Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Festivus

Yes, it's that time of year again: Enjoy the holidays everyone. The blog is going to be shut down next week. See you back on January 2, 2012. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another holiday NG

A few posts ago, I told you about Steve Bronis and Paul Calli taking on the feds up in DC. Well today, the judge (Richard J. Leon) entered a Rule 29 for their client in a large FCPA case after a twelve week trial. Very sweet win for these guys who have been working very hard out of town for a long time. Congrats.

Getting to Not Guilty

Well, Judges Kathy Williams and Bob Scola have their first federal trials under their belts. The jury in both cases came back with not guilty verdicts across the board. Nice holiday presents to the defendants!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Paul Calli takes on the feds in DC

More misconduct in a high profile trial. Main Justice covers the story, but you need to be a member to access the content: UPDATE -- MAIN JUSTICE CALLED ME AND SAID I NEEDED TO TAKE DOWN THE CONTENT THAT I POSTED. OH WELL...

Happy Hanukkah

Monday, December 19, 2011

DBR's year in review

It's a fun read.  And it's been a typical Miami year, and that means craziness.  From Rothstein to Nevin Shapiro to Lewis Freeman... the "only-in-Miami" list goes on and on. 

Other than the Rothstein depo, I think everything else is pretty much shut down for the next two weeks. 

If anything is going on, email me!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Miami's new magistrate

Congrats to Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes, our newest magistrate.  She was Judge Highsmith's career law clerk, from 1991-2002.  She currently works at Legon Ponce & Fodiman.  Excellent news during the holiday season!

All quiet...

Nothing really going on here in the Southern District, so we'll see you on Monday.  In the meantime, use the comments to predict Barry Bonds' sentencing, which is today.  He is asking for house arrest and the government is asking for 15 months.  Talk to me.

UPDATE --  No jail time.  2 years house arrest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Exploding federal criminal code

The Wall Street Journal is doing a nice job (here and here) covering how ridiculous the federal criminal code has become.  (Previous coverage of the Maple Syrup proposal on this blog here). From the WSJ:

The federal criminal code has grown so large it ensnares everyday citizens who have no idea they are violating the law, a bipartisan group of legal experts told a House panel Tuesday.

There are about 4,500 criminal statutes, said Edwin Meese, attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and now with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "This is in addition to over 300,000 other regulations that don't appear in the federal code but nevertheless carry essentially criminal penalties including prison," he said. "So the vast array of traps for the unwary that lurks out there in federal criminal law is more extensive than most people realize." The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's panel on crime, terrorism and homeland security,and several panelists cited an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal, part of a yearlong series about the expansion of the federal criminal code and the erosion of "criminal intent" requirements. The article chronicled the conviction of one Maryland man for actions prosecutors said weren't intentional. It explained how Lawrence Lewis ended up with a federal criminal record while trying to deal with clogged toilets at a military retirement home in Washington, D.C.
"He was subject to the same law that [would apply to] somebody who knowingly, willingly dumped toxic materials into a navigable water," said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who has introduced a bill to shrink the federal criminal code by a third and to define the level of criminal intent necessary to break the law.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"The only way I cannot die in prison is to tell the truth."

That was Scott Rothstein at his depo today -- and the lawyers were apparently buying it:
“I first asked him a little bit about why we should believe him,” said attorney Charles Lichtman, with the Fort Lauderdale law firm Berger Singerman, which is representing the bankruptcy trustee seeking to recover millions of dollars for investors and creditors. “I think Scott came off as extremely credible,” Lichtman said. “It was a nonstop dialogue about all aspects of the scheme. I guarantee the public has not heard a fraction of what happened. He ties together everything in a logical way.” Fort Lauderdale attorney William Scherer, who is suing Rothstein and others in a parallel civil case, backed that assessment. “In my judgment, he’s telling the truth,” said Scherer, who is representing 25 investors who lost $160 million. “It’s much worse than I realized. I’m saddened by some of what I’m hearing about my profession and my town.” Scherer, Lichtman and other lawyers interviewed outside the federal courthouse were reluctant to reveal the names of potential co-conspirators fingered by Rothstein in his deposition. But they said he spread the blame beyond himself, to colleagues in his former 70-attorney law firm to employees at the firm’s one-time bank, Toronto Dominion.
Let's bring in the criminal defense lawyer for some perspective here before we declare Rothstein the definition of truth: “It’s obvious to me there are people he’s going after and there are others he’s trying to protect,” said criminal defense attorney Sam Rabin, who is representing TD Bank vice president, Frank Spinosa. Spinosa dealt directly with Rothstein and is under criminal investigation.

Judge Trott from the Ninth Circuit has a good seminar on informants that he teaches to prosecutors. I wonder what he would say about Rothstein. This is a passage in which he tells prosecutors to commit to memory:
Criminals are likely to say and do almost anything to get what they want, especially when what they want is to get out of trouble with the law. This willingness to do anything includes not only truthfully spilling the beans on friends and relatives, but also lying, committing perjury, manufacturing evidence, soliciting others to corroborate their lies with more lies, and double-crossing anyone with whom they come into contact, including the prosecutor. A drug addict can sell out his mother to get a deal, and burglars, robbers, murders, and thieves are not far behind. Criminals are remarkably manipulative and skillfully devious. Many are outright conscienceless sociopaths to whom "truth" is a wholly meaningless concept. To some, "conning" people is a way of life. Others are just basically unstable people. A "reliable informant" one day may turn into a consummate prevaricator the next.

There's going to be a long line at the King building

That's where Scott Rothstein's depo will start this morning. And there will be lots of lawyers. According to Jay Weaver:
Just obtaining permission for his deposition was an ordeal, requiring dispensation from U.S. District Judge James Cohn, who is presiding over the criminal case, and the U.S. attorney’s office, which has charged eight defendants including Rothstein so far and plans another major racketeering indictment. “Obtaining Rothstein’s deposition is critical in order for the trustee to fully investigate all matters related to the Ponzi scheme,” Fort Lauderdale lawyer Paul Singerman, whose firm is working for the trustee, wrote in court papers. The goal is to “learn facts about potential targets and existing defendants ... as well as to have a complete understanding of the assets and liabilities of RRA, and the various roles that insiders, creditors and other third parties had with respect to the Ponzi scheme and the events at [the law firm].”
UPDATE -- why are people lining up at the King Building? They should be in Judge Cooke's courtroom -- RRA's computer guy is on the stand right now! (10:35am)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Judge Scola's investiture

It was really nice. Good speakers (including Pam Perry, John Hogan, Carl Kafka, Marilyn Milian, and John Thornton) who had heart-felt remarks about Judge Scola. A great addition to the federal bench.

