Thursday, June 22, 2017

Implicit Bias

One of the dirty little secrets of the criminal justice system is implicit bias.  This article by the Marshall Project shows what one district court is doing about the problem:
There’s something of a formula to the first morning of jury duty. It might involve a refresher on differences between civil and criminal cases, a little bit of shuffling between rooms, and a lot of waiting around in a generously named “Jury Lounge.” But in one federal district, the customary civics lessons for jurors have been given a twist to alert them to the hidden biases they might bring into the courtroom.
The source is a 10-minute video — believed to be the first of its kind — that since March has been shown to every prospective juror in the two federal courthouses, in Seattle and Tacoma, that serve the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The video — which cost the court $15,000 to make — complements the customary voir dire process, during which judges and lawyers question potential jurors about conflicts of interest and obvious prejudices that could prevent them from deliberating fairly. It features three speakers: the district’s U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes, Reagan-appointed Judge John Coughenour, and Jeffrey Robinson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who started his career as a criminal defense lawyer.
“You might have a deep-seated belief that basketball is a better sport than football, and you may prefer strawberry to raspberry jam,” Robinson says in the video, describing examples of conscious — or explicit — bias. “Today, though,” he says, speaking slowly and looking directly into the camera, “I want to talk to you about unconscious bias: something we all have, simply because we’re human.”
Here's the video:

Will our District employ such a video?

Judge Milton Hirsch's Constitutional Calendar has this entry today:

On June 22, 1933, in the Limestone County, Alabama, Courthouse, Judge James Edwin Horton did one of the bravest and most principled things a judge can do.

Judge Horton had presided over the trial of Haywood Patterson, one of the "Scottsboro Boys." Patterson was a young black man charged in connection with the rape of two white women; and although it was perfectly obvious that there was no real evidence against him, he had been convicted with a recommendation for death. Horton had been cautioned by an emissary from the state capitol that if he were to grant the defense motion to set aside the verdict and order a new trial, there would be no chance of his being re-elected. "What does that have to do with the case?" he replied.

On that warm day in June, Judge Horton read aloud in open court every word of his order. It took over an hour. The defense motions were granted.

As he knew he would be, Horton was defeated overwhelmingly in 1934, and never served as a judge again. Haywood Patterson was re-tried in a case presided over by Judge William Callahan, who instructed the jury, inter alia, that if there was evidence of intercourse between a white woman and a black man, the intercourse was presumed as a matter of law to be rape.

If you'd like to be added to Judge Hirsch's email list, contact him at

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Senior Judge Roger Vinson order cross removed from park

Senior Judge Roger Vinson has this interesting and sure-to-be-challenged order removing a cross from a Northern Florida park:

A cross that has stood in Bayview Park for the last 48 years must be removed within 30 days, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled Monday that the cross in the city park violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and must be removed within 30 days.
The American Humanist Association, a group that works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists and other non-religious Americans, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of four Escambia County residents who said the cross at Bayview Park violated the separation of church and state.
Attorneys for the city of Pensacola and the American Humanist Association presented their oral arguments to Vinson on Wednesday.
Vernon Stewart, spokesman for the city of Pensacola, said on Monday that the city had received a copy of the order.
"We are currently in the process of reviewing this with our legal counsel," Stewart said. "However, Mayor Hayward is traveling, and he will be the one to ultimately decide how to proceed."
Monica Miller, senior counsel with the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a press release that she was pleased with court's ruling.
"The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons, and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional,” Miller said.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Should there be a retrial in Cosby?

Many have been asking why the Double Jeopardy Clause of our Constitution doesn't prohibit a retrial of Bill Cosby after his hung jury.  Although the Supreme Court decided this issue back in the early 1800s and said that Double Jeopardy doesn't kick in when there is "manifest necessity" for a mistrial (and generally hung juries constitute "manifest necessity"), perhaps it is time to revisit this issue as citizens should simply not be forced to fight the Government more than once on the same facts:
“The underlying idea . . . is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.” Green v. United States, 355 U. S. 184, 187–188 (1957).
 If the Government cannot prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial, that should be it: “A power in government to subject the individual to repeated prosecutions for the same offense would cut deeply into the framework of procedural protections which the Constitution establishes for the conduct of a criminal trial.” United States v. Jorn, 400 U. S. 470, 479 (1971) (Harlan, J., plurality opinion).

