Thursday, April 30, 2009

Justice Souter retiring at the end of the Term

WOW!! Big news!!

Here's ScotusBlog:

Justice David H. Souter has decided to retire when the Supreme Court completes its current Term in early summer, the NBC-TV network reported Thursday night. The 69-year-old jurist, who is completing his 19th year on the Court, has passed word of his plans to others, and the White House has been told, according to the network’s account. Other news organizations also were reporting that Souter has made his decision not to continue serving.
By leaving office this summer, Souter will be giving President Obama time to select and seek Senate approval of the new Chief Executive’s first appointee to the Nation’s highest court before the Court returns for a new Term on Oct. 5. That process could be slowed, however, if the President chooses a nominee who would stir such opposition among conservatives that Senate action could be slowed. With Democrats in control of the Senate, however, Obama’s choice almost certainly would win approval.
Even if the President were to pick a decidedly liberal new Justice, it would not bring a strong shift in the current Court’s direction, since four conservatives along with their sometime ally, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, tend to control outcomes on many key issues.

Well, now we can start our who will replace Souter sweepstakes. Any chance it's someone from the 11th or our District? We've had prospects before... In fact, the very first post on this blog urged then-President Bush to appoint a Floridian to the Supreme Court. So, who are our best prospects?

John S. Kastrenakes new Circuit Judge in Palm Beach

Another mistrial?

The Liberty City 6 case looks like it's on the way to another mistrial...

UPDATE -- 4PM -- Judge Lenard dismissed the sick juror. She is hearing arguments about replacing that juror with an alternate. Here's the Herald article.

Original post from this morning addressing the problem:

Here's the Herald article:

Jury deliberations in the third terrorism trial of a group of inner-city Miami men accused of collaborating with al Qaeda were delayed Thursday because a juror has fallen ill and cannot return until next week.
Prosecutors argued that the remaining 11 members of the jury should continue to deliberate without the 12th juror, but defense lawyers opposed that recommendation. Instead, they argued that the judge replace the 12th member with an alternate juror, stressing that the panel had only started its deliberations on Monday.

Why would the government want to proceed with 11? Read on...

Defense lawyers seemed especially concerned about the potential loss of the one juror because he is a black man who they believe might be sympathetic to the six defendants, who are also mostly black. They even asked the judge to suspend the deliberations until the 12th juror, whose illness was not disclosed, could return next Wednesday, as recommended by his doctor. ''He's a black juror,'' defense attorney Louis Casuso said. ``He's one of the very few that has no problems.''
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard rejected suspending deliberations, saying they must continue because of the length of the trial. ''It's really not an issue of race; it's an issue of illness,'' she told the defense team.

What about adding the alternate:

Lenard told both sides to return later Thursday to argue further over adding an alternate as the 12th juror for deliberations, instead of going forward with the 11 existing members. If the judge decides to add an alternate juror, it would be an Hispanic woman.
The judge would then tell the jury to begin its deliberations anew.
The racially mixed, 12-member jury started deliberations on Monday after a two-month trial, but the one juror fell ill early on Wednesday.
They are deciding whether the defendants, dubbed the Liberty City 6, are guilty of conspiring with the global terrorist group, al Qaeda, to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago along with major federal buildings in Miami and other cities.
The first two trials ended with hung juries and the acquittal of one defendant, a lawful U.S. resident named Lyglenson Lemorin who is facing deportation to his native Haiti.
Prosecutors tried to portray the group's ringleader, Narseal Batiste, as a militant figure who used his Moorish religious organization to recruit followers to destroy the United States. They accused Batiste and his followers of taking an oath to al Qaeda and shooting photographs of target sites in Miami to prepare for their destructive mission.
Defense attorneys attacked the prosecution's case as a setup led by an FBI informant who posed as an al Qaeda representative to lure the men into a fictitious terrorism conspiracy. They said that the men were struggling construction workers trying to help their poor community by establishing the religious group in a Liberty City warehouse.
Awaiting verdicts again on four terror-related conspiracy counts are: Batiste, 35; Patrick Abraham, 29; Stanley Grant Phanor, 33; Rotschild Augustine, 25; Burson Augustin, 24; and Naudimar Herrera, 25. The first two defendants are being held at the Federal Detention Center. The latter four were released on bond after the second mistrial last year.
If convicted on all four charges, including conspiring to provide material support for al Qaeda, each defendant could face up to 70 years in prison.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Supreme Court affirms 11th Circuit...

