Friday, July 31, 2015

Citing document numbers

How do you cite document numbers? Before you answer, let me explain what I’m talking about.

The federal judiciary has a system that allows users to file documents in cases electronically—the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. Each document filed in the CM/ECF system is given a document number, which is placed at the top of each page of the document. In the Southern District of Florida, the document number is blue. Some lawyers might refer to a document number as a docket-entry number; others might refer to it as an ECF number.

In any given filing, you may choose to refer to a document number for a particular reason. For example, in your motion for an extension of time to file a response to the amended complaint, you might refer to the document number of the amended complaint, to assist the reader to quickly and easily find the amended complaint on the docket.

If you’re citing the document number, how do you do that?

There are three main contenders:

The first is “D.E.” or some variant thereof, such as “DE”. (For present purposes, let’s put to the side what comes after the D.E.—e.g., “No.” or “#”. Let’s also put to the side whether you enclose “D.E.” in parentheses or brackets, or not at all. That’s a debate for another day.) This is the most well-established way of citing document numbers in the Southern District of Florida. If you cite document numbers this way, everybody will know what you’re talking about.

The second is “ECF”. If you meticulously follow the Bluebook, this is your choice.

Last is “Dkt.” I’d refer to this as “New York style,” because many judges in New York seem to cite document numbers using this method. If you’re into abbreviations, perhaps New York style is for you. In the Southern District of Florida, however, you’d be in a strong minority.

How do you cite document numbers? free polls

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: en banc edition

Let’s first throw back to Freddy’s post on the Wollschlaeger v. Florida decision, which held constitutional a law restricting what doctors can say to their patients about guns. Yesterday First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh wrote a lengthy post about the Eleventh Circuit’s 2-to-1 decision on his influential blog. Volokh concludes that “the court is mistaken, and the law should have been held to violate the First Amendment.” He goes on:
[E]ven intermediate scrutiny—if that’s the right test—requires some serious justification for a speech restriction. Among other things, it requires that there be a “reasonable fit” between the speech restriction and the supposedly important reasons justifying the restriction. And here … there’s no such fit.
In the comments to Freddy’s post, someone expressed displeasure with the decision, writing that this is “another important case” where—and I’m editorializing slightly—the deciding vote on appeal was made by a district judge sitting by designation. This raises a question, irrespective of the merits of this undoubtedly important case: Should the fact that there was only one active Eleventh Circuit judge in the majority be considered in deciding whether to rehear the case en banc?

My initial inclination is that it shouldn’t be. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 35, which sets forth the standard for when rehearing en banc should be had, says nothing about it. Considering the composition of the judges in the majority may lead to more rehearings en banc. And treating differently decisions in which visiting judges are in the majority just doesn’t seem appropriate.

But it’s an interesting question, and others think that where a dispositive vote is made by a district judge sitting by designation, “experience teaches that the case has a better than average chance of rehearing en banc.”


Remember United States v. Davis, the en banc decision on the constitutionality of obtaining without a warrant cell-site information that we covered a few months ago?

Yesterday, Judge Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a lengthy order affirming the denial of the government’s application for historical cell-site location information, stating that where “an individual has not voluntarily conveyed information to a third party, her expectation of privacy in that information is not defeated under the third-party doctrine.” Judge Koh said her decision was “not at odds” with Davis, which she said, citing Judge Jordan’s concurrence, was “limited by its facts.” Judge Koh also quoted Judge Martin’s dissent in concluding that the government must “secure a warrant supported by probable cause in order to obtain a cell phone user’s historical [cell-site location information].”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Docs v. Glocks Redux

Nearly a year to the day after issuing its original decision, a panel of Judges Tjoflat, Wilson, and Coogler vacated and substituted its opinion in Wollschlaeger v. Governor of the State of Florida. The ACLU reacted (as a disclaimer, my firm represents the ACLU as amicus curiae):

