Thursday, November 29, 2007

Florida group was a terrorist cell seeking 'unholy alliance' with al-Qaida

That was Jackie Arango closing today in the Liberty City 7 case.

Lots of coverage here (Miami Herald), here (Sun-Sentinel), and here (AP).

From the Sun-Sentinel article:

Arango urged jurors to reject defense claims that the group's leader Narseal Batiste only pretended to be a terrorist in a fraud to extort money from the informant.

"A fraud is trying to get you to buy into something that is patently not true," Arango said. "That is the only fraud going on here."

The men, struggling construction workers who hung out in a Liberty City warehouse, are charged with trying to join forces with al-Qaida in plots to bomb the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI headquarters in North Miami Beach.

If convicted, each faces up to 70 years in prison.The jury is expected to begin deliberating Friday after defense lawyers complete their closing arguments.

What is the appropriate sentence for Jose Padilla?

Judge Cooke is tasked with sentencing Jose Padilla next week. The Government is asking for life. The defense is asking for something much less.

Should Padilla get credit for time served in the brig?
Should he get extra credit because of his treatment?
Should the judge consider the fact that Padilla will likely serve his time at the worst federal prison in America -- ADX Florence?

Here is Caruso on that last point -- from the defense memo:

"By the Bureau of Prisons own admission, ADX Florence is 'hell.' Surely the Court, in arriving at a just sentence for Mr. Padilla, should take into account that he will serve his sentence in hell."

Now that's powerful stuff.

Electing a public defender?

We haven't discussed the recent announcement by Bennett Brummer that he will be retiring and not seeking re-election next year as Miami's Public Defender. (Rumpole has been posting a bunch about it.)

What I find interesting about the state system is that Florida elects its public defenders. I think it's a bad idea to have elections for public defenders (and for judges).

First, how do people campaign for public defender? "I am a really good criminal defense lawyer and will free more criminal defendants than my opponent." I don't think that's going to be too successful.... They certainly can't run on the tough on crime platform. What if a prosecutor decides to run saying that if elected, he would assign the best defense attorneys to the few innocent clients and the rest will rightfully be convicted? Sounds ridiculous, but you see the point.

The federal system has it right -- the public defender should be appointed, based on merit. See, e.g., Kathy Williams.

Luckily, we have had a great Miami PD for the past 30 years in Brummer. It will be interesting to see how this election plays out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wellington businessman Dan Miteff pleads guilty.... the middle of trial.

More here from the Sun-Sentinel:

In a stunning turn, Wellington businessman Dan Miteff changed his plea to guilty this morning at the beginning of the third day of this criminal fraud trial.Miteff entered the courtroom at the U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach late looking ashen and distraught. Then, after conferring with his attorney, Chris Grillo, Miteff told Judge Kenneth Ryskamp, "I plead guilty."Miteff, 56, faced 20 counts in connection with a conspiracy with former County Commissioner Tony Masilotti to purchase 49 acres of land from Archdiocese of Palm Beach County in Royal Palm Beach.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Informants in the Liberty City 7 case

Bob Norman of the New Times has this interesting piece about the informants from the Liberty City 7 case. He argues that the jury is not hearing enough of the informants' background. Here's the intro:

One extorted $7,000 from a friend who raped his girlfriend and then, after accepting the money, beat her up and went to jail.
The other failed an FBI polygraph test while working on an undercover investigation, which one former FBI agent says should have disqualified him from ever working for the government again. Oh, and he was also once charged with roughing up a woman.
And these are supposed to be the good guys.

HT: Fake Admiral

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back to work

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving weekend.... Updates on the district:

1. The Liberty City 7 case is slowly coming to a close -- closing arguments should start at the end of this week. Jay Weaver had a story in the Herald this weekend about the case.

2. Chief Judge Federico Moreno will be speaking at the federal bar luncheon on December 12 (CORRECTED) at noon at the Banker's club. Last month's event with Judges Barkett and Marcus sold out and was really fun. If you are interested in attending, RSVP soon.

3. The South Asian Bar Association is hosting a complimentary wine and cheese night on Wednesday, December 5 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with Saira Rao, author of the Chambermaid, the controversial and entertaining debut novel. The event will take place at SolAmbit's new office located at 700 South Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301. For more information on the author and the book, please visit

4. Judge Cooke denied the post-trial motions in the Padilla case, which means the sentencing (and appeal) will proceed. Vanessa Blum has more here.