... in US v. Dean. Chief Justice Roberts opens the opinion this way:

Accidents happen. Sometimes they happen to individuals committing crimes with loaded guns. The question here is whether extra punishment Congress imposed for the discharge of a gun during certain crimes applies whenthe gun goes off accidentally.

With that intro, it's not surprising that the Court said yes and affirmed the 11th Circuit.

In other news, the feds charged a man with trying to get rocket technology to South Korea. Curt Anderson has the story here:

A Korean-American who served prison time for attempting to broker the sale of deadly nerve gas bombs to Iran was indicted Wednesday on new charges of trying to help South Korea obtain advanced Russian rocket hardware and technology.
Investigators also found thousands of e-mails allegedly sent by Juwhan Yun, a 68-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Short Hills, N.J., involving other deals for sophisticated radar and air defense systems, short-wave infrared cameras, laser-guided bomb components and missile launch devices.
Yun is quoted in one e-mail as boasting that he has been "the largest one-stop supplier" of sensitive military and similar equipment for South Korea for the past 30 years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"There is no constitutionally significant difference between masturbating in front of a minor in person versus doing so via web camera."

That's the Eleventh Circuit in USA v. Aldrich. Not sure I have anything to add to that one.

Moving on to other appellate news, the 11th Circuit reversed Judge Highsmith's sentence of probation for James Hendrick, "once Monroe County's powerful government attorney." Here's Jay Weaver's article and here's the opinion. The entire analysis on the sentencing is as follows:

The government cross-appeals Hendrick’s below-guidelines sentence. After
carefully reviewing the record and considering the arguments that the parties
briefed and orally argued, we agree with the government that the sentence is both
procedurally and substantively unreasonable. We accordingly vacate it and
remand for resentencing.

That's it? I understand (sort of) short opinions from appellate courts when they affirm, but to reverse with no analysis...

What say you dear readers? I have taken off moderation, so please be appropriate in the comments.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cert petition denied for Sal Magluta

A reputed cocaine kingpin has lost his fight to reduce his 195-year prison term.
The Supreme Court, acting Monday, rejected an appeal from Salvador Magluta, who was convicted of laundering at least $730,000 in drug money and bribing a juror at an earlier trial. The federal appeals court in Atlanta threw out the bribery count, but otherwise upheld the lengthy sentence.
Magluta asked the high court to take his case to consider whether the government should have been barred from trying him again after a jury acquitted him in 1996 of charges based on the same conduct. He also disputed the sentence's length since the judge acknowledged he took into account money laundering charges on which the jury found Magluta not guilty.
The case is Magluta v. U.S., 08-731.

TalkLeft has coverage of the case here.

Here's $60K to go work somewhere else

Apparently some of the big firms in DC, Boston, and New York are paying people to take a year off and work at a public interest job. Here's the Boston Globe story. Any word of that happening here in Miami?

From the article:

With his degree from Harvard Law School due in June, Juan Valdivieso makes an attractive prospective hire, and last summer, he scooped up a postgraduation job offer from the white-shoe firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in his native Washington, D.C.

But as the recession deepens, budgets tighten - even at top-notch law firms. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius e-mailed Valdivieso last month that it would have to defer his employment for a year, until the fall of 2010. But the company threw him a lifeline: It would pay him a $60,000 stipend if he spent the year after graduation at an unpaid public service job. The 28-year-old is looking for work in an organization that will indulge his interest either in civil rights or consumer protection.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What up SDFLA?

It was a nice weekend, no? The weather was fantastic. It was cooler here than in New York this weekend.

Plus, the Heat won. Jermaine O'Neal is showing why we traded for him.

The Dolphins had a nice draft. We addressed our needs and got some big upside with our first couple of picks.

Too bad the Marlins are in a funk after starting the year 11-1... Getting swept back-to-back is ugly.

So what's on tap this week? We may get a verdict in the Liberty City 6 case. Any other trials starting up? Give me a shout and let me know what's going on...

Interesting news in DC -- the prosecutors in the Ted Stevens case have hired lawyers, to be paid for by DOJ. Here's the BLT story on it. Those lawyers can get $200/hour, not to exceed 120 hours a month. Chump change for most of the biglaw former AUSAs being hired...

That's your Sunday night ramble.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Roy Black interviewed on Helio case

Tom Withers, who runs the awesome Federal Criminal Defense Blog out of Savannah, Georgia, has this great interview of Roy Black. Check it out.

