Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Judge Ungaro hears sentencing arguments in Matthew Greer's case

It's Michael Sherwin and Michael Berger for the government.  And for Greer, it's Roy Black, Hy Shapiro, and Jackie Perczek.  Really great lawyering all around.  Jay Weaver from the Herald is covering the sentencing:

The 38-year-old former CEO of Carlisle Development Group apologized on Wednesday to a federal judge for his wrongdoing and for “casting a cloud” over an affordable-housing industry whose mission is to build homes for society’s most needy.

“It pains me very deeply,” Greer, 38, said, choking up during his statement to the judge.

Yet his high-profile defense attorney, Roy Black, argued that Greer deserved no prison time because he pleaded guilty, cooperated with authorities, paid back the stolen money and has devoted his life to charity — including his latest effort to help a nonprofit group develop an Overtown housing complex for homeless mothers and their children.

Black touted the South Florida housing projects built by Carlisle with tax credits issued by the U.S. government, while downplaying that Greer and others involved in his partnerships inflated the constructions costs so they could split millions in illegal profits.

“I think the public got what they paid for,” Black told U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. “They were not cheated.”


Prosecutor Michael Sherwin hammered that point, saying Greer was driven by “greed,” not charity, and that he “lost his way.”

“This was a lie for money,” Sherwin said.

The federal sentencing guidelines for Greer’s offense range from eight to ten years in the $34 million housing fraud probe that disgraced the one-time CEO and his Miami-based company, Carlisle, which was started by his father, lawyer Bruce Greer, two decades ago. Bruce Greer and his wife, Evelyn, a lawyer who once served as mayor of Pinecrest and on the Miami-Dade school board, attended the hearing.

On Wednesday, the prosecutor recommended that the judge start at eight years and then reduce it by 40 percent for Greer’s assistance in the long-running FBI and IRS investigation — for a total sentence of about five years.

Ungaro said she would issue her decision on Greer’s sentence along with punishment for five other co-defendants on Monday, after hearing arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Argument transcript in Beckles... here.

And the Supreme Court decided a double jeopardy case this morning, Bravo-Fernandez:
The issue-preclusion component of the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar the Government from retrying defendants, like petitioners, after a jury has returned irreconcilably inconsistent verdicts of conviction and acquittal and the convictions are later vacated for legal error unrelated to the inconsistency.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Welcome back

The Supreme Court is back in full swing, and AFPD Janice Bergman has a big argument this morning in Beckles v. United States.  From SCOTUSblog:
Issue: (1) Whether Johnson v. United States applies retroactively to collateral cases challenging federal sentences enhanced under the residual clause in United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 4B1.2(a)(2) (defining “crime of violence”); (2) whether Johnson's constitutional holding applies to the residual clause in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2), thereby rendering challenges to sentences enhanced under it cognizable on collateral review; and (3) whether mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun, an offense listed as a “crime of violence” only in commentary to U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2, remains a “crime of violence” after Johnson.

Argument preview: Court to tackle constitutionality of residual clause in sentencing guidelines
This will be interesting for 11th Circuit watchers because this issue has deeply divided the court.  Good luck Janice!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If felony-battery in Florida a crime of violence under 2L1.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines?

That's the question the en banc 11th Circuit will take up in U.S. v. Vail-Bailon.  Here's the panel decision by Judge Rosenbaum saying it is not a crime of violence:
When I was growing up, my parents told me not to judge a book by its
cover. The Supreme Court has expressed an analogous concern about concluding
that a crime qualifies as a violent crime under the Armed Career Criminal Act
(“ACCA”), based solely on the name of the crime. See Johnson v. United States,
___ U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2560 (2015) (discussing whether Connecticut’s
offense of “rioting at a correctional institution,” a crime that the Supreme Court
characterized as “certainly sound[ing] like a violent felony,” qualifies as a violent
felony under the residual clause of the ACCA).1
This case raises the question of whether the Florida crime of felony
battery—a crime that, from its name, may sound like a crime of violence—actually
satisfies the definition of “crime of violence” under §2L1.2 of the Sentencing
Guidelines when it is committed by mere touching. Heeding the Supreme Court’s
warning, we have carefully compared the elements of felony battery under Florida
law to the “elements clause” of § 2L1.2’s definition of “crime of violence.” Based
on our review, we now hold that felony battery under Fla. Stat. § 784.041 does not
qualify as a “crime of violence” under § 2L1.2 when it is committed by mere
touching. For this reason, we vacate Vail-Bailon’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

Judge Jordan concurred, and visiting Judge Siler dissented.

