Friday, January 30, 2015

The revolution will not be televised

Forget about TV, you can't even get a seat inside the Supreme Court. From USA Today:
The dignified calm of the U.S. Supreme Court was broken recently when seven protesters, one after another, rose to shout epithets about the growing power of money in American politics — a trend the court has hastened through its rulings.

It was a rare moment of chaos in the court. When the episode ended, Chief Justice John Roberts told spectators, "We will now continue with our tradition of having open court in the Supreme Court."

Roberts' off-the-cuff remark was significant, reminding the public that the nation's highest court is indeed open — and openness can sometimes be messy in a democracy. But as the court continues to add blockbuster cases to its docket, the unfortunate narrow scope of the court's openness deserves scrutiny.

In the next three months, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on three extraordinary landmark issues: same-sex marriage, the future of Obamacare and the constitutionality of lethal injections for capital punishment.

Roberts is correct that the court will be open when those cases are argued — but only to 200 or so members of the public lucky enough to obtain seats. Many will wait in line for days in advance. If past experience is repeated, wealthy individuals who want seats will pay thousands of dollars for others to wait in line for them — an unseemly business that tarnishes the court's image of openness.

Why will only a relative handful of people be able to witness history at the court? Because, as open as it is, the court has long refused to let cameras record or broadcast its proceedings. We have written about this before, but the court's policy continues to amaze people — especially young people, who take transparency and access for granted.

Recent polls have shown strong approval for cameras in the Supreme Court (71%) and record-high agreement that the court should be more open and transparent generally (95%).

The group Fix the Court, which advocates for greater transparency at the Supreme Court, posted an amusing video recently in which random Americans were told that the Super Bowl will not be televised. The interviewees refused to believe it — and, no worries, it will be. But when those interviewed were told that a slightly more important institution — namely, the Supreme Court — is never televised, they were incredulous, and upset.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Warren Lee Hill executed

The 11th Circuit denied his last stay request (Hull & Marcus, with a dissent by Martin) and the Supreme Court also turned him down yesterday, leading Georgia to execute Warren Lee Hill.

Here's the NY Times:
The State of Georgia executed a convicted murderer, Warren Lee Hill, on Tuesday night, ending a prolonged legal fight that led to a series of court-ordered reprieves and frequently tested the state’s standards for capital punishment.
The Georgia attorney general’s office confirmed Mr. Hill’s death at a state prison in Jackson, southeast of Atlanta. He was 54.
The execution would “live on as a moral stain on the people of this state and on the courts that allowed this to happen,” Brian Kammer, one of Mr. Hill’s lawyers, said shortly before the sentence was carried out.
The execution came at the end of a day in which state officials and the federal courts denied Mr. Hill’s final appeals, which focused on claims of intellectual disability and whether Georgia law made it essentially impossible to avoid a death sentences on those grounds.
The United States Supreme Court turned down the appeal Tuesday night; the court said Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor had supported issuing a stay of execution. Earlier Tuesday, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a request for clemency from Mr. Hill, who was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of another inmate, Joseph Handspike.
At the time of Mr. Handspike’s death, Mr. Hill was in prison for killing his girlfriend in 1985.
Although Mr. Hill’s appeals sometimes involved questions about Georgia’s lethal injection protocols, his last legal campaign dealt with a contention of an intellectual disability. Mr. Hill, with an I.Q. of 70, had “the emotional and cognitive functioning of an 11-year-old boy,” Mr. Kammer said.
“Warren Lee Hill is intellectually disabled,” Mr. Hill’s lawyers told the Supreme Court in a filing. “The lower Georgia courts have said this twice. All of respondent’s experts have acknowledged this fact.” ***
In a ruling announced less than 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the execution, the justices rejected Mr. Hill’s appeal.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Surveillance nation

You are being watched and tracked all of the time. Do you care? From Fox:

The Justice Department has acknowledged constructing a database to track the movements of millions of vehicles across the U.S. in real time.

The program, whose existence was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is primarily overseen by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to combat drug trafficking near the U.S.-Mexico border. However, government emails indicate that the agency has been working to expand the database throughout the United States over the past several years.