Here's the intro question and answer:

Q: Thanks for your time and congratulations on the not guilty verdicts in the Helio Castroneves case. Any indication from the government on whether they will retry the conspiracy count against Castroneves and his sister?

Mr. Black: No, but in our view, the government can't retry Helio on conspiracy because of collateral estoppel. If the jury found no tax deficiency on the substantive evasion counts, then there was no unlawful plan. An agreement to comply with the tax code is not a crime. Or, if the jury found no willfulness on the evasion counts, then there can be no willfulness on the conspiracy. Either way we win. At a minimum we get interlocutory review in 11th Circuit before we start any litigation on this issue, we will meet with the government and see what their views are. There are civil remedies the government should be satisfied with.

Here's a snippet about a funny part of the trial with Bob Bennett:

Q: How was the experience of trying this case with Bob Bennett out of Washington, D.C.? Anything you gained from observing his courtroom demeanor/preparation?

Mr. Black: I have known and worked with Bob before and he is a wonderful lawyer. Not just that but the has a great sense of humor which really connects with the jury. One of the funnier parts of the trial dealt with Hugo Boss suits. The government claimed Helio should have reported the income from getting free suits from them. Our defense was that Hugo Boss was a sponsor of the racing team and Helio had to wear the suits. The claim was pretty petty. The total retail value of the suits was around $12,000. The summary government expert even admitted the amount was not material to the return. I cross-examined the CEO of Hugo Boss about how wonderful their suits were and that they wanted to show them off by having a slim good looking guy like Helio wear them. Then Bob got up, stuck his stomach out (which I can attest goes pretty far) and asked how would the suits look on his body. The jury got a good laugh out of that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fourth Amendment is not dead yet...

...not even in cars. See Arizona v. Gant, decided today (holding that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest).

The lineup of Justices is interesting -- Scalia votes with the majority while Breyer dissents. I think that right now Justice Scalia might be the most pro-defendant Justice on the Court. No joke.

In other news, check out this editorial in the DBR by Patricia Acosta in which she discusses the recent administrative order allowing reporters to bring in their cell phones, but prohibiting them from using them inside the courtrooms. Here's the conclusion:

A thawing of the federal freeze on electronic access? Hardly. The order — citing federal policies and rules adopted when television cameras were the size of refrigerators and blinding lights were needed to make them work — spells out that while the devices can be brought in, they cannot be used. Use, the order says, would “violate the sanctity of the courtroom and disrupt ongoing judicial proceedings.” Past administrative orders banned only the use of cell phones and cameras inside courtrooms but said nothing about text messaging or e-mailing. This bring-don’t-use rule does not, in my opinion, reasonably advance a legitimate judicial interest nor is it required by the old policies or rules. It assumes that texting is the same thing as 1960s-style broadcasting when that plainly is not the case. It also sets the stage for real disruption when all those BlackBerry-toting scribes rush for the exits after each key development to knock out a few lines, then try to get back in to see what they’ve just missed. The truth is that tapping text on silenced electronic devices is no more disruptive of courtroom proceedings than scribbling on a piece of paper, whispering in someone’s ear, a yawn, or a nod of the head in reaction to a ruling or a critical admission. No significant noise is created by the mere act of pressing the keys of a device to create or view a message. Federal judges themselves type electronic messages throughout trials and hearings. They know this does not disrupt the proceedings. Why then, the rule? It’s obvious. Once the tweeting starts, we’ll have real time, electronic reporting on big federal trials. This won’t harm the dignity of the proceedings, but it will further the case for letting video cameras in the door as well. Of course, the case for allowing that to happen was proven not only 30 years ago but also throughout the last 30 years of Florida state court history, so federal judges ought not be afraid that if they now allow a little twittering to go on, it will force them to do what they should have done long ago. We finally have reached the era where knowledge can be transmitted at the speed of light from almost any place. This technological advancement is here to stay and makes the world a better place. In the courtroom, it allows the journalist instantly to report the defendant’s gasp and the relative’s tears as the freshly rendered verdict shocks through the air. Thirty years ago, the spirit of openness drove seven courageous Florida judges to embrace a bold new technology that made our democracy better. Their federal colleagues need to start down that path somewhere. Tweet.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who will be the next U.S. Attorney?