Justice Stevens (in his dissent in Renico v. Leit) pointed out the lengths that judges at common law would push juries to reach a verdict because the thought of a second trial because of a hung jury was too much (cleaned up without footnotes):
At common law, courts went to great lengths to ensure the jury reached a verdict. Fourteenth-century English judges reportedly loaded hung juries into oxcarts and carried them from town to town until a judgment“‘bounced out.’” Less enterprising colleagues kept jurors as de facto “prisoners” until they achieved unanimity. The notion of a mistrial based on jury deadlock did not appear in Blackstone’s Commentaries; it is no surprise, then, that colonial juries virtually always returned a verdict. Well into the 19th and even the 20th century, some American judges continued to coax unresolved juries toward consensus by threatening to deprive them of heat, sleep, or sustenance or to lock them in a room for a pro-longed period of time.
Mercifully, our legal system has evolved, and such harsh measures are no longer tolerated. Yet what this history demonstrates—and what has not changed—is the respect owed “a defendant’s valued right to have his trial completed by a particular tribunal.” Wade v. Hunter, 336 U. S. 684, 689 (1949). Our longstanding doctrine applying the Double Jeopardy Clause attests to the durability and fundamentality of this interest.
 In our own District, there was a mistrial for a defendant last week after an 8-week mortgage fraud trial.  The prosecution should not be permitted to retry that defendant.  It's just not fair to have to fight the power of the Government a second time even if the mistrial was necessary because of a hung jury. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

RIP Phyllis Kravitch

RIP 11th Circuit Judge Phyllis Kravitch. She was 96 and was quite a woman. From the Daily Report:
When told she couldn't come to court, a white girl in a Southern town sneaked up to the courtroom's "colored" balcony in the 1930s to see her father defend an unpopular client.
Long before Harper Lee wrote about Atticus and Scout Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," a teenage Phyllis Kravitch yearned to watch her father work in the Savannah courthouse. Kravitch abandoned the idea of becoming a ballerina.
Kravitch learned from her father, lawyer Aaron Kravitch, that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law, although neither law nor custom was granting it to African-Americans or to women in those days.
 Graduating from Goucher College in 1941, Kravitch wanted to attend Harvard Law School, but it wouldn't admit women for another nine years. (African-American men had been getting Harvard law degrees since 1869.) At other elite law schools, women were admitted but were ignored or marginalized by professors.
So Kravitch went to the University of Pennsylvania law school. At the top of her class after her first year, she was elected to Law Review and graduated in 1943, having slipped to the No. 2 rank in her class.
She applied for clerkships in federal courts, but no judge would hire a woman. She did get an interview at the U.S. Supreme Court, which had no female clerks, she told a 2009 luncheon gathering sponsored by the Atlanta chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Kravitch didn't name the justice who interviewed her but said he told her that she was his second choice, the first one being a man with a Harvard law degree.
She sought work at law firms in New York and Philadelphia but again was turned away because of her gender or, in at least one case, because she was Jewish. So she returned to Savannah to practice law with her original mentor.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ervin Gonzalez

Curt Miner, one of Ervin Gonzalez's partners at Colson Hicks, sent this very nice email to his firm which captures Ervin:*

I walked to Starbuck’s a little while ago and came across this gentleman holding this sign out front.  His name is Chaunce O’Connor.  I introduced myself and thought maybe he had been a client of Ervin’s.  I asked him how he knew Ervin.  Chaunce said that he sits in his wheelchair out in front of Starbuck’s often and that Ervin is the only person in a suit that had ever stopped to take the time to talk with him.  He said that he would often see Ervin going to get coffee and that Ervin would always remember his name and stop to ask how he was doing.  He said he was sad today so he went to the drugstore to make this sign.  Chaunce asked me to pass along his condolences to everyone at the firm.  He offered his help if we ever need it because, he said, Ervin would have helped him if he ever needed it. 

[Sorry, the picture isn't uploading from the road. I will try again later.  The sign says, "We love Ervin. #1 Attorney." --DOM]

Monday, June 12, 2017

SCOTUS Term wrapping up.

