Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick hits

1. SFL covers Minkow. So does Curt Anderson.

2. The border search exception applies to laptops, even if they take it to a facility 170 miles away.

3. No 11th Circuit en banc review for the health care case.

4. The Bronx Zoo Cobra was caught.

5. Well, if Dr. Drew thinks the airport scans are fine, then I'm sure they are.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta writes letter about Jeffrey Epstein deal and Roy Black responds

Wow, this is getting ugly.

The Daily Beast broke the story here.

And one of Epstein's lawyers, Roy Black, has responded to Acosta's letter (page 1, and page 2, and page 3 here) in the Palm Beach Daily News.

Both letters are truly remarkable, and I've never seen anything like it. From the PBDN:

Attorney Roy Black is disputing claims that he, and other attorneys representing Jeffrey Epstein, pried into federal prosecutors’ personal lives in attempting to disqualify them from investigating the billionaire sex offender. Black also denies Epstein’s attorneys “negotiated in bad faith,” while attempting to reach an agreement with federal prosecutors. *** According to Acosta, now dean of the Florida International University College of Law, federal prosecutors and agents met with Black in the summer of 2007. The prosecutors presented Epstein a choice: plead guilty to state felony charges resulting in two years imprisonment, registration as a sex offender and restitution for the victims or prepare for a federal felony trial. What followed, Acosta said, was that Epstein’s defense team launched “a yearlong assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors. “I use the word assault intentionally, as the defense in this case was more aggressive than any which I, or the prosecutors in my office, had previously encountered,” Acosta said in his letter. Among the “legal superstars” on Epstein’s defense team: Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Kenneth Starr, Jay Lefkowitz and several others, including prosecutors who had formally worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department. Acosta said that one member of the defense team warned him “the office’s excess zeal in forcing a good man to serve time in jail might be the subject of a book if we continued to proceed with this matter.” Black said he’s never heard anyone mention writing a book about the Epstein case. “Mr. Acosta claims we negotiated in bad faith by appealing to the Department of Justice in Washington,” Black said. “Any person under investigation by a United States attorney, meaning any of the 94 such offices in the country, has the right to seek review by the Department of Justice and it is so provided for in their manual. Thus I cannot imagine invoking this right could be construed as bad faith. “In our system of justice, people are given the right of appeal and there should be no implication of wrong doing by exercising it. “Finally Mr. Acosta mentions we looked for personal peccadilloes of prosecutors,” Black said. “I am not sure what he refers to but this never happened. We did point out misconduct and over-reaching by certain people involved in the investigation. Not only is there nothing wrong with this but it is a necessary part of the process. There will always be people who abuse the great power of the government and we can not stand by silently when it occurs.”

Justice Scalia gets ticket in car accident



Apparently he was following a little too closely to the car in front of him:

The accident happened just before 9 a.m. on what was to be a big day for the jurist: The nation’s highest court was hearing arguments in the massive Wal-Mart gender discrimination case. According to U.S. Park Police, Scalia was driving south on the parkway approaching Roosevelt Bridge when he rear-ended a car that had stopped for traffic, triggering a chain reaction. Brooke Salkoff saw it all go down. The former NBC reporter told us she was just behind Scalia’s vehicle, a shiny black BMW in the left lane. “It slammed into the car in front of his, which pushed the other two forward,” and caused them all to skew into the right lane, she said. Now, just as when you're in a fancy restaurant and everyone turns their head to see who walked in, it’s only natural that everyone driving along a major commuter route out of McLean would want to rubberneck at something like this. Salkoff did, as her car inched past, and was rewarded by a surprising glimpse of a familiar face. Scalia was in a dress shirt, no jacket, with an unknotted bowtie hanging around his neck — and, interestingly enough, turned out to be driving himself. The car in front of his appeared pretty badly banged up, the other two less so. Scalia made it to the bench, though, in time for arguments at 10 a.m., a court spokeswoman said. No doubt in Salkoff’s mind that Scalia was at fault, as the driver who failed to brake. “I think that’s an originalist interpretation,” she quipped. Indeed, said the Park Police’s Sgt. David Schlosser, the justice got a ticket for following too closely. Fine: $70, plus a $20 special assessment, or, said Schlosser, “he can contest it in court.”

I volunteer to represent him for free.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unbelievable

5-4 per Justice Thomas in Connick v. Thompson:

Held: A district attorney’s office may not be held liable under §1983 for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation.


One reason given is that lawyers learn enough about Brady from law school and the bar exam. Justice Ginsburg for the dissenters rightfully blasts this: The Court nevertheless holds Canton’s example inapposite. It maintains that professional obligations, ethics rules, and training—including on-the-job training—set attorneys apart from other municipal employees, includingrookie police officers. Ante, at 12–15. Connick “had every incentive at trial to attempt to establish” that he could reasonably rely on the professional education and status of his staff. Cf. ante, at 10, n. 6. But the jury heard and rejected his argument to that effect. Tr. 364, 576–577, 834–835.

The Court advances Connick’s argument with greater clarity, but with no greater support. On what basis can one be confident that law schools acquaint students with prosecutors’ unique obligation under Brady? Whittaker told the jury he did not recall covering Brady in his criminal procedure class in law school. Tr. 335. Dubelier’s alma mater, like most other law faculties, does not make criminal procedure a required course. Connick suggested that the bar examination ensures that new attorneys will know what Brady demands. Tr. 835. Research indicates, however, that from 1980 to the present, Brady questions have not accounted for even 10% of the total points in the criminal law and procedure section of any administration of the Louisiana Bar Examination. A person sitting for the Louisiana Bar Examination, moreover, need pass only five of the exam’s nine sections.23 One can qualify for admission to the professionwith no showing of even passing knowledge of criminal law and procedure.

The majority’s suggestion that lawyers do not need Brady training because they “are equipped with the tools to find, interpret, and apply legal principles,” ante, at 17– 18, “blinks reality” and is belied by the facts of this case. See Brief for Former Federal Civil Rights Officials and Prosecutors as Amici Curiae 13. Connick himself recog-nized that his prosecutors, because of their inexperience, were not so equipped. Indeed, “understanding and com-plying with Brady obligations are not easy tasks, and theappropriate way to resolve Brady issues is not always self-evident.” Brief for Former Federal Civil Rights Officials and Prosecutors as Amici Curiae 6. “Brady compliance,”therefore, “is too much at risk, and too fundamental to the fairness of our criminal justice system, to be taken for granted,” and “training remains critical.” Id., at 3, 7.


Here's the AP article.

Only in Miami




If you want to stick to the regular federal news, well then here's a story for you about why it's so difficult to get a cellphone into the courthouse.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ft. Lauderale federal courthouse described as "worst" by "federal officials"

The Sun-Sentinel has the story of renewed plans to build a new federal courthouse in Broward:

Broward County could get two new courthouses on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale instead of just one — a potential government investment of at least $500 million. A high-powered task force of federal judges, lawyers and politicians has revived a dormant proposal to build a new federal courthouse. They have their eyes on Broward County's waterfront land for a federal-county court campus next to the riverfront jail. Broward County commissioners voted last year to build a $328 million county courthouse on the existing county court site, south of the river, just west of Third Avenue. The new federal courthouse would go somewhere nearby, on that same block of county land.

***

Federal officials decided years ago to replace the existing federal courthouse, which sits on Broward Boulevard, abutting Third Avenue. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, federal buildings must have safety buffers at least 100 feet wide — a requirement the existing courthouse doesn't meet. It's also woefully small, officials complain, and was described by federal officials on a recent visit as "the worst that they have encountered,'' according to a March 15 task force memo written by Scherer. Fort Lauderdale "has moved to the 8th position on a list of 100 communities needing a new federal courthouse,'' Scherer's memo said. That would put it in line for possible funding in the 2016-2018 timeframe, unless it can be bumped up, as the task force hopes. The group also believes building a joint project could reduce costs, with both courthouses benefiting from the same security and roadway work.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pictures from Friday's event





SFL posted some of my amateur cell phone pictures over at his blog, but Judge Scott Silverman took some great shots:

Okay, Judge Silverman didn't take the Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan picture, but both panels discussed them. See what you missed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday afternoon quick hits

1. The symposium was really interesting, especially Rumpole and SFL trying to partipicate by speaker phone and Twitter.

2. Another book on legal writing. I disagree with Russ Guberman's point here:

Has legal writing changed over the years? And if so, for the better or for the worse?
I hate to mythologize the past, but legal writing is changing for the worse. The advent of technology has ushered in an era of cutting-and-pasting that makes the finished product often read like a patchwork quilt, or as what Judge Ruggero Aldisert famously called a “promiscuous uttering of citations.”


3. Via How Appealing, the D.C. Circuit takes another shot at the 4th Amendment here:

"We conclude it was not clearly established in 2002 that the strip search of a person being introduced into a detention facility violated the Fourth Amendment."


Judge Judith Rogers dissented: "This is the first time a circuit court of appeals has suggested that the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution against unreasonable searches do not extend to an individual arrested for a non-violent minor offense who is awaiting arraignment apart from the general population of detainees, and is subjected to a strip search in the absence of reasonable suspicion he is hiding contraband or weapons."

I'm out. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Historical Society Centennial Symposium

Tim Ravich and Robert Kuntz are putting on a symposium tomorrow titled: "The Vital, Tempestuous and Changing Relationship Between the Court and Media." It's in Courtroom 4-2 of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, starting at 8:30 -- 12:15. Speakers include Roy Black, John Hogan, Kendall Coffee, Brian Tannebaum, Robert Levenson, Joe Serota, Mark Seigan, Rumpole, SFL, Eddie Dominguez, and yours truly.

Here is how the event is described:

Throughout its long history, the 11th Judicial Circuit has hosted countless high profile cases. This three part, half-day symposium will showcase some of those trials that have impacted our community, and at times, our nation.

Part I – A 45-minute multi-media historical presentation by the 11th Judicial Circuit’s Court Historian Judge Scott J. Silverman. This presentation will focus on executions of convicted criminal defendants in Dade County between 1901 and 1917, and Giuseppe Zangara’s attempted assassination of President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt at Miami’s Bayfront Park in February 1930.

Part II - This portion of the symposium consists of a panel discussion of the William Lozano shooting of Clement Lloyd, the 1989 Miami riots, and Lozano’s 1993 re-trail.

Part III – The aspect of the symposium will conclude with a 1-hour panel discussion of the role the media in the courtroom. The discussion will include blogging, twitter, email, cameras in the courtroom, and feeding the 24-hour news cycle.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Talented economic crimes prosecutors leaving USAO (UPDATED)


Three of them that I know about:

Jeffrey Neiman (pictured), who is one of the leading tax prosecutors in the country, and was part of the UBS team, is starting his own firm and will be sharing space with Fred Hadaad in Broward.

Ryan Stumphauzer, who is the Deputy Chief of Economic Crimes and the Health Care Fraud Coordinator, and Ryan O'Quinn, who was Senior Counsel at the SEC and is now a securities prosecutor, are forming a partnership and will be practicing in Miami.

Three good guys. I'm sure this is going to be tough on the economic crimes section.
UPDATED -- I forgot to mention Andy Levi who recently left the economics crimes division as well, and is now at Nardello as "head of the Miami office."
Levi and O'Quinn were running the Mutual Benefits case (the expected 8 month trial before Judge Jordan), so it will be interesting to see what happens there.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Why don’t we just abolish the exclusionary rule? That would be really simple. Whatever evidence tends to prove the truth comes in.”

Uh-oh. That was Justice Scalia this morning in Davis v. United States:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Actually, why don't we just abolish the exclusionary rule? That would be really simple. Whatever evidence tends to prove the truth comes in. That would be a very simple system if we're looking for just simplicity, wouldn't it?

MR. DREEBEN: It would be an extremely simple system.

JUSTICE SCALIA: You're not proposing that, though?

MR. DREEBEN: Not in this case, because this case represents only an application of existing doctrine in the Court with respect to the purposes of the exclusionary rule.

As much as Scalia is the best friend of criminal defendants in 6th Amendment and sentencing cases, he is no friend of the 4th Amendment.

Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr argued for Mr. Davis in a case out of the 11th Circuit, and definitely held his own in a very difficult case. According to ScotusBlog:

Kerr, asking the Court to avoid simple labels, said the main problem with expanding the “good faith” exception so as to allow police to rely on Circuit Court precedent was that it would compromise the effect of the later Supreme Court ruling rejecting that precedent. Lawyers, the professor contended, would be discouraged from taking test cases to the Supreme Court to try to get new rules of Fourth Amendment law if it turned out that their client could not benefit from it: as soon as they asked for a new rule, the prosecution would counter that the “good faith” exception would take hold, and the client would lose anyway — even while winning on the constitutional point. That scenario, Kerr said, would mean the Supreme Court was merely issuing “advisory opinions,” and defense lawyers would see no reason to go for such unhelpful results.

The whole transcript is here. It's an interesting read.

In other SCOTUS news, the 9th Circuit got slapped. The LA Times:

The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a Sacramento man's conviction and life sentence Monday for the rape of a 72-year-old woman in her apartment, dismissing an appellate court's decision that the prosecutor may have had racial reasons for removing two African Americans from the jury.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had granted a new trial to Steven Frank Jackson in July. The court said the prosecutor at Jackson's 2004 trial had used pretexts to justify his challenges to the two African American jurors, because the reasons he gave could have applied to jurors he left on the panel.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, called the appeals court decision "inexplicable." The appellate judges should have deferred to state court rulings that upheld the prosecutor's explanations, the high court said.
***
"There was simply no basis for the Ninth Circuit to reach the opposite conclusion, particularly in such a dismissive manner," the court said.


Yikes.

While we're on the Supreme Court, it granted cert today in a sad case from the 11th, Maples v. Alabama. The issue: Whether the Eleventh Circuit properly held that there was no “cause” to excuse any procedural default where petitioner was blameless for the default, the state's own conduct contributed to the default, and petitioner's attorneys of record were no longer functioning as his agents at the time of any default.

Pretty crazy what happened in the case -- a death-row inmate missed a filing deadline that he never knew about because a BigLaw mailroom clerk messed up. The 11th Circuit said the Alabama courts were correct to procedurally default Maples, saying that finality wins out. Off you go to get your needle. No joke. Judge Barkett dissented and the Supremes took cert. (Judge Barkett's dissents are paying off). Here is the NY Times coverage of the case after former SG Gregory Garre of Latham & Watkins filed the cert petition.

Full disclosure -- I worked on the NACDL amicus brief filed in the 11th Circuit. Lisa Blatt of Arnold & Porter wrote excellent amicus briefs in the case.

UPDATED -- The New York Times covers the grant here. This is shocking to me: Troy King, Alabama’s attorney general, wrote that Mr. Maples had been represented by “a team of attorneys from a multimillion-dollar law firm” who should know that rules are rules.

“Filing deadlines apply to death row inmates,” Mr. King wrote. “Countless attorneys have missed filing deadlines over the years, and state and federal courts routinely dismissed their client’s tardy appeal as a consequence. This case is no different, and it presents nothing new or nationally compelling.”

Um, no different?! A man's life is on the line. Jeez.



Monday morning

Hope everyone enjoyed their spring break. It's back to work, and here's what's up:

1. Barry Bonds' trial starts today. Apparently, jail isn't at stake, but his legacy is: a jury will be asked to decide whether baseball's home run king set his historic mark while using a long list of banned drugs.
***
For Bonds, 46, who has not played baseball since he was indicted, the stakes are high - even though most experts doubt he will face prison if convicted.

In 2008, Bonds' trial judge, Susan Illston, sentenced two defendants who were convicted of lying to authorities about steroids in sports to home confinement, not prison. That sets a baseline for sentencing Bonds if he is convicted, experts say.

The trial represents a chance for Bonds to repair a reputation badly tarnished by his association with the BALCO steroid scandal, and, perhaps, to secure a place in baseball history that might otherwise be denied him.

If Bonds is acquitted, his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame "go way up," said former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent. "But if he gets convicted, it's the end of the discussion for at least 30 years."


Roger Clemens, who is on trial next, will be watching this one closely.

2. Interesting case being argued this morning before the Supremes, Davis v. U.S.. The issue: The good-faith exemption to the exclusionary rule allows evidence collected in violation of the Fourth Amendment to be admitted at trial if the police officers conducting the search acted in good faith. Does the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule apply to a search that was authorized by precedent at the time of the search but is subsequently ruled unconstitutional?

The case came out of the 11th Circuit, and Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy will be arguing for Mr. Davis. ScotusBlog has great analysis of the case here.

3. You can bet on one thing in Davis -- Justice Alito will vote with the government. From the Sunday NYT: Alito is the least likely justice to show a glimmer of concern for the rights of criminal defendants. He has ruled for the defense in only 17 percent of the criminal cases he has heard since he joined the court, putting him to the right of Roberts, Scalia, Thomas — and every other justice of the past 65 years other than William Rehnquist...

Strangely, the title of the piece is called: "Mysterious Justice." Nothing mysterious about Alito -- he's the most predictably conservative judge on the Court.

4. There's always a lot of talk about how judges should write opinions. Rumpole doesn't like the Judge Selya style of opinion writing (Selya's interview on How Appealing is entertaining). I wonder what he thinks of this.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness

Today shows why this is the best week of the year in sports. What great games...

Your news for the day:

1. Welcome to the blogosphere Roy Black at Black's Law. He'll be discussing trial practice -- he already has posted on cross-examination. I can attest to Roy's folder method. I saw him use this method years ago during a trial in Savannah, and I have been using it ever since. (Apropos of Savannah and today, we were in trial on St. Patrick's Day, which is the biggest holiday of the year there. Everything closes down, including most of the streets and courthouses. But not our judge -- he had trial (as he did on most Saturdays during those six weeks). Some of the jurors were very late because of the traffic issues and the judge let them have it. After that, the jurors were much more sympathetic to us.)

2. Some light reading from Judge Jack Weinstein.

3. The AO has issued the stats from 2010. Criminal filings are up, but interestingly, appeals are down:

Filings in the regional courts of appeals dropped 3 percent to 55,992 in FY 2010, due to a 7 percent drop in criminal appeals to 12,797 and a 9 percent drop in administrative agency appeals to 7,813. Bankruptcy appeals declined 15 percent to 678, the smallest number filed since 1982. Civil appeals remained stable, dropping by just 27 appeals to 30,940. Original proceedings in the courts of appeals increased 2 percent to 3,764.

Prisoner petitions fell 3 percent to 15,789. Appeals involving pro se litigants declined 2 percent to 27,209.


Re Criminal filings:

Filings of criminal cases (including transfers) increased 2 percent to 78,428. The number of criminal defendants (including transfers) also rose 2 percent to 100,366, surpassing the previous record of 97,982 set in 2009. Proceedings were concluded against 98,311 defendants, 91 percent of whom were convicted, with 89 percent pleading guilty.

Immigration cases, which climbed 9 percent to 28,046, constituted 36 percent of all criminal cases filed, compared to 34 percent in 2009. The majority of immigration filings involved improper reentry of aliens, and 73 percent of all immigration cases were filed in the District of Arizona, the Southern District of California, the District of New Mexico, and the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.

Filings addressing fraud grew 12 percent to 9,371 for cases, and rose 13 percent to 12,639 for defendants in these cases.

Twenty percent of all criminal cases were drug offenses, compared to 22 percent in 2009. Cases involving drug offenses decreased 5 percent to 15,785, and defendants in those cases declined 2 percent to 29,410. Marijuana cases dropped 10 percent overall, but filings related to possession of marijuana increased, with cases climbing 26 percent to 1,248 and defendants rising 28 percent to 1,305. Drug cases involving non-marijuana offenses declined 3 percent to 10,817, and defendants in those cases fell 2 percent to 21,918.

Firearms and explosives cases, which account for 9 percent of total criminal case filings, declined 7 percent to 7,248. Defendants in those cases dropped 6 percent to 8,376.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Posner vs. Ginsburg


Oh, this one ought to be good. Via the WSJ, seems like Judge Richard Posner doesn't like the way Supreme Court Justices are behaving:

He says mock trials of fictitious characters don’t “contribute to anyone’s enlightenment.” For Judge Posner, the hobby symptomizes the broader ills of contemporary “celebrity culture.”

“That’s the problem with presidents and Supreme Court justices and billionaires. They think that because they are successful in one sphere they’re experts in everything,” Judge Posner says. Supreme Court justices should stop “preening” and return to “their dignified anonymity,” he says.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (happy b-day today!) struck back, and laughed when advised of Posner's critique:

“He’s an odd person to say that, considering the range of his writings, including ‘Sex and Reason,’ ” said Justice Ginsburg, a regular mock trial participant.

Indeed, Judge Posner is among the best-known of the nation’s judges, having been profiled in magazines, contributed to the popular and academic press, and written dozens of books on law, literature, economics and other topics. He also remains a force on the University of Chicago’s law faculty.

At least Posner likes good movies:

Rather than mock trials, the judge prefers modernizing or parodying classic texts. One of his favorites updated a Jane Austen novel from 19th century England to present-day Beverly Hills.

“The movie ‘Clueless’ is a parody of ‘Emma,’” he says, with the Alicia Silverstone character, Cher Horowitz, substituting for Austen’s Emma Woodhouse.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The best trial lawyers are good poker players

At least that's what I've been told. Well, if that's true, naybe soon we will have some trial bots:

Poker bots are not new, but until recently they were not very good. Humans were better at the nuances of the game — at bluffing, for instance — and could routinely beat the machines. But artificial intelligence has come a long way in the last few years, far enough that poker bots are now good enough to win tens of thousands of dollars on major game sites, which are clamping down on them.
***
It turns out to be a lot easier to build a perfect chess player than a poker whiz. Chess is a perfect information game: if you look at a chessboard, you know the exact state of the game from both players’ perspectives. And the rules of the game are not affected by chance, like the drawing of a card.

But in poker, an imperfect information game, there are many unknown variables. A player does not know his opponents’ cards and may not know their style of play — how aggressive they tend to be, for instance, or how often they bluff.

Unlike a chess bot, a poker bot does most of its work before the match, running millions of simulations before the first card is dealt. But even with the large amounts of memory available with today’s computers, storing — or even computing — information for every possible scenario would be implausible.


It used to be that robots could conduct sentencing hearings, but judges now have discretion again, thank goodness. Now the Supreme Court is just trying to make sure that judges know it:

But perhaps his fortunes have turned again. The Supreme Court plucked his petition from the thousands that make their way to the court each year. This month, Pepper won his case in a victory that gives federal judges more leeway to provide second chances to the criminals who come before them.

The ruling will clarify the rules that guide judges as they try to set sentences that both comport with national norms and ensure justice is done in individual cases.

But Pepper v. United States also is a reminder of the real people behind the court's cases. It comes with a story that might make even the most objective balls-and-strikes umpire on the mahogany bench feel a tinge of (can it be said?) empathy.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the court's 8 to 1 decision, summed up the parameters of Pepper's journey through the halls of justice pretty well.

"At the time of his initial sentencing in 2004, Pepper was a 25-year-old drug addict who was unemployed, estranged from his family and had recently sold drugs as part of a methamphetamine conspiracy," Sotomayor wrote. "By the time of his second resentencing in 2009, Pepper had been drug-free for nearly five years, had attended college and achieved high grades, was a top employee at his job slated for a promotion, had re-established a relationship with his father, and was married and supporting his wife's daughter."


UPDATED -- In today's DBR, John Pacenti covers another area where discretion is really needed -- the sentencing of the aging. The sentencing commission has finally changed the guideline in this area, but it's not enough if judges aren't going to consider age. Joel Hirschhorn has some great quotes in the article. Here's one:

"The BOP has a long and sad rich history of finding that those who are sent to their facility are competent to stand trial," Hirschhorn said. "If BOP decides he no longer has frontotemporal lobe dementia and they send him back for sentencing, I will ask the judge to enter an order to give me a sample of the waters the doctors are drinking."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday notes (UPDATED)

1. Gotta love 4th Amendment under-garments. Are those body scanners constitutional anyway?

2. Speaking of the 4th Amendment, did the police violate Charlie Sheen's 4th Amendment rights? Sheen tweeted that he the police were respectful. Good thing for them because Sheen knows how to sue.

3. Say it ain't so Snoop.

4. Judge Posner on a lawyer lying about the number of words in his brief: "We add that the appellants’ brief is rambling, and would be more effective if compressed to 14,000 words."

5. I like when Justice Scalia is angry.

AFTERNOON UPDATE:

6. Judge Camp got 30 days in the grey-bar hotel.

7. The 11th Circuit wades into the world of rap videos and whether they should be played in criminal trials. The Court finds plain error but deems it harmless:

Based upon our independent review of the rap video and the totality of the record, we conclude that it was error under Fed. R. Evid. 403 to play this rap video to the jury. We recognize that the video could be construed to discuss Gamory inasmuch as the lyrics referred to JB, a white crib, a Range Rover, drugs and Hush Money and because the artist in the video, Tone Flowa, wore a necklace with a “JB” insignia that was similar to cuff links seized during the search of Gamory’s residence. But the substance of the rap video was heavily prejudicial. The lyrics presented a substantial danger of unfair prejudice because they contained violence, profanity, sex, promiscuity, and misogyny and could reasonably be understood as promoting a violent and unlawful lifestyle. At the same time, the video was not clearly probative of Gamory’s guilt. We cannot ignore the simple fact that Gamory was not in the video. Neither was there any evidence that Gamory authored the lyrics or that the views and values reflected in the video were, in fact, adopted or shared by Gamory.

We are also mindful of the fact that the government introduced the rap video at the end of its case after it had already presented significant evidence that Gamory was JB and he owned Hush Money Entertainment. These facts were not seriously contested at the time the video was introduced and such evidence was therefore cumulative. In short, the probative value of the rap video was minimal at best, and more importantly was substantially outweighed by the video’s unfair prejudice.

Further, there is little doubt that the rap video was inadmissible hearsay. The rap video contained a “statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” Fed. R. Evid. 801(c). Subject to certain exceptions not applicable to Gamory’s case, the hearsay statements were inadmissible. See Fed. R. Evid. 802–804. In this Court, the government disavowed that the purpose of the video was to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but the District Court record contradicts that assertion. The prosecutor at trial stated as follows:

I believe that the reference of drug money is Hush Money, drug money is Hush Money which is said repeatedly throughout that video is very relevant to the issues for which are being tried here today, that being that the Government contends that Mr. Gamory is a drug dealer.

***

We conclude that the errors relating to the admission of the rap video were harmless.


So the life sentence sticks. (HT:CC)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great Event for the Steven E. Chaykin Fellowship Trust

Steven E. Chaykin

In Memoriam: 1951-2008
President UM Citizens Board 2007-2008
Member, Florida Bar Board of Governors

A Reception and Private Concert by

DEREK TRUCKS AND SUSAN TEDESCHI BAND

When: Saturday, April 9, 2011
6:30 pm -- Cocktail Reception; 8:15 pm -- Concert

Where: Gusman Hall, University of Miami, Coral Gables Campus

All proceeds benefit the Steven E. Chaykin Endowed Fellowship at the University of Miami School of Law To support students involved with the Center for Ethics and Public Service.

Founded in 1996, the UM School of Law's Center for Ethics and Public Service is an interdisciplinary program devoted to the values of ethical judgment, professional responsibility and public service in law and society. Steven Chaykin was a passionate advocate and supporter of the Center, and these are values that were
synonymous with his life.

Steven E. Chaykin Fellowship Trust
169 East Flagler Street, Suite 1200 - Miami, Florida 33131
Contact Susan for details 305-374-7771
email: susan@mandel-law.com

Here's the website for the Fellowship Trust.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Judge Gold is Zen

Judge Gold gave a nice talk today about civility in court. But it wasn't the same old talk. His theory is that stress is causing the incivility among both lawyers and judges. And he gave practical tips for trying to get rid of stress. In fact, Judge Gold is starting a group of lawyers and judges to deal with these issues. So what do you all think we can do to decrease the insane stress and pressure that each of us faces every day?

“My wife tells me what to do.”

That was Matt Gulla, the main snitch against the cops in the mortgage fraud trial, when asked whether another co-defendant told him what to do. "The answer momentarily caught [the defense lawyer] off guard, before he drew a titter throughout the courtroom by retorting that wives are the presumed bosses in the spousal pecking order."

A titter, huh?

That reminds me of the cross-examination question of a special agent getting thrown back at a defense lawyer many years ago: Question: "Aren't all agents special agents?" Answer: "My mom doesn't think so."

More from James Burnett, who is covering the case for the Herald:

“Yes” and “I don’t recall” became mantras Tuesday for Gulla, who has already accepted a plea deal that could send him to jail for less than three years, as defense attorneys pushed him repeatedly to admit carrying out the fraudulent transactions.

Gulla admitted that he and partner Rene Rodriguez, who has also accepted a plea deal, persuaded lenders to approve the applications, by making up fake lease agreements for properties the defendants already owned, to try to show non-existent rental income. Many of the fake leases used the names of Gulla’s high school classmates and in-laws. He said he and Rodriguez also stacked the deck for the accused cops by falsely telling lenders the defendants planned to make the investment properties their primary residences. The ultimate goal, Gulla said, was to secure better interest rates and larger loans for the defendants.

Under stiff cross examination by several defense attorneys Tuesday, Gulla explained how they were able to beat the system: Submitting fake documents and documents intentionally incorrectly filled out on the assumption that lenders simply wouldn’t catch on. Perhaps the most important toothless policy that Gulla and Rodriguez used to their advantage was the Stated Income Program, which essentially allowed potential home buyers to get loans with little to no proof of their income and credit worthiness.

But Gulla insisted the defendants were aware of his deceptions to lenders, and sometimes found humor in it.

He had testified Monday that once he bumped into Mittauer at an attorney’s office, where the alleged fraud ring held mortgage closings. When he asked Mittauer why he was there, Gulla testified Mittauer responded that he was just “trying to figure out where I’m moving this week,” an apparent reference to the frequently used “primary residence” lie.

“It was kind of sad, really,” Gulla said. “We both just kind of laughed about it.”

Monday, March 07, 2011

741 days

That's how long Judge Hurley has been waiting for Kathy Williams to be confirmed and take over his seat. The Sun-Sentinel covers the story:

"One of the great concerns for the court as an institution is that over time we'll have other vacancies, and if the vacancies aren't filled in a timely manner," legal logjams eventually will prevent people from getting their day in court, he said.
With two of his colleagues - U.S. District Judges Alan Gold in January and Paul Huck in July - joining him on what is known as senior status, his concern is more than academic.

The glacial speed of the U.S. Senate's judicial confirmation process, blamed on partisan politics, has hobbled courts throughout the country.
***
Among local attorneys, the conclusion seems obvious: "It's just partisan politics," Val Rodriguez said.

Miami attorney Neal Sonnett, a former president of the American Judicature Society, which focuses on promoting an independent judiciary, agreed. Last year Republican senators blocked the confirmation process, hoping they would seize control of the Senate in the November elections, he said. Now it appears some are intent on stalling nominations until after the 2012 elections, when they hope to put one of their own back in the White House, he said.

So far, attorneys said they haven't seen lengthy delays in getting cases heard and resolved in South Florida. Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said the district is lucky because seven senior judges still handle some cases. Further, Hurley said, case filings have slowed, in part, because of the economy.

While he credits the 15 full-time judges with moving cases quickly, attorney Ted Babbitt says eventually something has to give.

"The average person is going to get hurt because they're going to have to wait to have their cases heard," he said.


In other news:

--Maybe trial lawyers should try this on game day.

--The sentencing fight over how much time former Judge Jack Camp should get is probation or a whopping 15 days.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Cheese Touch!

The United States has charged some people with selling bad cheese.

This is all I could think of:




"This appeal is about usurping the role of the jury in a criminal trial byrelying upon racial stereotypes."

That's how Judge Pryor started the opinion in United States v. Almanzar. Also on the panel was Judge Carnes and our very own Judge Seitz.

The rest of the opinion's intro:

The key question presented is whether there is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict that Araceli Almanzar knowingly possessed with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A). The United States appeals the judgment of acquittal and conditional grant of a new trial entered in favor of Almanzar after a jury found her guilty of the charged offense. During a traffic stop of a truck loaded with 6,665 grams of methamphetamine in a hidden compartment, Almanzar exercised control over the truck and gave both written and verbal consent to its search, lied to a state trooper about the ownership of the truck and her acquisition of it, presented a phony bill of sale, and appeared to be so nervous as to be on the verge of a “panic attack,” with her hands shaking and her mouth dry. Almanzar later admitted that she had lied to the state trooper because her travel by bus from Dallas to Atlanta with her brother to retrieve the truck from two strangers was “suspicious.” She also admitted that she knew the truck contained “something we were not supposed to have.” Before the district court entered a judgment of acquittal, it stated that “life is different for a Hispanic woman in a male dominated culture, . . . the cultural expectations are different and that Hispanic women frequently, basically, do what their male family members ask them to do without asking lots of questions.” The United States argues that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and the district court applied the wrong standard of review, relied on speculation and impermissible stereotypes, considered information not in the record, and substituted its judgment for that of the jury. The United States also argues that the jury’s verdict was not a miscarriage of justice that would support the grant of a new trial. We agree with both arguments of the United States. We vacate in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to reinstate the jury’s verdict and conduct further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Who got this one right -- the district judge or the 11th Circuit?

Trustee Marika Tolz charged with $16 million fraud

The South Florida Business Journal has the story about 64-year-old Hollywood bankruptcy trustee Marika Tolz here. She is charged with misappropriating $16 million in court funds and pocketing $2.4 million of it for herself.

The case is set for first appearance before Judge Garber today at 1:30. Luis Perez is prosecuting and Ben Kuehne is defending. The case is assigned to Judge Lenard. Tolz is charged by way of information so it is evident that a deal already has been struck. In fact the SFBJ is reporting that Ben Kuehne says that Tolz “acknowledges her errors and fully anticipates that all funds will be fully reimburse or restitution made.” More:

Kuehne confirmed that Tolz intends to plead guilty.

“She will be accepting full responsibility for her conduct,” he said.

I asked Kuehne if he could say why Tolz started down the path of corruption. The charges against her suggest she used official funds for person expenses beginning in 2003, but the government’s information in the case doesn’t accuse her of living a “lavish lifestyle,” like other recent fraud cases in South Florida.

“At this point offering any factual description would only be viewed as trying to explain away what happened,” Kuehne said. “She is not attempting to offer excuses.”

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Justice Alito doesn't like the First Amendment

He was the lone dissenter in the crush video case. And now he is the lone dissenter in the funeral protester case:

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Roberts said free speech rights in the First Amendment shield the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said. "As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

Alito strongly disagreed. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.


Maybe the title to the post is too harsh... Justice Alito did side with corporate First Amendment rights.

In other SCOTUS news, the Court again reiterated that judges weren't tied to the guidelines, even on resentencing cases. In Pepper v. United States, Justice Sotomayor explained that a resentencing court could take into account post-sentencing rehabilitation. Doug Berman has more at his blog, but it is worth pointing out that the Court made sure to reiterate to district courts that there are times that the guidelines are based on "wholly unconvincing policy rationales not reflected in the sentencing statutes Congress enacted."

In other news, give your thoughts on Magistrate Judge Hopkins.

Cop/Mortgage fraud trial starts

The estimated 5 week trial is in front of Judge Cohn in Ft. Lauderdale. The Herald is covering it here:

The fraud trial of six law enforcement officers accused of helping to run a multi-million dollar home loan scam got underway Tuesday with opening statements in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.

According to federal indictments filed in July, John Velez, Daryl Radziwon, Casey Mittauer, Joseph DeRosa, all current or former Plantation Police officers, along with Lauderhill Police officer Joseph LeGrasta and FBI Special Agent Robert DePriest, of Plantation, fraudulently secured $16.5 million in mortgage loans in a house-flipping scheme during the housing boom several years ago.


The men are charged with offenses, ranging from conspiracy to mail and wire fraud, to obstruction of justice, and making false statements. All but the false statements charge carry penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment. The latter charge comes with as much as five years of prison time.

Is the case about greed or simple cops?

Federal prosecutors argued that the defendants were willing participants in the plan and had to have known Rodriguez and Gulla were forging documents in their names. Prosecutors also suggested the defendants were motivated by earnings they couldn’t achieve through real estate investments made with their own money and their own credit worthiness.

But defense attorneys opened their cases by arguing their clients were good cops and simple investors, too naive about the workings of fast-paced real estate financing to know their personal information was being used to defraud lenders.

Judge Cohn has to try the case twice:

At the conclusion of this trial, a second trial will start for Joseph Guaracino, his brother Dennis Guaracino, also a former Plantation Police officer, and attorneys Steve Orchard and Stephen Stoll, who allegedly helped seal the fraudulent deals by handling the loan closings.

Some of members of the fraud ring had to be tried separately because they have made incriminating statements about other defendants, and prosecutors believe those statements could tarnish possible convictions and bring about mistrials.