Inside Track has a post here about the slow selection process. Here's a piece:

While other states are starting the interview process, the federal Judicial Nominating Commission in the Sunshine State still has not issued a notice seeking applications to replace Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, whose term is up this summer. Acosta is interviewing Wednesday for the dean’s position at Florida International University’s law school.
The delay in calling for applications could mean that Acosta’s top assistant, Jeff Sloman, would likely serve as acting U.S. attorney. Sloman, a Democrat, is said to be interested in the job permanently.
Meanwhile, another potential applicant has emerged: Broward Circuit Judge Ilona M. Holmes.
After President Obama was elected and a turnover in U.S. attorneys was apparent, talk centered on Greenberg Traurig attorney Jackie Becerra, a Hispanic woman and the former right hand to U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez. But word is she’s happy at Greenberg, and her office confirmed Friday that she just adopted a baby. So, congratulations to Jackie.
Another name in the mix is Miami-Dade Assistant County Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, a former federal prosecutor.
Other legal eagles who have surfaced as possible Acosta replacements are in alphabetical order David Buckner with Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Coral Gables, Brian Miller at Akerman Senterfitt in Miami, Curtis Miner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, Mark Schnapp of Greenberg Traurig, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Daryl Trawick and Bruce Udolf at Berger Singerman in Fort Lauderdale.
Diversity came up as an issue for women, blacks and Cuban-American Democrats looking at the makeup of the 56-member commission. Among the names mentioned so far, Holmes and Trawick are black, and the rest are white males.

Will the feds retry Helio Castroneves?

As you all know by now, the jury acquitted Helio Castroneves and his co-defendants of all counts, save for one conspiracy count. Technically the government has the ability to retry Helio on that count. But will they?

In the past, this U.S. Attorney's office has retried defendants after hung juries -- for example, we are on the third Liberty City trial, and the office retried the Joe Cool case after it hung. But this is different because the jury acquitted Helio of every substantive count. I would be really surprised if the feds chose to retry this one count. The sense is that Helio won the trial and was vindicated, so a retrial would look petty and vindictive. Plus, there's no reason to believe that the next jury would have any more reason to find Helio guilty after the first jury rejected almost the entire case. What say you readers -- should the U.S. Attorney's office retry Helio on the one hung count?

(p.s. Rumpole, let me know if you want to double down on your last bet).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Helio Castroneves found not guilty

All three defendants found not guilty. The jury hung on one count as to Helio... I can't imagine that they would retry it. Congrats to him and his defense team.

Rumpole, get that Benjamin ready

The jurors in the Helio case asked for the opening statements to be read back today. Judge Graham said no, telling the jurors that opening statements weren't evidence. From Jay Weaver's article:

The jury said it reached a verdict on two tax-evasion counts against the 33-year-old Castroneves and deadlocked on five others -- including the leading conspiracy charge.
The panel also said it reached a verdict on one charge against the driver's sister/manager, Katiucia Castroneves, 35, but deadlocked on the other six.
Jurors said they did reach a verdict on four counts against Castroneves' sports lawyer, Alan R. Miller, 71, of Michigan, including the main conspiracy charge. Miller was not charged in the three other tax-evasion counts in the indictment.
One of Castroneves' lawyers, Roy Black, urged the judge to bring the deliberations -- now in their sixth day -- to a close. He asked Graham to announce the partial verdicts and to declare a mistrial on the deadlocked counts.
The judge refused.
Miller's attorney, Robert Bennett, then asked Graham if he would at least announce the jury's verdict for his client, saying the anticipation was ``sheer agony.''
Federal prosecutor Matt Axelrod opposed disclosure, raising concern about courtroom ''reaction'' if the jury's verdict on Miller was revealed at this point.
The judge sided with the government, denying Bennett's request.
It appears from the defense lawyers' requests in court that they're confident Miller may have been acquitted and that the jury may also have acquitted the Castroneves siblings on a least a few of the tax-evasion charges. A mistrial declared on the remaining counts would be an additional setback for the government.

