Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sparring with Scalia

One of my former (and one of my favorite) law professors, Arthur Miller, took a shot at Justice Scalia during an oral argument today and Scalia took a shot back. Here's the Washington Post's coverage of the fun exchanges:

A Bit of Brooklyn in the Supreme Court
Thursday, March 29, 2007; A17
Deference, with maybe just a touch of obsequiousness, is the rule for lawyers taking their cases before the nine justices of the Supreme Court.
So when Harvard law professor Arthur R. Miller yesterday mixed it up a little with the court's ever-ready pugilist Antonin Scalia, some of those in the packed courtroom later talked about it as one of those did-you-hear-that moments at the court.
Miller, whose white hair and dark, bushy eyebrows are familiar from his legal commentaries on ABC and his debate-style shows on PBS, is representing investors who want to sue Tellabs, alleging securities fraud. [Story, Page D3.]
Congress has set a high bar for such lawsuits: Plaintiffs must show not just credible allegations but a "strong inference" that the company acted with wrongful intent.
The justices wondered whether you could assign a percentage to such a "strong inference," a 33 percent chance plaintiffs could convince a jury the allegations were true, a more than 50 percent chance?
"I think it's 66 2/3 ," Scalia said, pulling another number out of the air.
"Is that because you never met a plaintiff you really liked?" Miller asked the conservative Scalia.
The room erupted in laughter. Scalia smiled. A little.
Miller backpedaled. A little. "I took a liberty there with the justice," Miller said.
But it was not over.
Scalia's chance came later, when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. prepared to pounce on one of Miller's arguments. Miller stopped him first.
"Don't take me literally on that," Miller said. "For heaven's sakes, I'm from Brooklyn. I'm very colloquial. I'm very sorry about that.''
"Let me write that down," Scalia said with a satisfied smile. "We should not take you literally. All right."
Roberts was set to rule. "Okay, you two are even now."
-- Robert Barnes

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cert granted

The United States Supreme Court has taken a case from the Southern District of Florida, U.S. v. Williams, a case about the constitutionality of a child pornography law:

The [11th Circuit] court panel found the pandering provision of the PROTECT Act of 2003 was overbroad and impermissibly vague, saying that it criminalizes the speech of someone who touts material as child pornography when in fact it is clean or nonexistent.In the appeals court's view, the pandering provision could apply to an e-mail entitled "Good pics of kids in bed" sent by a grandparent, with innocent pictures attached of grandchildren in pajamas. One sender might be a proud grandparent while another might be a convicted child molester who hopes to trade for more graphic photos with like-minded recipients, the appeals court said. In asking the court to take the case, the Bush administration said the appeals court read the law's language more broadly than is warranted.

Judge Middlebrooks initially found the law was constitutional. Judges Barkett, Wilson and Reavley were the 11th Circuit panel that reversed (in an opinion by Judge Reavley,who was visiting from the Fifth Circuit), finding the Protect Act vague and overbroad. Rick Diaz and Lou Guerra represented Mr. Williams, who is now headed to Washington...

"Miami’s Acosta dragged into political spotlight"

That was the headline in today's DBR regarding the motion to reduce Jack Abramoff's sentence. Apparently, there has been criticism of Alex Acosta for this motion, which criticism is just silly. Here's the motion; and here's the intro to the article:

Federal prosecutors in Miami were caught off guard by criticism from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Washington who suggested they were going soft on convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta was flying to Colombia on Thursday when Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, criticized a proposed sentence reduction for the former Greenberg Traurig lobbyist at the center of one of the biggest corruption scandals in Washington. “Is he a Bushie?” Reid asked about Acosta. Tensions have been mounting between Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House over a scandal over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys allegedly for political reasons. Sources close to the Abramoff case bristled at Reid’s criticism, saying a recent court filing to secure a reduction for Abramoff was routine and that the disgraced former lobbyist was central to bringing down several high profile officials.

