Monday, April 30, 2007

Jimmy Johnson in Court...

...for jury selection.

Judge King cut him loose -- after figuring out who he was:

A third fellow stepped forward and said his name was James Johnson. He knew the importance of jury duty, he said, but he had a special houseguest and, please, if he wasn't really needed, could he be excused?

Besides, he said, he'd been a defendant in a few minor civil suits, so maybe the lawyers wouldn't want him anyway.

'I said, `What's your business?' '' King recalls. Fox Sports analyst, he said.
King looked at him funny. ''Did you coach?'' ``Yes.''
''Where?'' King asked. Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, University of Miami, Oklahoma State. He rattled off others -- Iowa State, Wichita State.

''That's enough,'' said King as folks in the courtroom laughed. By then, the judge realized it was Jimmy Johnson.

King, 79, joked about his lousy hearing and wisecracked: ``Now I've proven that I can't see very well, either. I should have recognized you.''

Johnson, 63, an Islamorada resident, told King his houseguest was Bill Parcells, who recently retired as Dallas head coach. He planned to take the Big Tuna fishing.

King excused Johnson, but not before asking him to predict the Gators' record for next season.
Johnson recalls that exchange. 'I said, `I have no idea. I'm the worst in the world at picking games.' ''

King may not have recognized him, but others did. As Johnson sat on the courthouse steps at 7:30 a.m., waiting for the building to open, he got waves from passersby and requests for autographs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Daniel, assistant federal public defender Hector Flores and Key West attorney Charles Milligan say Johnson appeared smaller than on TV. Daniel: ''A very humble guy.'' Flores: ''Very charming.'' Milligan: ''Didn't have his hair as bouffant-ed up.'' Defense lawyer Albert Levin got an autograph.

Coincidentally, Johnson received a summons for state jury duty in Marathon that same day. He was excused from that, too -- after the feds called on his behalf to say he had already reported in Key West.

King says he had no problem putting Johnson on waivers. ``We accommodate people.''

Back to work

Sorry for the slowwww blogging, but I was at my ten year law school reunion in Boston this weekend. This guy seemed to get all the attention for attending his 25 year reunion...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Don't mess with Judge Cooke

Apparently a reporter from CBS radio tried to bring in a transmitting device to the overflow media room in the Jose Padilla trial to broadcast jury selection. Judge Cooke issues a rule to show cause as to why CBS should not be held in contempt of court.

From the Order (proving that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction):

On Tuesday, April 24, 2007, AT&T representatives presented themselves at this
Case 0:04-cr-60001-MGC Document 1018 Entered on FLSD Docket 04/25/2007 Page 1 of 3
courthouse with a work order to install an ISDN feed in the press overflow room. An ISDN feed
is a circuit-switched telephone network system designed to allow digital transmission of voice
and data over ordinary telephone lines. The United States Marshals Service contacted this Court to confirm authorization for the work order. The Court had not granted such authorization, and was unaware of any such work order having been issued to AT&T.
Further investigation revealed that a request had been made to the Clerk of Court for an
ISDN feed to be installed, but that request had been denied. It was then discovered that the
contact on the AT&T work order was Peter King, from CBS Radio, Orlando. Thus, it appears
that Peter King of CBS has violated this Court’s Order Regarding Media Conduct and Press
Media Room. [DE 979] . As Mr. King holds himself out to be an employee of the CBS network,
and not simply a local affiliate, it would also appear that CBS, through Mr. King’s actions, has
violated the Order as well.

"This strategy of ‘shaking down’ defendants with nightmarishly expensive litigation in pursuit of attorney fees must not be rewarded.”

All sorts of fun stuff in the Review this morning, including an article about attorney's fees. That quote above is from Judge Moreno from a 2003 case and the article discusses a recent Judge Zloch case where a six figure fee was requested in a relatively minor case.

The cover story is also interesting -- it's about Judge Middlebrooks ruling on trade dress infringement in the energy drink world. Everyone wants small 8 ounce bottles with vertical lettering, but that's not enough for an infringement case: "The notion that a company can appropriate a standard 8-ounce bottle, utilize vertical lettering of its product name, and preclude competitors from using that bottle with their own lettering . . . seems to be nothing but a thinly veiled effort to stifle legitimate competition." Attorney fees in that case to American Body Building (to be paid by Vital Pharmaceuticals --VPX) of $360,000.

If energy drinks aren't your thing and you are more into ice cream, then read this Sun-Sentinel story about Carvel's niece wanting to dig him up to study the body for foul play.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Posting Plea Agreements?

I'm quoted in the DBR article this morning criticizing the new policy in this District of not making plea agreements available online. Every other document in a criminal docket is available (unless it's sealed) except for plea agreements. Instead, you have to go down to the clerk's office to make a copy the old-fashioned way. This is a silly policy, which is only in place in this District (as far as I know). Hopefully it will be changed soon (the local rules committee is studying it).

If there are safety concerns for cooperating witnesses, then those concerns should be addressed in that particular case, but to have a blanket policy making it more difficult to get these documents.... Haven't we learned from the State scandal involving secret docs?


Prosecutors in every trial try to dehumanize "the defendant." And defense lawyers always try to humanize "Mr. Defendant." So far, it appears that the Government is doing its job in the Wilk case. Check out this Sun-Sentintel article about what the jurors have seen so far:

The murder case against Kenneth Wilk has been one of disturbing images.The photo of a dark puddle of blood on the floor. That's where Broward Sheriff's Deputy Todd Fatta fell after a bullet pierced his chest while serving a federal warrant at Wilk's home. The autopsy photos. They showed the damage wreaked by the fatal shot that tore through Fatta's liver and severed his spinal cord. And the sordid images of child pornography. Prosecutors say Wilk and his partner possessed dozens of them on their personal computers.

Friday, April 20, 2007

No thanks

As posted yesterday, Louis Robles was supposed to plead guilty this morning in front of Judge Gold. The parties had agreed to 10 years in prison.

Well, not so fast. Judge Gold did not accept the deal today and rescheduled it in a month. Judge Gold has rejected plea agreements before, notably in the Al Gutman case.

At last week's symposium on ethics at the University of Miami, there was a panel discussion with 5 judges who were asked if they ever rejected agreed to pleas. They all responded that they did not. Should judges reject plea agreements? Comments?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pretty pleas(e)

Lots of pleas being reported today. Former asbestos lawyer Louis Robles is taking ten years. And the Hollywood cops are pleading to a min/man ten years, with the hope of a cooperation reduction.

Think about where you were *ten years* ago. I think all of us forget how freaking long that is.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jose Padilla trial to start

The lawyers about to start trying the Jose Padilla case must have that nervous stomach feeling that all trial lawyers get the night before... There's nothing like a criminal trial. The stakes are as high as they can be. The pressure is through the roof. Nothing in the law is more exciting and exhilarating... And the biggest trial in the Nation starts tomorrow in Miami. United States of America v. Jose Padilla. Start your engines.
Our local beat is of course all over the start of the Jose Padilla trial.
"Padilla terror trial is ready to unfold; After five years in detention, Jose Padilla will finally have his day in court as jury selection begins Monday in a high-profile terrorism trial in Miami": This article appears today in The Miami Herald.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports today that "5 years later, Padilla terror case closer to trial."
And The Associated Press reports that "Padilla Jury Selection Opening."

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Sports agent guilty in Cuban ballplayer case"

That's the headline in today's Herald re the smuggling trial of Gustavo Dominguez. The same jury found Roberto Yosvany, charged with operating the boat, not guilty of the conspiracy and smuggling charges.

I won't really be able to post much today or this weekend as I won't have computer access....

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Trial dogs...

There isn't a better District to be a lawyer (or to be a blogger!) -- we've got the most interesting cases and the most trials. Jose Padilla starts Monday and I've been writing a bunch about that. But right now, there are two other very high profile trials proceeding.

The first is the Kenneth Wilk cop-killing death penalty trial before Judge Cohn. From reading the coverage (Vanessa Blum is covering it almost every day -- here's the latest article -- and here is Nikki Waller's coverage), it looks to me like the defense may need to focus on saving this man's life instead of going for the NG. It's a very difficult decision in a DP case -- do you go full guns blazing for the NG and perhaps alienate the jury or do you try to keep the jury sympathetic enough to your client so that they don't want to kill him. I've never done a death penalty case before (unlike Wilk's very experienced DP lawyer Bill Matthewman) so thankfully I haven't had to make that crazy hard decision.

Then we've also got the Gustavo Dominguez, sports agent smuggling case going on in Key West before Judge Moore. The Defendant has taken the stand (according to today's Herald). There is no better drama than that. It's also the most difficult decision a defense lawyer makes in any trial. Apparently the defense is that Dominguez paid the drug smuggling convict $225K not to help smuggle but because he was afraid for his and his family's life. If the jury believes him, he'll walk. If they don't, bye bye. Forget about reasonable doubt when the Defendant testifies.

Where else can you get this kind of great stuff?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Judge Cooke denies Jose Padilla's motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct

Judge Cooke issued a blockbuster ruling late tonight, denying Jose Padilla's motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct -- without conducting a hearing. She says she need not conduct a hearing because she is denying the motion on legal grounds, accepting all allegations made by Padilla regarding torture as true.

UPDATE -- HERE IS THE ORDER (thanks to for posting -- I still haven't figured out how to do that!)

Here is the rationale from the concluding paragraphs of the 12 page order (lots of lengthy footnotes omitted):

First, the fact that the governmental conduct occurred at a time and place removed from the crimes charged makes the remedy Padilla is seeking considerably more attenuated and arbitrary. Short of resorting to a ‘two wrongs make a right’ judicial process, it is difficult for this Court to ascertain how the remedy sought emanates from the infirmity defendant describes. This is considerably distinguishable from a government entrapment scenario, where the crime that the defendant is charged with is the crux of the outrageous government conduct claim.

Second, the outrageous conduct occurred while Padilla was under military control at the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. At this time, Padilla was being held under Presidential orders in connection with his enemy combatant status and had not been charged with the crimes he is currently facing. This further attenuates Padilla’s outrageous government conduct claim. Even if Padilla’s due process rights were violated while being held at the Naval Brig as an enemy combatant, he fails to explain how this violation should result in the dismissal of distinct crimes that he was not charged with at that point.

Third, Mr. Padilla fails to explain why suppressing governmental use of any evidence obtained from him at the Naval Brig is insufficient for purposes of this trial. In his motion, Padilla acknowledges that the government has already averred not to seek introduction of any of the Naval Brig evidence at trial. Despite summarily rejecting this remedy as “clearly inadequate,” Padilla fails to support this contention or explain why his requested remedy is more appropriate. In fact, in his motion, Padilla relies heavily on United States v. Toscanino, 500 F.2d 267 (2d. Cir. 1974), a case where the Second Circuit sanctions this very approach. Padilla’s Motion concedes that “the court in Toscanino noted that many cases involving due process violations center on unlawful government acquisition of evidence and that, in those instances, the proper remedy would be the exclusion of the tainted evidence.” Def. Mot. at 11.

Mr. Padilla fails to present a cognizable claim of outrageous government conduct entitling him to dismissal of the indictment. The objectionable conduct Padilla claims violated his due process rights occurred during his military detainment in isolation of the crimes charged. Padilla also fails to adequately explain why excluding any unlawfully obtained evidence would not be an appropriate remedy in this case. Applying the exclusionary rule to bar inclusion of any illegally obtained evidence would sufficiently satisfy due process concerns. This may ultimately be a moot point since the government has averred not to utilize any Naval Brig evidence in its case. However, should the government decide to make use of any such evidence, an appropriate hearing will be scheduled to determine to what extent it is admissible.

I'm sure the government is breathing a big sigh of relief this morning. The last thing it wanted were these allegations to be aired in open court. What I'm wondering is -- if torture isn't outrageous government conduct, then what is? Perhaps we should just do away with the doctrine altogether. Padilla now how issue #1 -- and a very interesting one at that -- for his appeal if he loses at trial.

UPDATE -- MSM is catching up. The AP report is here.

"Judge rules high school club can meet pending outcome of lawsuit"

That's the CNN headline about Judge Moore's ruling:

A high school club that promotes tolerance of gays must be allowed to meet while a lawsuit is pending, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled Friday that Okeechobee High School must grant the same privileges to the Gay-Straight Alliance that it grants other clubs, as mandated by the federal Equal Access Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Okeechobee school board in November on behalf of the high school's Gay-Straight Alliance after school officials said the group was a "sex-based" organization that would violate its abstinence-only education policy.

In his 12-page ruling, Moore wrote that the group and its founder, high school senior Yasmin Gonzalez, have "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success" on their claim that the school violated federal law when it prohibited the club from meeting.

DBR on the Cuban Five

Picking up on our coverage here, the DBR discussed in detail the Cuban Spy appeal:

The 11th Circuit has set oral arguments for Aug. 20 to hear whether there was sufficient evidence to convict one of the defendants of conspiracy to commit murder; whether there was prosecutorial misconduct; whether prosecutors improperly kept classified material from the defendants; and whether sentencing guidelines were followed. In August 2005, the full 11th Circuit upheld U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard’s ruling — and overturned a three-judge panel ruling — that it was fair to conduct the trial in Miami despite the strong anti-Fidel Castro feelings there. Among the nine issues to be argued in August, the most important one for the defense is the sufficiency of evidence on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Lawyers will argue that prosecutors overreached in charging one of the defendants with that count.


Whatever the panel does, the case is eventually headed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the venue issue and other issues, say lawyers involved in the case. “The defense team remains optimistic and hopeful for a just outcome,” said Richard Klugh, an assistant federal public defender in Miami who represents Fernando Gonzales, who was convicted of failing to register as a foreign agent as well as immigration violations. “There are substantial issues of fundamental fairness at stake.” “We will never let the venue issue die,” McKenna said. “We will go to a higher court. We feel so strongly about it.” But Guy Lewis, who was U.S. Attorney in Miami at the time of the trial, said he’s confident the prosecution will prevail on appeal. “The defense arguments have no merit,” said Lewis, now an attorney at Lewis Tein in Coral Gables. “This is just Monday morning quarterbacking. The sooner the court hears the arguments, the sooner they’ll reject them and bring finality to the case.”

If you are interested in the briefs, you can read them at the DBR cite.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Picking a jury in federal court

This week, lawyers have begun jury selection in the Kenneth Wilk case. The Sun-Sentinel has coverage here. And jury selection started and was completed yesterday in the baseball smuggling case in Key West. The Miami Herald covers that story here. On the 16th, the Padilla trial gets up and running with voir dire.

Jury selection in Padilla and Wilk will take days, which is not the norm in federal court. Typically, as was the case in the Keys, jury selection in federal court lasts less than a day and sometimes less than a half a day. Lawyers are lucky to get 15 minutes a side to conduct voir dire.


Fire rescue to the Tower Building...

... to pull out a District Judge from a stuck elevator.
No joke.

When is the new building going to open!?!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

D. Kyle Sampson

Although some of you thought that the trivia question below about D. Kyle Sampson was another April Fool's post, it was not. He actually tried a felon in possession case -- United States v. Heron Stepherson -- in the Southern District of Florida in March 2004. Judge Hurley presided and the local AUSA was Lothrop Morristhe. AFPD was Bob Adler.

Thanks to one of my favorite readers for the answer to the trivia question!

As for felon in possession cases, check out Rumpole's riff here regarding gun prosecutions in both state and federal court. He raises an issue that the Federal PDs have been complaining about for a long time. The problem is that the cases which permitted dual prosecutions were decided when the feds did not really pursue the run of the mill state gun or drug case. Now that it's common practice, those cases really should be reconsidered. Or better yet, the Justice Department should follow its "petite policy."

As for American Idol tonight, Sanjaya Malakar won't be voted off. My bet is on Phil Stacey or Haley Scarnato to go.

UPDATE -- here are portions of the "petite policy":

"The purpose of this policy is to vindicate substantial federal interests through appropriate federal prosecutions, to protect persons charged with criminal conduct from the burdens associated with multiple prosecutions and punishments for substantially the same act(s) or transaction(s), to promote efficient utilization of Department resources, and to promote coordination and cooperation between federal and state prosecutors.

"This policy precludes the initiation or continuation of a federal prosecution, following a prior state or federal prosecution based on substantially the same act(s) or transaction(s) unless three substantive prerequisites are satisfied: first, the matter must involve a substantial federal interest; second, the prior prosecution must have left that interest demonstrably unvindicated; and third, applying the same test that is applicable to all federal prosecutions, the government must believe that the defendant's conduct constitutes a federal offense, and that the admissible evidence probably will be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction by an unbiased trier of fact. In addition, there is a procedural prerequisite to be satisfied, that is, the prosecution must be approved by the appropriate Assistant Attorney General. ...

"The first substantive prerequisite is that the matter must involve a substantial federal interest. This determination will be made on a case-by-case basis, applying the considerations applicable to all federal prosecutions. See Principles of Federal Prosecution, USAM 9-27.230. Matters that come within the national investigative or prosecutorial priorities established by the Department are more likely than others to satisfy this requirement.

"The second substantive prerequisite is that the prior prosecution must have left that substantial federal interest demonstrably unvindicated. In general, the Department will presume that a prior prosecution, regardless of result, has vindicated the relevant federal interest. That presumption, however, may be overcome when there are factors suggesting an unvindicated federal interest."

United States Attorneys' Manual 9-2.031

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cuban Five oral argument

Now that the venue issue has been resolved, the Eleventh Circuit has set the Cuban Five case (Cuban Spy case) for special oral argument on August 20, 2007 on the remaining 15 issues.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Southern District of Florida Trivia

A commentor asks:

Yesterday during his testimony we learned that the only criminal case ever tried by [Alberto Gonzalez's] Chief Asst. AG and Rove look-alike, D. Kyle Sampson was in 2004 in the SDFL--apparently it was a felon in possession case w/ a PWID "narcotics." Sampson testfied in response to questioning by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that he was "specially assigned" to USAO SDFL to try that case. WHY? What was so special about a case like that that the Dep. Chief Asst. AG was sent down to SDFL try it? Inquiring minds want to know.
Anyone know anything about this case?

Death Penalty trial to start this week

Vanessa Blum has a lengthy article about the Kenneth Wilk death penalty trial (SDFLA previous coverage here), which is to start this week in front of Judge Cohn. Apparently the defense is going to argue that Wilk was in the grips of AIDS-related dementia and believed he was acting in self-defense. They will not be able to argue that the victim, Todd Fatta, was using steroids. Here's the intro to the article:

In the beginning, it seemed like a routine operation. Roughly a dozen
Broward Sheriff's Office deputies arrived in the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of
Coral Highlands on Aug. 19, 2004, to carry out an arrest warrant."Police!" they
yelled before breaking through the front door. "Warrant!"It was then, prosecutors will tell jurors, Kenneth Wilk crouched behind his kitchen counter with a Winchester 94 lever-action hunting rifle. When the officers entered, Wilk opened fire, killing Deputy Todd Fatta, 33, with a single shot to the chest.If convicted of first-degree murder, Wilk, 45, faces the death penalty. As his trial begins this week before U.S. District Judge James Cohn in Fort Lauderdale federal court, defense lawyers have no plans to dispute Wilk fired the shots that killed Fatta and wounded a second officer.Instead, the central question for jurors deciding Wilk's fate will be whether the gunfire was premeditated.Wilk's attorneys, Bill Matthewman and Rafael Rodriguez, have said they plan to argue it was not. They contend Wilk was in the grips of AIDS-related dementia and believed he was acting in self-defense.

I don't believe anyone from the SDFLA has ever been sentenced to death, but I'm not sure about this. Anyone know for sure?

VB was a busy bee the last couple days, with stories on the McCay brothers' sentencing (Michael McCay got 6 1/2 years and brother Robert got 15 months) and the sentencing of a doctor who worked at Mutual Benefits Corp (Clark Mitchell received 8 years).

And thanks to Rumpole for covering the story below. More at his blog.


From tomorrows Daily Business Review, comes an excerpt of this article:

"The Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit has announced plans to sell corporate sponsorship for the court, courtrooms, and small corporate logos which can be placed on a Judge's Robe. The plan is being pushed forward to meet large anticipated deficits in local court funding. Included in the plans are the renaming of the criminal courthouse to the Fed-EX Gerstein Justice Building, renaming the Civil Courthouse the Kinkos Civil Courthouse, and having VISA become the official credit card of the 11th Judicial Circuit.

"While no Federal Judge would speak for the record, most were shocked at the blatant selling of corporate sponsorship for the State Judiciary. Said one Judge: 'I understand the rules are a bit looser over there, but this sounds like it could get them into trouble. What is someone is being sued by Kinkos over failure to pay a bill and they have to defend the suit in the Kinkos Courthouse? I'm not sure they thought this all the way through.'

"Another Judge was more dismissive of the issue: 'Typical State Court nearsightedness. This issue will end up over here and then they will get embarassed."

Rumpole thanks Mr. Markus for allowing us access to his blog for this story which bears watching closely.