BOP listserv moderator Howard Keiffer convicted

Many criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges are members of the BOP listserv, which was started by Howard Keiffer. Keiffer spoke at conferences around the country about the Bureau of Prisons and related issues. I emailed with him a couple times over the years... Turns out he wasn't a lawyer even though he appeared in about 20 different district courts. He was convicted this week in federal court. Here's the AP article:

A man accused of impersonating a lawyer in at least 10 states was convicted Wednesday of mail fraud and making false statements in what a government lawyer hoped would be the first of several federal prosecutions around the country.
It took only about an hour and a half for a federal jury in Bismarck to convict Howard O. Kieffer, who shrank in his chair and gulped as the verdict was read.
Authorities said Kieffer lied on his application to practice law in federal court, but still represented such clients as a former St. Louis Blues hockey player who pleaded guilty to plotting to kill his agent.
At the trial, two witnesses told the jury they each paid Kieffer at least $20,000 to appeal prison sentences for their loved ones, only to find out later that he wasn't a lawyer. Attorneys testified that they thought Kieffer was one of their colleagues because he seemed to know about federal court matters and because they saw him at attorney training seminars.
Kieffer's attorney, Joshua Lowther, called no witnesses, but he said the government did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The 54-year-old from Duluth, Minn., faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; a sentencing date was not immediately set. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hagler said Kieffer could be prosecuted in federal court in other states where he posed as a lawyer.

Here's an article by the ABA which goes into some depth about Keiffer. Worth a read.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Partial Verdict in Helio Castroneves case

The jury has reached a verdict on all counts as to the lawyer, Alan Miller. That verdict form has been placed in a sealed envelope. The jury has also reached verdicts on 3 counts as to Helio Castroneves and 2 counts as to his sister. The jury has been told to continue deliberating on the other 5 and 6 counts, respectively. Judge Graham gave the infamous "Allen charge" to the jury, otherwise known as the dynamite charge. More to come soon, I bet...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This can't be real, can it?

With thick tape wrapped around his face, his hands bound and layers of shrink-wrap pinning him to a chair, the 17-year-old abductee was threatened with a blowtorch.His mother stood by, pleading on the phone for her ex-husband to pay the kidnappers.For the teenage captive, the ordeal inside a South Florida mobile home was very real. But for his mother, the FBI said Tuesday, it was all an act.According to a federal criminal complaint, the woman, with her boyfriend and his nephew acting as accomplices, staged the abduction last week in a bid to extort $50,000 from her ex-husband, a Southwest Ranches resident.

Here's what the FBI said happened:

At first, authorities thought they had rescued mother and son, but the teen recognized one of his captors as his mother's boyfriend, the complaint states.When investigators questioned Ponce and Boza, they implicated Arriaza, and all three eventually confessed, authorities said. It was not known Tuesday whether they had hired attorneys, and their relatives either could not be reached or declined to comment.Arriaza's ex-husband, identified in county court records as Hernan Pena, 41, also could not be reached. According to the FBI, it all began with the maternal promise of a meal and a fancy cell phone.Arriaza lured her unsuspecting son to a South Florida Wal-Mart on Thursday afternoon by telling him she would buy him an Apple iPhone and dinner, the agency's criminal complaint said.She intentionally left her white Honda Civic unlocked in the parking lot so Ponce could slip into the back seat with a fake gun, the FBI said. When Arriaza and her son returned to the car, Ponce sprang up, taped over the teen's eyes and ordered his mother to drive to his trailer on Southwest 127th Court in Miami-Dade County. Ponce reportedly called Pena and made ransom demands."During one of the calls, Arriaza informed (her ex-husband) that they were burning their son's feet and implored him to pay," according to the complaint.As Arriaza and Ponce watched, Boza held the lighted blow torch close enough to the teen's leg that it singed the hairs, authorities said.Pena quickly contacted the FBI, and investigators somehow tracked the mother and son to the trailer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Judge Gold rules Florida law on Cuba travel is unconstitutional

If you wanna go to Cuba, now's a good time to pack your bags. Yesterday Obama eased restrictions on travelling there. And today, Judge Gold issued an Order finding a Florida law making trips there more expensive unconsitutional. Here's the Herald's take:
A federal judge Tuesday morning overturned a 2008 state law that increased registration fees and requirements for travel agencies specializing in trips to Cuba.
U.S. District Court Judge Alan S. Gold's decision comes just a day after the Obama administration announced lifting several travel restrictions to Cuba -- allowing Cuban exiles to visit the Island more than once a year, pushing for use of cellphones on the island and easing requirements for remittences to relatives.
In question was the 2008 Sellers of Travel Act approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist. The act required travel agencies in Florida selling trips to Cuba to post up to a $250,000 bond and pay up to $25,000 in registration fees.
In other news, another UBS client who hid assets offshore pleaded guilty. From the Herald:
A Lighthouse Point man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale to filing a false income tax return, as part of a wide-ranging government probe of wealthy clients of Swiss banking giant UBS AG who hid assets offshore.
According to court papers, Robert Moran had $3.4 million in a UBS account in Switzerland as of Dec. 31, 2007, but didn't report to the Internal Revenue Service that he had the account nor declare income from it as required by U.S. law.
Moran, who is founder and president of Moran Yacht & Ship in Fort Lauderdale, faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
He held the UBS account in the name of Winter Drive Investments, S.A., a Panamanian corporation that he controlled, according to court papers.
A U.S. citizen who has or controls an offshore bank account worth more than $10,000 is required to say so on income tax returns.
Moran is the second UBS client to face criminal tax charges since UBS agreed in February to provide the United States with the names and account information of 250 to 300 U.S. clients.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back from Spring Break

Well, spring break is over, and you can feel it -- it already feels like summer outside. I'm already missing the blast of cool air from last week.

This week, we'll be sure to hear the Castroneves verdict.

Last week, I missed the 11th Circuit's opinion in Gen. Noriega's case. Looks like he is headed to France (!!). The Federal Criminal Defense Blog -- run by friend of blog Tom Withers -- has all the details.

Liberty City is still moving along. They've had 36 trial days -- Defendant Batiste is on the stand now...

Vanessa Blum covered the Riolo Ponzi scheme here. She raises the interesting question of whether trustees and receivers do more harm than good for investors. South Florida Lawyers covers a similar question here. Friend of blog David Rothstein in the Blum article:

As attorney David Rothstein of Miami put it: "People who perpetrate Ponzi schemes typically don't keep very clean records."Rothstein represents victims of another alleged Ponzi scheme under investigation in South Florida. In that case, federal regulators say George Theodule of Lake Worth raised more than $40 million, using fresh funds to repay earlier investors.

Theodule misappropriated at least $3.8 million to purchase expensive luggage, electronics, artwork and jewelry, according to a civil lawsuit filed in December by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.Theodule's attorney, Russell Weigel of Miami, said his client disputes the allegations.To the frustration of his investors, Theodule has not been charged with any criminal activity. And according to Rothstein, it's unknown how much of the money entrusted to Theodule is left."Typically, when people live large, the money evaporates," Rothstein said.

Finally, you'll notice a new comment policy on the blog. You gotta sign in first. You can still post under an alias, but I think this will add a bit more accountability. We'll see how it works.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Helio Castroneves case to jury

Here's AP coverage and Sun-Sentinel coverage of the closings. Here's the govt case:

Racing champion and reality TV star Helio Castroneves took part in "a pattern of deception" with his sister and lawyer to avoid paying taxes on more than $5.5 million, a federal prosecutor told jurors Thursday in closing arguments.Prosecutor Jared Dwyer said the group had wealth and success but thought "the rules didn't apply to them" when it came to paying taxes. So, Dwyer said, they funneled Castroneves' income into shell corporations and offshore accounts to hide it from the Internal Revenue Service and shirk a tax bill of roughly $2.3 million."Mr. Castroneves wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities in this country but skipped out on his responsibilities," Dwyer said.

The defense:

In closing arguments, defense lawyers for Castroneves insisted he did not cheat on his taxes and had followed the advice of his attorneys and accountants. They reminded jurors Castroneves has not collected most of the money at issue and would only owe taxes when he is paid."There are mistakes and ignorance at times, but at the end of the day there is no crime," said attorney David Garvin.
According to prosecutors, after learning the U.S. firm would withhold 30 percent of his contract for the IRS, Castroneves and his co-defendants diverted the income to a Dutch company to avoid the deduction. Although Castroneves has not yet received the money, he still owes taxes under the constructive receipt rule, Dwyer told jurors.But defense lawyer Roy Black called the government's reasoning absurd. "You pay the taxes when you get the money, that's the bottom line," Black said.The jury is expected to begin weighing the evidence on Friday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Helio Castroneves closing arguments on Thursday

You gotta know when to hold em...

Check out this cool story about a Yale Law School student who doubles as a professional poker player. From the end of the story:

After graduating from Yale in 2005 with a degree in political science, Selbst pursued a Fulbright Scholarship in Madrid. When she returned the next summer, she turned pro and, within a year, won the first of her World Series payouts, taking her game to the final table of the No-Limit Hold-Em event, which ESPN broadcast, and banking $101,285 for her seventh-place finish.In the summer of 2007, Selbst again reached the WSOP finals and took home $140,000.Before returning to New Haven for law school, on June 12, Selbst won the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the WSOP, taking home her first bracelet and $227,933 in winnings"People still say to me, 'Oh, you play poker. Do you make a living at that?'" Selbst says."I'm going to try to make it out for a couple of tournaments, if I can, this summer, but everything is up in the air until I find a summer job. Law school kind of gets in the way of it all."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"In 25 years on the bench I have never seen anything approach the mishandling and misconduct I have seen in this case."