A Justice Department spokesman told Fox News that the tracking program is compliant with federal, claiming it "includes protocols that limit who can access the database and all of the license plate information is deleted after 90 days." In 2012, a DEA agent testified before a House subcommittee that the program was inaugurated in December 2008 and information gathered by it was available to federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations.

It is not clear whether the tracking is overseen or approved by any court.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

“No one is buying a judge for $500. But it could buy you a continuance down the road.”

That was one Florida Judge running for re-election back in 2002 (see par. 46). The Supreme Court heard argument this week on whether judges running for election in Florida should be able to personally solicit campaign contributions.  From SCOTUSBlog:
If there is one thing that the Roberts Court seems consistently willing to protect, it’s speech – even controversial or unpopular speech like violent video games, protests at the funeral of a fallen soldier, lies about receiving military medals, and dog-fighting videos. And for the Court’s five more conservative Justices, this enthusiasm for the First Amendment extends to the campaign-finance arena. In recent years, a closely divided Court has struck down a ban on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions as well as the overall caps on how much one person can contribute to campaigns for federal office. But yesterday’s oral argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, a Tampa lawyer’s challenge to a Florida rule that prohibited her from personally contacting would-be donors to ask them to contribute to her campaign for a job as a trial judge, hinted that, when it comes to the First Amendment, judges might be different. After all, some Justices suggested, it would be undignified for judges – who, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, are supposed to be “above the fray” – to go around asking people for money.
Arguing on behalf of Lanell Williams-Yulee, attorney Andrew Pincus told the nine Justices that Florida had punished his client for sending out form letters asking for contributions that were “completely” legal in Florida. And if the Florida rule prohibiting personal solicitations by potential judges is really intended to protect the would-be donors from feeling coerced to contribute, Pincus argued, then at the very least there should be no ban for mass mailings like the one at issue in this case, which are so impersonal that they don’t place any pressure on the people who receive them. But Justice Anthony Kennedy countered that Pincus’s proposed rule would make it difficult for courts to draw a line between what is and is not allowed. There are “all sorts of gradations,” he told Pincus. What about a letter from a potential judge to one person? What about a letter to five people?
Other Justices, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, suggested that there was more to the rule than just preventing coercion – for example, an interest in judges being dignified. Scalia observed that “there’s stuff we don’t let judges do” – such as publish op-eds in newspapers to respond to criticisms of their decisions.
Pincus may have found more success with his argument that the overall scheme of the Florida rule doesn’t make sense. After all, for example, although would-be judges can’t contact potential donors to ask for money, they can send notes directly to donors to thank them for their contributions, and their campaign committees can reach out on their behalf. The additional step of banning personal solicitations by judges, he contended, doesn’t actually make any difference. Some of the Court’s more liberal Justices were skeptical, arguing that the extra personal touch does make a difference when you are asking for money. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that it’s “very, very, very rare” for a lawyer to turn her down when she makes a request. Getting a signed letter or personal phone call from a judge, she suggested, would be more likely to lead to a contribution than a letter signed by the judge’s campaign committee. Justice Stephen Breyer echoed these concerns, telling Pincus that his “instinct is” that when someone else writes the letter, it doesn’t have the same effect.
But that argument seemed to find more traction with some of the Court’s more conservative Justices. When Barry Richard, arguing on behalf of the Florida Bar, emphasized that the Florida rule was designed to cut the direct link between a would-be judge and donor that creates corruption when a donor expects to receive something for his contribution, Justice Scalia rejected that premise. Once you can send a thank-you note directly to a donor to thank him for the campaign contribution, Scalia insisted, that’s no longer true, because there is a direct link. And Justice Samuel Alito asked Richard (somewhat rhetorically) to explain what additional damage would result from Williams-Yulee’s direct contact with would-be donors, compared with having a campaign committee send out fundraising letters which specifically say that the judge gave the committee the donor’s name, that the committee will let the judge know if a contribution is made, and that the judge will then write a thank-you note.
 Meantime, there were protestors in the High Court yesterday:
A handful of spectators disrupted the opening of Wednesday morning’s Supreme Court session by rising one by one from their seats to shout protests over the Citizens United decision and other populist themes on the fifth anniversary of the controversial ruling.
Just after the Justices had taken the bench at 10 a.m., and as they were about to announce opinions, a woman stood from her seat near the back of the courtroom and said, “I rise on behalf of democracy.” She continued with a mention of Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that removed limits on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Three Supreme Court police officers quickly converged on her, causing a loud commotion as they pushed through an area of the courtroom where single wooden chairs are in use, forcefully subdued her, and then removed her from the courtroom.
As what at first seemed like the lone demonstrator was removed, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. quipped, “Our second order of business this morning …” to laughs from the crowded courtroom.
But before he could finish that thought, a second demonstrators stood and said, “One person, one vote.” It was perhaps a continuation of the Citizens United theme, or a reference to a key phrase from the Court’s voting rights jurisprudence. As the second protestor was being approached by officers, a third and a fourth one stood and uttered similar lines.
The Chief Justice was heard to mutter, “Oh, please.”
As more officers entered the courtroom to deal with those protestors, a man in a back corner stood and said, “We are the ninety-nine percent,” a populist slogan referring to those not in the wealthiest one percent of the nation. After he delivered the line, this protestor looked around nervously as there were no police officers immediately near him.
As another protestor rose near the same corner, the Chief Justice felt obliged to come to the aid of the police force. “We have a couple of more over here,” Roberts said, pointing to the corner.
After six or seven demonstrators had said their lines and were removed, which had taken several minutes, it appeared the protest was over.
“We will now continue with our tradition of having open court in the Supreme Court,” Chief Justice Roberts said. He announced that Justice Sonia Sotomayor would deliver the first opinion of the day, and the rhythms of the courtroom soon settled back to normalcy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Judge Jose Gonzalez celebrates 50 years on the bench