 MIAMI, FL – Today, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion reaffirming its July 2014 decision upholding the constitutionality of a Florida law banning doctors from discussing the safe storage of guns in their patients’ homes.  The three-judge panel’s decision comes in the case of Wollschlaeger v. Florida – often referred to as the “docs v. glocks” case – in which doctors had challenged the 2011 law as a violation of free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, along with leading medical and child welfare organizations, had filed a friend-of-the court brief in the case, co-authored by attorneys Tom Julin and Gerald Greenberg, arguing that the law unconstitutionally restricts the free speech rights of medical personnel and hampers their ability to protect the health and safety of their patients.
A district court had previously found the law to be unconstitutional, but the same three-judge panel that issued today’s ruling had overturned the district court’s ruling in July 2014. Today’s order reaffirms that 2014 decision and also vacates an injunction that the district court had put on enforcement of the law, meaning the law now goes into effect.
Responding to today’s news, Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, stated:
“This is a sad day for Florida doctors, their patients, and for free speech as this unconstitutional law now goes into effect. Doctors and medical personnel throughout Florida are – today – under new orders: talk to your patients about gun safety and risk losing your right to practice medicine in Florida.
“We cannot be surprised that the same two judges who determined that ‘patient-privacy’ trumps constitutionally protected free speech would reiterate that view,.Their doing so in this way has allowed this unconstitutional law to go into effect and reset the clock on appeals. Because of today’s ruling, this pointless restriction on free speech will go into effect – for now.”
 “The Legislature’s unconstitutional effort to stop doctors from talking to their patients about measures to keep kids safe when there are guns in the home is not simply a violation of doctor’s free speech, it is also dangerous policy. Needing to score political points with those who believe the government is ‘coming for our guns’ is not a good enough reason to ban conversations between doctors and their patients– especially when those conversations are important for public health and could save lives.
“With the ongoing crisis of gun violence plaguing our country, it should not be a crime for public health professionals to ask parents questions about gun storage and offer common-sense advice about firearm safety in the home. The First Amendment and the Second Amendment are not at odds; encouraging parents to safely store their guns so they stay out of the hands of children does not threaten the right to own a gun. Gagging these conversations not only advances no public policy goal, but could be destructive for our society.”
“This dangerous policy needs to be stopped here in Florida before, like a cancer, it spreads to other states. Just as they had asked the full court to review last summer’s ruling, we expect that the plaintiffs will likely appeal this order, and we are hopeful that freedom of speech – and common sense – will prevail.”
The ACLU of Florida’s amicus brief in the case, filed with Alachua County Medical Society, Broward County Medical Association, Broward County Pediatric Society, Palm Beach County Medical Society, Florida Public Health Association, University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Clinic, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc., and Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, is available here:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

When dealing with shotgun pleadings, are we following the law?

Every so often—as our friend South Florida Lawyers has pointed out—the Eleventh Circuit tells us something about “shotgun pleadings,” which, roughly, are pleadings that don’t conform to the federal pleading standards found in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 10. In a pair of decisions issued this month, the Eleventh Circuit told us how properly to respond to or deal with shotgun pleadings. But do we—lawyers and judges of the Southern District of Florida—follow the Eleventh Circuit’s advice?
In Weiland v. Palm Beach County Sheriff’sOffice, the court, per Chief Judge Carnes, “examined more than sixty published decisions since” Judge Tjoflat used the term “shotgun pleading” in a 1985 dissenting opinion, and “identified four rough types or categories of shotgun pleadings.” Chief Judge Carnes also restated the procedure on dealing with shotgun pleadings, thus:
While plaintiffs have the responsibility of drafting complaints, defendants are not without a duty of their own in this area. We have said that a defendant faced with a shotgun pleading should “move the court, pursuant to Rule 12(e), to require the plaintiff to file a more definite statement.” But we have also advised that when a defendant fails to do so, the district court ought to take the initiative to dismiss or strike the shotgun pleading and give the plaintiff an opportunity to replead. Where a plaintiff fails to make meaningful modifications to her complaint, a district court may dismiss the case under the authority of either Rule 41(b) or the court’s inherent power to manage its docket.
The second decision (unpublished) gave similar instructions.
My sense is that lawyers and judges of the Southern District of Florida rarely, if ever, follow these instructions, however well-established they may be. If my sense is correct, I suspect that there are a few reasons for this.
First, the instructions don’t fit with practice. It’s not uncommon to encounter the “most common type” of shotgun pleading (especially if the complaint is written by an out-of-circuit lawyer). Per Chief Judge Carnes, “[t]he most common type—by a long shot—is a complaint containing multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint.” But Rule 12(e), which is designed for pleadings that are “so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response,” is often ill-suited for this kind of shotgun pleading. After all, just because one counts allegations are incorporated into another doesn’t necessarily render the complaint unreasonably difficult to respond to. So you move to dismiss, instead.
A second reason is timing. Our judges, as they often say, are busy. And it can take months—even for relatively straightforward threshold motions—to be fully briefed and decided. Meanwhile, the parties are off and running with discovery. So even if you might otherwise be inclined to seek a more definite statement, you’ll more likely seek a dismissal.
Finally, I suspect that our judges, given their large case loads, can’t usually devote their resources to scanning new cases for shotgun pleadings and to ordering re-dos. True, many of our judges will order a new complaint (or throw you out of court entirely) if you fail, say, to properly plead diversity of citizenship. But if jurisdiction isn’t obviously a problem, judges might simply prefer to leave it to the litigants to point out a complaint’s deficiencies, which is in keeping with what judges usually do. In an albeit different context, Judge Tjoflat, in an important decision, once cautioned district courts not to do the work that litigants should do: “Our adversarial system requires it; district courts cannot concoct or resurrect arguments neither made nor advanced by the parties.”
To be sure, I’m not advocating that we should intentionally disregard the Eleventh Circuit’s well-established procedures on dealing with shotgun pleadings. I do suspect, however, that they’re not being followed, or being followed only rarely. 

John Oliver on Minimum Mandatory Sentences!

Does this resonate with any of you?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 1 for guest bloggers: FAIL

Well, that was a bust. Sorry readers. Hopefully more content will come through soon. In the meantime, here's Paula McMahon on a new fraud case:

Eight more South Florida residents have been indicted on federal charges they were involved in a fraud conspiracy that pressured seniors to invest in what they thought was valuable technology the NFL was going to use, prosecutors said Monday.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Guest Bloggers Unite!

I'm taking a little blog sabbatical (two weeks) ... so please enjoy the roster of guest bloggers while I'm gone (I still may pop in from time to time).  --dm

Thursday, July 23, 2015


The 11th Circuit affirmed the conviction for Hafiz Khan today. He was the one defendant who was convicted at trial (Judge Scola dismissed the case against the son).  From the intro of Judge Tjoflat's opinion:
This appeal concerns the challenging twenty-nine day trial of Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan. A federal grand jury indicted Khan in 2011 on terrorism-related charges. At trial, the Government presented evidence demonstrating Khan’s involvement in the transfer of money to members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, a foreign terrorist organization also known as the Pakistani Taliban. The jury convicted Khan on all counts: conspiring to provide (Count 1), and providing or attempting to provide (Count 3), material support to terrorists, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339A; and conspiring to provide (Count 2), and providing or attempting to provide (Count 4), material support to a foreign terrorist organization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B. Khan now appeals his convictions. After careful review, we affirm.
 And of course, Khan!:

"Obama Got To Visit Federal Prisoners. The Family Of This Inmate Who Had Brain Surgery Can't."

That's the headline of this HuffPost article in which Marc Seitles is fighting BOP for his client's family to have the right to see him while he is in the hospital:

On July 1, a doctor went to conduct that evaluation, but found that Pierre was no longer at the prison. Seitles was soon informed that Pierre had been hospitalized full-time nine days earlier because of high fever and headaches, and that he was having brain surgery the following day to remove a pituitary tumor.
Seitles wasn't told about this major development, which involved the removal of a tumor about the size of a golf ball that the physician treating Pierre reportedly said was one of the largest he'd ever seen. Pierre's family, it turned out, was also kept in the dark.
"At no time was Mr. Pierre's counsel notified nor was his immediate family all of whom reside in Broward County. Three of his brothers and sisters have already been approved by the FDC for visitation purposes," Seitles wrote in a motion asking the federal judge handling the case to order BOP to allow one family member to visit Pierre for up to two hours a day. The government did not initially oppose the motion, apparently seeing no reason that a man recovering from brain surgery should be denied the right to see family.
The judge granted the request, ordering BOP to allow visitation. Pierre's sister Marie Blot went to visit him on Monday, court order in hand. But the guard wouldn't let her see him, and instead allegedly threatened the sister with arrest.
"She explained to the guard that the district court approved family visitation of one person per day for two hours. The guard told her that she would have her arrested if she persisted," Seitles told the court in a filing Tuesday. "Ms. Blot requested the that guard review the order. The guard reviewed the order and then stated that the 'Judges don’t tell us what to do.'" Blot was escorted out of the hospital.
With President Barack Obama visiting a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, earlier this month and asking the Justice Department to study BOP's use of solitary confinement, those familiar with the bureau's practices say there's plenty the federal government could be doing to improve the conditions of those who are behind bars.
“Obama sent a strong message about prison reform and what can no longer be tolerated in a civilized society. Being chained to a hospital bed for 30 days after undergoing brain surgery and then being told you can’t have your loved ones visit is not civilized," Seitles said in an email. “The BOP knows very well the difference between a first-time offender, low-security risk detainee and a violent habitual offender. The only security risk Mr. Pierre poses is being another casualty of the BOP’s archaic policies.
 Fight the good fight Marc!

Meantime, there is a new call to fix the bail problem in the U.S.  It's absurd how many people are denied bail.  From the Washington Post:

Studies indicate that courts are more likely to view African Americans and Latinos as flight risks or public threats; these groups more often receive higher bail or mandatory pretrial detention. And because African Americans, Latinos and persons with disabilities are disproportionately poor, setting higher bail for them increases the likelihood that they will be unable to pay for release.
One study found that in 2008, 39 percent of all pretrial detainees in New York City were in custody because they could not afford bail. A 2013 study found that 50 percent of the city’s pretrial detainees could not afford bail of less than $2,500. In county courts across the nation, an average of 30 percent of pretrial detainees who are given bail less than $5,000 cannot afford the payment.
The inability to pay bail, however, does not explain prolonged detention. Trial delays primarily occur due to overly burdened criminal courts, prosecutors and defense lawyers. Clogged criminal-court dockets, in turn, are a direct result of the dramatic rise in the use of incarceration as method of social control in the United States — the outgrowth of the “tough on crime” mindset that pervaded the U.S. criminal justice system from the mid-1970s through the 1990s.
The U.S. prison population increased by 400 percent between 1973 and 2013; we incarcerate more people than any other nation. And while the United States is home to just  five percent of the world population, our prisons house 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. The explosion of incarceration has substantially burdened the criminal process and slowed the pace of prosecution in many jurisdictions.
Prolonged pretrial tradition is inconsistent with U.S. legal norms because it infringes one of the most fundamental rights secured by the Constitution: the right to liberty. The government can detain defendants before trial, but pretrial detention must not constitute punishment, which can only occur upon conviction. When unreasonable and excessive delay occurs between arrest and trial, the distinction between pretrial detention and punishment is merely a facade.