Like teachers, Supreme Court Justices get the summer off. I'm not sure why this tradition started, but it's weird to me. Why don't other judges get the summer off? Why not lawyers? Not too long ago, Miami courthouses shut down in August and lawyers took that month off (because the courtrooms were just too hot). Even after AC, the tradition continued for a while, but not anymore.

Anyway, unlike teachers, Supreme Court Justices have quite a bit of assets (their base salaries are $250,000). SCOTUSblog summarizes some of those here:
    • They get presents. Alito received a “bronze cast of hand” valued at $3,000 from Bottega Mortet, an Italian sculpture studio whose website advertises an “Artisan Hand Project.” There is no way to know whether the cast was of Alito’s own hand.
    • ***
    • They have very few debts. Last year the average U.S. household had debts totaling over $132,000. But seven of the eight justices – Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, Roberts and Thomas – reported that they had no liabilities at all, while the eighth – Sotomayor – listed only one liability, a mortgage on a rental property in New York.
    • But they have a lot of investments. Alito listed well over 100 investments and trusts, including mutual funds, municipal bonds and stocks. The forms provide only a range for the justices’ investments, but Breyer’s appear to total over $5 million. Roberts holds stocks in major companies such as Time Warner, Texas Instruments and SiriusXM, although he sold at least $250,000 in Microsoft stock at the beginning of January 2016. Roberts also reported at least $600,000 in bank accounts and over $600,000 in college savings plans.
    • They own a lot of real estate. Breyer owns a house in Nevis in the West Indies – presumably the same one where he was robbed by a man with a machete in 2012 – valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. (Breyer reported only limited rental income, of $1000 or less, for the house for the year.) Breyer sold land in Concord, Mass., for at least $500,000 to Neil and Anna Rasmussen, who run a Massachusetts foundation that promotes historic preservation and natural resources conservation, but he continues to own property in Plainfield, N.H., valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. Roberts owns one-eighth of a cottage in Limerick, Ireland, valued at between $15,000 and $50,000, while Sotomayor’s rental property in New York is valued at between $1 and $5 million.

Friday, June 09, 2017

RIP Ervin Gonzalez (2 UPDATES)

RIP Ervin Gonzalez.

The awful news is making the legal community rounds this morning and everyone is shocked.

UPDATED with statement from Colson Hicks:

Colson Hicks Eidson Statement

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ervin A. Gonzalez, our beloved partner, friend and role model. Words cannot convey our grief, admiration, or affection for this pillar of our community. Our hearts and prayers go out to his wife Janice and his family and friends during this unfathomable time. A caring, warm, brilliant and masterful trial attorney, he set the standard for the profession in his compassion and vigorous advocacy for those who suffered grievances and injustices at the hands of others. He will be remembered for his intellect, skill and ability to befriend and defend the rights of people from all walks of life with a zest and dedication that was unrivaled. Ervin's passing reminds all of us that mental illness can strike anyone regardless of how accomplished or content they might appear. Like the Ervin we all knew and loved, he valiantly fought this personal challenge with unmatched effort. He simply was unable to win his hardest and final trial. It pains us to know he was suffering so terribly beyond his control.”

-Dean C. Colson


Funeral Services
Tuesday, June 13th at 10:00 a.m.
Church of the Little Flower
2711 Indian Mound Trail
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Candidate list for U.S. Attorney expands (UPDATED)

UPDATE -- Dave Aronberg has pulled his name from consideration.

In an interesting turn, the search for U.S. Attorney has expanded to 6 candidates. The list, according to the Herald, is:
▪ Roy Altman, 35, worked as a federal prosecutor for six years, handling hundreds of criminal cases, including the conviction of a postal worker’s killer. In early 2014, he became the office’s deputy chief of special prosecutions, focusing on the sexual exploitation of children and federal violent crimes. A native Spanish speaker, he attended Columbia University and Yale Law School before clerking for an influential federal appeals court judge, Stanley Marcus. Altman, a partner in the prominent Miami law firm Podhurst Orseck, is considered among the favored candidates.

▪ John Couriel, 39, prosecuted economic and major criminal cases at the U.S. attorney’s office before joining the law firm Kobre Kim as a partner. He also ran twice unsuccessfully for the Florida Legislature. A native Spanish speaker, Couriel graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Couriel was considered a front runner but lost ground after Trump’s advisers learned he voted for Bush in the GOP presidential primary and predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton would win his Republican district by “quite a bit.”

▪ Jon Sale, 73, is a former federal prosecutor in New York and Miami who co-chairs the Broad and Cassel law firm’s white-collar defense and compliance practice. He is also a close friend of Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani. Sale, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and NYU Law School, was also an assistant special prosecutor for the Justice Department in the Watergate case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Sale, widely respected by colleagues and judges, could emerge as Trump’s pick.

▪ Dave Aronberg, 46, is the Palm Beach County state attorney. A Democrat, Aronberg declined to prosecute Trump’s former presidential campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, for battery in April. Aronberg is also a former state senator. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Despite a being high-profile Florida Democrat, Aronberg has surfaced as an alternative selection.

▪ Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, 37, is a state representative from Miami and land-use attorney with the law firm Akerman LLP. A graduate of the University of Miami and Columbia Law School, Diaz came to know the president personally after appearing as a contestant on Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice,” in 2006. Diaz, despite his association with Trump, is not seen as a strong contender for the post.

▪ Frank Ledee, 53, is a veteran prosecutor in the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office who has most recently served as chief of the gang-prosecution and gun-violence units. He’s also the office’s liaison to the U.S. attorney’s office. Last year, Ledee was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the South Broward Hospital District Board. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Barry University and law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Ledee is considered a long shot for the job.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Judges are speaking out

More and more, judges are starting to speak out against the real problems in our criminal justice system.  This time it's Judge Mark Bennett saying that min-mans are the worst injustice he has seen while on the bench.  From CNN:

"I strongly disagree with that decision," the judge says firmly from the bench.
It is not the first time he has felt this way. Bennett says 80% of the mandatory sentences he hands down are unjust -- but that he is handcuffed by the law, which leaves no room for judicial discretion to consider a sentence based on individual circumstances of the defendant. 
Too often, Bennett says, low-level nonviolent drug addicts dealing to feed their habit end up being sentenced like drug kingpins.
Bennett says if he had the power, he would jail Rice for perhaps a year, or 18 months. Across the street in a state courthouse, she would have been put on probation, he says.
"I think it's a miscarriage of justice," Bennett says. "But you know people are entitled to their own sense of what justice is."
In the courtroom, the judge lowers his head and his voice.
"With the greatest of reluctance, I sentence you to 60 months," he says.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Breaking News -- Judge Lenard to take Senior Status

Breaking News -- District Judge Joan Lenard informed her colleagues today that she will be taking Senior Status on July 1, 2017. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 to fill Judge King's slot when he went senior. Before that, she was a state circuit and county judge, as well as a state prosecutor. This will create another open seat for President Trump to fill.  Congrats to Judge Lenard, and thank you for your service to the bench.

Summer is here (Updated with cell site cert grant)

UPDATE -- the Supreme Court granted cert in the cell-tower case today. Great news as the lower courts have gotten this one wrong. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to re-examine the third-party doctrine, which is the old rationale that the courts have used to justify the acquisition of the data without a warrant. As full-disclosure, I argued the en banc Davis case on this same issue.

School is just about out.
The Supreme Court is just about done.
Trump is tweeting again. And Neal Katyal is happy about it:

What's up here in the SDFLA? Who is in trial? In the Miami old days, the courthouses literally shut down in August. Now only Raja's downtown keeps up the tradition.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Interesting article about DOJ

"It's a building full of prosecutors."  That's how this interesting article about the problems with DOJ starts. More:
Imagine an incoming president of the United States announcing that he or she would take advice on criminal justice matters exclusively from a Federal Defender’s office. Moreover, the new chief executive intends to put the defenders in charge of federal prisons, forensic science, and the clemency process. After all, the president might argue, the defenders understand federal criminal law from the ground up, have a rich understanding of the social conditions that lead to criminal behavior, and are the federal attorneys most responsible for ensuring individual Constitutional protections.

People would be outraged. Critics would complain that the defenders represent only one part of the justice system, and are inherently biased because their work in the courts is always on behalf of the accused.

Yet, somehow, the mirror image of that situation is our reality and goes largely unchallenged.

