Wednesday, November 30, 2005

New state court gossip blog

Just wanted to point you all to a fun new blog about the state court justice building in Miami, called Justice Building Blog. Its author is Rumpole, who describes himself* this way:
In order to allow a free and fun discussion of the Justice Building, and because from time to time I need to get my clients a bond, I have assumed the identity of that famed English Defense Attorney Rumpole of the Bailey. What I can reveal is that I am a practicing criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida who has the same high opinion of Judges, Prosecutors, Civil Lawyers, and stuffed shirts as my fictitious alter ego.
I've been asked who the author is and have even been asked if it was me. I don't know who it is and it certainly isn't me.

*Although I use the male pronoun, for all we know Rumpole could be a woman. See, e.g., Article III Groupie, A/K/A AUSA David Lat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Congrats to . . .

Michael Caruso on being named the Chief Assistant Federal Defender for the Southern District of Florida. Michael is one of the finest lawyers I know.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Moving day...

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving weekend. The weather in Miami was 75 and sunny all weekend. Today is my first day at the new office, in the Alfred I. duPont Building. In a couple hours I'm taking off to Savannah on business and won't be back until Thursday. I'll do my best to post while I'm there and if not, my co-blogger -- Anonymous -- promises to post.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bench trial = $60 million

After a bench trial, Judge Gonzalez awarded $60.9 million to a couple whose son suffered severe brain damage when he was born in a Jacksonville Navy hospital two years ago. It is the largest verdict ever under the Federal Tort Claims Act. (I wonder if it is the largest bench trial verdict.)

A couple of interesting points -- first, the case was originally assigned to Judge Graham who had to transfer the case because of Wilma. Second, the law has changed since the filing of the suit so that damages are now capped at $1 million. More coverage here and here. Plaintiffs lawyers were Ervin Gonzalez and Deborah Gander.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Marcia Cooke in the spotlight

I've received a bunch of emails from out-of-towners asking about Judge Cooke, the newest judge in this District, and drawing interest because she is the judge assigned to Jose Padilla's case. One of the comments asks whether the government was "judge-shopping" and others like Prof. Froomkin have flat out said that the government specifically selected Judge Cooke by adding Padilla to a superceding indictment. Perhaps DOJ looked at Judge Cooke's resume and saw that she was a Bush appointee and a former AUSA and thought that she would be a push-over for the feds. Froomkin (who I doubt has ever appeared before her) goes so far as to say "the government should not expect a hostile bench." If this is what the government thought, it is dead wrong. Judge Cooke -- to put it in Chief Justice Roberts' words -- calls a strike a strike and a ball a ball, and will not be pushed around by the government. She is known in this community as a fair judge who listens carefully to both sides and calls it right down the middle. She is well liked by criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors alike. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have tried two lengthy trials in front of Judge Cooke.) In addition, I have posted about this case pre-Padilla here.

The interesting aspect of the case for me is that it shows true weakness by the President. Perhaps the administration lost confidence in its legal arguments due to the Supreme Court next week. Combine this with the recent polls and perhaps the feds figured this was an easy out. We'll see...

On a separate note, isn't Miami always the center of this poltically charged stuff -- Elian, Bush v. Gore, Padilla, and so on. Finally, via How Appealing: "Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at the Press Conference Regarding the Indictment of Jose Padilla": You can access them online here, while the indictment itself can be viewed at this link. And the memorandum from President Bush authorizing the transfer of Jose Padilla from the control of the U.S. Military to the control of the U.S. Department of Justice is here.

Jose Padilla charged in Miami

Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber", has been charged in a 11 count indictment in Miami. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is expected to announce the charges during an 11 a.m. ET news conference.

As you may recall, Padilla had filed a cert petition with the Supreme Court seeking review of the question of whether "the President has the power to seize American citizens in civilian settings on American soil and subject them to indefinite military detention without criminal charge or trial."

A response to the petition from the Justice Department was due next Monday. Interesting timing.

UPDATE (by DOM)-- There's lots to read about this interesting case. Check out ScotusBlog for detailed analysis. Also, in response to the comment, Judge Cooke is handling the case. Here is the indictment. I know Ken Swartz represents one of the co-defendants named Hassoun. I'm not sure if anyone has entered an appearance for Padilla yet. Anyone?

Friends of Luis Posada Carriles denied bond

Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton denied bond to Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat (allies of Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles) because "their mere possession of automatic weapons, grenades and rounds of ammunition amounted to a crime of violence and posed a a danger to the community." More in the Herald article here and the Sun-Sentinel here. AUSA is Randy Hummel and defense attorneys are Dennis Kainen and Kendal Coffey.

Monday, November 21, 2005

News and notes

So I'm sitting here waiting for Bellsouth to install my new phone lines at the new office and I found a computer connected to the internet... Interesting stories today.

First is the DBR article about the internal district rules that were made public. Here's the intro to the article: "The so-called secret rules that federal judges in the Southern District of Florida have been operating by for more than a decade are no longer secret. Under pressure from defense attorneys and the Federal Public Defender Office after an article about the rules was published in the Daily Business Review, the district court in Miami has for the first time made public its internal operating procedures manual. The manual, signed by Chief Judge William J. Zloch Nov. 14, is available for viewing on the court’s Web site. The 20-page manual lays out procedures for how the federal judges assign and reassign cases, how new judges receive cases, jury instructions and magistrate assignments. It also details special powers of the chief judge, which include appointing the chief bankruptcy judge and chief magistrate judge, approving all requests for annual and sick leaves, approving all new courthouse construction projects and architectural plans and reviewing all complaints of judicial misconduct."

Also today's Miami Herald details the sentencing of Haitian informer, Oriel Jean, who got a reduction for his cooperation: "Oriel Jean, the former security chief for ex-President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was sentenced Friday to just three years in prison for his role in helping drug traffickers move tons of Colombian cocaine through Haiti to the United States.
With good reason: The 40-year-old defendant, held in custody since March 2004, gave federal investigators invaluable information on Haiti's drug underworld and the location of fugitives -- and even continued to testify after a cocaine smuggler threatened his life. Indeed, Jean proved to be the prosecution's star witness. At his sentencing hearing in Miami last week, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez paid Jean a compliment, praising his ''good work'' for the government. The judge then gave him half of the six-year sentence he otherwise would have received for his money-laundering plea deal."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Secret rules no longer secret

A while ago I posted about the "secret" local rules that only the judges had access to. Those rules are now public and available on the court's website dubbed "2006 Internal Operating Procedures."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Muzzled

No more Pit Bull ads. Ft. Lauderdale lawyers John Pape and Marc Chandler were reprimanded and ordered to attend advertising classes for their infamous pit bull ads (and 1800pitbull #). Here's the AP article and here's the opinion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Opening statements in Masferrer

Apparently they picked the jury with blazing speed in the Hamilton Bank trial -- opening statements were yesterday. The Miami Herald covers it here. AUSA Ben Greenberg started out his opening, arguing: ''This case is about Eduardo Masferrer's lies and his greed." Howard Srebnick countered, "'This is a case about one man, one citizen disagreeing with his government. . . He disagrees with his government's accounting rules."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Supreme Court denies cert in voting case

The Supreme Court denied cert today in the case involving Florida's lifetime ban on voting rights for convicted felons. Here's the AP story from the Sun-Sentinel. More coverage at Scotusblog.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hamilton Bank trial to start

Former Hamilton Bank chief executive Eduardo Masferrer's criminal trial starts Monday in front of Judge Moore. He is defended by Howard and Scott Srebnick. The case was transferred from Judge King (pursuant to a secret policy manual) when he recused himself from all criminal cases, which I discussed here.

UPDATE 11/14 -- Speaking of secrecy, the Daily Business Review's cover story today is "Secrecy Slapdown." It discusses in great detail the secret docket problems of this District and the recent Ochoa decision telling the court not to engage in secrecy any longer. I'm trying to get a working link to the article (here it is)... In the meantime, here's the intro:
Last month, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chastised judges of the Southern District of Florida for completely hiding cases from public view by placing the cases on a secret court docket. “We … exercise our supervisory authority to remind the district court that it cannot employ the secret docketing procedures that we explicitly found unconstitutional,” the panel said in its unusual reprimand. Defense attorneys, civil liberties groups and the news media celebrated the panel’s words, which came in the course of upholding a drug lord’s conviction and sentence of more than 30 years in prison. Now, one of the South Florida federal judges who agreed to hide a case admits that she made a mistake and vows never to do it again. “Judges are not gods,” U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz, a seven-year veteran of the federal bench, said in an interview. “Like any human being, we make mistakes. When your mistake is pointed out, you reconsider your action and you promptly make a correction.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

JNC interview

I've just been absolutely swamped lately. I was in Savannah the last two days, and at the end of the month I'm starting my own law practice downtown and trying to get that up and running is insane... But I did have a minute to read a great article in the DBR today (by Julie Kay) about the JNC interview process. The article makes it seem like Acosta got some tough questions. Most believe that he is a shoo-in for the position. The article also mentions that many were disappointed that neither of the two women applicants made the final cut. Here is one snippet from the article:
The commission spent nearly an hour grilling Acosta, who is considered by some a shoo-in for the post due to his Bush administration connections. “An issue that is still hanging out there is your lack of trial experience,” said Scott Srebnick, a Miami criminal defense attorney. “In terms of street credibility, will you be able to make the tough decisions? If you decline a case an agency has been working on for awhile … will the agents think, ‘What does he know, he hasn’t really tried any cases?’ ” Acosta replied that as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division since 2003, he took on some of the hardest cases. “I haven’t had any pushback from law enforcement,” he said. “Look, the issue of credibility has come up before,” he said. “One-third of all U.S. attorneys across the country have no trial experience. At the end of the day, it’s not just about what your experience is but whether you can sit across the table and know the facts and have the confidence to say, ‘Look, I disagree,’ or ‘Look, this is the argument we need to make.’ ” “The U.S. attorney’s office runs itself,” he added.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

More en banc coverage

Today, Carl Jones of the Daily Business Review covers the 11th Circuit's decision to rehear en banc the Cuban Spy case. I'm quoted in the article:

Miami criminal defense attorney David Oscar Markus, who’s not involved in the Cuban spy case, said the 11th Circuit doesn’t often grant en banc review of a panel decision. “It’s very rare,” he said. “If it happens a couple of times a year, it’s a lot. But you know what? It was very rare what the panel did.” Markus said there are two possible reasons why the court granted en banc review. “One possibility is they have taken the case to show unity from the court [in overturning the convictions and ordering a new trial],” Markus said. “The other possibility is the rest of the court just disagrees [with the panel] and wants to quickly get rid of this opinion.” Markus noted that the August panel ruling was the first known case of an appellate court overturning a district court judge on a venue question. Another unusual aspect of the case, he said, is that it typically takes months for the full circuit court to decide to rehear a panel decision. The speed with which the court granted en banc review, just weeks after Acosta’s request, took almost everyone by surprise. “Boom, the opinion
came out, the government asked for review, and review was granted almost immediately, which I think does not bode well for defenders of the opinion,” Markus said. No more than two of the judges on the original panel will be able to rehear the case and defend it, Markus said. Judge Birch was the only active member of the 11th Circuit to decide the original case, while Judge Kravitch has the option to take part in the en banc review. Judge Oakes was sitting by designation. Markus said if Judge Kravitch chooses not to participate, a single judge from the original panel “puts a greater onus on Judge Birch to get a consensus on the court.”

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The next U.S. Attorney for the district will be...

...one of the six individuals detailed in this Herald article by Jay Weaver. Those are: Alex Acosta, Ken Blanco, Tom Mulvihill, Susan Tarbe, Ed Nucci, and Cynthia Hawkins. Most say that it's hard to imagine that it won't be Acosta, especially after he was named on an interim basis. But initially there was a lot of talk that the job was Tarbe's. I haven't heard anything lately. Anyone else? I wrote on this topic a while ago here.

Return to Normal...

I'm back from Orlando (there is nothing like seeing Disney World through your kid's eyes...) and I see that Chief Judge Zloch has announced that everything is back to normal starting tomorrow. I wonder how jurors selected to sit for long trials are going to feel about it now that they can just get back to work themselves... It should be interesting. Here is the release:

Return to Normal Operations on Monday, November 7, 2005
Chief United States District Judge William J. Zloch announced that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida will resume normal hours and operations on Monday, November 7, 2005. Clerk’s Office hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jurors should call in for reporting instructions at (800) 865-1775. This announcement applies to district court facilities in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Key West and Fort Pierce.

UPDATE: Judge Zloch also issued an Order on behalf of the entire Southern District of Florida, tolling the speedy trial clock from October 24 through November 4, 2005 due to Wilma. Hat tip, Brian Tannebaum. I feel bad for the clerk's office because J. Zloch directs the clerk to file the Order in every criminal case and to give notice to all parties. What a headache...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Smuggling Blues

Gil Rodriguez and Taboada Cabrera pleaded guilty yesterday in a case involving smuggling Cubans to the United States. During the trip a 6 year old boy tragically died. Coverage here and here.

I will be out of town this weekend (I'm speaking at a sentencing seminar in Orlando tomorrow and then going to spend the rest of the weekend in Disney with my family) so blogging will be very light if at all...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cuban five

The Miami Herald has this article about the decision to grant en banc review of the Cuban Spy decision. Good article but it has a completely misleading headline -- "Verdict to stand for five Cuban spies." From that headline one would think that the jury verdict was affirmed and that there were no further proceedings. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire 11th Circuit has decided to hear the case. The Sun-Sentinel article's headline is more accurate: "Appeals court voids Cuban spy decision, will rehear case."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Breaking news -- Cuban Spy en banc

I have it on good authority that the Eleventh Circuit has granted en banc review in United States v. Campa, the cuban spy opinion.

UPDATE: Confirmed. Here is the text of the order:

Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT, ANDERSON, BIRCH, DUBINA, BLACK, CARNES, BARKETT, HULL, MARCUS, WILSON and PRYOR, Circuit Judges*.
B Y T H E C O U R T :
A member of this Court in active service having requested a poll on the suggestion of rehearing en banc and a majority of the judges in this Court in active service having voted in favor of granting a rehearing en banc,
IT IS ORDERED that the above causes shall be reheard by this court en banc. The
previous panel's opinion is hereby VACATED.
__________________________
*Senior U. S. Circuit Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch may elect to participate in further proceedings in these matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 46(c).

Slow blogging

Sorry about the slow blogging, but I still don't have power at home and I typically like to post before I go to work and late at night when everyone else is asleep...

In any event, most of the news is Wilma related and I'm sure everyone is Wilmad out. But if you're not, there is great coverage of how Wilma affected the courts and law firms in the Daily Business Review. All the articles require pass-through links, so it doesn't do any good to post them here. But if you can grab a copy of the Review, it's worth it. I was quoted in one funny article this morning about how half of Miami went to Orlando to ride out the storm. I offered my office (which has power, internet, etc) to any lawyer who needs it, "including prosecutors." To date, no prosecutor has taken me up on the offer...

Still no jury trials until further notice

Here's the latest press release:

United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida Open With Reduced Hours Beginning November 1, 2005 until Further Notice
Chief United States District Judge William J. Zloch announced that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida will reopen on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 in all divisions. The Clerk's Office will be open in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce; however, the District Court's hours of operation will be limited to between 9:30 A.M. and 3:30 P.M until further notice.
Southern District of Florida courthouse facilities will be generally open to the public but no new jury trials will commence until further notice. The Court will operate under this reduced schedule in consideration of localized power outages, supply shortages, and the recent conversion to daylight savings time which together may complicate evening commuting.
Information concerning the status of the Court's operations will be posted here on the Court's web site.
Last Updated: Monday, October 31, 2005