5. I found this article really interesting about Judge Paul Cassell leaving the district court bench to go back to being a law professor:

Cassell said he found himself questioning some laws at each turn. "I felt like it was proper judicial role to ask questions, even if we weren't necessarily charged with fixing the problem," he said. But he wanted to do more — he wanted to make a change. Being a federal judge, he couldn't do that. "One of the frustrations about being a trial court judge is that you never set broad principles of law; of course, that's reserved for the appellate courts. ... When I was there for 5 1/2 years, I began to think that maybe I would have more effect in moving the law in a way that I think is desirable by doing appellate litigation."

There aren't too many more powerful positions than a federal judge, yet Cassell was "frustrated" he couldn't do more. He has a lot more to say, including his position on draconian federal sentences... It's worth a read.

(HT: Orin Kerr and Doug Berman)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Judge Jordan dismisses Jack Thompson's lawsuit

We covered all the back and forth earlier, so here's the conclusion -- case dismissed in a 24 page order. Of course, GamePolitics has all the details...

And yes, Thompson has already filed an emergency appeal.

Rumpole vs. Mayo

Rumpole is fired up -- he goes to town on Sun-Sentinel columnist Mike Mayo here for his coverage of the Ken Jenne sentencing. (I'm a Mike Mayo fan and generally agree with him, but I agree with Rumpole on this one. What's going on this week -- I'm agreeing with Fred Grimm and Rumpole, and disagreeing with Mike Mayo...)

Here's a snippet:

Judge D did just what we want a Judge to do in a sentencing hearing: he weighed the defendant’s entire life against his admitted crimes. Judge D saw beyond the public’s cry for blood lust and vengeance and he fashioned a sentence that punished Mr. Jenne but was proportionate to his crime. Mr. Jenne served the public for over 30 years, and for the most part he served the public well. He left a lucrative law practice for public service, and along the way he made mistakes and lapses of judgment that became crimes. Jenne damn well should have known better, and for that reason the former Sheriff of Broward County sits in jail cell as you are reading this. That along with the public humiliation, probable disbarment, possible loss of pension, and financial burdens now thrust upon Mr. Jenne’s 60 year old wife are sufficient punishment for this man.

But Mr. Mayo cannot (or more likely ,chooses not) to see that the justice system does not exist merely for the judge to be a human calculator in which he or she totals the high possible sentence and then imposes that sentence. We have had (and currently have) our share of those Judges in Miami State court, and none of those Judges are especially admired for their acumen, insight and legal decisions.

In Mayo’s world, every time a judge does not arrive at the maximum sentence, especially for a public figure, it means the justice system is broken and served by a bunch of liberal “turn em loose” Judges who with a wink and a nod let their politician pals loose. That type of column catches the eye of the public, not to mention Hollywood, but it does a disservice to the readers of the Sun Sentinel and the citizens of Broward.

There's a lot more... Go read it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

National Law Journal on South Florida blogs

Julie Kay has this piece on local legal blogs, which includes a shout-out to the SDFLA blog.

The story focuses on the JAABlog and also discusses Rumpole (who just celebrated his 2 year blog b-day) and the new South Florida Lawyers blog. When this blog started almost 2 1/2 years ago, there weren't any other local blogs to read. Now, these three blogs are all on my daily reading list. They are all really good. I especially enjoy the Justice Building Blog by Rumpole; I think he should start an anonymous blog about the federal courts...

Fred Grimm on the Sentencing Guidelines

I very rarely agree with Fred Grimm, but today he criticizes the Sentencing Guidelines, and I couldn't agree more.

Grimm says:

A drama of Shakespearean magnitude was supposed to unfold in a federal courtroom, but it was reduced to numbers.

Reporters, come to learn the fate of the fallen Broward sheriff, sat mystified as the judge and lawyers abandoned English and broke into a secret numerical language. They added. They subtracted. They plugged varying values into a mathematical formula to arrive at hypothetical levels.

Of course, if one starts at Level 12 and concedes a two-level enhancer and compares that to a Level 16 with a downward departure worth three levels, the outcome still fits the 12-to-24-month range. Or is it 18-to-24?

It was as if instead of attending a sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, I had stumbled into a math class. The professor, U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas, and prosecutor Matt Axelrod crunched the numbers for 30 minutes.

For those of you who thought that the guidelines were a thing of the past, you couldn't be more wrong. Judges still must consider the guidelines and therefore must engage in this ritual of adding and subtracting points. More from Grimm:

And Ken Jenne, once the most powerful politician in Broward County, sat impassively as lawyers debated what numerical values to assign aspects of his life. Criminal transgressions minus good works. Either add or subtract values for acceptance of responsibility, the money he filched, his remorse, his reluctance to admit guilt. Figure years of public service but take an upward departure for betraying the public trust.

It amounted to a downward departure from reality. As if a judge only needed a black robe and hand calculator.