In local news, Dr. Melgen (who is now out on bond... finally!) has filed a motion to suppress, which is covered by the Herald:

When federal agents raided the South Florida clinic of a wealthy eye doctor in 2013, their warrant only allowed them to gather evidence about his prolific Medicare billing for a fraud investigation.
But according to Dr. Salomon Melgen's defense attorneys, FBI agents illegally collected their client's handwritten notebook of personal contacts for a parallel corruption probe targeting the physician's close friend, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the influential New Jersey Democrat.
The attorneys claim that the day after the January raid in West Palm Beach, an FBI agent went to a federal magistrate judge to obtain a follow-up warrant to justify the seizure of Melgen's notebook, which they say was mischaracterized as a “ledger of prostitution activities” in an affidavit.
Now, Melgen and Menendez — both charged in an influence-peddling corruption case in New Jersey — are aggressively fighting to dismiss their indictment, saying FBI and Justice Department prosecutors conducted an illegal search and misled a federal grand jury involving other evidence.
“Instead of complying with the [initial] warrant, the agents launched a broad and intrusive room-to-room search for materials related to Dr. Melgen’s friendship with Senator Menendez and the outlandish and untrue allegations of sexual misconduct made by the anonymous ‘Peter Williams,’’’ according to court papers filed this week by the physician’s lawyers, Matthew Menchel and Kirk Ogrosky.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A few news and notes

1.  A police officer gets 3 years from Judge Scola for helping out a group of pot dealers (via Miami Herald):
Life doesn’t have a delete button, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola told a former Miami-Dade County police detective as he sentenced the man to three years in prison for aiding and abetting a drug family’s distribution racket.
Roderick Silva, a highly valuable asset for the now-imprisoned Santiesteban family, pleaded guilty in April to protecting the violent pot organization, making him the 21st and possibly last defendant to be convicted in the long-running Miami federal case.
In a court apology, Silva said he is ashamed of the man he was and regrets the actions that put his wife and two children “through six years of heartache, stress and financial ruin.” Twenty friends and family members came to support the 46-year-old former officer at the sentencing.
 2.  The Blago case is coming back for re-sentencing after a bunch of convictions got wiped away (via AP): 
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may still end up serving all of his 14-year prison term despite an appeals court ruling that he didn't break the law when he sought to secure a post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet for appointing an Obama adviser to the president's old U.S. Senate seat.
In overturning five of 18 corruptions counts that sent Blagojevich off to a prison, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday also ordered he be resentenced. But the court said his original prison sentence may not be extreme, even with some counts dismissed.
Speaking outside the Blagojevich family home in Chicago, his wife, Patti, told reporters later Tuesday that her husband had expressed disappointment the court didn't hand him a clear legal victory.
"He's disappointed, of course," she said, the couple's 18-year-old daughter at her side. She added more optimistically, "Possibly this is a step in the right direction of getting Rod home to his family."
The court's unanimous ruling addressed a key question looming over the Blagojevich case: Where is the line between legal and illegal political wheeling and dealing? The panel's answer: When it came to Blagojevich's attempt to land a Cabinet seat, he did not cross the line. But his attempts to trade the Senate seat for campaign cash, however, were illegal, the court concluded.
 3.  This Alito interview is pretty revealing.  Why does Bill Kristol have a joker-like smile during the whole thing?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is prison reform for non-violent drug offenders alone enough to solve the problem?

According to this FiveThirtyEight article, not even close:
Suppose every federal drug offender were released today. That would cut the incarceration rate to about 693 inmates per 100,000 population. Suppose further that every drug offender in a state prison were also released. That would get the rate down to 625. It’s a significant drop, no question — these hypothetical measures would shrink the overall prison population by about 14 percent. (There isn’t data from BJS on the most serious charges faced by those in local jails, so let’s assume that no jail inmates are released in these scenarios.)
But let’s have some international context. Even in that extreme hypothetical situation, the U.S. would still be an incarceration outlier. Even without its many inmates who are convicted of drug charges, the U.S. still leads the world in imprisoning people. Next is the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a rate of 542 per 100,000 people, followed by Turkmenistan at 522 and Cuba at 510. Russia’s rate is 463. (See the bottom of this post for the full list of international incarceration rates. The international data is from the International Centre for Prison Studies, and I’ve restricted the list to countries with a population of at least 100,000.)
Locking up drug offenders is only part of the larger story behind mass incarceration. Other reasons for the high rates include the severity of nondrug sentencing, the attitudes of judges and prosecutors, a high rate of violent crime such as murder, and rising crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s. “The increase in U.S. incarceration rates over the past 40 years is preponderantly the result of increases both in the likelihood of imprisonment and in lengths of prison sentences,” the National Research Council wrote in a report last year.
Reformers interested in ending mass incarceration — or at least in getting America’s rates in line with those internationally — will have to think far more broadly.1 It’s a much thornier problem than that.
Meantime, congratulations to Judge Moreno on 25 years on the bench.  He's been a pillar of this District and has done a lot to transform the court for the better.  This weekend he celebrated with his law clerks from all over the country who flew in to be with him.