Despite an obvious conflict of interest, the Department of Justice evaluates clemency petitions, runs federal prisons, decides what forensic evidence to introduce in federal cases, and advises the president on criminal justice reform. And make no mistake — prosecutors dominate the agency, with the 93 United States Attorneys playing the leading role in setting policies across a range of issues and career prosecutors running most of the divisions.
We need you, Judges, to check DOJ.  More than ever.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Judge Martin criticizes the SDFLA's practice of stacking 924(c) counts

Judge Martin criticizes the SDFLA's practice of stacking 924(c) counts in this concurrence:
Although many things about this case are troubling, perhaps most worrisome is that Mr. Hernandez might never have received this sentence if he had been sentenced in another part of the country. The Sentencing Commission also reported to Congress that the practice of "stacking" § 924(c) charges happens in very few districts. The Commission's data showed "no evidence that those offenses occur more frequently in those districts than in others." Id at 361. The Sentencing Commission thus concluded that "this geographic concentration is attributable to inconsistences in the charging of multiple violations of § 924(c)." Id. at 361-62. As it happens, the Southern District of Florida, where Mr. Hernandez was sentenced, is one of the districts recognized as exceptionally prolific in charging § 924(c) crimes. In fiscal year 2010, at least one in thirty-five of our entire nation's § 924(c) sentences came from the Southern District of Florida. Id at 276. The Southern District of Florida was one of only twelve districts in the country that reported having over 50 of these cases that year. Id. For the same period, 38 districts reported having ten or fewer. Id.
Another local practice that may come under fire in the near future is the shackling of all defendants in magistrate court.  The 9th Circuit just found the practice unconstitutional, which is in direct conflict with the 11th Circuit.  The Supreme Court may get the issue, but it's hard to disagree with the 9th's conclusion:
We must treat people with respect and dignity even though they are suspected of a crime. * * * The Constitution enshrines a fundamental right to be free of unwarranted restraints. Thus, we hold that if the government seeks to shackle a defendant, it must first justify the infringement with specific security needs as to that particular defendant. Courts must decide whether the stated need for security outweighs the infringement on a defendant’s right. This decision cannot be deferred to security providers or presumptively answered by routine policies. All of these requirements apply regardless of a jury’s presence or whether it’s a pretrial, trial or sentencing proceeding. Criminal defendants, like any other party appearing in court, are entitled to enter the courtroom with their heads held high. The policy that defendants challenged here isn’t presently in effect. Thus, although we hold that policy to be unconstitutional, we withhold the issuance of a formal writ of mandamus at this time.   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Manuel Noriega has died.

Manuel Noriega has died.  Here's a sketch of him by Arthur Lien from his 1992 trial before Judge Hoeveler.

He received a sentence of 30 years and served 17. Because he was a prisoner of war, he had to receive a jail cell in accordance with the Geneva Convention. That meant he had his own cell with TV, a computer, and exercise equipment. Corrections officers called it "the presidential suite."

Friday, May 26, 2017

More federal judges?

Senators Rubio and Nelson have proposed more federal judges in Florida, with 3 new judgeships going to SDFLA.  But we have a bunch of openings now and a bunch more coming, so I'm not sure how adding more slots that aren't being filled is going to help...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

RIP AUSA Beranton J. Whisenant Jr.

RIP AUSA Beranton J. Whisenant Jr.
He was only 37. So sad.
I did not know him, but I heard he was a good guy. 
Please feel free to remember him in the comments.

More on Kevin Newsom, 11th Circuit Nominee

The Vetting Room has a long, informative post about 11th Circuit Nominee Kevin Newsom here:
Kevin Newsom, President Trump’s first nominee to the Eleventh Circuit, is a seasoned appellate litigator, seemingly universally respected, with extensive experience in diverse areas of law.  A longtime member of the Federalist Society, his confirmation would cement the somewhat evenly balanced Eleventh Circuit back onto a firm conservative footing. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

11th Circuit rules that dogs aren't people

Uh oh... get ready for the hate mail. How could you rule that dogs aren't people?