Monday, November 19, 2007

How to treat defendants as people

From last week's DBR (via South Florida Lawyers):

Sara San Martin, 39, also known as Sara Echeverria, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of bank fraud for allegedly writing checks from the personal accounts of the late Miami maritime attorney William Huggett.
In court Tuesday, San Martin tearfully answered questions posed to her by U.S. District Judge Judge Adalberto Jordan, who at one point sent a box of tissues over to her.

Will Jenne get his pension?

Mike Mayo examines the issue on his blog here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

''I think he could have been governor one day.''

That was Judge Dimitrouleas at Ken Jenne's sentencing today. Judge D ordered Jenne to surrender on the spot for his year and a day sentence (the extra day is added so that Jenne will get good time credit -- the sentence has to be more than a year). Jenne will end up serving about 10 months.

Although the parties had agreed that the advisory guidelines were 18-24 months, the probation office recommended a guideline range of 12-18 months. The government lawyers were requesting a high-end sentence of 24 months. Even though the defense was asking for probation, this was a pretty big win for Jenne. U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta came out and criticized the sentence as too light.*

Here's the initial coverage by the Herald and the Sun-Sentinel.

SDFLA blog question of the day: 10 months in jail -- appropriate sentence? too high? too low?

*I thought the U.S. Attorney's office maintains that guideline sentences are always reasonable, so I'm not sure why this guideline sentence -- after a plea and acceptance of responsibility -- isn't reasonable.


I'm out of the office, but I'm told Ken Jenne was sentenced to a year and a day, half of what the government requested. More to follow when I'm at a computer.

--David Oscar Markus

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do letters at sentencing matter?

Former Sheriff Ken Jenne is being sentenced tomorrow (by Judge Dimitrouleas).

He has submitted a bunch of letters (here) for the judge to consider in imposing a reasonable sentence.

SDFLA blog question of the day -- do these letters make a difference with our judges?

Here's the Herald coverage of the letters and here is the Sun-Sentinel coverage.

And if you are interested in prison condition's for Jenne, here's the Herald's take.


Justice O'Connor agrees with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Federal Bar Association luncheon

Eleventh Circuit Judges Barkett and Marcus spoke today at the Federal Bar luncheon. It was a really fun, engaging talk. They spoke openly about a variety of issues, including the size of the court, cameras in federal court, the value of oral argument and other.

I'll post more about it soon, but I will note that I asked both of them if they read blogs. Judge Marcus said he read "precious little" on the blogosphere, and Judge Barkett said she did read blogs (although she didn't say which ones).

Here are some pictures:

Judge Davis and Judge Marcus discussing issues of the day and Judge Barkett and Judge Marcus answering questions at the podium.

HMO settlement before Judge Moreno

For coverage of these proceedings, go check out SouthFloridaLawyers -- they're all over it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Narseal Batiste: Day 5

Today was the fifth day on the stand for Narseal Batiste, the lead defendant in the Liberty City 7 case. He's still on direct. Curt Anderson has all the details and says that he is expected to testify the rest of the week! Is it me or is this way too long for anyone to be on the stand? I love the call for him to testify; it takes a lot of guts and is very high risk, high reward, but this seems to be too much. Thoughts?

UM law student in the blogosphere

Now we have this UM law student, Jessica, as reported by AboveTheLaw.

Apparently, Mr. Lat can't get enough of South Florida...

If you want to see the video (I decided to take it down here), then go to AbovetheLaw.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Judicial Elections vs. Appointments

In theory, judicial elections seem like a great idea -- judges are accountable; it's democratic; we're not stuck with a bad judge for life...

But in practice, here in South Florida, judicial elections in the state system are problematic.

The biggest problem (at least for the lawyers) is campaign season. Everyone is asking for money for this fundraiser or that fundraiser even though the elections are a year away and even though most candidates do not have any challenger. Is it me or is this election cycle the earliest and most intense yet?

Then the election itself is not based on any particular position of the candidate. Candidates can't campaign on their personal beliefs. And it's not based on who is better qualified. There is really no rhyme or reason as to who gets elected.

Plus, it's difficult to tell why certain candidates draw opposition and others don't. Those with the lowest bar ratings oftentimes don't draw opposition, while those with the highest do. Many argue that the choices as to where to run are based largely on race and gender.

Don't get me wrong -- the federal system has its flaws too. It's nearly impossible to get rid of a bad judge, and robeitis (the disease that many lawyers get when they become judges) is particularly acute in the federal system. But I'll take the federal system of choosing judges any day to elections.

As a side note, the concern about politicizing the process is a valid concern, but look at Charlie Crist. He has made superb appointments in the state system, and they have been party-blind appointments.

What about elections from a small group of pre-qualified candidates? Or the state appellate system where voters could remove a poorly functioning judge? Thoughts?

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Bush's recount lawyer blasts White House administration"

Via NLJ and Julie Kay.

Congrats to Dick Gregorie

Richard Gregorie was honored today as the best prosecutor *in the country*. (via Miami Herald)

What an honor! He prosecuted Noriega and is currently prosecuting the Liberty City 7.

I've litigated against Dick (the biggest case was USA v. Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela) and he is a true gentleman. Congratulations!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More on Narseal Batiste

Today was Batiste's third day of testifying. I like the idea of him being called as a witness, but 3 days is too long to be up there... Jurors get bored. Anyway, he was crying today. Here's more from Curt Anderson:

Wiping away tears, the suspected ringleader of a budding terror cell testified Thursday that none of his six co-defendants were told about a plot to destroy the Sears Tower that the leader said he was making up to con a possible terrorism financier out of money.
Narseal Batiste, 33, said he did not inform his six "brothers" about plans he was describing to a Middle Eastern man who appeared to be an al-Qaida emissary, but who was in reality an FBI informant carrying a hidden tape recorder.
"Nobody knew about it. Like I said, this was imagination," Batiste testified. "I would have been deeply embarrassed if any of the brothers knew I was engaging in that kind of conversation."
Batiste got choked up after his attorney, Ana M. Jhones, asked how the "mission" of the six other defendants differed from the violent attacks he was discussing with the informant, a man he knew as "Brother Mohammed."
"The only mission the brothers had was just walking through the neighborhood and preaching about Jesus," Batiste said. A lunch recess was called after he became emotional and was unable to continue on the witness stand.

Big cases

1. The government has moved to disqualify the Federal Public Defender's office in the Joe Cool case. Here's an article covering the latest from the hearing. Judge Huck is considering the motion and hasn't ruled yet.

2. Narseal Batiste is still on the stand in the Liberty City 7 case. Here's the latest from Jay Weaver:

In effect, Batiste and his lawyer, Ana Jhones, tried to leave a dozen Miami-Dade jurors with the impression that the ringleader only talked about waging holy war as a ruse to obtain big bucks from Assad."I wanted the money for support. That was the only reason I was there," said Batiste, who was barely scraping by as he tried to launch a religious group called the Moorish Science Temple in a concrete warehouse in Liberty City. The religion blends Christianity, Judaism and Islam.Batiste also testified that al-Saidi coached him to put on a "show" for Assad, saying that he would likely get his money if he provided details of a terror plot to the Middle Eastern contact."If you're going to get this support, you have to do something," Batiste recalled al-Saidi telling him before Assad's arrival in December 2005."The only plan I had was to clean up our community," Batiste testified.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Liberty City 7 defendant takes stand!

Yesterday, Narseal Batiste took the stand in his own defense. According to Vanessa Blum:

Batiste, who seemed at ease as he spoke to the jury, said the events leading to his June 2006 arrest began with his desire to raise money for a non-profit religious organization in Liberty City.

Asked if his group, the Universal Divine Saviors, received many donations, Batiste responded, "Quite frankly, if I'd received donations, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now. So the answer is no."

I agree with the commentors in the article that it's a high-risk strategy, but it's one the defense had to take. Based on how these guys were portrayed, the only way a jury is going to rule for them is to think of them as real people who were just trying to get by, not terrorists. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 05, 2007

WSJ blog interviews Rick Diaz


I particularly liked this question and answer:

Was there ever a doubt that you were going to hand the case over to someone else?

I then got calls from all over the country from lawyers who called themselves First Amendment advocates. Some graciously offered help, others aggressively tried to take the case away from me. One lawyer accused me of not being an appellate advocate and threatened to contact my client and directly to solicit the case from him. So I wrote to Mr. Williams and I honestly told him that I was neither an appellate advocate nor a First Amendment expert but asked him what he wanted me to do. He essentially told me, “I’ve known you for 20 years as a street cop and I’ve seen you work in the federal court building for over 10 years. There’s nobody I want arguing my case in front of the Supreme Court except you.”

Monday Morning Blogging

I took the kids to Disney World this weekend. Back to the stack of mail and phone messages that ensue from a couple days away from the office....

Anything new going on in the District? Email me with some tips.

There are two important lunches in the next two weeks.

First, the Anti-Defamation League is honoring my former boss, Edward Davis, and H.T. Smith. Professor Alan Dershowitz is the keynote speaker.

And next Wednesday, November 14, the Federal Bar Association will be honored with Eleventh Circuit Judges Rosemary Barkett and Stanley Marcus. They will be answering your questions, so please come prepared.

Friday, November 02, 2007