That was Judge Emmet Sullivan today, ordering a probe into the Ted Stevens case. Here's the AP. The coverage of the case is worth a read. From the article:

During Tuesday's hearing, Sullivan read a primer on criminal procedure, the kind of rudimentary lecture students normally receive during their first year of law school.
The judge said he has seen a troubling trend of prosecutors withholding evidence in cases against people ranging from Guantanamo Bay detainees to public officials such as Stevens. He called on judges nationwide to issue formal orders in all criminal cases requiring that prosecutors turn over evidence to defendants.
It was a stinging rebuke of the Justice Department and Sullivan called on Holder to order training for all prosecutors.

In (misconduct) news closer to home, a large internet pharmacy case was dismissed in Judge Zloch's courtroom today. You remember this one -- it's the Google jury... Here's coverage by the Health Care Fraud Blog:

In a stunning development with implications in two large prosecutions, the United States dismissed with prejudice an Indictment against 10 individuals today in a South Florida courtroom, two of whom had already plead guilty and testified in the trial against the other eight defendants. This follows an eight week trial featuring two mistrials, one based on prosecutorial misconduct and also included accusations against the government of witness tampering and the testimony of a federal prosecutor to attempt to refute the testimony that the government gave permission for one of the defendants to operate his business.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bad times for lawyers

The Herald's business section has a long piece on how the tough economy is affecting lawyers. And Julie Kay makes a special guest appearance here. (UPDATE -- Julie wrote the long piece as well, but they cut her name out of the byline!). One of the recruiters quoted in the article has this happy thought for lawyers who have been laid off: "Think about learning a new practice area or even a new career."

In other news, Jay Weaver has the latest on the Helio Castroneves case. Here's a small part of the article and the necessary picture:

Castroneves' lawyers maintain he owes no taxes on the Coimex earnings because the payments were made to his father, who lives in Brazil and once supported his son's career. As for the racer's Penske income, the money went to a Dutch annuity account -- income that Castroneves will start receiving next month, when he intends to pay his taxes.
The prosecution's portrayal of Castroneves as a chiseler could undercut his charismatic profile -- he's also known for winning the Dancing With the Stars reality TV show -- in the eyes of 12 federal jurors. As his trial wraps up this week, they will soon decide the fate of Castroneves, 33, his sister/manager, Katiucia Castroneves, 35, and his attorney, Alan R. Miller, 71, of Michigan.
They're charged with conspiring to evade paying taxes on $5.5 million in income between 1999 and 2004. If convicted, they could each face five to 10 years in prison.
Such an outcome would crush the racing star's career.
Whatever their decision, the jurors' verdict will come just after the start of the IndyCar Racing season, which got under way Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- a race that Castroneves won in 2006 and 2007. For this season, Penske has replaced Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner, with Will Power.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"He left behind a watch collection that Prince Charles would be envious of."

Mike Tein has gotta be the most quotable lawyer in the District. The watch collection belongs to Won Sok Lee. The Palm Beach Post has the story:

After four years as a fugitive, alleged hedge fund swindler Won Sok Lee was in U.S. District Court on Friday morning; having been arrested in his native Korea in February as he tried to board a plane to Argentina.
Lee faces more than 30 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in connection with KL Financial Group, which swindled wealthy Palm Beach residents out of almost $200 million.

Tein was the receiver in the KL case.


A couple of you have emailed me the story about the federal lawsuit by ASA David Ranck against State Attorney Kathy Rundle. The Herald had an editorial about the case here. And Jay Weaver has been covering the case -- here's a snippet from the latest article:

The original prosecutor on the case, David Ranck, had similar misgivings about Espinosa's shooting of the teen. Ranck was taken off the case by Fernández Rundle after he told the Miami-Dade lead detective it was "not a good shoot" early in the investigation."The deceased was found unarmed, and no firearm was found around where he fell nor on the codefendant when he was captured, " Ranck wrote in an office memo a month after the January 2004 shooting, noting that homicide detective Charles "Buck" McCully told him that no gun was ever found.Also in the memo, Ranck alleged an "appearance of impropriety" because a Miami-Dade police major, Angus Butler, had called the state attorney's office to have him removed from the case. Ranck, who said he was taken off the case for "diplomatic reasons, " raised doubts about the "independence" of Fernández Rundle's office.Last August, Ranck sued Fernández Rundle and her top two assistants after she suspended him without pay for 30 days because he posted his memo on the Justice Building Blog, a Miami-Dade legal community website. Ranck said he posted it in May 2008 only after he had been assured by prosecutor Richard Scruggs that the case would be closed. A key hearing in Ranck's federal lawsuit is set for June. For his part, Llanes pleaded guilty in 2005 to burglary and second-degree felony murder charges, being held responsible for the officer's fatal shooting of Barquin. Llanes received a six-year probationary sentence as a youth offender.

There's Rumpole making news again. The case raises some interesting questions -- can a prosecutor be suspended for speaking out about the handling of a case?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Blogging Block

Nothing is grabbing me for a post today. Maybe because it's Spring Break next week... Or maybe because I have to go to FDC this morning. I dunno...

Anyway, I guess I could write something up about the accountant accused of hiding money in the UBS Swiss bank account.

Or maybe the cops in Ft. Lauderdale who were sentenced in a drug ring yesterday.

I could write about the potential penalties for Donte Stallworth and ask for your opinion about who should get more time -- a DUI defendant who kills someone or a first-time fraudster in federal court.

Hmmmm... Perhaps I should engage the commenter in the post below who asks what I would do if I were U.S. Attorney.

But alas, I need to head out for a couple hours now. Hopefully I'll come back and have some great posting idea. Post suggestions in the comments please.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Federal Bar luncheon

via Celeste Higgins:

Please join me in welcoming this month’s Federal Bar Association's Lunch Series speaker, Dr. Redmond Burke. His presentation is: Medicine at the Speed of Thought. Dr. Burke, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard University Medical School, became the Chief of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital at the age of 36. Dr. Burke is also the co-director of the Congenital Heart Institute of Miami Children’s Hospital at Arnold Palmer Hospital.

Dr. Burke has worked with a heart team to find and develop applications of information technology to improve medical outcomes resulted in a relational database for congenital heart surgery: a web based information system for a medical team and web based reporting of medical outcomes in real time.

The web based information system enabled a unique form of rounds, which are called "internet rounds", enabling information exchange and clinical decision making over the Internet.
Dr. Burke’s research, writing and surgery is legendary in his field. So much so, that he was cast as the host of the ABC network television reality program The Miracle Workers, which first aired March 6, 2006. The program followed patients through complex medical treatments, showing the technical and emotional aspects of modern medical care. Dr. Burke has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN Entertainment, Extra, and Entertainment Tonight to describe novel medical achievements.

I hope you can join us in welcoming Dr. Burke to our luncheon series.


A new day

Maybe the Obama Justice Department means business: it is dropping its case against Sen. Ted Stevens because prosecutors withheld evidence. Here's the AP article. Perhaps this will send a strong message to line prosecutors around the country that Brady material should be disclosed. From the article:

The Justice Department said Wednesday it would drop corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens because prosecutors withheld evidence from the senator's defense team during his trial.
The reversal is an embarrassment for the department, which won a conviction against the Alaska Republican in October and is now asking to overturn it.
The week after his conviction, Stevens lost his Senate seat in the November election. The patriarch of Alaska politics since before statehood, Stevens, 85, was also the longest serving Republican senator.

In court filings, the Justice Department admitted it never turned over notes from an interview with the oil contractor, who estimated the value of the renovation work as far less than he testified at trial.
"I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released Wednesday. He said the department must ensure that all cases are "handled fairly and consistent with its commitment to justice."
The Justice Department is investigating the conduct of the prosecutors who tried the Stevens case.

In December, Stevens asked a federal judge to grant him a new trial or throw out the case, saying his trial had many deficiencies.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held Justice Department lawyers in contempt in February for failing to turn over documents as ordered. He called their behavior "outrageous."
Sullivan had ordered Justice to provide the agency's internal communications regarding a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation of Stevens. The agent objected to Justice Department tactics during the trial, including failure to turn over evidence and an "inappropriate relationship" between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution's star witness.

I'm happy for Stevens and his lawyers (from my old law firm Williams & Connolly), but dropping the case now doesn't put Stevens back in the same position he was in. He lost his Senate seat. His reputation has been ruined. He had to pay for a very expensive criminal trial.