Reid is wrong to criticize Acosta. If Reid doesn't like the Sentencing Guidelines and the way that Rule 35 works, then let's change it. But right now, when someone provides substantial assistance, he gets a reduction in his sentence -- for better or for worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The "light disguise" trend

After asking for its witnesses to testify in "light disguise" in the Ze'ev Rosenstein case(coverage here, here and here), the feds are now asking for the same thing in the Jose Padilla case for an instructor for the CIA. (Judge Dimitrouleas had ruled that the Israeli agents could testify in light disguise but required them to use their real names. Rosenstein ended up pleading guilty, so this issue never came to light at trial and appeal).
In the Padilla case, the Government isn't asking for for the disguise because the agent is currently assigned overseas, but instead because he could be assigned overseas, according to a statement filed by Suzanne M. Fleischauer, information review officer for the CIA's clandestine service. "For CIA officers to effectively and clandestinely collect intelligence and conduct operations around the world, they cannot openly admit that they work for the CIA," Fleischauer said. "The safety of this covert CIA officer is of paramount concern because of the high-threat areas of the world in which he has worked."

Here is the AP coverage and the Herald coverage.

Jack Abramoff's sentence to be reduced

No surprise here -- the Government has filed a motion to reduce Jack Abramoff's sentence pursuant to Rule 35 based on his "substantial assistance" in his case and other investigations. Apparently, he is still working with investigators from his prison cell in Cumberland, Md.

Any bets on how much time Judge Huck will hack off the sentence? I'll put the over/under at one third, the standard reduction in the Southern District of Florida....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Federal prosecutors get OK to seek death penalty for man accused of murdering deputy"

That was the headline in yesterday's Sun-Sentinel: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal filed by murder suspect Kenneth Wilk, clearing the path for federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty at his April trial."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The 11th Circuit reissued Thompson v. United States today, clearing up the name mess that I discussed here and here. It inserted the other DM's middle name Scott. And the Court even dropped a footnote: "This opinion is not referring to attorney David Oscar Markus, who was not involved in the case."

What a relief.

Added: For the record, I think David Scott Markus is a good guy and a good lawyer, and I am sorry the name confusion has brought unwarranted attention to this opinion.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I couldn't pass up this story (by Kathleen McGrory and Nikki Waller) and on a Broward judge who was arrested for smoking pot while sitting on a bench in Stanley Goldman Park, just west of I95 near Hollywood Boulevard. Only in South Florida...

Actually, maybe I should say, Only in America -- the Supreme Court heard argument today in the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case.

Ft. Pierce courthouse approved

Julie Kay has the scoop in today's DBR -- apparently Ft. Pierce has been tapped for a new federal courthouse.

Now the question is whether it will open before the Miami courthouse...

Friday, March 16, 2007

News and Notes

Julie Kay writes today about Judge Moore's preclusion of the wet-foot, dry-foot defense in the baseball player smuggling case. Here's Judge Moore's order.

Jay Weaver discussed more discovery in Padilla here: " reputed al Qaeda member told U.S. authorities that the terror network scrutinized Jose Padilla as a recruit for Islamic extremism in 2000-01, according to a new document filed in federal court in Miami." And you can view the document discussed.

And to complete our federal court reporter trio, Vanessa Blum discusses the Hollywood cop hearing yesterday, in which Judge Seltzer granted the parties' request for extra time to resolve the matter before arraignment.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Thanks for the suggestions in the comments on what to do about the name issue. So far, I've written a letter to the Clerk of the 11th Circuit and Judge Barkett, who authored the opinion, asking them to insert his middle name. We'll see if it works.

The story has hit the blogosphere, which I think may be a good thing. Check out Orin Kerr at Volokh, Adam Levin at Southern Criminal Law and Justice, and Rumpole, all discussing "David Markus".

UPDATE -- the problem has been fixed.

"11th Circuit ruling in fraud probe a defeat for insurance companies."

And a victory for Roberto Martinez and Curt Miner, the receivers for Mutual Benefits Corp. So reports today's DBR:

"The insurers, including giants like Indianapolis-based American United Life Insurance, said in their lawsuits they should be able to cancel all policies that were sold by policyholders to Mutual Benefits because several of the policyholders lied on their appliactions. They cited four people who had lied about their HIV-positive status."

Judge Moreno said nope and was affirmed by the 11th.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"David Markus" ineffective

So the calls and emails started rolling in this morning. Who was that lawyer taken to task throughout the opinion in Richard Thompson v. United States, they asked. I quickly jumped onto the 11th Circuit website and read today's opinion.

The coffee I was sipping went all over my desk!

Judge Barkett, writing for the 11th Circuit, in a published decision explained how criminal defense lawyer "David Markus" was ineffective.

The thing is, it's not me -- it's the other criminal defense lawyer in town named David Markus. He's David Scott Markus. I'm David Oscar Markus. The court didn't use any middle initial. So now what do I do? Any suggestions?

UPDATE -- the problem has been fixed.

Okay, fine...

... back to the regular news.

Vanessa Blum wrote yesterday that one of the Hollywood cops may be close to pleading. Mel Black represents Sgt. Jeffry Courtney. Black "filed a motion asking a federal magistrate to postpone a Thursday hearing in Fort Lauderdale where the officers were expected to enter pleas so he could have more time to negotiate with prosecutors."

UPDATE -- Judge Seltzer denied the motion, according to this Herald article.

Rumpole on our case

Now even our friends are telling us to mind our own business....

Here's Rumpole's take on the Judge Highsmith story in italics and my response in bold:

Everyone's favourite federal blogger- David O Markus- whose blog can be viewed by clicking on the link on this page- got himself and his blog into a spot of hot water the other day, by publishing the well researched rumor that Federal Judge Highsmith was retiring.
I'm glad I'm Rumpole's "favourite federal blogger" and that he links to us. But is it really a "rumor" when the Judge himself announced it open court?

Julie Kay from the Daily Business Review jumped on the bandwagon and wrote an article and before you can say "contempt" Chief Judge Zloch was issuing denials. Actually, everyone apparently had a good laugh about the whole episode,
and the mere fact Mr. Markus was seen sweeping the floor of Judge Zloch's courtroom the other day had nothing to do with Mr. Markus's ill advised venture into the land of rumor and innuendo. Leave that stuff to us we say.

Judge Zloch's floors weren't dirty at all, so it wasn't a big deal... Fine Rumpole, you are the gossip king (queen?) so we'll leave this stuff to you in the future.

As Muhammad Ali used to say- "Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see" and last we checked there was no known address for US Marshalls to appear at to take us into custody. Mr. Markus writes a great blog. But we think he is better off writing about the legislative histories of Federal Statutes and cheering on Judge Cooke in the Padilla case. In either event, it was nice to see that Rumpole isn't the only Florida legal blogger who needs counsel every now and then.

If we actually did need counsel, we'd hire Rumpole. What's the hourly rate these days?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More blog news

The Judge Highsmith story (controversy?) has made national blog news here at Above The Law, the fun and witty legal tabloid blog.

We had the pleasure of meeting the blog's author, David Lat, during his stay in Miami. He's a very engaging guy. It's no wonder his blogs have been so popular.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blog controversy

Last week we reported that Judge Highsmith was going to retire by the end of the year and that he was getting off the criminal wheel.

Today, Julie Kay in the Daily Business Review says we're wrong. "Rumors began that U.S. District Court Senior Judge Shelby Highsmith was retiring after it was reported on a legal blog run by Miami criminal defense lawyer David O. Markus. . . . But last Thursday, District Judge William Zloch said in an interview he spoke to Highsmith and the judge is only retiring from criminal cases -- as of March. . . . 'Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated,' Zloch said with a laugh. 'I just spoke to him and he is not going anywhere. As a senior judge he has the option of taking a lighter load.'"

Interesting. A couple points though --

First, I did not start the rumors. I was told by a number of people that Judge Highsmith himself announced his retirement in open court. Second, I got confirmation from people who would know. I note that Ms. Kay did not speak with Judge Highsmith himself (to be fair, neither did I).... Third, don't you think that the article should have mentioned the blog by name!?

In any event, I hope Julie Kay is right and that Judge Highsmith is not retiring.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I know this isn't a SDFLA case, but a bunch of emails came in asking if I would post about it. So here is the story:

A federal jury has found 'Scooter' Libby guilty on 4 out of 5 counts of lying to a federal grand jury and obstruction of justice. He was found not guilty of one count of making false statements to FBI agents investigating the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. Libby's sentencing is scheduled for June 5, 2007.

You can read the following items at these links:


Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald

Defense Attorney Ted Wells, Jr.

Trial Transcripts

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Judge Shelby Highsmith to retire

Judge Shelby Highsmith has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the year (the original post said March, but we've been informed that it's actually the end of the year and Judge Highsmith will go off of the criminal wheel at the end of March). We'll miss him.

Judge Highsmith was admitted to the bar in 1958. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, after attending Georgia Military College and the University of Kansas. The Judge was the senior partner of Highsmith, Strauss, Glatzer & Deutsch, P.A., from 1975 - 1991 and before that served as a Circuit Judge in Dade County from 1970 - 1975. He served in the United States Army as Captain from 1949 - 1955. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by Bush I, and he's been a Senior Judge since 2002.

We've always liked that Judge Highsmith looked at each particular person before him and tried to judge that person, as opposed to doing simple math to determine a guideline sentence. He also knew how to try a case, coming from a busy trial practice. Best wishes in retirement.

Friday, March 02, 2007

About that firing range...

The firing range for the Marshals is often cited as one of the cool features of the new courthouse. Apparently not so cool... From today's USA Today (Hat tip to FOB, that's Friend of Blog):

A U.S. Marshals Service official misspent $4.3 million meant for courthouse security and witness protection to pay for fitness centers and firing ranges at federal buildings, a Justice Department investigation found.

The Office of Management and Budget repeatedly told David Barnes not to use construction money on exercise and training facilities, citing agency policy and appropriations laws that restricted the money for improved prisoner security, the report said.

Barnes, who oversees courthouse space for the agency, concealed the spending from his superiors and directed $2.6 million in construction money for fitness centers and firing ranges at 20 federal courthouses from 2000 to 2005, according to a copy of the 41-page report obtained by USA TODAY.

The agency has not acted on the report, which it received last April.

Barnes also used nearly $900,000 budgeted for witness protection to build a firing range in the Miami federal courthouse, and he used nearly $400,000 in construction money to hire fitness center staff and clerical workers at the Marshals Service headquarters, where Barnes works, the investigation found. Some workers were friends or relatives of Barnes and his subordinates and were unqualified for the jobs, the report said.

Barnes' lawyer, Charles Printz, said his client had the authority to spend construction money on firing ranges and fitness centers. Printz said the investigation was spurred by disgruntled employees and he expected his client to be cleared.

Here's the breakdown of bad spending from one of USA Today's cool charts. Miami's in first place!!

According to a Justice Department report, $3,028,847 was misspent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2005 on building and renovating fitness rooms and firing ranges in 20 federal courthouses. (*) The locations and the amount:


Tallahassee, Fla.

Fort Worth



Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, W.Va.


San Diego

Cheyenne, Wyo.

San Francisco

Hattiesburg, Miss.

St. Louis

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Sioux City, Iowa

Greenville, Miss.

Elkins, W.Va.

Oxford, Miss.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Syracuse, N.Y.


* - In addition, more than $800,000 was spent maintaining and staffing some of these and other facilities.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"The government’s arguments at the hearing sounded ridiculous and shameful."

That was the New York Times editorial in today's paper regarding the Jose Padilla competency hearing. Here's the conclusion:

Prosecutors said Mr. Padilla always seemed fine to his jailers, but it was his jailers who did things like standing on his bare feet with boots so they could shackle him. The brig psychologist testified that he had spoken to Mr. Padilla only twice, once when he was first detained, and two years later — through a slit in his cell door.

When a psychologist testified for the defense that Mr. Padilla was “an anxiety-ridden, broken individual,” the prosecution said her tests were invalid — because the jailers had kept Mr. Padilla handcuffed throughout.

We will probably never know if Mr. Padilla was a would-be terrorist. So far, this trial has been a reminder of how Mr. Bush’s policy on prisoners has compromised the judicial process. And it has confirmed the world’s suspicions of the United States’ stooping to the very behavior it once stood against.

Obviously there has been a ton of press on Judge Marcia Cooke's ruling yesterday saying Jose Padilla is competent. I'm not going to link to all of that here.

I'd bet that Padilla is actually happy that his lawyers lost the competency motion. I'm sure he did not want to go to a BOP mental hospital so that he could be made competent. To me, that sounds like torture -- just on a smaller scale. And I'm sure there were mixed feelings by the government about the ruling.

The Judge is still going to hear the motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct. That is where things will get interesting.