The only downside -- I was hungry by the end of it.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Supreme Foodies

Pretty neat: The Supreme Court Justices' spouses published a book with Martin Ginsburg's recipes. Martin, the late spouse of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, loved to cook. From the BLT:

Just in time for the holidays, the Supreme Court Historical Society today began selling a cookbook full of recipes by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's husband Martin, who died in June, 2010. Entitled "Chef Supreme," the book is also a fond tribute to Martin Ginsburg, a prominent tax lawyer and scholar in addition to his after-hours avocation as a chef and gourmand.

Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice Samuel Alito Jr., spearheaded the cookbook effort on behalf of the other Supreme Court spouses, who got to know him at Court events including lunches organized by the spouses. The 126-page book was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

"Marty's gleeful smile, his mischievous wit, perfect manners and his adoring gaze of Justice Ruth enlivened every event we as spouses shared," Martha-Ann Alito wrote in an afterword to the book. "His benchmark warmth, culinary excellence and considerate birthday cakes remain goals to be attained by this most junior spouse. He lives on as an inspiration to me."

The recipes in the spiral-bound book range from gravlax to vitello tonnato, osso buco to chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and are set forth in careful detail. The recipe for the "perfect baguette" runs six pages, including color photographs.

You can buy the book here.

In other news, Blago gets 14 years. Appropriate sentence or too high?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Cameras in the Supreme Court?

The Senate had hearings today on this issue, and SCOTUS Blog has the scoop here. You know my views -- it makes no sense to me that the court proceedings are closed. Sunshine and all that...

Speaking of the Supreme Court, it heard argument today on another confrontation clause case. Here's Tom Goldstein's summary of what the case is all about:

Tomorrow, the Justices will hear argument in Williams v. Illinois, the next in the line of cases involving the Court’s more defendant-friendly interpretation of the Confrontation Clause. The question is whether the Confrontation Clause is violated if an expert testifies about the results of testing conducted by a non-testifying third party, if the report itself is not introduced at trial.

Here, an expert testified about the results of a DNA test conducted by an analyst, but the DNA test was not admitted. The Supreme Court of Illinois held that there was no constitutional violation. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the lower courts over the Confrontation Clause’s application in these circumstances.

One could say with a fair degree of confidence that the five Justices who started the revolution in the Court’s Confrontation Clause jurisprudence in Crawford v. Washington in 2004 and then adhered to their strong view in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts in 2009 would rule for Williams here. As a practical matter, it is hard to say that the underlying DNA report is not being used for its truth. But since then, two Justices in the majority – Justices Souter and Stevens – have been replaced by Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan. Although the latter two Justices joined the Bullcoming majority, they may have a lessened commitment to a robust application of the Confrontation Clause. Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in Bullcoming in particular signals that these facts may approach or pass the end of the line to which five Justices are willing to extend the Confrontation Clause.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Monday notes

1. Judge Cooke will be hearing a dispute filed by the Marley heirs against a half brother. Curt Anderson has the details.

2. Alan Fein is a big-time blogger now, opining on Obamacare and Miami and Judge Marcus.

3. Another big case, another dismissal due to prosecutorial misconduct (via Thomson Reuters):

Matz based his decision on numerous examples of government misconduct, beginning with falsehoods in search-and-seizure warrant applications, extending to false and misleading grand jury testimony by an FBI agent, and compounded by prosecutors' failure to turn over some of that testimony to the defense. Handzlik, Levine, and their teams had alerted the judge to much of the misconduct before the jury reached a verdict, but Matz said the magnitude of the government's behavior became clear only in retrospect.

"When a trial judge managing a large docket is required to devote a great deal of time and effort to a fast-moving case that requires numerous rulings, often the judge will miss the proverbial forest for the trees," Matz wrote. "That is what occurred here ... . The government has acknowledged making many 'mistakes,' as it characterizes them. 'Many' indeed. So many, in fact, and so varied, and occurring over so lengthy a period (between 2008 and 2011) that they add up to an unusual and extreme picture of a prosecution gone badly awry."

Here's the order. It's worth a read.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Guest post by Richard Rosenthal

David is out of town with his family and has invited me to say a few words
about the following event honoring our former boss:

Today the Judges of the Southern District of Florida honored one of their
own by dedicating the Chief Judge Edward B. Davis Jury Assemby Room in the
Ferguson federal courthouse. It was a touching, heartfelt ceremony
remembering the late Chief Judge, who served our community for over two
decades on the federal bench. Several generations of the Davis family,
the Southern District Judges, the Judge's former law clerks, and many
longtime friends attended the midday ceremony, which was presided over
with characteristic grace and good humor by Chief Judge Moreno. At one
point, Chief Judge Moreno joked that he may have to tell the U.S. Marshals
not to allow any votive candles to be placed beneath Judge Davis'
portrait, even though such tributes may well be appropriate to honor
"Saint Ned." Judge Altonaga, who was one of Judge Davis' law clerks,
eloquently recalled the Judge's humanity and kindness toward all, and his
willingness to privately and compassionately mentor young lawyers who
tried cases before him. After Chief Judge Moreno opened the floor for
remarks, several the Judge's family members, law clerks, friends, and
professional colleagues shared warm recollections of an exemplary Judge
and a wonderful, unforgettable man. He is deeply missed.

--Richard B. Rosenthal (Law Clerk to Judge Davis, 1997-1998)

New federal jury room dedicated to Judge Edward B. Davis

Although I was out of town today and couldn't be there, I heard that the dedication for Judge Davis was fantastic. And how well-deserved that that the jury room was named for him. He really loved trying cases, and they really don't make trial judges like EBD anymore. Judges and fellow-former clerks who were there, please use the comments to share what happened at the event.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Conrad Black on American Justice

It's a rant (from jail) worth reading, so I reprint a lot of it below (via National Review):

The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all prosperous democracies. The U.S. has a much higher percentage of successful prosecutions, a lower hurdle to clear to prosecute (with rubber-stamp grand juries), a greater range of offenses, heavier sentences, and a higher recidivism rate than any of those other countries.

As Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia wrote in his essay “Criminal Injustice” two years ago, either those other countries are less concerned with crime than the U.S., or Americans are more addicted to criminal behavior — both preposterous suggestions — or the U.S. justice system is not working well.

There are 48 million people in the United States with a “record,” many of them based on ancient DUIs or disorderly behavior decades ago at a fraternity party and other unstigmatizing offenses, but still a severe inconvenience to them when they travel abroad or their names are fed to almost any information system; and millions have had their lives effectively ruined. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and 50 percent of the world’s lawyers, who invoice almost 10 percent of U.S. GDP (around $1.4 trillion annually). In the mid-1970s, the U.S. had about 650,000 people in mental institutions; today, it has only 50,000. Prisoners cost $40,000 per year to detain, and some states can no longer afford it. The conditions of hundreds of thousands of prisoners are grossly and shamefully inhumane. (My own are not.)