The en banc order is here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Will it be Justice Pryor?

It was the big Federalist Society meeting this weekend in which Justice Scalia was remembered and celebrated.  One of the takeaways is that 11th Circuit Judge William Pyror is quietly the favorite to get Scalia's seat. (Here's a short interview with him from the weekend.) He would be the first 11th Circuit judge to get the nod... 

It's hard to know exactly what PE Trump is thinking here though as he was busy this weekend tweeting about Hamilton.

In the meantime, I repost Judge Milton Hirsch's Constitutional Calendar today, which is really interesting:

On Nov. 21, 1864, in response to a request from Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew asking him to express his condolences, President Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War.  Lincoln's letter was later printed in the Boston Evening Transcript.  Later still, it was revealed that two, not all five, of Mrs. Bixby's sons died in battle; one deserted, one was honorably discharged, and another either deserted or died a prisoner of war.
The authorship of the letter has been debated by scholars, some of whom believe it was written by John Hay, one of Lincoln's secretaries.  The original of the letter was destroyed by Mrs. Bixby, who was a Confederate sympathizer and disliked Lincoln.  Copies of an early forgery circulated for years, causing many people to believe that they had the original letter.
None of which matters.  The letter is the finest piece of epistolary prose ever written on this continent, and if Lincoln didn't write it, he meant to.  It serves to remind us that the highest function of political leadership in America's democracy is to inspire us with a regard for those principles that set this country apart.
As I do every year on the anniversary of its writing, I take pleasure in sharing this remarkable letter with my friends:
"Dear Madam,
"I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.  I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.  But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save.  I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
"Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
"A. Lincoln"

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bad cheese!

Yikes, this dude was selling cheese that had lysteria.  Judge Scola gave him 15 months:

Officials in Virginia took a sample of Oasis’ “Lacteos Santa Martha Quesito Casero Fresh Curd” in 2014 and found that it was contaminated with listeria.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted an inspection of Oasis’ Miami facility and reported finding more products contaminated with listeria and numerous unsanitary conditions, court documents said.
Inspectors reported finding black mold on the ceiling and a door frame and condensation dripping onto raw cheese-making materials, cheese in production and the finished product.
Rivas agreed to recall the cheese and stop production until the sanitary issues were fixed, court documents said.
He also told FDA inspectors that Oasis would not ship out any finished product that it had in its inventory, officials said.
During a follow-up inspection six weeks later, FDA officials found that Rivas had shipped 133 cases of contaminated cheese which they believe sickened several people, investigators said.
Rivas pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the case.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

RIP Minnette Massey

She was the fierce civil procedure professor who taught scores of Florida lawyers to "READ THE RULE!"  In many ways though, she was a rule-breaker, shattering old restrictions for women lawyers. She passed away at the age of 89 (via UM Law):

M. Minnette Massey, an original glass ceiling shatterer and leading advocate for diversity, decades before the word entered the popular vernacular, died Sunday at the age of 89. 
M. Minnette Massey
The fair-haired, green-eyed spitfire was one of the “First Wave,” of fourteen woman pioneers who elbowed their way into the male-dominated world of American law school professors. (Miami Law supplied two others – Soia Mentschikoff and Jeanette Ozanne Smith.) Massey began teaching legal research as an assistant law librarian but rapidly asserted her dominance in the machinations of Florida civil procedure.
Massey would catch the attention of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, who admired her dazzling intellect and skills as a raconteur. Think Shirley MacLaine, only loads smarter. She ascended to assistant dean, then first woman dean, all the while imprinting armies of young lawyers as masters of the intricacies of litigation and the rightful leaders of their profession. She was a force to behold and used her powers to lead the law school into the integration of both the faculty and student body.
"The University of Miami Law School has lost perhaps its greatest champion," said Charlton Copeland, holder of the first M. Minnette Massey Chair in Law. "She believed in the excellence of this law school. She believed in the excellence of her students. She believed that together they might build a more excellent future.
"But she was not taken with nostalgia or bygone days. Her commitment was a commitment to a more inclusive, more relevant excellence. If that is not the mark of a great institutional and, and civic, champion, I don't know what is. I mourn Minnette's passing, but I also mourn something of the passing of Minnette's vision for Miami Law, for our law students, and for our collective civic lives," Copeland said

Monday, November 14, 2016

How much time is appropriate for a lawyer who laundered money for criminals?