Wow, what an accomplishment for such a good and nice man.  Last week the Court recognized Judge Gonzalez at the Ft. Lauderdale courthouse (good thing it wasn't raining!).  Lots of law clerks, friends and family attended, including good friend Justice Stevens.  Pretty neat.  Here's a picture of Judge Gonzalez with his law clerks:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Return of the Jedi

Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, along with Dexter Lehtinen, just blew up the Death Star.  It was a long war, but they have finally won to the tune of over $1 million in sanctions against the Tribe's lawyers.  Kudos to Lewis and Tein's lawyers Paul Calli, Chas Short, and Yolanda Strader for this big win.

Judge Marcia Cooke found:
  •  “The history of this action, along with the attendant state actions … indicate that a sizeable monetary sanction, in addition to the … recommendation to the Florida Bar for ethical violations, may be the only deterrence that resonates with [the Tribe] and its counsel.”  
  • “Roman could not, or did not, cite one instance where Defendants Lewis Tein’s billing actually was fake or fraudulent.” 
  • “Roman disregarded the fact that other lawyers, including himself, had invoices for similar amounts. … Roman testified that he charges the Tribe $300,000 per month, or $3 million a year.”  
  • “Roman initiated the investigation with a conclusion in mind and searched for facts to accommodate his presupposed conclusion.”
  • “Roman’s failure to investigate, or rely upon the facts revealed in his investigation, are inexcusable and merit sanctioning, especially given that there is no justifiable reason for an ignorant filing.” 
  • The Tribe's lawyer, Bernardo Roman III, should be referred to the Florida Bar and the S.D. Fla. professional committee for investigation and appropriate disciplinary action.
  •  “I decline the invitation to refer Roman to the United States Attorney’s Office for inquiry into whether he should be criminally charged with any violations of the law. His behavior is egregious and abhorrent, but I will not interfere with the determination of whether it constitutes criminality.”