The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights of assurance against capricious prosecution, due process, no seizure of property without due compensation, an impartial jury, access to counsel, prompt justice, and reasonable bail, don’t exist. The ubiquitous plea bargain is just the wholesale subornation or extortion of inculpatory perjury in exchange for immunities or reduced sentences (often with people who are threatened, although there is no evidence against them). Assets are routinely frozen on the basis of false affidavits in ex parte proceedings to deny defendants the ability to defend themselves. Those who do exercise their constitutional right to a defense receive three times as severe a sentence as those who plead guilty; 95 percent of cases are won by prosecutors, 90 percent of those without trial. The public defenders have no resources to conduct a serious defense and are usually just Judas goats of the prosecutors conducting the defendants to legal destruction.

Sentences are absurd: A marijuana deliverer is apt to be sentenced to 20 years in prison. There is minimal effort to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders. Private-sector firms are increasingly active in the prison industry and they and the militantly unionized correctional officers, almost all unskilled labor, constantly lead public demands for more criminal statutes and more draconian penalties.


I hoped in 2007–08, when rabid prosecutors attacked the chief of staff of the vice president (Scooter Libby) and secured his conviction on a very dubious charge, and other prosecutors convicted and caused the electoral defeat of five-term senator Ted Stevens on what was shortly proved to be a fraudulent prosecution, that the political class would awaken, at least to the danger to itself. When the Terror of the Committee of Public Safety reached its height in 1794, the French National Convention came to its senses, at least to a sense of self-preservation, and sent Robespierre and his whole committee (except for the war minister, Carnot), to the guillotine without a trial, and declared the dawn of the permissive Thermidor.

It would be taking a liberty to claim that American conditions have deteriorated to such a point, but Robespierre wasn’t thumbing the Bill of Rights or swaddling himself in Madisonian expatiations on the pursuit of liberty. The masses were singing the bloodcurdling call to arms of the Marseillaise, not crooning, hand over heart, about the land of the free.

A court-appointed investigation of the Stevens affair has found “serious, widespread, and at times intentional concealment of evidence, but did not specifically urge prosecution for criminal contempt of those responsible, because the trial judge had not precisely ordered the prosecutors to obey the law by turning over exculpatory evidence.”

Even after all I have been put through by the justice system of the United States, I had to rub my eyes and reread newspaper accounts and check them against each other to achieve a comfort level that what I was reading was what was intended, was corroborated, and was accurate. It was. The investigator found the prosecution “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence . . . and (other) serious misconduct.” He was neutral on the issue of whether the prosecutors should be charged with obstruction of justice, a catchment American prosecutors routinely use to ensnare, over-punish, and stigmatize frequently unexceptionable conduct — a charge so vague it is almost impossible to defend against successfully.

I have witnessed in the U.S. much sleazy prosecutorial conduct whose authors would have been disbarred in my native jurisdictions of Canada and Britain, and I cannot imagine how the U.S. justice system could have descended to such infamies. The only person in the Stevens outrage who seems to have had any redemptive qualities was Nicholas Marsh, one of the assistant prosecutors in the Stevens case, who committed suicide when the conduct of the prosecutors came to light. Depending on his exact apparent motives, and the sequel to his tragic action, he could play a role analogous to that of the Tunisian street vendor who set off the Arab spring by immolating himself.

The state of American justice is shameful and unspeakable, literally so to judge from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil insouciance of Commentary’s blue-ribbon high table of contemporary critics. Many of them attacked the nihilistic, self-destructive anti-Americanism of the American campuses, absolutely correctly. But if they noticed the fraudulence that has metastasized through the American legal system, their critique would carry greater weight.

The moral soul of America is rotting away and the only defense an individual American has is numbers: The prosecutocracy cannot send more than 1 percent of the entire adult population to prison at any one time, if only for budgetary reasons.

The first line of defense of society as a whole are those whose vocation is to study and espouse public policy. Failure on this scale will make them complicit in this vast crime of the state, if it continues. I am listening for Jefferson’s firebell in the night and all I hear is Gertrude Stein’s sound of one hand clapping.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Congrats to Judge Robin Rosenbaum

President Obama officially nominated her today to serve on the district court:

Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum is a United States Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Florida, a position she has held since 2007. From 1998 until her appointment to the bench, Judge Rosenbaum was an Assistant United States Attorney in the same district, where she served as Chief of the Economic Crimes Section in the Fort Lauderdale office beginning in 2002. Before joining the United States Attorney’s Office, Judge Rosenbaum clerked for Judge Stanley Marcus on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 1998, worked as a litigation associate at Holland & Knight from 1996 to 1997, and served as staff counsel at the Office of the Independent Counsel in Washington, D.C. from 1995 to 1996. She began her legal career as a trial attorney at the Federal Programs Branch of the United States Department of Justice from 1991 to 1995. Judge Rosenbaum received her J.D. magna cum laude in 1991 from the University of Miami School of Law and her B.A. in 1988 from Cornell University.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Judge Carnes writes another witty opinion

United States v. Gary White starts this way:

“Kleptocracy” is a term used to describe “[a] government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language 968 (4th ed. 2000); see also New Oxford American Dictionary 963 (3d ed. 2010); Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 724 (2d ed. 1998). To that definition dictionaries might add, as a helpful illustration: “See, for example,
Alabama’s Jefferson County Commission in the period from 1998 to 2008.” During those years, five members or former members of the commission that governs Alabama’s most populous county committed crimes involving their “service” in office for which they were later convicted in federal court. And the commission has only five members. One of those five former commissioners who was convicted did not appeal.1 We have affirmed the convictions of three others who did.2 This is the appeal of the fifth one.

Judge Carnes also ends the opinion with a one-word paragraph "Indeed" after quoting the district court on sentencing:

You see, when someone’s elected to a position of trust as an elected official, they don’t have the right . . . they don’t have a right to have a bag . . . at all. It’s not a function of how big the bag is, they just don’t have a right
to have a bag that they can carry around stuff they get from people that are involved with them in this process. And, so, I think a sentence which is 120 months total is appropriate.

In other news, Curt Anderson covers the $2.1 million payment by the feds in the photo editor's anthrax death. Details here.

"They take off their tops and let the guys touch them."

That's Hugo Rodriguez quoted in this New Times article about the "paralegals" visiting FDC (the federal jail in downtown Miami). More:

But attorneys swear the scam is ongoing. One "discovery room" normally used to discuss trial strategy was recently closed, they say, after guards caught an inmate and a paralegal "discovering" more than legal documents.

Lawyers claim that lax rules have let phony paralegals pamper their narco clients
​"Everyone knows about it," says a private investigator who is familiar with the FDC and asked not to be named. "We call them the 'little hoochie mamas'... They are making a mockery out of the prison system here."

Among the offenses allegedly committed by so-called paralegals: smuggling in a Playboy, feeding alcohol to an inmate by slipping a straw through a grate, and sneaking in $3,000 inside a purse.

In a scene straight out of a porno, one woman was caught on video stripping for an inmate in the jail's Special Housing Unit, attorneys say. The stripper was banned from the FDC.

Money quote from the article:

"If you want some good people-watching, try the FDC," attorney Marc Seitles says. "It certainly beats paying a cover and waiting on lines to get into LIV."

We should treat inmates more humanely (especially first-time non-violent offenders) by letting them have limited internet access and occasional conjugal visits. We should also let them wear their own clothing and eat their own food, like they do in most other countries. There would be lots less violence and abuse. If an inmate messed up, these benefits would be taken away.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Justice Scalia called "friend" of criminal defendants... the LA Times. So there, Rumpole. Check it out:

Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's most outspoken and combative conservative, is not often described as friendly to criminals.

But in recent years, Scalia has led an unusual pro-defendant faction at the high court in reversing convictions for murder, drug dealing, wife beating and drunken driving.

Next up in early December is a Chicago rapist who claims his 6th Amendment right to confront his accusers was violated because prosecutors did not put on the witness stand a lab technician from Maryland who conducted the DNA test that sent him to prison.

This claim might have been a loser even during the court's long-past liberal era. But with the relentless Scalia leading the charge, it may well succeed, a prospect that worries prosecutors and crime lab directors across the nation.

Sometimes, Scalia's insistence on following the "original" Constitution leads to unexpected results. And for him, there are no shades of gray and no halfway measures.

The 6th Amendment to the Constitution says the "accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him." To Scalia, this clause not only gives defendants the right to challenge actual witnesses, but also the right to bar testimony from all those "witnesses" who did not or cannot testify in court. He takes this view even if the witness is dead.

Three years ago, Scalia led the court in reversing the murder conviction of a Los Angeles man who shot and killed his girlfriend. A police officer testified the victim had reported that Dwayne Giles threatened to kill her. Scalia said that testimony violated Giles' rights because he could not confront or cross-examine her.

"We decline to approve an exception to the Confrontation Clause unheard of at the time of the founding," Scalia said for 6-3 majority. This went too far for liberal Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Brian Tannebaum's holiday advice

Check it out here at Above the Law. One nugget:
Do not take your staff out for lunch

Your staff does not want to hang out with you. Not even her, the secretary who you think loves you and thinks your wife is awesome for giving her those stupid baskets of bath salts for Christmas. Your staff wants two things for the holidays — time off and money. I know, you think it’s cool to take them to that great steakhouse you go to three times a month, but is it really fun to watch them quietly and uncomfortably drool at a restaurant they’ve never been to and couldn’t afford unless you were paying for it?

The happiest I ever saw the staff in my office? The Friday before Christmas they arrived at work, were given gift cards, and told they could leave at noon and spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. Think about it — money and getting away from you sooner than expected — it makes you the hero.

Happy happy, joy joy:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday morning questions

1. Why don't they teach lawyering in law school (via NY Times)?

2. Why don't we require prosecutors to hand over all exculpatory information (via LA Times)?

3. Why doesn't that Supreme Court allow cameras (Via Time Ideas)?

4. Should Justice Kagan recuse from the health care cases (via USA Today)?

5. What is Justice Stevens doing in retirement (via Washington Post)?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Congrats to our new WPB Magistrates

Kim Abel (former AUSA) and Dave Brannon (former AFPD).

Excellent choices. And I believe that Dave is the first PD to be elevated to the magistrate position. Fantastic!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Manatee education patrol leads to $1 million marijuana seizure

You can't make this stuff up. From the government press release:

A routine patrol by police on Wednesday on Boynton Beach’s Intracoastal Waterway to educate boaters about the start of manatee season led to the discovery of nearly 1,300 pounds of marijuana valued at more than $1 million. As Boynton Beach Police Marine Unit Officers were patrolling the Intracoastal near the Boynton inlet, they observed a 30-foot center console boat heading north at a slow speed with two men aboard. The boat struck two sand bars, and one of its outboard engines was tipped up and not running. The officers headed toward the boat, which docked at the ramp in Harvey J. Oyer Jr., Boat Club Park. The defendants supplied the officers with Florida driver licenses, but could not produce valid registration for the boat. After the officers obtained verbal consent to go aboard, the defendants fled on foot. They were quickly apprehended after a short foot pursuit by Marine Interdiction Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection who were in the immediate vicinity.

Meantime, the feds are investigating state police shootings. From the AP:

The U.S. Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation Thursday into whether Miami police officers engaged in a pattern of excessive use of deadly force in the fatal shootings of seven African-American suspects over an eight-month span.

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, and Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the probe will focus not on the individual officers but on whether the Miami Police Department's policies and practices on use of force led to violations of constitutional rights. The investigation is not criminal in nature.

"We're looking at systems. We're not looking at individual culpability," Perez told reporters. "We will follow the facts where the facts lead us. We will peel the onion to its core."

The shootings in inner-city Miami, from July 2010 to February 2011 and including two others that were not fatal, sparked outrage in the African-American community and led to protests at City Hall. The NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union, among others, demanded a federal investigation.

The former police chief, Miguel Exposito, defended the shootings as justified and said they resulted from confrontations caused by more aggressive police tactics in high-crime areas plagued by gangs. Exposito was fired in September for disobeying orders from the city manager, but the uproar over the shootings was a factor in his ouster.

In a written statement Thursday, Exposito said during his tenure people in many inner-city neighborhoods were demanding action against crime and gangs, leading him to double to 130 the number of tactical officers focused on those areas. Exposito said crime went down as a result.

"I trust that this is not an attempt by the U.S. attorney's office to politicize what should otherwise be an apolitical process," Exposito said.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Power outage

Yesterday afternoon the power went out at the courthouse. This was after the feds were called over to FDC to investigate suspicious white powder. Just a regular work day in Miami...

I wish there was some exciting news to tell, but it seems pretty quiet as everyone is getting ready for the holidays. Here are a couple notes:

1. Justice Scalia spoke at St. Thomas University yesterday. I can't find any news reports about his remarks.

2. The Justice Scalia of the 11th Circuit, Judge Carnes, writes this interesting sentencing opinion. Here's the intro:

A defendant convicted of distribution of child pornography is subject to a 5-
level enhancement under § 2G2.2(b)(3)(C) of the sentencing guidelines if the
distribution was to a minor. The defendant in this case distributed child
pornography to an unidentified person, not connected with law enforcement, who
convinced him that she (or he) was a minor. The district court applied the
distribution to a minor enhancement after concluding that the actual age of the
recipient, which has never been determined in this case, does not matter so long as
the defendant thought that the recipient was a minor. In doing so, the court
extended the reasoning of some of our decisions involving fictitious minors
created by law enforcement. Regardless of what we said in those other cases
involving different facts and different guidelines provisions, we reach a different
conclusion because the definition of “minor” in the application note to § 2G2.2
convinces us that here it is more than just the thought that counts.

