm Beach County State Attorney, Michael McAuliffe, also spoke on Judge Rosenberg’s accomplishments. In talking about the Senatorial judiciary confirmation process, McAuliffe analogized a common expression when mountaineering (a hobby for McAuliffe who re-climbed Kilimanjaro this summer) that “It’s always further than it looks.  It’s always taller than it looks.  And it’s always harder than it looks.”

The show was stolen, however, when Judge Rosenberg and McAuliffe’s elder daughter, Sydney Rosenberg McAuliffe, a freshman at Duke, took the podium.  She spoke of the accomplishments and role-modeling that her mother had provided for her and her younger brother and sister as a professional.  More significantly though, Sydney spoke of their close, best-friend relationship and that while her “mom accomplishes more than most by dawn,” it is her love for and unyielding investment in her children that was her most laudable accomplishment.  Most of the audience had to brush off the tears.

Judge Rosenberg closed with thanking her parents, children, family, friends, state-court judicial colleagues, the federal judges who have welcomed her, President Obama, and Senators Nelson and Rubio.

If you have never been to a federal-court (or state-court) judicial investiture, you should attend one.  They always remind me of how fortunate we are to practice law, re-instill the importance of professionalism and civility in our profession, and reinforce how family and friends contribute greatly to one’s success.

Congratulations to Judge Rosenberg on an investiture that had most attendees smiling through the weekend. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

A 'humble giant' by Bill Cooke

Bill Cooke, the author of this post, is a Miami photojournalist and publisher of the Random Pixels blog.

I first met Judge William Hoeveler sometime around 1990, right after he'd been assigned to preside over the trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

A writer for the Los Angeles Times wrote this after he was picked: 

"He stands 6-feet-3, his hair is silver-gray, he speaks in a rich baritone, and his bearing is nothing less than magisterial....

"If you went to Central Casting and said, 'Give me a judge,' " says top Miami defense attorney Roy Black, "you couldn't get someone better than William Hoeveler.

"But he not only looks like a perfect judge," adds Black. "He is."

Back then, I was a freelance photographer shooting news assignments for the Associated Press.

There were lots of stakeouts at the federal courthouse as the trial date neared. Stuff that usually involved taking pictures of attorneys entering and leaving the courthouse. Not very exciting. 

In 1991, one newspaper reported there were "more than 250 pretrial pleadings, motions, responses, memorandums and court orders" in the months leading up to the trial.

At some point, I decided to approach the major players involved in the case and ask them if I could shoot their portraits in a formal setting: Noriega's defense attorney, the prosecutors, and of course, Judge Hoeveler.

This was, after all, going to be what some would call the Trial of the Century.

Frank Noriega, Myles Malman, Guy Lewis and Pat Sullivan all agreed to give me some time.

And then I called Judge Hoeveler. I'd been introduced to him some weeks before by a mutual friend.

"Would you mind if I shot a portrait of you in your chambers, Judge? You know...for history?"

"Of course," was his response, "When would you like to do it?"

A date was set and I lugged my equipment up to the ninth floor. As I shot pictures in his chambers, I soon became fascinated with this man who treated me - a somewhat disheveled and unrefined news photographer - with genuine respect. The judge didn't judge or criticize. He even laughed at my corny jokes.

I soon learned that I wasn't alone. Judge Hoeveler, I found out, had a reputation for treating everyone the same way. With respect. 

Finally, in September 1991, as the trial was about to get underway, I found myself back at the courthouse. I was assigned to get a picture of the judge when he arrived for the first day's proceedings

I decided to stake out the entrance to the courthouse's underground garage - joined by a few TV cameramen - in the hope of getting a shot or two before he disappeared into the garage.

It wasn't long before the judge drove up to the guard shack.

But instead of driving in, he rolled down the window and chatted with us for a bit. He seemed genuinely bewildered, but nevertheless amused, by all the attention he was getting. As we chatted, the judge's equally bewildered Akita, Nisei, peered at us from the back seat of the car.

Here was a judge arriving for perhaps the most important trial of his career, but he still found the time to talk with some scruffy news photographers. Respect. 

Over the years, I found myself back in his chambers for various reasons. I always looked forward to those visits. And when I couldn't visit, I picked up the phone just to say hello and to chat for a few minutes. His secretary, Janice, never told me that he was too busy to talk.

Almost 25 years later, I still call Judge Hoeveler a friend.

I revere the man.

A few months ago, I read that he was finally going to retire.

I made a mental note to go downtown and see him, but I kept putting it off, afraid perhaps, that I might become too emotional.

A few weeks ago, the judge's daughter, Margaret, posted something on Facebook about a going away party that had been held  in his honor. 

I decided to call her.

"I'd like to visit with your dad. Do you think that's possible?"

"Sure," she said, "why don't you call him?"

Last week, I called him. But because it was 8 p.m., I was sure his wife, Christine, would answer.

Not a chance. A strong, clear, familiar voice answered.

"Hi," I said, "this is Bill Cooke."

"And this is Bill Hoeveler," came the answer.

"I'd like to come see you," I said.

"You're welcome to come anytime," he said.

On Saturday, Michael Putney and I dropped in on the judge and Christine. Shortly after we arrived, Margaret popped in. 

We shared some stories, laughed a lot, and someone - I'm not sure who - may have even shed a tear or two.

After our visit, I posted some pictures on Facebook. I noted that I wasn't proficient enough in the English language to adequately describe Judge Hoeveler. 