Obi-wan Pacenti's last article at the DBR was fittingly on this:

A federal judge ordered more than $1 million in sanctions Friday against Miami attorney Bernardo Roman III, who represented the Miccosukee tribe in its feverish pursuit of a federal racketeering suit against its former legal counsel.
The Miccosukee tribe's "internal feud blinded its counsel, Bernardo Roman III, from adhering to the ethical tenants of our profession," U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami wrote. She called his conduct "egregious and abhorrent" more than a year after finding no basis for the lawsuit.
The sanctions order flows from the highly contentious complaint in 2012 against the tribe's former attorneys: Guy Lewis and Michael Tein of Lewis Tein and Dexter Lehtinen of Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano de la Fuente.
Lehtinen and Lewis are former U.S. attorneys in Miami. Cooke ordered Roman to pay Lewis Tein $975,750 and Lehtinen $95,640.
The lawsuit claimed the lawyers helped former Miccosukee chairman Billy Cypress embezzle $26 million. It also claimed Lewis Tein billed the tribe for work never performed and Lehtinen's tax advice to a $170 million Internal Revenue Service lien against the tribe and its members for failing to report gambling profits.
Cooke dismissed the lawsuit in September 2013.
"The wrongful conduct is the filing of the complaints with no reasonable factual basis to support their allegations," she wrote.
Cooke's 27-page order referred Roman to the Florida Bar, where he already faces an ethics investigation, and the Southern District of Florida professional committee for possible disciplinary action.
The judge declined to refer the case to the U.S. attorney's office for criminal prosecution as requested. She also declined to sanction Roman's associates, Yesenia Lara and Yinet Pino.
In response, Lewis Tein attorney Paul Calli of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami accused Roman of filing a "cowardly series of drive-by-shooting-like lawsuits," including the federal "lawsuit devoid of any merit."
Roman did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A few news and notes

1.  The Justices seemed annoyed that the U.S. would deport someone over a sock.  From USA Today:

The Supreme Court had a suggestion Wednesday for one of the more extreme reasons used by the Obama administration to deport documented immigrants on drug charges: Stick a sock in it.
The justices appeared fed up by the latest in a series of cases they have reversed over the past decade — cases in which immigrants have been deported or threatened with deportation because of minor drug offenses.
This time, the offender was convicted of possessing "drug paraphernalia" — a sock used to conceal four tablets of Adderall, a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"If he had cocaine in his sock, he would probably be convicted of possession of cocaine," a clearly miffed Justice Elena Kagan said.
"He was convicted of paraphernalia here because he had four pills of Adderall, which if you go to half the colleges in America ... and just randomly pick somebody, there would be a decent chance..." the former Harvard Law School dean said, her voice trailing off.
Nearly all the justices appeared convinced that the government had gone too far in deporting Moones Mellouli, a Tunisian who came to the USA on a student visa in 2004 and went on to earn two master's degrees, work as an actuary and teach mathematics at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Mellouli was deported under a federal law that permits the government to remove non-citizens "convicted of a violation of ... any law or regulation of a state, the United States or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance." First offenses for minor amounts of marijuana are exempt.
Much of the hour-long argument dealt with the literal and practical interpretations of those words. Does the drug have to be on the federal list, or is the Kansas list enough? Is it the violation that matters or only the conviction? What does "relating to" refer to — the violation or the law?
It wasn't long before the justices socked it to the government, and the case began to unravel.
"Is a sock considered drug paraphernalia under federal law?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Mellouli's lawyer, Jon Laramore.
"Do you think a sock is more than tenuously related to these federal drugs?" Justice Antonin Scalia asked the government's lawyer, Assistant Solicitor General Rachel Kovner.

2.  Feds grab man selling black rhino horn.  From the Sun-Sentinel:
The president of a luxury Boynton Beach auction house pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns, coral and elephant ivory to China.
Christopher Hayes, president of Elite Estate Buyers, admitted to participating in a complex conspiracy to falsify shipping documents and use third-party shippers to help slip the illegal items out of the country to foreign buyers. In one case, federal prosecutors say, he sold two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros to a Texas resident and who was smuggling them to China....
Hayes' lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, said his client was "deeply apologetic" about violating the law protecting endangered species.
"He is distraught that he even in a slight way may have contributed to the harm of the environment and endangered species," he said. "Through his established business, he hopes to become an educator and leader in informing the profession about the concerns with endangered species items."
Hayes, 55, of Wellington, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing date has not been set. The company, which does business under the name Elite Decorative Arts, will pay a fine of $1.5 million. The company deals in high-end goods such as Chinese jade jewelry, oil paintings and antique porcelain.
The horns of the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered African species, command high prices in Asia for their use in traditional medicine. The investigation involved undercover officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who posed as buyers.

3.   Dersh's op-ed about the false accusations against him is pretty powerful:

I now stand accused of crimes I did not commit, by an unnamed woman who I don’t know and never met. I am also being sued for defaming my accusers. I still have no opportunity to respond in court to the false charges, though I am now seeking to intervene in the lawsuit in which the accusation was filed. I have submitted a sworn statement denying the accusations with great specificity. The court has not yet decided whether to accept my motion.
I feel like a victim of a drive-by shooting or the object of scribbled graffiti on the wall of a bathroom stall. I may never have the opportunity to prove my innocence, or to have my accusers prove the false charges, in any court of law. But because I am relatively well known—a double-edge sword in these situations—I can at least fight back in the court of public opinion, though at the very high cost—in legal fees, loss of insurance coverage and the possibility of a large monetary judgment against me.
Imagine the same thing happening to a person who did not have the resources to fight back.
There is a gaping hole in our legal system that allows lawyers to bring irrelevant accusations against innocent nonparties in court papers that insulate them from any consequences, and to deny the falsely accused any opportunity to respond.
The law must be changed to shatter this hall of mirrors I face and others might. There must be consequences for those who file accusations with no offer to prove them and no legal responsibility if they are categorically—and disprovably—false.
I will not rest until this gaping hole is filled with reasonable safeguards, so that what is happening to me can never happen to another innocent person.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"If the well-known, vinyl-era rock bands Bad Company and Blind Faith had merged to form a super group, then the hypothetical new band might have been called Bad Faith."

That was Judge Goodman in an order dealing with a bad faith claim in a civil lawsuit. The DBR covers the case here,!/article/1731936770

He also notes that the alternative Blind Company, "could be a colorful, hyperbolic yet somewhat accurate description" of the plaintiff's claims.  

He's having too much fun!

Fugitive caught after 37 years.

From the Government's press release:

Robert Anton Woodring, formerly of Fort Lauderdale, Boyton Beach, and Pompano Beach, Florida, was arrested on charges of failing to surrender for service of sentence.  In 1984, Woodring was indicted for failing to surrender in September 1977, to commence a 10-month sentence imposed in October 1975, for removing a yacht in order to prevent seizure by authorized persons. Woodring had also been sentenced in a related case to seven year imprisonment after a jury found him guilty of mail fraud and conspiracy to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.  Woodring is set to be arraigned on January 14, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. 

U.S. Marshals, with the assistance of the FBI and Mexican authorities, apprehended Woodring in Guadalajara, Mexico, in December 2014.  On December 22, 2014, Woodring appeared in federal court in Los Angeles, California, where a U.S. Magistrate Judge ordered him detained pending trial as a risk of flight. Woodring waived his right to an identity hearing and removal hearing and agreed to be transported to Miami for further proceedings.

Mr. Ferrer commended the efforts of the U.S. Marshals Service and FBI in apprehending the defendant. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert T. Watson.

Monday, January 12, 2015

How much time should Anthony Bosch get?