ADDED -- I'm told by one of my favorite tipsters that Judge Moreno's clerks (more than 40 of them were here this weekend) raised money to start a scholarship in Judge Moreno's name at the University of Miami.  Really really nice.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Judicial Luminaries

Last night’s Judicial Luminaries reception and dinner at the Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Grove—put on by the Spellman-Hoeveler American Inn of Court and Legal Services of Greater Miami—was a fun, informative event that featured a panel of six of our federal and state judges: Judge Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit; Judge Huck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida; Judge Bronwyn Miller of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit; Chief Judge Moore of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida; Judge Thornton of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit; and Judge Walsh of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. Judge Salter of the Third District Court of Appeal moderated.

Some highlights:

Chief Judge Moore talked about the importance of continuing efforts to secure adequate and safe space for the judges, the lawyers, and the public. The Chief also mentioned that the bench could be changing soon—Judges Zloch, Middlebrooks, and Martinez are now eligible for senior status and (if my notes are correct) six others will be eligible over the next few years. Wow.

Judge Jordan said that the workload on the Eleventh Circuit has lessened a bit since he joined, though one vacancy still exists (Alabama), two judges have left the court (Judges Barkett and Birch), and Judge Hill retired and another may retire soon. The Eleventh Circuit, he said, is still among the top three circuits in the country with cases per judges. Each judge has about 12 to 15 death-penalty cases per year.

Judge Jordan also said that pro se appeals make up about a quarter of the Eleventh Circuit’s docket, and mentioned opportunities for lawyers to take these cases on.

Judge Jordan said it’s “not easy” to obtain oral argument, citing, among other things, the Eleventh Circuit’s tradition in granting it sparingly. Judge Huck—who frequently sits by designation on the courts of appeals—also said this about getting oral argument: “It helps if your appeal has some merit.”

Finally, Judge Huck gave good, practical advice, saying that judges don’t like surprises and that lawyers shouldn’t try to duck judges’ questions. He also encouraged lawyers to take on pro bono cases, mentioning the court’s volunteer-lawyer program. He called this a win-win-win situation—a win for the client, for the court, and for the lawyer.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

President calls for Criminal Justice Reform

The top people at the Executive Branch are trying.  Now we need the judicial branch to step up.  From the Washington Post:
President Obama called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system Tuesday, saying that the United States needed to reevaluate an “aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth.”
The speech at the NAACP’s national convention, coming on the heels of a sweeping act of clemency Monday and ahead of his visit Thursday to a federal prison in Oklahoma, was the formal launch of one of the president’s last major legislative campaigns.
Sentencing reform represents one of the final domestic policies Obama hopes to broker on Capitol Hill before leaving office.
Telling the audience that “we can’t close our eyes anymore,” Obama noted that the nation’s prison population had more than quadrupled from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million today.
“In far too many cases, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime,” he said. “And by the way, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price.” He argued that the $80 billion the federal government spends each year on prisons — nearly a third of the Justice Department’s budget — could instead fund preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in the country.
In local news, Michael Szafranski will be taking a plea.  Paula McMahon broke the story:
A financial adviser accused of deceiving investors who lost millions in Scott Rothstein's $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme is expected to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge later this month, court records show.
Michael Szafranski, 37, of Surfside, is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing July 29 in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
Details of any plea agreement with federal prosecutors would not be made public until after the hearing with U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas.
Rothstein testified in depositions that Szafranski knew about his fraud. Prosecutors said Szafranski did not know Rothstein was running a Ponzi scheme, but Szafranski knew he and Rothstein were breaking the law.
Szafranski was indicted in February on one count of wire fraud conspiracy and 11 counts of wire fraud. Each of the charges carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison and fines, though he would likely receive a much lesser sentence.
His lawyers previously said Szafranski, who is free on $250,000 bond, planned to go to trial.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hasn't Trump read Elonis v. United States?

Apparently, Trump and El Chapo are in a bit of a Twitter spa (from TMZ):
Trump is reacting to a tweet reportedly made by El Chapo's son, in which he blasts Trump for saying El Chapo is "everything that's wrong with Mexico."
The tweet was written in Spanish, with the rough English translation, "Keep f***ing around and I'm gonna make you swallow your bitch words you f***ing whitey milks***tter (that's a homophobic slur)."
Trump tells TMZ he's not backing down, saying, "I'm fighting for much more than myself. I'm fighting for the future of our country which is being overrun by criminals." He adds, "You can't be intimidated. It's too important." 

So Trump called the FBI.

I wonder if he has read Elonis.

In more important news, President Obama commuted a bunch of drug sentences.

Paula McMahon covers one of the local defendants who was on the list.

Monday, July 13, 2015

No jail for Beanie Babies tax fraudster

Judges are starting to speak out about the ridiculous guideline system we have and incarcerating first time non-violent offenders for no reason.  Here's the latest -- a 7th Circuit opinion affirming a non-jail term sentence for the billionaire owner of Beanie Babies in a very large tax fraud case:
Defendant H. Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies, evaded $5.6 million in U.S. taxes by hiding assets in a Swiss bank account.  He pled guilty to one count of tax evasion, made full restitution, and paid a $53.6 million civil penalty.  The Sentencing Guidelines provided a recommended 46- to 57-month term of imprisonment, but the district judge gave Warner a more lenient sentence: two years’ probation with community service, plus a $100,000 fine and costs.  The government claims his sentence is unreasonable because it does not include a term of incarceration.
In a typical case, we might agree.  But this is not a typical case.  The district judge found Warner’s record of charity and benevolence “overwhelming.”  Indeed, the judge remarked that Warner’s conduct was unprecedented when viewed through the judge’s more-than-three decades on the bench.  In the district court’s opinion, this and other mitigating factors — including the uncharacteristic nature of Warner’s crime, his attempt to disclose his account, his payment of a penalty ten times the size of the tax loss, and the government’s own request for a sentence well below the guidelines range — justified leniency.  District courts enjoy broad discretion to fashion an appropriate, individualized sentence in light of the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).  The court here did not abuse its discretion.  Rather, it fully explained and supported its decision and reached an outcome that is reasonable under the unique circumstances of this case.  We therefore affirm Warner’s sentence.

In other news, President Obama is going to see what federal prison is all about -- he's making a visit Oklahoma to see the federal prison there, a first for a sitting President:
President Barack Obama will become the first sitting chief executive to visit a federal prison when he goes to El Reno, Oklahoma, next week to meet with law enforcement officials and inmates as part of the administration’s push for criminal-justice reform.
“Next week, the president will underscore the administration’s focus on the need to reform and improve America’s criminal justice system,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said during Friday’s news briefing.
Obama will speak to that on Tuesday when he addresses the NAACP conference in Philadelphia before stopping at the medium-security federal facility in Oklahoma on Thursday. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the facility houses 1,301 inmates in all, including 248 at an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp.

Finally, a pro-se litigant won this appeal (via
Every day, state prisoners flood Florida’s courts with appeals and pleadings about their cases that they’ve written themselves. Those pro se filings — Latin for “on his own behalf” — rarely get far.
This spring, however, an inmate sex offender serving a life sentence convinced the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach that a Broward judge erred when she failed to order prosecutors to explain potentially serious discrepancies about his Miranda rights warning form.
The state introduced the Miranda form as evidence at Charles D. Williams’ 1998 trial, but Williams contends the document was a fraud and that police forged his signature. For years, Williams and his family filed public records requests seeking to obtain a copy.
“After serving multiple requests to the Broward County Clerk and the State Attorney’s Office over a course of years, his brother finally obtained a copy of a Miranda waiver form,” says the unanimous order by a three-judge appeal panel. “The date on the form produced differed from the date on the form introduced at trial, and the signature on the form produced varied from the petitioner’s signature.”
The panel ordered Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter to require prosecutors and the clerk’s office to respond to the “factual issue of whether the form produced is the same as the form introduced at trial.” If the response doesn’t resolve the matter, Porter was instructed to “hold an evidentiary hearing.”
The court issued its mandate to Judge Porter on June 12 after denying a request for reconsideration by Florida Assistant Attorney General Richard Valtunas, who in previous court papers called Williams’ assertions “outlandish allegations of fraud and skullduggery.” The judge had not taken action as of Monday.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book review Bum Rap by Paul Levine

If you're looking for a fun summer read, pick up Paul Levine's latest novel, Bum Rap. Miamians and those of you in the criminal justice system will enjoy it.

It takes place in Miami and the set-up is the B-girl case, which the blog covered in detail. You'll see lots of familiar places, including the Justice Building. And you'll also see lots of familiar names, including Roy Black and Levine's wife Marcia Silvers. I won't ruin it with all of the Miami references, which are fun to see as you go.

Good stuff!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

11th reverses honest services conviction

Jury instructions were the cause in United States v. Aunspaugh:

This is an honest-services fraud case. On one view of the evidence, the defendants participated in a classic kickback scheme. On another view, the scheme involved an egregious conflict of interest but no kickback. Under Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010), the defendants’ conduct constituted honest- services fraud only on the first view, not the second. Because the jury instructions would have allowed a conviction on either view of the evidence, we vacate the honest-services convictions. We also vacate other convictions that depend on the honest-services convictions. But we uphold convictions for structuring financial transactions not dependent on the honest-services convictions. 

The panel also said this about acceptance at the new sentencing:

We add one other note about sentencing. The Aunspaughs argue that the district court improperly inferred a lack of remorse because they chose not to plead guilty but remained silent instead. They argue that the court’s consideration of these things violated their constitutional rights. See, e.g., United States v. Rodriguez, 959 F.2d 193, 197 (11th Cir. 1992) (noting that a district court may weigh remorse in a defendant’s favor but must not “weigh against the defendant the defendant’s exercise of constitutional or statutory rights”). Because we remand for resentencing, we do not address this issue today. The district court should resentence the defendants without weighing against them their exercise of constitutional rights.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Unpublished, yet enbancworthy?

A few months ago we wrote about an Eleventh Circuit unpublished decision affirming a major upward variance for a relatively minor crime (though committed by a defendant with a lengthy criminal history). The panel’s decision not to publish the decision seemed “unusual,” and we suggested that, because it was unpublished, “the likelihood of en banc review is greatly reduced, for there is little reason for the full court to undertake the arduous process of reviewing a decision that doesn’t bind it or lower courts.”

Perhaps that view was overstated. Last week Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith, joined by three of his colleagues, dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc of an unpublished decision reversing a district court’s denial of habeas relief. To Judge Smith, the “panel majority’s obvious error cries out for correction.” In his view, the “opinion is enbancworthy because, even though unpublished, it infects our entire habeas jurisprudence.”