In my opinion, the word "great" isn't descriptive enough. 

A few hours after I posted on Facebook, the Miami Herald's federal courts reporter, Jay Weaver, left a comment on my post calling the judge "a humble giant."

Indeed, Jay. Indeed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big 5-4 en banc opinion from the 11th Circuit

The blog covered the panel decision in Spencer v. U.S. here in which the panel held:
We hold that a defendant who unsuccessfully raised a career offender issue at both sentencing and on direct appeal can use a timely-filed first motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to pursue the same issue when an intervening case from the Supreme Court validates his argument and applies retroactively. Under that intervening case, this defendant’s third degree Florida felony child abuse conviction no longer qualifies as a predicate crime of violence. He therefore is not properly treated as a career offender. We vacate the district court’s denial of his section 2255 motion and remand for resentencing. 
Seems rather straightforward.  Someone who preserves an issue should be allowed to raise it when the law changes, especially where it means an extra 81 months in prison.

But the 11th Circuit in a 5-4 opinion, per Judge Pryor (joined by Ed Carnes, Hull, Tjoflat & Marcus), said no:
This appeal concerns whether a federal prisoner may relitigate an alleged misapplication of the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines in a collateral attack on a final sentence. After he pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine and we affirmed the judgment against him, Kevin Spencer moved to vacate his sentence of imprisonment, 28 U.S.C. § 2255, for an alleged error in the application of the advisory guidelines. Spencer argues that an intervening decision of the Supreme Court, Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 128 S. Ct. 1581 (2008), makes clear that the district court and this Court erroneously classified him as a “career offender” based on a prior conviction for felony child abuse, which he argues is not a “crime of violence.” United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1 (Nov. 2006). Spencer maintains that this alleged error represents a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice,” Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428, 82 S. Ct. 468, 471 (1962), that can be revisited on collateral review. We disagree.
 There were a number of powerful dissents by Martin, Jordan, Wilson & Rosenbaum.

Here's Judge Wilson:
Kevin Spencer has served approximately eight years of the prison sentence he received after pleading guilty to selling two rocks of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer. Had the district court correctly applied the sentencing guidelines, Spencer would likely be a free man today. Instead, because of the district court’s erroneous application of the career offender enhancement, Spencer faces the prospect of spending nearly six more years in prison unnecessarily.
Contrary to the Majority, I do not read Supreme Court precedent to say that a “lawful” sentence forecloses a determination by us that a complete miscarriage of justice has taken place in Spencer’s case. Accordingly, I would reach the merits of Spencer’s claim because I believe that an erroneous guideline determination that is likely to result in a person spending such a considerable amount of additional time in prison—here, six years—constitutes a fundamental error resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice.
 Judge Martin:
I believe the federal courts as an institution would be stronger if we simply acknowledge that we got Mr. Spencer’s sentence wrong from the start, and fix it. The government now concedes that, contrary to its argument to Mr. Spencer’s sentencing court in 2007, he had no prior crime of violence conviction at the time he was sentenced. But the government nevertheless urges this Court to lay the burden of its mistaken 2007 argument upon Mr. Spencer. The majority of this Court has done just that. So Mr. Spencer will continue to serve an extra many years of a mistaken sentence, even though he has been right about how we got his sentence wrong from the start.

Judge Jordan:
Kevin Spencer is serving more than 12 years in prison (151 months to be exact) for selling $20 worth of crack cocaine. The panel found, see Spencer v. United States, 727 F.3d 1076, 1100 (11th Cir. 2013), the government now concedes, see En Banc Brief for the United States at 57-58, and the majority does not dispute, that Mr. Spencer’s mistaken career offender designation more than doubled his advisory sentencing range from 70-87 months to 151-188 months. For those of us familiar with—and sometimes numbed by—the ranges produced by application of the Sentencing Guidelines, it may be easy to overlook the dramatic increase resulting from the error. To put it in perspective, the 81-month increase is roughly the time needed to complete both college and law school.
And Judge Rosenbaum starts off this way:
Today the Court holds that Sentencing Guidelines error that does not cause the imposition of a sentence greater than the statutory maximum can never be cognizable under § 2255 unless a prior conviction on which an enhancement is based is vacated or the petitioner is actually innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced. The reason for this, the Court explains, is that all sentences based on errors under the Sentencing Guidelines but still lower than the statutory maximum are necessarily “lawful,” and “lawful” sentences are not cognizable under § 2255. But the notion that “lawful” sentences cannot be challenged on a § 2255 petition is not supported by United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 99 S. Ct. 2235 (1979), the case on which the Court relies for the proposition, and is undermined by the statute’s own text.

Powerful dissents.  It just seems absolutely wrong to let a man sit in prison for 81 more months when everyone acknowledges that he wasn't a career offender.  Why is finality is worthy goal when justice, fairness, and the law dictate a different result.  If Spencer is sentenced today, he probably gets 2 years instead of 15. 

It is worth noting that the two newest court members, Julie Carnes and Jill Pryor, did not participate. Also, Senior Judge Phyllis Kravitch who was part of the panel elected not to participate.  And the visiting district judge on the panel was not permitted to participate.  So this case may well have turned out differently if the new judges were on the en banc court.  This case looks destined for the Supremes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Robin Rosenberg's investiture today

Congrats to Judge Robin Rosenberg, who will have her formal investiture today at 3pm in West Palm Beach.  Exciting stuff!