 Judge Dimitrouleas sentenced Alan Koslow to a year and a day in federal prison, taking into account his cooperation and other good works.  Seems like the appropriate result.  Hopefully other judges will see that lengthy sentences for first-time non-violent offenders isn't the solution.  From Paula McMahon:
Koslow admitted in August that he accepted $8,500 from undercover agents as payment for laundering cash, which he thought was linked to drug dealing and illegal gambling, through his friend Susan Mohr's bank account in 2012 and 2013.
Mohr, 57, of Delray Beach, pleaded guilty to a related charge and is scheduled for sentencing next month.
Prosecutor Neil Karadbil told the judge that Koslow had two personas — one was the high-powered successful attorney who raised money for charities and advised clients on legal matters.
"But the other Alan Koslow is the one who got him here," Karadbil said. "The other Alan Koslow is the one who likes to take short-cuts, likes to party, is kind of hedonistic."
Karadbil said Koslow discussed laundering $50,000 per month for two years in exchange for a 5 percent commission. Koslow said the money "was peanuts" but he wanted extra spending money to party with his friends, agents said.
Agents said he told them: "I do favors for clients" and he "liked to be cool."

Thursday, November 10, 2016


So, how about some happiness for your blog pleasure this week...

Judge Scola is celebrating five years on the federal district court bench. To honor the occasion, the Judge and his wife, Judge Jacki Hogan Scola, gathered with over a dozen of his former and current law clerks and staff during the weekend of October 29-30. That Saturday evening, his law clerks held a dinner in his honor at a former clerk's home in Coconut Grove, and on Sunday the Judge hosted a lunch for everyone in Coral Gables.

In 2011, President Obama nominated Judge Scola to fill the seat on the Southern District of Florida made available when Judge Paul C. Huck took senior status.  Judge Scola had previously served for over a decade on the state court bench.  He was confirmed as a federal district judge on October 19, 2011 and received his commission the following day.

Happy fifth anniversary, Judge Scola! Let's hope President Trump gives us more like him!

Here are some pictures from the event.  Check out this cake!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

How will a Trump presidency affect the SDFLA and the Supreme Court

  • Trump will select between 2-4 Justices.  William Pryor stands a good chance of being Justice Pryor. Federico Moreno also made Trump's short list.
  • Who will be Attorney General?  Rudy Guliani? (I think it's less likely it will be Christie after the Bridgegate convictions, but who knows).
  • If HRC had won, there was talk that U.S. Attorney Ferrer would stay on (or that Joan Silverstein would become U.S. Attorney), but that won't happen now. Any thoughts on who Trump names?  Jon Sale? (he would be great).
  • There are going to be a bunch of open district court seats in the District.  Who gets those slots?

Monday, November 07, 2016

RIP Janet Reno, Guest Post by John Kozyak

RIP Janet Reno, Guest Post by John Kozyak

Janet Reno passed away this morning after living with Parkinson’s Disease for more twenty years.  I had the privilege of being Janet’s friend and I am so grateful that I had a chance to say good-bye several times over the weekend.  Some said that she was enjoying all the love in her house, which had been built by her Mother. Others said she was waiting until Hilary was elected the first woman President and others acknowledged that this brave woman had never given in easily to anything in her 78 years.

The NY Times  already has an obituary online, which provides a glimpse into the public part of Janet’s life.  I particularly like Ms. Reno was never a natural fit in Washington’s backslapping, backstabbing culture.”  In this ugly election, this might be one of the best compliments for a strong, brave woman, who approached each day of her life wanting to do the right thing. She did  so much better  than the rest of us and  that is why she is legend to me and many.

I had no familiarity to Parkinson’s Disease when I first met Janet 40 years ago or when she was diagnosed in 1995, but I sure did after my Mother found out she had it about 14 years ago and my Father received the same news 3 years later. I will never forget telling Janet and having her comfort me. She gave her phone number for my Mother to call her. My Mother loved the photograph that Janet signed and loved her visits with her. Janet lived gracefully with Parkinson’s until fairly recently. She continued as the Attorney General and tried to beat Jeb Bush as Governor. She set an example for people living with Parkinson’s and she set an example for so many more to live life to the fullest , to be humble and to do the “right thing”.

She certainly set an example for women. After graduating from Harvard Law, she had difficulty even obtaining a legal job because of her gender and she went on to become the longest serving Attorney General in the United States. When she came to the Minority Mentoring Picnic, young women law students and everyone else loved being with her. She spoke often with encouragement and sincerity. I never heard her complain about the gender discrimination or her Parkinson’s.  

For the past 3-4 years, Janet has been the Honorary Chair of the National Parkinson Foundation’s Moving Day in Miami. She and her family joined with mine to form Team Kozyak & Reno, which usually had the most walkers. Moving Day will take place in Miami this Sunday, November 13th in Museum Park in Miami. Janet’s health did not permit her to attend last year, but I am positive her niece, Hunter and her daughters and other friends will join Janny in spirit.   I’d be honored if you’d walk with Team Kozyak& Reno this coming Sunday morning. This is not  a solicitation for donations, but more of a request for a group hug in honor of a wonderful woman. I am sharing two photos of Janet at Moving Day two years ago. I love the first one with her sister, Maggy.  Sorry that it doesn’t include Hunter’s face, but she is behind Janet.

I could not be more proud that the Reno family has been so supportive and welcoming.  I will never, ever forget sitting in Janet’s bedroom on Friday night while her sister, Maggy, her nephew , Doug, niece , Hunter, and several others recited long poems with such enthusiasm. I had learned that this was a family tradition when Janet’s brother, Mark, passed away 2 years ago. It was amazing. Yesterday, I barely missed a small group holding hands around Janet’s bed and singing “God Bless America”. It was not easy saying good-bye yesterday, but the love in the Reno home helped so much.

I don’t want to tell my Mother that Janet Reno has passed and think it is best to wait until I see her next week in St. Louis.



Wednesday, November 02, 2016

"I don't know what's happening at the U.S. Attorney's Office. This is the latest of a series of incidents that is affecting the credibility of this office ... Someone has got to look at this thing … There's a problem here that needs to be rectified in some way."

That was Judge Darrin Gayles in a strong rebuke of his former office.  We wrote about this latest in a string of prosecutorial misconduct cases on the blog here.  Paula McMahon covers the judge's decision, which was delivered orally (there is no written order) in this article:
A bizarre South Florida case involving an indicted fraud suspect who spied on his co-defendants — and their lawyers — after secretly making a plea deal led a federal judge to blast the U.S. Attorney's Office for letting it happen.
After two days of hearings on the allegations against the "mole," his lawyer and the prosecution, U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles issued a blistering ruling in court in Miami late Tuesday. He barred the man from testifying against his co-defendants when they go to trial in May and strongly criticized federal prosecutors' "extraordinary" handling of the matter.
The defense asked the judge to punish the prosecution by throwing out the charges against Pisoni, Pradel and Ramirez. The judge said prosecutors previously had so much evidence that it was impossible for him to rule that Leon's actions affected the case enough to dismiss the charges against the other three.
But the judge expressed shock that the prosecution was still considering letting Leon testify, in some limited way, in trial against the other three men.
"If the government isn't willing to bar him, I will," Judge Gayles said, ruling Leon was prohibited from testifying.
Prosecutors told the judge they regretted not running the decision about how to handle Leon up the chain of command at their office but said they thought what they did was allowed by law. The judge said they should have, at a minimum, consulted their bosses and sought the judge's explicit approval.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer declined to comment because the case is pending. Officials also declined to say if any disciplinary investigation is underway or anticipated.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Supreme Cubs fan

In other news, this guy is presenting a tough issue for the magistrate judge:
Every criminal suspect has the right to remain silent, but one South Florida man may be taking that advice very literally.
Since federal charges were filed against him in May, Gerald Petion hasn't uttered a single word during any of his eight or so court appearances. He has also declined to speak to his defense lawyer.
Petion, aka Gangsta, won't even say "not guilty" in response to federal drug and weapons charges. He is accused of selling heroin linked to a man's near-fatal overdose in March in Delray Beach.
Petion, 32, of Pompano Beach and Delray Beach, doesn't misbehave in court. He complies when the deputy marshals tell him where to go and what to do. He stands up straight and doesn't look around the courtroom.
But he also doesn't answer questions from any of the judges. He doesn't make eye contact. And he seems totally unfazed by the uncomfortably long silences when people try to communicate with him.
The judge told Petion he could detect occasional "flickers" so he knew Petion could hear him.
"This is the United States of America vs. you," the judge told Petion in a polite and friendly tone. "They're not just going to go away. They're not going to fold their tents. … They'll just wait you out."
Brannon told Petion he understood it was possible that Petion's silence may not be a ploy and that perhaps he has just mentally shut down because "the situation is so awful."
But he urged Petion to listen to the doctors who will be evaluating him during the next few months and issuing another report. The judge told him to think hard about his situation before he next returns to court in late January for the next hearing on his competency.
Petion didn't respond.