The defendant’s lawyers in the Eleventh Circuit case filed a petition for rehearing en banc. Today, however, the petition was denied in a one-line order. It simply wasn’t enbancworthy.


In related news, the Eleventh Circuit last week affirmed the conviction and sentence of a former Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler lawyer for her role in the Ponzi scheme. In affirming her 5-year sentence, Judge Linn, sitting by designation and writing for the court, ended the (unpublished) opinion this way:
The district court’s sentence of 60 months is also substantively reasonable. In this case, had there been no loss, the parties agree that the guidelines suggested a sentence of 8–14 months. The problem for Kitterman is that the guidelines are intended for normal cases and, for a number of reasons, her case is anything but. First, Kitterman impersonated an official of the Florida Bar. Second, as the district court explained, this case will put people on notice that if “they do a fraud, and at the time they do it, they don’t appreciate the consequences of that fraud, there will be consequences if they are apprehended.” Third, while it is perhaps impossible to estimate what value Kitterman ascribed to the Bar complaints, the district court was correct that “it would blatantly be wrong to say [the intended loss] had no value.” Thus, a zero loss here does not, as might normally be the case, suggest that Kitterman’s intent was less pernicious. Fourth, this case is unusual because, as the district court noted, Kitterman was a lawyer and should have appreciated that “what [she was] doing is wrong.” Fifth, Kitterman’s sentence is also justified by the fact that Steven Caputi—who posed as a banker to deceive investors but who also did not know about the Rothstein Ponzi scheme—received a similar sentence of five years. Finally, Kitterman’s sentence is significantly below the total statutory maximum of 60 years imprisonment for the three wire fraud convictions.

Are criminal trials fair?

Judge Kozinski says no way in this really interesting read from the Georgetown Annual Review of Criminal Procedure.  His main points, as summarized by Business Insider:

1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable

Eyewitnesses are highly unreliable, especially when the witness and perpetrator are of different races, or when witnesses are asked to recall a situation in which they were under the stress of violent crime or catastrophe, Kozinski writes. Mistaken eyewitness testimony was a factor in one-third of all wrongful conviction cases, according to his article.
Jed Rakoff, another well-known federal judge, made the same point in a Washington Post op-ed this year.

2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof

Kozinski says prints left in the field are often smudged and incomplete — making them difficult to identify. He adds that when tested by more rigorous scientific methods, fingerprint examiners have a significant error rate.
The National Academies of Sciences has also said the work of fingerprint examiners can be flawed

3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible

Aside from DNA evidence, Kozinski says what is true about fingerprint evidence is doubly true about bloodstain-pattern identification, foot- and tire-print identification, and ballistics.
"Some fields of forensic expertise are built on nothing but guesswork and false common sense," Kozinski writes. 
Recently, the Justice Department exposed major problems with microscopic hair testing in criminal cases. 

4. DNA evidence is infallible

Kozinski says the integrity of DNA evidence is often compromised during the collection, preservation, and testing process, and that DNA examiners are not always competent and honest.
As Mother Jones noted in April, "Real-life crime labs are a total mess."

5. Human memories are reliable

Kozinski, citing a study by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, believes the mind not only distorts and embellishes memories, but that external factors affect how memories are recalled and described. 
In an interview with Slate, Loftus acknowledged that we're all capable of fabricating memories
"We all have memories that are malleable and susceptible to being contaminated or supplemented in some way," Loftus told Slate. 

6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess

Kozinski has found that innocent people confess surprisingly often, due to a variety of factors including interrogation tactics, Stockholm syndrome, emotional or financial exhaustion, family considerations, and general feeble-mindedness. 
As The New Yorker has reported, police can also produce false confessions by using a certain interrogation technique

7. Juries follow instructions

Kozinski claims courts know very little of what juries do when they decide cases. Courts have no way of knowing whether juries follow instructions or even whether they understand them, according to Kozinski. 
"We have no convincing reason to believe that jury instructions in fact constrain jury behavior in all or even most cases," Kozinski writes.

8. Prosecutors play fair

Kozinski believes prosecutors often fail to turn over evidence that could be favorable to the defense, known as exculpatory evidence. In a case called Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors have to turn over that evidence. But Kozinski claims there's an "epidemic" of Brady violations in America. 

9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt

In reality, Kozinski writes, the defendant is often at a disadvantage because prosecutors have the chance to argue their case before the defense during a trial.
That's troubling because of psychological evidence showing that "whoever makes the first assertion about something has a large advantage over everyone who denies it later," according to Kozinski.

10. Police are objective in their investigations

Kozinski says police have the opportunity to alter or remove evidence, influence witnesses, extract confessions, and more or less lead an investigation in such a way that they can stack the deck against somebody they believe should be convicted.
"There are countless documented cases where innocent people have spent decades behind bars because the police manipulated or concealed evidence," Kozinski writes. 

11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt

Kozinski has found that when a defendant believes an outcome is highly uncertain or stacked against them, they might cave and enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge so that they can still salvage a part of their life.
Judge Jed Rakoff has also lamented the fact that 97% of federal criminal defendants plead guilty if their cases aren't dismissed. 

12. Long sentences deter crime

America has 716 prisoners for every 100,000 people — the most of any country in the world, Kozinski notes. America also has much longer sentences than other countries for comparable crimes. Kozinski points out that a burglary charge in the US warrants an average of 16 months in prison, compared with five months in Canada and seven months in England.
"As with much else in the law, the connection between punishment and deterrence remains mysterious," Kozinski writes. "We make our decisions based on faith."
Meantime, there are a bunch of criminal trials starting this summer, which are expected to last over a month.  One just started before Judge Martinez, so if you are looking for something for your interns to do... send them over to watch a federal trial!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday to the Blog!

The Southern District of Florida Blog shares its birthday with the U S of A.  The blog turns 10 this year.  And America is 239, not 2015.

The very first post 10 years ago asked for President Bush to appoint a Floridian to the Supreme Court.  Although the Court did get its first Hispanic jurist, it did not get a Floridian.  Hopefully one day soon!

Since then, the blog has had 2835 posts and more than 2 million views.

Thanks to all of my tipsters and readers.  It's been a fun 10 years.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

New Article on the Eleventh Circuit's State of Emergency

Section 46(b) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code states that appeals may be heard and determined "by separate panels, each consisting of three judges, at least a majority of whom shall be judges of that court, ... unless the chief judge of that court certifies that there is an emergency." By General Order No. 41, the Eleventh Circuit was for the better part of 2014 certified to be in an emergency state. South Florida appellate lawyer Andrew L. Adler, who clerked for two judges of the Eleventh Circuit, wrote about this in his scholarly article Extended Vacancies, Crushing Caseloads, and Emergency Panels in the Federal Courts of Appeals, which was recently published in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process.

Here's the introduction:
At the end of 2013, the chief judge of the Eleventh Circuit declared a state of emergency, exempting the court from the requirement in 28 U.S.C. §46(b) that each of its panels include a majority of Eleventh Circuit judges. As would later become clear, the emergency arose from multiple vacancies on the court, which exacerbated the effect of its heavy per-judge caseload. Throughout 2014, emergency panels consisting of one Eleventh Circuit judge and two visiting judges resolved over one hundred appeals. 
In a petition for rehearing filed in one such case, an unsuccessful appellant challenged the validity of the emergency panel. Rather than resolving the petition summarily, the emergency panel instead published a precedential opinion upholding the certified emergency. Although other circuits have certified section 46(b) emergencies based on the vacancy-caseload combination, the Eleventh Circuit's opinion is the first federal appellate decision addressing a challenge to such an emergency. Because extended vacancies and heavy caseloads are likely to persist, that opinion invites new scrutiny of the emergency exception to section 46(b)'s majority requirement. This article begins that undertaking.
Adler defends Chief Judge Carnes's application of the emergency exception.

If you're interested in the Eleventh Circuit -- or in the federal courts of appeals in general -- do check out Adler's well written and thoroughly researched article.

“They say that any prosecutor worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It may be that a decent prosecutor could get a petit jury to convict a eunuch of rape.”

That's Judge Kozinski in this article calling for criminal justice reform:
Defense lawyers who are found to have been ineffective regularly find their names plastered into judicial opinions, yet judges seem strangely reluctant to name names when it comes to misbehaving prosecutors. Indeed, judges seem reluctant to even suspect prosecutors of improper behavior, as if they were somehow beyond suspicion….Naming names and taking prosecutors to task for misbehavior can have magical qualities in assuring compliance with constitutional rights.
If judges have reason to believe that witnesses, especially police officers or government informants, testify falsely, they must refer the matter for prosecution. If they become aware of widespread misconduct in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights violation might well be appropriate. *** The U.S. Justice Department seems ready enough to pursue charges of civil rights violations in cases where police have engaged in physical violence, but far more reluctant to pursue misbehaving prosecutors.

And from the East Coast, you have Judge Gertner saying her sentences during 17 years on the bench were unfair and immoral:
Among 500 sanctions that she handed down, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,” she said. “I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty to write about those stories––to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy.”
No theory of retribution or social change could justify them, she said. And that dispiriting conclusion inspired the radical idea that she presented: a call for the U.S. to mimic its decision after World War II to look to the future and rebuild rather than trying to punish or seek retribution. As she sees it, the War on Drugs ought to end in that same spirit. “Although we were not remotely the victors of that war, we need a big idea in order to deal with those who were its victims,” she said, calling for something like a Marshall Plan.
And yet, nothing seems to be happening with reform....  Same old, same old.

But, we may have a new Broward courthouse:
Florida's most conservative and liberal members of Congress joined forces Tuesday in calling for more federal spending — for projects in the state.
Led by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, a Democrat who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Jeff Miller, a Republican who represents part of the Florida Panhandle, half the state's congressional delegation wrote the administrator of the agency in charge of federal buildings that Fort Lauderdale and Pensacola need new federal courthouses.

Federal judges, and the lawyers who appear before them, have been complaining for years about the courthouse at Broward Boulevard and Northeast Third Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. The development community in Fort Lauderdale has urged a new courthouse as has Mayor Jack Seiler, a lawyer. Cost of a new Fort Lauderdale courthouse has been estimated at $250 million.

I'm gonna miss Jon Stewart: