Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another hung jury?

This time it might be the suitcase trial.

We've had an awful lot lately, no?

Chuckie Taylor case to jury

Here's the AP account of closing arguments:

''The defendant acted with specific intent to cause severe pain and suffering,'' [Karen] Rochlin told the jury.
Emmanuel's attorney said some of the victims who testified were opponents of the ex-president's government who might have been motivated by a political vendetta. Others, he suggested, would say anything to escape Liberia.
''They all have a strong motive to get out of West Africa, to better the lives of their families and themselves,'' public defender Miguel Caridad said. ``My client has not been proven guilty of anything.''

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ted Stevens trial

Okay, so this isn't a SDFLA trial, but I have to come to my old boss' (not Stevens, but his lawyer) defense. The cold may have gotten to Rumpole's head on this one as he says that Brendan Sullivan, one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the nation who heads Williams & Connolly, gave a "histrionic closing argument." (Rumple does not point to any part of the closing argument to support that position.)

Sullivan is unbelievable: smart, creative, and cunning. (And Rumpole, I'm sure the bill was more than a million bucks.) The jury was out quite a while and had a tough time convicting. From the newspaper reports, this looked like an impossible case...

In other news, one reader reports that a juror in our District yelled at a criminal defense lawyer yesterday to stop shaking the podium because it was aggravating her. Not a good sign...

Anything else going on? Talk to me people.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Two trials look like they will be coming to a close this week -- the suitcase full of cash trial in front of Judge Lenard is already to the jury and the Chuckie Taylor case will go to the jury this week. Any predictions?

Sorry for the slow blogging? Anything going on that you would like to discuss?

How about this: Who will are next district judges be -- in an Obama presidency? A McCain presidency?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is the Dyer building for sale?

Perhaps, according to Julie Kay.

You gotta love Judge Pete Palermo:

But Miami Magistrate Judge Peter Palermo — who worked in the Dyer Building for 37 years before moving to the King building this month — said he would "raise hell" over any proposal to sell the Dyer Building. "It's historical," he said, calling the grand ceremonial courtroom "one of the most beautiful courtrooms in the country. When lawyers come to town they all want to tour it. I would fight like hell."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You can't handle the truth

SDFLA readers will be happy to know that there was a "you can't handle the truth" moment in federal court today. From the Miami Herald:

But on cross-examination, Durán's attorney, Ed Shohat, tried to trip up Kauffmann by suggesting that he and his partner didn't actually buy the Citibank property -- that a close friend of Kauffmann's purchased it.
Kauffmann, who already pleaded guilty in the case, accused the defense lawyer of trying to confuse the facts, bursting out at one point: ``Handle the truth. Handle the truth.''
Shohat shot back: ''Are you Jack Nicholson?'' The reference was to the actor's role on the witness stand in the movie, A Few Good Men, in which he shouts: ``You can't handle the truth.''
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard temporarily shut down the testimony, removed the 12-member jury and lectured both Kauffmann and Shohat.

I thank all involved as it allowed me to post one of the greatest courtroom moments in movie history. I could watch that again and again.

Rumpole gets all the good stories

You have got to be kidding me:

Miami-Dade judge: I was battered by a colleague

You know what struck me about this story -- state court judges have to share fax machines!

Come together

They used to fight over gun cases and minor role. Now, former AUSA Seth Miles and former AFPD Orlando do Campo (along with his partner John Thornton) teamed up to win $80 million in damages from Curacao in a damages trial before Judge King. Here are some of the details from the Herald article:

Three Cuban men forced to work 16-hour shifts at 3 ½ cents an hour repairing ships for a Cuban joint venture in Curacao won an $80 million judgment Monday in U.S. federal court in Miami.
Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo -- Cuban nationals who now live in Tampa -- sued the Curacao Drydock Co., alleging the company conspired with the Cuban government to force them into virtual slave labor.
Lawyers called the deal a ''Faustian bargain'' hatched so the Cuban government could pay off its debt with Curacao Drydock by providing free labor, and at the same time skirt the U.S. embargo by working on American ships in a third country.
''These arrangements have been the lifeblood of the regime for 15 years,'' attorney John Andres Thornton said. ``And those days are over.''
The plaintiffs tearfully testified about their 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts -- sometimes 45 days straight -- in harsh and dangerous work conditions. They slept in 20-foot cubicles they shared with 20 other men and often did not sleep: They needed to stay up for their turn at the shower.
On their time off, they were forced to watch hourslong videotaped speeches of then-President Fidel Castro. They were paid the average Cuban salary of $16 a month.
Alonso, who has a shrunken frame and weathered face that belie his 43 years, was awarded $30 million for the 10 years he spent at the Curacao docks. His right hand is missing the index finger and the tip of the middle finger; his left is blackened by an untreated on-the-job explosion.
''I have never even seen $1,000 together,'' Alonso said after the judgment. ``I feel complete. We are in the best country in the world for justice.''

I just want to know who used the word Faustian.

Headline fraud

The Herald has this headline today:

Miami doctor, nurse guilty of Medicare fraud

and this tag line under it:

The brothers who owned the clinic involved in an $11 million Medicare scam fled to Cuba. A doctor and nurse who worked in the clinic were convicted of fraud.

Yes, that's all true, but two of the four defendants at trial were acquitted. Shouldn't the headline be a bit more even-handed? Here's Frank Quintero, the defense lawyer for one of the acquitted defendants:

But while the physician and nurse were found guilty by the federal jury, Beatriz Delgado, a receptionist, and Angel Rodriguez, a medical assistant, were acquitted.
''There's no question that Medicare fraud is a huge problem in South Florida, but you cannot claim that everybody who is working in a clinic is part of that fraud,'' said attorney Frank Quintero, who represented Angel Rodriguez. ``We had a very smart jury in this trial and they saw through the lack of evidence as far as my client is concerned.''

Here's the rest of the article.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Federal Bar dinner

The Federal Bar Association, South Florida Chapter, had its annual installation dinner last night. I am the outgoing president, and Celeste Higgins is the incoming president. Chief Judge Moreno and Judges Huck, Altonaga, King, Gold, Dube, Brown, O'Sullivan, Torres, and Palermo attended, which made for a good night. I want to thank those judges for supporting the Federal Bar Association this year, and a special thanks to the judges who spoke at the lunch meetings (Judges Marcus, Barkett, Moreno, Cooke, Martinez, Gold, Huck, and Altonaga).

It was a fun year -- we had a bunch of really good lunches and meetings (prior coverage and pictures here). For those of you who came last night and to the meetings throughout the year, thanks.


Big news to report -- according to accounts out of Judge Altonaga's courtroom, there is a new world record: the word "penis" has been used more times in the Chuckie Taylor trial than in any other criminal trial in American history.

If you haven't seen the Rolling Stone article on the case, you can read it here.

Our prior coverage here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Donnie Brasco

The Justice Building Blog is covering the John Connolly trial, which involves a former FBI agent in Boston (Connolly) who is accused of helping orchestrate a murder in Miami in 1982. The state tried to call the real Donnie Brasco to the stand yesterday, but he refused to testify (even in sunglasses and a hat) because he didn't want his picture taken (via Miami Herald). Is this an argument for or against cameras in the courtroom?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No surprise here...

Kirby Archer, the Joe Cool defendant who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life in prison today. No ruling yet by Judge Huck on the co-defendant's motion for a new trial on all counts.


Those who know me know that I often like to ask hypotheticals... Would you do X in return for Y.

Well here's a real one from the USA Today: Would you amputate your pinkie finger so that you could finish your college football season as a lineman for a division II school?

Trevor Wikre answered yes! Can a doctor agree to such a thing?

Here's some of the article:

Trevor Wikre had a choice: Lose his pinkie finger or lose his football season.
"I said, 'Cut it off,' " Wikre says. He took no time to ponder. "I knew right away," he says. "It wasn't a hard choice."
Wikre, 21, is a guard for Mesa State College, a Division II school in Grand Junction, Colo. He had told teammates a couple of weeks earlier how much he loved them as brothers.
"I said, 'I'd take a bullet for you,' " he says. "Well, this was my chance to put words into action. This was my bullet."
The Mesa Mavericks will play their first game on national cable TV Thursday night (8 ET, CBS College Sports) vs. Western State (Colo.). Mesa is 5-2, 5-0 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The trauma came Sept. 30 when Wikre's right little finger shattered at practice. He pulled off a glove, saw bone jutting out and asked trainers to tape it up. They declined and got him to the hospital, where doctors advised him that he needed season-ending surgery.
"I'm a senior," Wikre (pronounced WICK-er-EE) says. "If they put pins in there, my career was finished. I told them to just take it off. They said I was being dramatic. I said, yeah, well, losing my season is dramatic, too."

My favorite quote of the article:

"I can't hit the P on the keyboard very well," he says. "I have to train my ring finger to get over there. It takes time."

Sorry for the off-blog article, but I couldn't help myself. I hope to see you all Friday night at the Federal Bar installation dinner... Celeste Higgins is your new president.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Dancing with the U.S. Marshals''

Now that's funny, Judge Turnoff!

According to Larry Lebowitz's Herald article, Judge Turnoff allowed Helio Castroneves to travel to Australia later this month for a race, over the government objection. Turnoff explained that Castroneves would be "dancing with the U.S. Marshals" if he fled.

''I'm very happy,'' a smiling Castroneves said after the hearing. ``I want to race. This is what I do. I'll do my best to bring a trophy home for the judge.''

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A commenter poses the question...

... regarding whether federal district courts should split up into criminal and civil divisions like our state courts do.

My gut tells me that this would be a good thing, but I haven't given it a lot of thought. What do you all think?

Monday, October 06, 2008

"We should start from scratch, because justice hasn't been achieved.'

That was AFPD Brian Stekloff for Guillermo Zarabozo in the Joe Cool case asking for a new trial on all counts. He continued: "Everyone in this courtroom knows how this jury reached this inconsistent and irrational verdict: They didn't understand the law." AUSA Karen Gilbert responded: "This scenario is not one where the court should set the verdict aside. We live with it. That's the verdict."

Judge Huck took the matter under consideration and set trial for January on the hung counts. Judge Huck did note that the jury's verdict "raises on eyebrow."

(via Sun-Sentinel, AP, Herald)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Cheryl Stein has a nice op-ed in the Washington Times regarding Herring v. United States, a case the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday. (Today is the first Monday in October -- Yippeee!) It raises the following question: whether courts must suppress evidence seized during an arrest made as a result of faulty information provided by another law enforcement agency.

Stein argues that the Supreme Court should not abandon the exclusionary rule. Here is her conclusion:

The contention that we should not allow a blunder by the police to confer a benefit on a criminal defendant would be reasonable only if most illegal searches are the result of good-faith mistakes. The sad fact is, however, that the vast majority of illegal searches are the result of deliberate misconduct by the police.

Political commentators and law professors who have never been in a courtroom except to defend their own traffic tickets may not understand that fact, but every practicing criminal defense lawyer knows it to be true. The rule provides the only legal brake on police misconduct. Without its sanctions, the Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable searches would be empty.

Finally, the critics fail to address one of the most important reasons the rule was adopted in the first place: to preserve the integrity of our court system. The Supreme Court explained its necessity more than 40 years ago: "If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." The rule "gives to the individual no more than that which the Constitution guarantees him, to the police officer no less than that to which honest law enforcement is entitled, and, to the courts, that judicial integrity so necessary in the true administration of justice." To forget that teaching is to abandon all that is best and brightest about our system of government.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Start your engines

Team Penske star Helio Castroneves has been charged with tax evasion in our District. (via the Miami Herald).

Here's a picture of him with Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars. He is scheduled to make his initial appearance tomorrow in magistrate court.
UPDATE -- Here's the AP article. And the indictment, which has been assigned to Judge Graham. Prosecutor: Matt Axelrod.

"I never believed for a minute that he was guilty of any of the charges, not even the ones we convicted him of"

That's one of the jurors in the Joe Cool case. Articles in the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald detail how at least 3 jurors still believe Guillermo Zarabozo is not guilty of all counts, even the 4 they voted guilty on.

From the Sentinel:

Three jurors in the Joe Cool murder-at-sea trial said Wednesday they felt pressured to convict the 20-year-old defendant on gun charges even though they believed he did not kill anyone or know his companion planned to hijack the boat.One said she voted to convict, even though she felt the man on trial was innocent. Another seemed to believe he had cast a not-guilty vote, though guilty verdicts in federal court must be unanimous.After four days of heated deliberations, the 12 jurors voted Tuesday to convict Guillermo Zarabozo of supplying the firearm used to kill Capt. Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley, 30; his half-brother, Scott Gamble, 36; and the first mate, Samuel Kairy, 27.In interviews with the Sun Sentinel, two women and one man from the panel said they were confused about the gun charges and badgered — even bullied — to vote guilty by fellow jurors.

From the Herald:

''I want to take back my vote to convict. I'm just sick over this whole thing. I think there has been a great miscarriage of justice, and I need to correct it,'' Venora Gray, 51, said.
Her disclosure came one day after she and 11 other jurors deadlocked on the major charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in the fatal shootings of four Miami Beach charter boat crew members last year. But they all agreed to convict Zarabozo of four counts of using a firearm in a violent crime -- a charge she and the other panelists did not realize carried a life sentence, she said.
''No one in that jury room knew those were such serious charges,'' said Gray, a waitress from North Miami, who years ago served as a juror in another murder trial and convicted the defendant. ``There was no way I would have voted on that if I had known.''
The jurors' revelations could have a serious impact on an already challenged conviction. Seconds after Tuesday night's verdict, Zarabozo's defense team said the jurors could not convict on the charge of using a firearm to kill when they had not convicted Zarabozo of any of the murder charges.

Judge Huck is having a hearing on Monday to determine whether he should grant a new trial on the four counts on which the jury convicted. These interviews seem to support the defense view that the jurors were confused on the gun count.

As an aside, this bolsters my view that every jury should know the potential penalties of the crimes they are voting on. Judge Jack Weinstein in the Eastern District of New York recently wrote a 200+ page opinion holding that in some cases jurors should know the penalties.