3. If you win attorney's fees, try to get more than $1.50.

4. Lanny Breuer is complaining about sentencing after Booker, saying there needs to be more consistency. Why don't we just give em all 50 years in jail. That would be consistent.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday morning

The NY Times explains how discovery and sentencing are broken in the criminal justice system. But this is old news, no?

On Brady:
The current Brady rule requires prosecutors to make two judgments: Is evidence favorable to the defendant? If so, is it likely to affect a decision about guilt or punishment? Too often, prosecutors avoid disclosing evidence by answering no to the second question.

In ruling on the Smith case, the court should refine the Brady rule by eliminating the second question and requiring that prosecutors hand over all favorable evidence. Let a judge or jury weigh its importance.

On Sentencing:

The racial disparities in sentencing are also stark. In some cases, mandatory minimums can be reduced for offenders if the crime did not involve violence or a gun. But most African-American drug offenders convicted of a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence could not meet these and other requirements: only 39 percent qualified for a reduction compared with 64 percent of whites.

The report notes that inequitable sentencing policies “may foster disrespect for and lack of confidence in the federal criminal justice system.” Not “may.” Given the well-documented unfairness, Congress needs to rescind all mandatory minimum sentences.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day tomorrow

Judge Palermo, who earned a Bronze Star for valor and merited six Battle Stars in World War II (!!), wishes everyone well below. Awesome pictures and medals!


I actually feel bad for the guy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Everything relates back to Miami

Even the Herman Cain accuser... From the Miami Herald blog:

The name of the second woman to say publicly that she was harassed by GOP presidential contender Herman Cain may ring bells with Miami Herald readers. Karen Kraushaar was a spokeswoman for the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Elian Gonzalez custody battle in late 1999 and early 2000.
Kraushaar was one of the two woman who spoke to Politico for the Oct. 30 story detailing complaints by female employees who worked for Cain at the National Restaurant Association. She and another employee "had complained about Cain’s behavior to colleagues and senior officials at the NRA, and both women left the trade group with a cash settlement," Politico reported. Kraushaar's settlement was about $45,000, Politico reported.

According to several published reports, Kraushaar, 55, heads up communications for a bureau within the IRS. Although many news outlets were aware of her identity, they did not disclose it until the iPad-only publication The Daily revealed it Tuesday. Kraushaar told both Politico and the Washington Post that she would be willing to join together for a press conference with the other three women accusing Cain of harassment. Only one of the other women has so far come forward publicly.

"I am interested in a joint press conference for all the women where we would all be together with our attorneys and all of these allegations could be reviewed as a collective body of evidence,” Kraushaar told The Washington Post Tuesday

In other news, the SCOTUS Blog folks seem to think that after hearing oral argument, the Supremes will say that you need a warrant before GPS tracking. But it doesn't look like the defense lawyer did a great job (via Forbes):

When Jones’s lawyer came up to argue, it was a little like watching 9 cats play with an injured mouse that they felt pity for. A criminal defense attorney who has never argued before the Supreme Court before, Stephen Leckar focused solely on the unreasonableness of the police putting a tracking device on his client’s property without a warrant and refused to indulge the Supreme Court’s questions about the pervasiveness of the monitoring itself. When one justice asked whether this would have been a reasonable act by police if they put the tracker on the license plate of the car (which is owned by the State) rather than the underbelly of the Jeep, Leckar actually said yes. Justice Scalia jumped in to help him out, saying that a driver gives the government the right to put a license plate on a car, not a tracking device on their car.

Justice Kennedy asked whether it would be acceptable if the DC police had tracked Jones for a month with a team of agents following him rather than doing it with a tracking device. “We’re not asking for the police to be less effective,” he replied. “But GPS trackers greatly expand what they can do.”

Yikes. Apparently the advocacy in the High Court this week hasn't been great. Here's SCOTUSBlog on a prosecutor's attempt:

There may be many ways for a lawyer to realize that an argument before the Supreme Court is falling flat, but none can top this: a Justice asking if the counsel had ever considered simply forfeiting the case. That is what happened on Tuesday to Donna R. Andrieu, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, as her argument lay all about her, in shambles. It is a heavy burden for a lawyer from that oft-criticized office to mount any defense of its prosecutions, but Andrieu repeatedly found ways to botch virtually every point as she argued Smith v. Cain (docket 10-8145).


The aggressive exchanges were getting to Andrieu, and the phrase “I’m sorry” began appearing regularly in her answers, as she suggested, now and then, that she had misunderstood the questions. As her argument was winding down, Justice Elena Kagan leaned forward and asked: “Ms. Andrieu, did your office ever consider just confessing error in this case?” Stunned, the prosecutor said: “I’m sorry?”
Kagan repeated: “Did your office ever consider just confessing error in this case? You’ve had a bunch of time to think about it. Do you know? We took cert a while ago. I’m just wondering whether you’ve ever considered confessing error.” The prosecutor answered: “Your Honor, we believe that we have an argument that these statements of Larry Boatner are not material.”

It only got worse for Andrieu. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that the prosecutor “stop fighting as to whether it should be turned over. Of course it should have been turned over…Why don’t you give that up?” The prosecutor again tried, astonishingly, to make one more effort to rehabilitate witness Boatner’s credibility.

At that point, it seemed that nothing more could embarrass the New Orleans prosecutor. But Justice Sotomayor then brought up the “serious accusations against the practices of your office, not yours in particular but prior ones. It is disconcerting to me that when I asked you the question directly should this material have been turned over, you gave an absolute no.” Andrieu weakly suggested that she had misunderstood the question.

But Sotomayor pressed on: “It is somewhat disconcerting that your office is still answering equivocally on a basic obligation as one that requires you to have turned these materials over, whether it caused harm or not.” Andrieu still did not seem to understand. She said that “today we turn all of this over….It should have been turned over. I guess what I was addressing or attempting to address was the materiality prong of Brady.”

Monday, November 07, 2011

Monday morning notes

1. The Supreme Court will hear the GPS case tomorrow. Really interesting issues. SCOTUS Blog has all the news and analysis.

2. Speaking of SCOTUS Blog, there is an excellent interview of Justice Stevens posted there. His former clerk Jeffrey Fisher asks some intriguing questions:

Question: Turning to the different chapters of the book, one of the things that leaps out to me are the different internal procedures the Court has used over the years. For example, you mention that when you were a law clerk under Chief Justice Vinson, the Court’s conferences [at which the Justices cast their initial votes on cases and vote on cert. petitions] ran differently than they do now. Back then, there was a rule that everybody had a chance to speak once before anyone voted. Now, by contrast, Justices vote in conjunction with making their initial comments. Do you think that difference matters in terms of outcomes?

Justice Stevens: I think there might well be cases in which the outcome could be affected. I remember debating this with Byron White, among others, who said, “Well really the vote is never firm until the whole conference is over — in fact until the opinion is released.” And, as you know, votes change from time to time.

But I do think that the old model tends to give the junior Justice a better opportunity to convince more senior members of the Court if everybody has withheld his or her vote until everybody has had something to say. It just seems to me it’s a better way to proceed. And as I think I say in the book, Bill Rehnquist and I used to sit next to each other in the conference when I was a junior Justice and he was next most junior, and we both raised it once or twice, and he felt the same way then. But he became Chief, and he changed his view.

Question: What do you think changed his view?

Justice Stevens: He became Chief.

Question: He wanted to vote first, do you think?

Justice Stevens: I think — that’s right, he recognized the fact that the order of precedence may have an impact.

3. Could hackers free everyone at FDC:

Federal authorities are concerned about new research showing U.S. prisons are vulnerable to computer hackers, who could remotely open cell doors to aid jailbreaks.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is “aware of this research and taking it very seriously,” spokesman Chris Burke told The Washington Times.

Mr. Burke was reacting to research by private experts who found that the security systems in most American prisons are run by computer software vulnerable to hackers.

“You could open every cell door, and the system would be telling the control room they are all closed,” said John J. Strauchs, a former CIA operations officer who helped develop a cyber-attack on a simulated prison computer system and described it at a hackers’ convention in Miami last week.

The security systems in most American prisons are run by special computer equipment called industrial control systems, or ICS. They are also used to control power plants, water treatment facilities and other critical national infrastructure. ICS has increasingly been targeted by hackers because an attack on one such system successfully sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program in 2009.
A malicious cyber-intruder could “destroy the doors,” by overloading the electrical system that controls them, locking them permanently open, said Mr. Strauchs, now a consultant who has designed security systems for dozens of state and federal prisons..

Hackers could “shut down secure communications” through the prison intercom system and crash the facility’s closed-circuit television system, blanking out all the monitors, he added.

4. Should those who view child porn on the internet get the same sentence (life) as murderers? The NY Times examines that question here:

A circuit court judge in Florida clearly thinks so: On Thursday, he sentenced Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old stockroom worker whose home computer was found to contain hundreds of pornographic images of children, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But the severity of the justice meted out to Mr. Vilca, who had no previous criminal record, has led some criminal justice experts to question whether increasingly harsh penalties delivered in cases involving the viewing of pornography really fit the crime. Had Mr. Vilca actually molested a child, they note, he might well have received a lighter sentence.

“To me, a failure to distinguish between people who look at these dirty pictures and people who commit contact offenses lacks the nuance and proportionality I think our law demands,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, who highlighted Mr. Vilca’s case on his blog, Sentencing and Law Policy.

Sexual offenses involving children enrage most Americans, and lawmakers have not hesitated to impose lengthy prison terms for offenders. In Florida, possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Mr. Vilca was charged with 454 counts of possession, each count representing one image found on the computer.

5. Can police set up a fake cell phone tower to get information from your phone without a warrant? Via Wired:

Federal authorities used a fake Verizon cellphone tower to zero in on a suspect’s wireless card, and say they were perfectly within their rights to do so, even without a warrant.

But the feds don’t seem to want that legal logic challenged in court by the alleged identity thief they nabbed using the spoofing device, known generically as a stingray. So the government is telling a court for the first time that spoofing a legitimate wireless tower in order to conduct surveillance could be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment in this particular case, and that its use was legal, thanks to a court order and warrant that investigators used to get similar location data from Verizon’s own towers.

The government is likely using the argument to avoid a court showdown that might reveal how stingrays work and open debate into the tool’s legality.

Stingrays spoof a legitimate cellphone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless communication devices into connecting to the tower, as they would to a real cellphone tower. When devices connect, stingrays can see and record their unique ID numbers and traffic data, as well as information that points to a device’s location. To prevent detection by suspects, the stingray sends the data to a real tower so that traffic continues to flow.

By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, authorities can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Should judges disregard joint sentencing recommendations?

I've raised the question before on the blog and have given my opinion that judges should not disregard joint recommendations except in the very extreme case.

If a plaintiff and a defendant agree to a civil settlement, judges generally do not interfere. Why, then, should they in criminal cases (especially if judges are supposed to be umpires as Chief Justice Roberts has commented)?

The Herald covers the latest example in a medicare fraud case where the defendants were sentenced to 5 years more than the parties jointly had asked for:

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga gave the Guilarte sisters — who fled to Latin America in 2007 when they learned they were under federal investigation — five more years than prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed on in their plea agreements, which charged a pair of healthcare-fraud and money-laundering conspiracies.

The judge said her initial intentions were to sentence the sisters to maximum prison terms — 30 years — but she was “tempered” by the disparity with lower sentences already imposed on other defendants in the Caridads’ case and related Detroit investigations.

The Guilarte sisters, who were indicted in Detroit in 2009, asked to have their case transferred to their hometown in Miami after they fled to Venezuela and were arrested in Colombia earlier this year. Miami is widely recognized as the nation’s Medicare fraud capital, where sentences keep getting stiffer and stiffer.

“We are tired of seeing the brazen, callous manner with which countless people defraud our Medicare system,” Altonaga declared. “We must stop the epidemic. ... Both of you took what you learned in South Florida and exported it to Michigan.”

Altonaga reminded Caridad, 54, and Clara, 57, that the United States welcomed both with “open arms” from Communist Cuba and that they returned the privilege by stealing millions from the U.S. government’s healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.

The Justice Department said the sisters — Caridad is a legal permanent resident, Clara a naturalized U.S. citizen — personally pocketed $3.8 million from their HIV-therapy scam in Detroit but none of that money has been recovered. Both sisters apologized to the judge and U.S. government, saying they “must pay” for their theft.

But the judge didn’t buy it, saying at one point to Clara: “Even though you say you must pay, I have every conviction you will not pay.”

I have never seen a judge go lower than a joint recommendation of the parties; only higher. But maybe I'm missing something. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

11th Circuit affirms Liberty City 7

Here's the per curiam opinion (the panel was Judge Tjoflat, Judge Martin and a visiting judge) (the original post mistakenly said that Tjoflat wrote the opinion). From the intro:

Burson Augustin, Stanley Grant Phanor, Patrick Abraham, Rotschild
Augustine, and Narseal Batiste (collectively, “Appellants”) were all convicted of
(1) conspiracy to provide material support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization (Al
Qaeda) by agreeing to provide personnel (including themselves) to work under Al
Qaeda’s direction and control, knowing that Al Qaeda has engaged or engages in
terrorist activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B; and (2) conspiracy to provide
material support by agreeing to provide personnel (including themselves),
knowing and intending that they were to be used in preparation for and in carrying
out a violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 844(f)(1) and (i), and to conceal and disguise the
nature, location, source, and ownership of such material support, all in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 2339A. Abraham and Batiste were also convicted of conspiracy to
maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive a building leased to an
agency of the United States (the FBI) and a building used in interstate and foreign
commerce (the Sears Tower), all in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(n).1 Additionally,
Batiste was convicted of conspiracy to levy war against the Government of the
United States and to oppose by force the authority thereof in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 2384.

Appellants now appeal their convictions, raising six issues. First, Batiste
and Augustine challenge the district court’s order granting in part the
government’s motion to strike portions of the indictment as surplusage. Second,
Augustin, Phanor, and Augustine each challenge the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting their convictions. Third, Augustin argues that the government’s
involvement in the criminal scheme was outrageous and therefore violated the Due
Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Fourth, Batiste and Abraham challenge
several of the district court’s evidentiary rulings relating to the admissibility of lay and expert testimony. Fifth, Batiste argues that limitations on his cross examination of witnesses resulted in cumulative error requiring a new trial. Sixth, all of the appellants challenge the district court’s dismissal of a juror for refusing to follow the court’s instructions on the law. After careful review of the record and the parties’ briefs, and after having had the benefit of oral argument, we

Tuesday notes

1. Big decision from the 11th Circuit yesterday in the sports agent case -- United States v. Gus Dominguez. Judge Cox wrote the decision invalidating some of the convictions and Judge Tjoflat dissented because he would have invalidated all counts. Nice win for Ben Kuehne. The blog's prior coverage of this Judge Moore case is here.

2. Brian Tannebaum has a new gig at Above the Law. Very exciting.

3. I hate mosquitoes too, but should we really be genetically engineering them? Doesn't this ultimately lead to the apocalypse?

4. Justice Stevens seems to be everywhere.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Wet Soggy Halloween

It's always fun driving on US1 after a rainstorm. Sheesh.

Anyway, eat some candy today, and let's hope it dries up for tonight.

Here are a couple stories to get your Monday going:

1. Leonard Pitts thinks the Fourth Amendment should still have some teeth:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . — Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Just in case you forgot.

There has been, after all, an appalling amount of forgetting where that amendment is concerned. And New York City has become the epicenter of the amnesia. Yes, the “stop and frisk” policy of questioning and searching people a cop finds suspicious is used elsewhere as well. But it is in the big, bruised apple that the issue now comes to a head.

Federal agents recently arrested a New York City cop on charges of violating the civil rights of an African-American man. Officer Michael Daragjati allegedly stopped the man in April and threw him against a parked van to search him. No drugs or weapons were found, but Daragjati reportedly became angry the man questioned his rough treatment and requested the officer’s name and badge number. So Daragjati ran him in on a charge of resisting arrest. Later, talking on the phone to a friend, he bragged that he had “fried another nigger” and that it was “no big deal.” This was overheard by the feds, who had him under surveillance in a separate investigation.

Let no one fix his or her mouth to pronounce themselves “surprised.” Blacks and Hispanics have complained for years about the selective attention they get from police. Giving cops the power to randomly stop and search pedestrians they find suspicious could not help but exacerbate the problem.

Last year, about 600,000 people were stopped and frisked in New York. Though blacks and Hispanics account for just over half the city’s population, they represent about 85 percent of those stopped. The Center for Constitutional Justice, a civil rights group, says drugs or weapons are turned up in less than two percent of those stops.

It bears repeating: less than two percent.

2. Can lawyers be ineffective during the plea process? Seems like the answer is obviously yes, but the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the question today:

Anthony Cooper shot a woman in Detroit in 2003 and then received laughably bad legal advice. Because all four of his bullets had struck the victim below her waist, his lawyer said, Mr. Cooper could not be convicted of assault with intent to murder.

Based on that advice, Mr. Cooper rejected a plea bargain that called for a sentence of four to seven years. He was convicted, and is serving 15 to 30 years.

At least Mr. Cooper heard about his plea offer. Galin E. Frye’s lawyer never told him that prosecutors in Missouri were willing to let him plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve 90 days in prison for driving without a license. When Mr. Frye did plead guilty after the offer expired, he was sentenced to three years.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the two cases, which ask how principles concerning bad legal work at trial should apply to plea bargains. The question is of surpassing importance, since a large majority of criminal cases are settled at the plea stage.

3. The U.S. jails way too many people:

As a means of controlling crime, America’s prisons are notoriously inefficient and only minimally effective, often creating hardened criminals out of first-time offenders. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. In the past generation, the imprisonment rate per capita in this country has multiplied by five. There are 2.3 million Americans in prisons and jails. Spending on prisons has reached $77 billion a year.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Congrats to Judge Kathy Williams

Her investiture was just spectacular. The speakers were really good -- Her friend Cathy Dee, Michael Mullaney, Reuben Cahn, Michael Caruso, Judge Seitz, Judge Moreno, and others. And Judge Williams' remarks showed why she was a great trial lawyer and leader. Here are some pictures from the event:

At Kathy Williams' investiture

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Judge Gold's speech for Judge Hoeveler receiving the Ned Davis award

As I mentioned before, Judge Gold's speech at the Federal Bar dinner last week was fantastic, and I got a copy of it, which I reproduce below:

William M HoevelerSpeech

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Congrats to Judge Bob Scola

Judge Scola was just informally sworn in. Here he is celebrating with his wife Judge Jackie Scola and Chief Judge Fred Moreno. Congrats!

Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement

Not enough federal crimes for you? Check out the MAPLE Act which makes it a felony to sell fake maple syrup. Apparently, having a federal misdemeanor for this offense wasn't enough. From the LA Times:

"Vermont iconic maple syrup -- painstakingly produced, and prized across the nation and beyond -- is one of our state's fine, high-quality, natural products," Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in introducing the legislation. A growing number of people are claiming to sell genuine Vermont maple syrup when "they are in fact selling an inferior product that is not maple syrup at all,'' he said, adding that the misrepresentation undermines a key part of Vermont's economy.

"We are very proud of the high-quality maple syrup produced in Vermont," independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a news release. "Some of us think it's the best in the world. We think it is terribly wrong for people to produce a phony product and call it Vermont maple syrup."Leahy, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is well positioned to advance the legislation, introduced it in the wake of a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation that found a Rhode Island man had been selling cane sugar-based syrup as maple syrup.

Under existing law, fraudulently representing something as maple syrup is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year behind bars.

"Too often, those who are willing to endanger our livelihoods in pursuit of their profits see fines as just a cost of doing business," Leahy said in the statement. "We need to make sure that those who intentionally deceive consumers get a trip to jail, not a slap on the wrist."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some quick hits for Monday afternoon

1. Justice Stevens has written this interesting review of William J. Stuntz's intriguing book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice. It starts out this way:
William Stuntz was the popular and well-respected Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard University. He finished his manuscript of The Collapse of American Criminal Justice shortly before his untimely death earlier this year. The book is eminently readable and merits careful attention because it accurately describes the twin problems that pervade American criminal justice today—its overall severity and its disparate treatment of African-Americans.
2. Magistrate Judge Seltzer is skeptical of this skeptic (via Sun-Sentinel):
Pena, 49, and Randi, 83, have remained high-profile figures in the world of skepticism for decades, and Randi is famous around the world for debunking people who profess to have paranormal powers. He runs the James Randi Educational Foundation dedicated to skepticism.The deal to get Pena — whose full name is Deyvi Orangel Pena Arteaga — out on bond was worked out at the last minute Thursday night by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertha Mitrani and Pena's defense attorney, Susan Dmitrovsky.U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer asked the attorneys if there was any paperwork — a passport or travel visas — to show Pena was who he said he was."Do we have anything to confirm this his true identity?" the judge asked. "I can't release a defendant unless I have some idea who he is."Mitrani said she and the federal agents working on the case had not had time to check for immigration records, but that she was comfortable Pena was his actual identity and that he would not try to flee the country if released on bond."We are going to verify and vet the information he gave us," Mitrani told the judge.
3. The NY Times has this piece on Justice Thomas. From the intro:
Justice Clarence Thomas was sworn in to the Supreme Court 20 years ago today. After two decades on the bench, he remains a legal outlier even on the conservative court. The results he reaches are often radical, and where his ideas come from even more so.

favors cutting back the authority of the federal government and letting states “decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens.”

believes that “the Constitution left religion to the states” and that the First Amendment’s prohibition against Congress’s enacting laws on the establishment of religion “was intended to protect” the right of states to do as they please.

wants to roll back what most Americans consider racial progress because the “Constitution abhors classifications based on race” and even when the government uses them to solve problems and confer benefits, “it demeans us all.”

Extreme as those views are, the most extreme part of Justice Thomas’s record is not what he decides, but how. Justice Antonin Scalia told a
biographer of Justice Thomas, Ken Foskett, that Justice Thomas “doesn’t believe in stare decisis, period.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Federal Bar Gala

It was a nice evening last night at the Biltmore. Brett Barfield was sworn in for a second term, and Bernie Pastor is President-Elect. Judges Williams and Scola were toasted. And Judge Hoeveler received the Ned Davis Award, which was presented in a moving speech by Judge Gold. It was a huge turnout, and Brett has really done a fantastic job with the organization. It's an exciting time in the District...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Congrats to Bob Scola!

He was confirmed today as our newest federal judge. Well done!

Eddie Dominguez leaving DBR

He's done amazing things with that paper, and it's too bad he is leaving. While most newspaper readership is declining, the DBR has been flourishing under Eddie's leadership. He's made the paper relevant and interesting, and he's been able to keep good, talented reporters. Not easy in this environment.

He's headed to City National Bank as Senior VP in charge of Communications, Marketing, and Community Relations, and I wish him well. Now he can take me, and his other sources, out to lunch...

His going away party is this Friday at Bin 18 if you want to see him off.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything is a crime these days

The Supreme Court decided to hear a case involving the Stolen Valor Act; i.e., whether it is a crime to lie about prior military service:

The court said Monday it will rule on the constitutionality of a law that makes it a federal crime for people to claim falsely, either in writing or aloud, that they have been awarded the Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, Purple Heart or any other military medal.

The Stolen Valor Act, which passed Congress with overwhelming support in 2006, apparently has been used only a few dozen times, but the underlying issue of false claims of military heroism has struck a chord in an era in which American soldiers are fighting two wars.

At the same time, the justices have issued a series of rulings in recent terms in favor of free expression, striking down California's violent video restrictions and a federal law involving cruelty to animals. It also upheld the right of protesters to picket military funerals with provocative, even offensive, messages.

The federal appeals court in California struck down the military medals law on free speech grounds, and appeals courts in Colorado, Georgia and Missouri are considering similar cases.

The Obama administration is arguing that the law "serves a crucial purpose in safeguarding the military honors system." The administration also says the law is reasonable because it only applies to instances in which the speaker intends to portray himself as a medal recipient. Previous high court rulings also have limited First Amendment protection for false statements, the government said.

This was the case that Judge Kozinski said went too far because everyone lies:

Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying. We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”); to make others feel better (“Gee you’ve gotten skinny”); to avoid recriminations (“I only lost $10 at poker”); to prevent grief (“The doc says you’re getting better”); to maintain domestic tranquility (“She’s just a friend”); to avoid social stigma (“I just haven’t met the right woman”); for
career advancement (“I’m sooo lucky to have a smart boss like you”); to avoid being lonely (“I love opera”); to eliminate a rival (“He has a boyfriend”); to achieve an objective (“But I love you so much”); to defeat an objective (“I’m allergic to latex”); to make an exit (“It’s not you, it’s me”); to delay the inevitable (“The check is in the mail”); to communicate displeasure (“There’s nothing wrong”); to get someone off your back (“I’ll call you about lunch”); to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”); to namedrop (“We go way back”); to set up a surprise party (“I need help moving the piano”); to buy time (“I’m on my way”); to keep up appearances (“We’re not talking divorce”); to avoid taking out the trash (“My back hurts”); to duck an obligation (“I’ve got a headache”); to maintain a public image (“I go to church every Sunday”); to make a point (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); to save face (“I had too much to drink”); to humor (“Correct as usual, King Friday”); to avoid embarrassment (“That wasn’t me”); to curry favor (“I’ve read all your books”); to get a clerkship (“You’re the greatest living jurist”); to save a dollar (“I gave at the office”); or to maintain innocence (“There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop”).

And we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, as reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes, wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf and cross-dressing. Last year, Americans spent $40 billion on cosmetics—an industry devoted almost entirely to helping people deceive each other about their appearance. It doesn’t matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy
is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal and when to deceive. Of course, lies are often disbelieved or discovered, and that too is part of the pull and tug of social
intercourse. But it’s critical to leave such interactions in private hands, so that we can make choices about who we are. How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?

While the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing that case, the Florida Supreme Court is going to decide whether loud music is a crime or not:

The Florida Supreme Court will soon rule on whether regulating car stereo volume is a violation of drivers' First Amendment rights, possibly eliminating local noise ordinances in one fell swoop.

The court announced Monday that it will hear arguments in State vs. Catalano in February, a case that began when police in St. Petersburg ticketed a corporate lawyer for exceeding the noise limit by blasting a little Justin Timberlake at 7:34 a.m. on his way to work.

Richard T. Catalano fought the $73.50 ticket, and he's fought it all the way to highest levels of state law.

Really Mr. Catalano? Blasting Justice Timberlake?!

In other news, Cain is polling ahead of Obama...