Apparently MLB thinks he should get a big reduction even though he damaged the sport.  From the Miami Herald:
As Bosch awaits sentencing in February, lawyers for Major League Baseball — whose operation he corrupted from his anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables — are pointedly telling prosecutors what a great help he has been in cleaning up the sport. In a letter, they likened Bosch to a onetime New York Mets batboy who got caught up in an earlier steroid scandal and received lenient treatment after cooperating with authorities. ...
A short sentence of one year — as opposed to three times that long — is possible for Bosch, 51, who pleaded guilty in October and is free on bail despite testing positive for cocaine use during court-ordered monitoring that began after he surrendered in August. Prosecutors have already agreed to recommend a sentence reduction in his plea deal, as long as Bosch, who is in a substance-abuse program, tells the truth.
Despite his tarnished reputation, Bosch began attracting support from MLB officials soon after the steroid scandal broke and the league sued him in 2013 — especially when the onetime anti-aging guru agreed that June to turn on his customers, including New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez.
Soon after, high-powered MLB lawyers, including former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, sought a meeting with the U.S. attorney in Miami to promote Bosch’s role as the league’s star witness against Rodriguez and the other ballplayers, according to newly disclosed court records. They were hoping to gain assurances from the U.S. attorney’s office that it would consider Bosch’s assistance to Major League Baseball.
The meeting was held in U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer’s office in September 2013. Mitchell, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, and two other league lawyers pitched him on Bosch’s contribution to MLB’s investigation of banned substance use. Members of Ferrer’s senior staff were also present.
In a follow-up letter, baseball’s lawyers thanked Ferrer for hosting the meeting, while stressing that Bosch’s assistance “was critical to MLB’s efforts to successfully sanction” the 14 players with lengthy suspensions, including Rodriguez.
MLB’s lead attorney, Charles Scheeler, with the Washington law firm, DLA Piper, highlighted Bosch’s “full cooperation” — including testifying against Rodriguez at an arbitration hearing in New York. He explained that, in exchange, the league agreed to inform authorities of his assistance.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Nice memorial for Judge and Mrs. Davis

There was a beautiful memorial for Judge Edward B. Davis and his wife Pat Davis at their old house in Miami over the weekend.  Lots of old law clerks, family, and friends attended.  Here's some pictures of the good judge and his lovely wife.  The second one is of Ron Rosengarten, Gary Dumas, Miriam Palahach, and Kevin Murray, his first law clerks and judicial assistant.  The judge kept pictures of his law clerks, which they are holding.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The pendulum is swinging

The Koch brothers are now fighting the prison problem in America.  Here's Charles Koch's piece in Politico

As Americans, we like to believe the rule of law in our country is respected and fairly applied, and that only those who commit crimes of fraud or violence are punished and imprisoned. But the reality is often different. It is surprisingly easy for otherwise law-abiding citizens to run afoul of the overwhelming number of federal and state criminal laws. This proliferation is sometimes referred to as “overcriminalization,” which affects us all but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens. 
Overcriminalization has led to the mass incarceration of those ensnared by our criminal justice system, even though such imprisonment does not always enhance public safety. Indeed, more than half of federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders. Enforcing so many victimless crimes inevitably leads to conflict between our citizens and law enforcement. As we have seen all too often, it can place our police officers in harm’s way, leading to tragic consequences for all involved.
How did we get in this situation? It began with well-intentioned lawmakers who went overboard trying to solve perceived or actual problems. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. Over  time, this has translated into more than 4,500 federal criminal laws spread across 27,000 pages of the United States federal code. (This number does not include the thousands of criminal penalties in federal regulations.) As a result, the United States is the world’s largest jailer—first in the world for total number imprisoned and first among industrialized nations in the rate of incarceration. The United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population but houses about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
...Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being in many respects, most notably by decreasing poverty. Today, approximately 50 million people (about 14 percent of the population) are at or below the U.S. poverty rate. Fixing our criminal system could reduce the overall poverty rate as much as 30 percent, dramatically improving the quality of life throughout society—especially for the disadvantaged.
Meantime, in local news, Judge Darrin Gayles spoke to the Federal Bar Association today.  A nice turnout and a good talk about practice dos and don'ts in his courtroom.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Good luck to John Pacenti

John is leaving the Daily Business Review and headed back to the Palm Beach Post.  He's been a fantastic federal courts reporter and will be sorely missed. 

He is a graduate of the University of Arizona and has been a reporter since he was a sophomore in high school. He has worked as a sportswriter and a music critic but his forte has always been hard news. After working 10 years for the Associated Press in Phoenix and Miami as a newsman and a sportswriter, he went to work for the Palm Beach Post in 1999 covering civil and criminal justice, as well as sports news.
He started as the federal courts writer for the Daily Business Review in 2007 where he won awards for his coverage on crooked court-appointed trustees, pill mills, and police shootings. 
He should be particularly proud of his Justice Watch column, as well as coverage on prosecutorial misconduct and the Miccosukee litigation.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Same as it ever was?

Such a waste....

Let's see if 2015 is the year that judges really step up and start putting a check on the executive by making that chart curve back downwards.  Some are hoping that the 11th Circuit will start to change things with all of the new judges, but others are more realistic.  From the Daily Report:
... Obama's Eleventh Circuit nominees as a group do not appear to be particularly liberal—and, to the extent they lean left, they may be hamstrung by years of conservative precedent. Jill Pryor once sat on the ACLU of Georgia's legal committee, and Martin has spent considerable time penning dissents to conservative rulings since joining the court. But all of Obama's Eleventh Circuit nominees except Pryor have spent time as prosecutors, and she has spent the bulk of her career as a business litigator. Julie Carnes was appointed to the district court by George H. W. Bush and was selected for the Eleventh Circuit as part of a compromise package of federal court nominees agreed to by the White House and Georgia's senators.
Court watchers should learn more soon.
A group of doctors' request that the entire court examine a controversial, high-profile ruling on guns has been pending since August. A panel in that case rejected the doctors' First Amendment challenge to a Florida law that limits physicians' ability to talk to their patients about firearms.
The Eleventh Circuit is set to hear three cases en banc in February: two criminal cases and a civil case in which the court will revisit aspects of a panel decision that sided with plaintiffs who filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit over a raid of a barber shop.
Also in February, a three-judge panel is scheduled to hear an Alabama-based, nonprofit Catholic television and radio network's challenge to the federal contraceptive mandate. Unlike the businesses that won their case before the Supreme Court in June, the religious nonprofit can opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, but it has argued that filling out the required form that would signal its third-party health insurance administrator to provide the coverage is itself a violation of the group's religious beliefs. The Eleventh Circuit recently granted oral argument in a similar case brought by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah.
And, although the U.S. Supreme Court may get to the issue first, the Eleventh Circuit has in November and December received an avalanche of briefs from the parties and other interested groups in a case over Florida's ban on marriages by same-sex couples.

Or how about cleaning up the Department of Corrections?  Did you see the Herald article about the DOC forging a document regarding a criminal investigation?  This is scary:

The Florida Department of Corrections has opened a criminal investigation into whether a public record provided by the agency to the Miami Herald was forged.
The document was a form, purportedly filled out and signed by inmate Harold Hempstead, the whistle-blower who in March leaked details to the newspaper about a gruesome death at Dade Correctional Institution, where inmate Darren Rainey collapsed while locked in a brutally hot shower.
Hempstead’s information led the Herald to investigate the Rainey case as well as other suspicious deaths and possible corruption in the Florida Department of Corrections. By the end of 2014, DCI’s top administrators had been ousted, and the department’s secretary, Michael Crews, had retired.
Last year, in the course of the newspaper’s investigation, Hempstead signed a release giving the Herald blanket permission to obtain all his medical records, waiving the strict health information privacy law known as HIPPA.

The rule provides safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information, and sets limits and conditions on what may be disclosed without patient authorization. Normally, the department heavily redacts its documents, citing the federal law, including details such as where a prisoner is found injured, beaten or dead, where they are transported after they are found and evidence discovered at the scene that the agency believes may reveal an inmate’s medical condition. Examples of redacted items might include descriptions of bloody clothing or, in the case of Rainey, the fact that pieces of skin had fallen off his body.
After Hempstead signed the waiver, a Department of Corrections spokesman informed the newspaper that he had withdrawn his permission to release his records uncensored. When the Herald questioned whether that was true, the spokesman supplied a document — seemingly not in Hempstead’s handwriting — that expressed his change of heart.
Since then, the inmate said, he has told two DOC investigators in two separate interviews that the second document is a fraud.

Read more here: