Saturday, December 31, 2005

Abramoff to plead? (and cooperate?)

That's the word on the street. Judge Paul Huck gave Abramoff (and his lawyer, Neal Sonnett) until Tuesday to decide whether it's going to be a plea or a trial. I bet lots of Congressmen are hoping he goes to trial...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy new year!

Happy and healthy New Year to all.

For your weekend reading, here is some info about the funniest Justice. And to the left is the graphic from the article. I'll never forget when a Miami lawyer continued to confuse Justice Souter and Justice Breyer. Justice Scalia started his questioning of the lawyer by saying, "I'm Scalia." Now that's funny.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Amicus fight

Professor Ricardo Bascuas, on behalf of NACDL, FACDL-Miami, and NAFD, authored an amicus brief in the Cuban Spy case, in support of the panel's determination that venue was improper. Typically these briefs are filed with the consent of both parties. In this case, however, the government has opposed the filing of the brief, making some unbelievable claims. For one, it claims that it's not fair because it doesn't have enough space to respond to the arguments raised by amici -- it even takes a shot at the panel saying that the panel used more words than were given to the government in its brief. In the same breath, it also says that the arguments raised by amici are not relevant. Finally, it asserts that the brief is "partisan." I have never seen the government take such an odd position. Amicus briefs are filed by organizations that have a unique perspective on the subject being debated in court. Of course they have a position. And if the arguments raised aren't relevant, why does the government have to waste any of its space addressing them? In the interest of disclosure, I am NACDL's vice chair of the amicus committee for the 11th circuit and I signed the brief on behalf of NACDL.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Padilla moves

Lots of moves in the Padilla case. The Bushies asked the Supreme Court to order the transfer of Padilla to FDC-Miami to face the indictment filed last month. Lyle Deniston has a lot of great things to say on the subject. Here's his intro:
The Bush Administration, protesting that the Fourth Circuit Court has engaged in an "unprecedented and unfounded assertion of judicial authority," on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to order the prompt transfer of terrorism suspect Jose Padilla out of military custody and into a regular federal prison. The new filing, escalating the inter-branch constitutional conflict that has now arisen over Padilla, complained that the lower court had made "an unwarranted attack on the exercise of Executive discretion," raising "profound separation-of-powers concerns" if not remedied swiftly. "The Fourth Circuit's order defies both law and logic," the new filing contended. Without waiting to see how the Justices would react to the rapid change of circumstances recently in Padilla's case, Solicitor General Paul D. Clement filed an application to shift Padilla to the Federal Detention Facility in Miami, so that he can face new criminal charges claiming he aided terrorism abroad. The Fourth Circuit last week refused to allow that transfer, saying the government may be trying to undercut Padilla's pending appeal to the Supreme Court. But the Circuit Court also said it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide Padilla's placement, and thus Clement turned to the Justices seeking what the lower court had denied.

Before this latest move, the Herald's Jay Weaver had this coverage of all the latest wrangling. And TalkLeft opines that Padilla's lawyers slap Bush Administration. The Daily Business Review (Julie Kay) had a piece about Padilla's and Hassoun's co-defendant, Kifah Jayyousi, but there is no public link available to review the article. Finally Brian Tannebaum has this to say about criminal defense lawyers in these sorts of cases.

The Southern District of Florida finds itself in the middle of this historic fight between the branches of government.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Justice Cantero still a possibility?

A reader sent this email:

"Possible grist for your blog, but PLEASE KEEP MY IDENTITY ANONYMOUS IF YOU CHOOSE TO USE THIS IN ANY WAY....A few months back, I heard it from a well-placed source that the current Administration is looking for a way to get Raoul Cantero on the 11th Circuit. They are practically counting the days until Judge Barkett is eligible to take senior status, figuring that will give them a "Florida seat" to fill with Cantero. I've also heard that Cantero (like many Florida Supreme Court Justices) would prefer not to live in Tallahassee forever, so he'd be game. Now another possibility may have arisen -- this week Congress returned the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the DC Circuit (he's a darling of the Federalist Society right wingers), signaling that his re-nomination (if it occurs in 2006) would be a complete war. One piece of scuttlebut is that that Cantero could be considered for that open seat on the DC Circuit. If so, and if he makes it to the DC Circuit, his age & ethnicity would automatically jump him into the very top tier of any Supreme Court shortlist for the next vacancy. We might just get a Floridian in the Big House yet...."

A couple thoughts -- 1) I hope Judge Barkett doesn't take senior status any time soon. 2) I don't think Judge Cantero would be as conservative as the right hopes. I think the former Judge Davis' clerk would call it right down the middle. 3) Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Padilla staying put

Unbelievable. Judge Luttig, one of the judges on Bush's short list for the U.S. Supreme Court, just gave the back of his hand to Bush's legal strategy on the war on terror, ruling that Padilla will not be transferred to the Southern District of Florida and that the Fourth Circuit opinion will remain intact -- teeing the case up for Supreme Court review.
Lyle Denniston, over at ScotusBlog, has great coverage of this remarkable decision. Here's his intro:
In a deeply serious setback for the Bush Administration's legal strategy for the war on terrorism, the Fourth Circuit Court on Wednesday afternoon kept intact its ruling in the now-celebrated Jose Padilla case, suggesting that the Administration may be trying to manipulate the judiciary by attempting to prevent Supreme Court review. The Circuit panel also raised questions about the government's credibility in claiming a dire need to designate Padilla as an "enemy combatant" and thus to confine him -- for more than three years now -- in a military jail, and about its overall credibility in presenting war on terrorism cases to the courts. The language used in the opinion --
reflecting a studied attempt to be temperate, yet coming out as tellingly sharp-edged -- could only be interpreted as the sternest of judicial rebukes on issues of fundamental importance to President Bush's war against global terrorism. The ruling was doubly effective because it was written by Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig, who has been considered by President Bush as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court and who is one of the most conservative federal appellate judges in the nation.
The Circuit Court denied the government permission to transfer Padilla out of military custody -- a transfer that had a strong probability of keeping the case out of the reach of the Supreme Court. Padilla's appeal to the Justices is pending (Padilla v. Hanft, docket 05-533), and is likely to be acted upon by the Court in January. At this stage, the first issue for the Justices will be whether to grant or deny review
of the Fourth Circuit's Sept. 9 ruling. Judge Luttig, writing for a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel, said "we believe that the transfer of Padilla and the withdrawal of our opinion at the government's request while the Supreme Court is reviewing this court's decision of September 9 would compound what is, in the absence of explanation, at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court." In addition, Luttig said: "We believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that Court, even if only by denial of further review." Thus, he said, "we deny both the motion [to transfer] and suggestion [to vacate the Sept. 9 decision]."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Show me the money

Well, one of my readers and I got into it a little bit in the comment section.

I wonder how [s]he would feel about this comment in the Daily Business Review today about prosecutors leaving the U.S. Attorney's office: "Said Miami criminal defense attorney David O. Markus: “It’s a good attempt to solve the problem. But ultimately, what we need to do is pay these people more money, as we [also need to] do [for] judges and public defenders.”

The article has lots of good gossip about AUSAs -- some, like Harry Shimkat, have agreed to stay an extra two years in economic crimes. Here's the quote about those who have left:
While the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida has experienced turnover in the past, some liken the departures over the last six months as an exodus. Twenty-two assistant U.S. attorney positions are now vacant in an office with 233 total positions, or almost 10 percent of the office. Among those who have left in the last six months: Lilly Ann Sanchez, former deputy chief of the major crimes division, who became a partner with Fowler White Burnett in Miami; Carlos Castillo, former public information officer, who took a job with Seidman Prewitt Dibello & Lopez in Coral Gables; and Jonathan Loo, who moved to the U.S. attorney’s office in Hawaii. Other departures include Jonathan Lopez, who worked in major crimes and took a job with the Department of Justice in Washington; Eddie Sanchez and Willie Ferrer, who both just left for the county attorney’s office in Miami, and Maria Beguiristain, who last month became an associate at White & Case in Miami. . . . Seth Miles said he left to become an associate at Podhurst Orseck in Miami because “for me it was family reasons and it was just time to go. I knew I didn’t want to be a 40-year career prosecutor.”
Finally, one unidentified prosecutor said: “There’s a lack of vision in the office. There’s no excitement, no clear direction on what we should be focusing on. There’s a leadership vacuum.” Yikes.

Also, following up on my post about Michael Caruso being named Chief Assistant Federal Defender for this District, Julie Kay has this to say:
After losing two chief assistants in one year, Federal Public Defender Kathleen Williams said, tongue in cheek, that she’s required her new second-in-command to sign a “noncompete clause.” Williams, the guest speaker at the Miami chapter of the Federal Bar Association’s monthly luncheon, announced that she named Michael Caruso, 39, an eight-year veteran of the office, as her new chief assistant. Caruso will assist Williams in running one of the largest public defender offices in the country and overseeing 45 assistant public defenders. Caruso replaces former chief assistant Martin Bidwill, who was appointed to a Broward Circuit Court judgeship by Gov. Jeb Bush in October. Bidwill was chief assistant for less than a year, taking the place of Reuben C. Cahn, who left in April to head the San Diego federal public defender’s office. “I’d like to address the rumor that I’ve had trouble keeping chief assistants,” Williams quipped, adding that her new top lieutenant “promised he will not go to the bench, he will not leave the office.” Caruso, who serves on the federal court practice committee, said he’s “extremely honored that Kathy chose me to assist her in leading the office” and will stay in the job “as long as she needs me.” Caruso serves on the federal court practice committee of The Florida Bar and the Southern District of Florida’s local rules committee.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Kidan plea

This one was pretty obvious, but here's the news anyway -- Adam Kidan pleaded guilty to fraud and is likely to be a cooperating witness in a number of different cases, including against Jack Abramoff. Kidan's lawyer is Joseph Conway. Prosecutors are Lawrence LaVecchio and Paul Schwartz. Judge Huck is presiding over the case, which is still set for trial (for Abramoff -- represented by Neal Sonnett) in January. Coverage here and here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Charges for Air Marshals?

So the Department of Justice has hired two Zuckerman Spaeder lawyers -- Mike Pasano and Paul Calli -- to represent the two air marshals who shot and killed the mentally ill man who said he had a bomb at the Miami airport. Pasano quips in the DBR article that “I guess they have a list of good lawyers somewhere that they call in such cases.” Some lawyers, he noted, won’t take these cases because the government pays “extremely low” fees. Calli said “I’m confident it will be determined [the air marshals] acted reasonably and appropriately under the circumstances.” Brian Tannebaum was quoted in the article saying that no charges would be filed. I completely agree. No chance, no way will charges be filed against these guys. Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Boobie boys opinion

The 11th Circuit yesterday decided the "Boobie Boys" case, affirming most of the convictions. The court did reverse two of the convictions for "Jonathon "Moose" Hawthorne and Ben "Bush" Johnson. Judge Barkett wrote the 137 page opinion. The court repeatedly said that the district court erred in admitting all sorts of hearsay and opinion testimony, but for most of the appellants, the court found the error harmless.

Professor Berman has this interesting comment about the case, which also contains a link to the case:
In his opinion for the majority in Blakely, Justice Scalia expresses concern about defendants possible being punished for an uncharged murder and possibly being punished based on weak hearsay testimony proven to a judge only by a preponderance of the evidence. If these issues truly concern Justice Scalia (and other members of the Blakely majority), the Supreme Court ought be interested in a cert. petition coming from today's decision by the Eleventh Circuit in US v. Baker, No. 00-13083 (11th Cir. Dec. 13, 2005) (available here). (Tech warning: the PDF of this opinion is causing Adobe to crash for me sometimes.) Starting at page 124 of an 137-page opinion(!!), the 11th Circuit in Baker affirms long sentences for a number of co-defendants in a large drug conspiracy on the basis of hearsay testimony concerning their involvement in an uncharged murder. Fans of Crawford debates will especially enjoy the court's work in footnote 68, where the Eleventh Circuit
explains why Crawford is to be inapplicable at sentencing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hamilton Bank jury in

The jury could not reach a verdict in the Hamilton Bank trial -- US v. Masferrer. Judge Moore declared a mistrial and set the retrial for April. The deliberations took some strange turns -- two jurors were excused for reading the newspaper, requiring two alternates to come into a jury room where there had been 3 days of deliberations. Nonetheless they were required to start considering the case from scratch. Then one of the alternates got sick and an ambulance had to be called to the courthouse. After all this, the jury hung. Defense lawyers were Howard and Scott Srebnick. Prosecutors were Ben Greenberg and Andrew Levy.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

News and notes

1. Slow blogging -- sorry for being out of touch the last couple days. I've been going back and forth to Savannah preparing for a big trial scheduled for January 16. The lead prosecutor said in court last week that it was the largest case ever in Savannah. The case is just immense and it's taking up almost all of my time.

2. No bond for Cuban exiles in illegal weapons case -- From the AP: "U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn sided with prosecutors, upholding another judge's ruling denying bail for Santiago Alvarez, 64, and 63-year-old Osvaldo Mitat. They are charged in a seven-count grand jury indictment with illegal possession of machine guns and other weapons - some with serial numbers erased - that were allegedly stored at an apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale owned by Alvarez." "These weapons have no utilitarian purpose other than to harm others," Cohn said. Kendall Coffey, Alvarez's lawyer, said: "These aren't criminals. These are two honorable men. These men will be acquitted at trial."

3. Hamilton Bank trial -- no verdicts yet. Jury has been out a long time. The worst part of being a trial lawyer is waiting for the jury to come back. Terrible.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Middle District News

Hat-tip to one of our anonymous readers:

"Al-Arian acquittals across the board (with a sprinkling of hung counts) -- no convictions!
One defendant, Fariz, was represented by Fletcher Peacock's Middle District defenders."
Read Yahoo news

Monday, December 05, 2005

Press for Anonymous Miami Blog

Julie Kay writes about the Justice Building Blog in today's DBR. Here's the intro to the article:
The dishy Washington, D.C., court blog, which talked up the “hotties” of the federal bench, disappeared after the assistant U.S. attorney who wrote it was outed last month. But a Miami version debuted last month, and it features the same menu of irreverent judicial gossip and satire, including a poll ranking the sexiest judge on the bench. It’s likely to rile lawyers, judges and elected officials — and be devoured by them. “Welcome to the unofficial Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building blog,” the anonymously written blog reads. “This site will be dedicated to justice building rumor, humor, innuendo and good stories about the judges and lawyers who labor in the world of Miami’s criminal justice.”
Our blog gets a mention:
But two other South Florida lawyer-bloggers, who put their names on their postings, doubt he’ll be able to maintain his anonymity very long. “We’ll see how long he stays in the closet,” said Miami criminal defense attorney David Markus. “E-mails can be traced.” That’s how the Washington blogger was outed. Predicted Miami criminal defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum: “He will be discovered.”
Anyone know who it is?

More judges?

Today's DBR (pass through link required) details a new bill in Congress to add 3 judges to our district, as well as splitting up the 9th Circuit. Although splitting the 9th is talked about every year and is very controversial, we would be the beneficiaries if the bill passes. I'm quoted in the article:
“We are the busiest and best district in the country and we could always use more judges,” said David Markus, vice president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. If new judgeships are created in South Florida, a battle over where they would be stationed is likely, said insiders. A push to post the new judges in Broward, Palm Beach or Martin counties, where the population is rapidly growing, is expected, although some would likely want the judges based in Miami. “We’d like to see them in our brand new courthouse which is opening next year,” Markus said.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Booker in the 11th Circuit

Hat tip to Doug Berman over at the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog for this head's up: this morning has this article discussing the state of Booker appeals in the 11th Circuit. The article reviews the interesting concurrences this week from Judge Tjoflat (discussed here) and Judge Carnes (discussed here). The article also interestingly notes that the "11th Circuit has handled nearly 1,100 decisions in the past 10 months that pertain to Booker, according to a Lexis database search."

Here's the conclusion of the article, which highlights the internal fights in the 11th:
Although a majority of the 12-judge circuit voted not to rehear the Rodriguez case, Tjoflat criticized Carnes' approach in a dissent, saying Carnes will make applying Booker "a meaningless formality in all but the rarest of cases." Carnes' rejoinder came in a 43-page opinion. Carnes wrote that Tjoflat's conclusion "requires not just a set of reading glasses but also a vivid imagination."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Not so fast...

We earlier discussed how the Justice Department was trying to avoid a showdown on the Presidential powers debate in the Supreme Court re Padilla by charging him here in the Southern District of Florida. The Government counted on the fact that the Fourth Circuit would approve of the transfer to this district to face charges. But the Fourth wasn't so happy about the fact that its ruling was based on allegations far more sweeping than those alleged by the Government in its indictment here.

Judge Luttig has asked for the following question to be briefed: "Whether, if the government's motion is granted, the mandate should be recalled and our opinion of Sept. 9, 2005, vacated as a consequence of the transfer and in light of the different facts that were alleged by the President to warrant Padilla's military detention and held by this court to justify the detention, on the one hand, and the alleged facts on which Padilla has been indicted, on the other." The government has until Dec. 9 to file its new brief on that issue. Padilla's lawyers are to file their brief a week later, by Dec. 16.

Lyle Denniston has this analysis over at
The Fourth Circuit had upheld Padilla's detention on the basis of more serious claims of wrongdoing than the charges contained in the new criminal indictment. The government contended, in seeking to justify his detention, that he had been
planning to release a radioactive bomb in a terrorist plot in this country. The
new indictment levels charges of joining in a terrorist "cell" of activity to support global terrorism efforts. The indictment describes a quite minor role for Padilla.
If the government has no interest in pursuing the more serious charges, for whatever reason, the Fourth Circuit may believe that its September ruling has been undercut. This will become clear after it acts following the new briefing. In the meantime, the Justice Department has until Dec. 16 to file its response to Padilla's appeal to the Supreme Court. The Circuit Court's order may complicate that proceeding, because it will not have ruled on the transfer motion, and the possible withdrawal of its September ruling, by Dec. 16. The government, of course, would be free to ask for a further extention of time to file its response.

No word yet on how this will affect the ongoing Southern District case.