Judge Rosenbaum starts off this entertaining qualified immunity case like this:
In history and literature, the name “Draco” has been associated with some notorious characters. Draco of ancient Greece is perhaps best known for the harsh legal code he composed, which inspired the word “draconian.” Antonios Loizides, Draco’s Law Code, ANCIENT HISTORY ENCYCLOPEDIA Dracos_Law_Code/ (last visited May 12, 2017). Draco Lucius Malfoy, of course, is Harry Potter’s perpetually maleficent rival in the Harry Potter literary series.*

And to the list of infamous Dracos, add Defendant-Appellant Draco. Draco is a police canine who was involved in the apprehension of Plaintiff Randall Kevin Jones. Unfortunately, Draco inflicted some serious damage on Jones when Draco refused to release his bite. Jones sued Draco, among others, for negligence. Georgia law by its terms, however, does not provide for negligence actions directly against dogs. We therefore hold as much today and reverse the district court’s denial of Defendant-Appellants’ motion to dismiss Draco.

But while Georgia law does not allow for a negligence suit against a dog, it does permit negligence claims against a state officer who is not entitled to official immunity. Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 likewise authorizes an action against a police officer who employs a dog in an exercise of excessive force. And Jones also sued the officers responsible for Draco’s encounter with Jones. In response, Defendant-Appellant Officers invoked official and qualified immunity and moved to dismiss. The district court summarily denied Defendant-Appellant Officers’ motion. Today we must reverse that denial and dismiss the claims. Jones has failed to allege facts establishing that the officer acted with malice, so the officers are entitled to official immunity. Nor does binding precedent allow for the conclusion that Defendant Officers’ employment of Draco in the circumstances of this case violated Jones’s clearly established rights, so the officers have qualified immunity.

*See J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005); J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007).

Monday, May 22, 2017

You be the judge -- Anthony Weiner

You be the judge -- former Congressman and Huma's husband Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty to a count of transferring obscene material to a minor. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. His guidelines are 135 months at the low end. The government has agreed to recommend a sentence of 21-27 months in this plea agreement. What will the judge do? What would you do?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Who could read all of this?

The 11th Circuit issued 284 pages of en banc opinions in the smoking cases, including Tjoflat's 225+ page (!!) dissent. I couldn't bear to read it all, but the Daily Report has this initial summary:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a 284-page en banc opinion Thursday saying that smokers who won a class action against tobacco companies can also file individual lawsuits.

The judges had some fireworks. Three wrote dissents. One called the process a “chaotic poker game” and said judges should “stick to our day jobs” instead of advocating for plaintiffs.

In the end, the judges upheld the lower court decision in favor of Theresa Graham against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its affiliates. Judge William Pryor wrote the majority opinion.

“This appeal presents the questions whether due process forbids giving a jury’s findings of negligence and strict liability in a class action against cigarette manufacturers preclusive effect in a later individual suit by a class member and, if not, whether federal law pre-empts the jury’s findings,” Pryor began.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You have a right to remain silent.

After not speaking for a year, Gerald Petion pleaded guilty to a federal drug case. Paula McMahon has the details:

On Tuesday, after 12 months of politely but pointedly remaining totally silent and unresponsive in court, Petion resumed speaking to judges: He apparently decided it was in his best interest to accept a plea agreement offer from the prosecution.

“Guilty,” Petion said when U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg asked him how he wanted to plead to two federal drug-trafficking and weapons charges.

Prosecutors said they will recommend 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced in August, but the final decision on his punishment lies with the judge. The maximum possible penalty is life in prison.

He remained imprisoned the whole time and only succeeded in delaying progress in his case for 12 months.

Earlier this month, Petion finally resumed speaking to his attorney after two in-depth mental health evaluations showed that there was nothing physically or mentally wrong with Petion and that he was legally competent for the case to proceed. The experts said he was faking mental illness.

After he was determined to be mentally competent, prosecutors made a plea offer and said they were considering filing a more serious charge, with a harsher punishment, if he planned to go to trial.

Meantime, we still have no U.S. Attorney. As far as I know, all of the finalists are still being considered. I imagine that we will have our nominee by the end of the month. It will be interesting to see if the nominee will accept the position and work for a Trump/Sessions administration.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dismissed juror in Corrine Brown case was holding out for acquittal

When is it appropriate to dismiss a "holdout" juror? Representative Corrine Brown, who was convicted late last week, will argue that the judge should not have dismissed a juror holding out for innocence:

A juror dismissed from former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s fraud trial told other jurors “the Holy Spirit” said Brown was innocent as the jury deliberated, according to a transcript the trial judge unsealed after a hearing Monday.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan’s decision to remove that juror will evidently become part of Brown’s effort to challenge her conviction last week on 18 out of 22 fraud and tax charges that could lead to years of imprisonment.
Although he hadn’t requested one Monday, Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, told reporters last week he planned to seek a new trial.
Corrigan acknowledged disagreement over the juror’s dismissal during a hearing that touched on a range of subjects involving the now-discharged jury.
“It is obviously a matter of contention in this case as to whether the court acted correctly,” Corrigan said.
“I thought it was the right decision, but I know you have rights and I want you to be able to take advantage of those,” the judge told Smith before denying a pair of oral motions that would have raised the possibility of attorneys talking with some jurors about their verdict.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen." --Ralph Waldo Emerson.

AG Sessions is being criticized by both sides of the aisle for his new sentencing guidance, which requires prosecutors to seek much harsher sentences than under the previous administration.  The memorandum says:
Charging and sentencing recommendations are crucial responsibilities for any federal prosecutor.  The directives I am setting forth below are simple but important.  They place great confidence in our prosecutors and supervisors to apply them in a thoughtful and disciplined manner, with the goal of achieving just and consistent results in federal cases.
First, it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency.  This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us.  By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.
It's hard to believe that we are going backwards and this is the criminal justice system that we will now be operating in.  Which judges will stand up to the executive?  Which judges will write sentencing orders explaining why prosecutors are asking for sentences that don't comport with 3553? Which judges will say enough is enough?

The boat cases in SDFLA seem to be a good opportunity for a judge to say something about the absurdity of these sentences. How much time should a fisherman get for being paid $2,000 to be a crewman on a drug boat that isn't even headed to the United States?  The min/man is 10 years, and our prosecutors are seeking those sentences.  From the Miami Herald:
“All three defendants admitted their involvement in the drug-smuggling conspiracy and that they knew they were transporting drugs on board the vessel,” the complaint says. “All three defendants also admitted that the vessel was going to Mexico and all were paid between $2,000 and $3,500 to transport the drugs.”
But Marc David Seitles, Bustos Pereira’s attorney, indicated that his client is a victim of the enforcement system.
“Yet another impoverished fisherman with a second grade education facing a minimum of 10 years in federal prison,” Seitles said in an email message. “This is fighting the war on drugs? Laughable.”
Many Latin American defendants in similar prior cases have told U.S. enforcement officials that they are fishermen or farmers who have been coerced or threatened by drug traffickers into transporting cocaine on boats.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

11th Circuit says no to death by firing squad

Anthony Boyd, sentenced to death, asked for his punishment to be carried out by firing squad or hanging.  The 11th Circuit, per Judge Marcus, said no. He will now be executed by lethal injection.  From the AJC:
Boyd had challenged Alabama’s new lethal injection protocol, alleging it violates his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Instead, he noted, legislatures in Utah and Oklahoma have approved the firing squad, which has a good track record of “speed and certainty for the condemned.” In the alternative, hanging is an option that has been approved by lawmakers in Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. And Alabama is “fully capable” of approving those execution methods as well, the appeal said.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling written by Judge Stanley Marcus, said Alabama gives condemned prisoners the choice between two methods of execution: lethal injection and electrocution.

Also, Marcus wrote, the law is clear. Inmates challenging a method of execution must prove there is an alternative method of execution “that is feasible, readily implemented and in fact significantly reduces the risk of pain posed by the state’s planned method of execution,” he said.
“The Alabama legislature is free to choose any method of execution that it deems appropriate, subject only to the constraints of the United States Constitution,” Marcus wrote.

“But Boyd has not alleged that either lethal injection in all forms or death by electrocution poses and unconstitutional risk of pain,” he noted. “Having authorized two unchallenged methods of execution, Alabama is under no constitutional obligation to experiment with execution by hanging or firing squad.”

Marcus added, “Notably, Boyd did not propose an alternative drug cocktail that the state could use in his execution.”

Judge Wilson concurred in the result only but wrote separately to explain his disagreement with binding law.

In other news, tomorrow is the District's Bench and Bar conference. All of the judges will be forced to mingle with the hoi polloi. Good times, good times...

Monday, May 08, 2017

Victory for BBX, Alan Levan and Gene Stearns

Trial #2 goes to Bank Atlantic, Alan Levan and their lawyer Gene Stearns. A really big win for them over the SEC. From the DBR:
A federal jury on Monday ruled in Fort Lauderdale banker Alan Levan's favor on all claims filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC alleged Levan had misled investors about the health of certain real estate loans in Fort Lauderdale-based BankAtlantic's portfolio leading into the recession. The agency also claimed Levan's company BBX Capital Corp., which sold the bank in 2012, failed to properly account for loans in public disclosures.

It was the second SEC trial for BBX and Levan on the same claims. The first trial in 2014 ended with some jury findings against the defendants, a temporary ban on Levan running a public company and millions of dollars in fines. The appellate court overturned some pretrial rulings and sent the case back for another six-week trial in Miami before U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles.

Levan and BBX also settled an earlier case brought by shareholders.

"I am pleased this regrettable nine-year ordeal is finally over and has ended in complete exoneration," Levan said in a statement. "This frivolous action by the SEC was clearly motivated either by incompetence or by malicious self-interest so the agency could say it did something to somebody other than watch the banking system collapse under its nose. I am ready to move on and build on the considerable success we have enjoyed at BBX Capital, which has prospered despite the unfair and unwarranted burden imposed on us by this SEC witch hunt."

Monday News & Notes

1. Trump is going to nominate Kevin Newsom to the 11th Circuit this week. Newsom, a law school classmate of mine, is well-qualified (former Alabama SG, former Souter clerk). He is one of nine nominations set to occur this week, via NY Times.

2. Prosecutors have plagiarized a blog post in amicus brief on death penalty case (via Jacksonville Times). Doh!

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association apparently copied a defense attorney’s blog post in a critical brief dealing with whether prosecutors have the right to reject the death penalty.

The brief signed by Buddy Jacobs, an attorney and the longtime lobbyist for the prosecutors association, argued that an Orlando prosecutor deserved to have first-degree murder cases taken away from her after she said she wouldn’t seek the death penalty. The brief was signed by Jacobs and two other attorneys in his Fernandina Beach law firm.

Part of that brief is exactly copied from Richard Hornsby, an Orlando defense attorney. Hornsby posted last month on his blog why he thought Gov. Rick Scott was justified in his decision to re-assign capital murder cases away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

3. The Corrine Brown trial is set to go to closing today, via Florida Times-Union. That's up in Jacksonville. Apparently she cried on the witness stand on Friday. Any thoughts on whether she will walk?

Friday, May 05, 2017

Carlos López-Cantera to Chair Statewide Panel Vetting Federal Judicial Candidates

Florida's Federal Judicial Nominating Committee (referred to as the JNC) is going to be reconstituted. That was in question after the Trump election. But Sen. Rubio issued this press release today:

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) will once again constitute the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to identify highly qualified individuals as finalists to become U.S. district judges in each of the three judicial districts in Florida. Today, it was announced that Carlos López-Cantera will serve as statewide chair of Florida’s Federal JNC.

“I am extremely pleased to have Carlos López-Cantera serve as statewide chair of Florida’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission,” said Rubio. “Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida. I look forward to reviewing the commission’s selections and working with Senator Nelson and the president to ensure that these critical positions are filled.”

“I am honored to be selected to serve as the statewide chair of Florida’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission,” said López-Cantera. “This is an extremely important process and I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators’ consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges. I am looking forward to working with all of the members of the commission to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, character, and integrity.”


The commission will invite applications for U.S. district judges and after a thorough and careful review of the applicants will select finalists who have the professional qualifications, character, integrity, experience, and temperament to perform the duties of a federal district judge and to uphold the public trust.

The commission will send the names of the finalists to Senators Rubio and Nelson for their individual and independent review and, if neither senator objects, those names will be forwarded to the White House for the president’s consideration.

Both senators reserve their constitutional rights to render advice and consent on any candidate or nominee.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Judge Goodman is at it again

How many judges could find a way to fit Frank Ocean and Alicia Keys into the first paragraph of an order about "common interest" and 4 emails?  Only one... Magistrate Judge Goodman:

Don't laugh! (UPDATE)

 UPDATE -- she was convicted.  No joke.

Apparently a woman is on trial for laughing during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing.  Are you kidding me?!  Sessions' prosecutors are going after a laugher.  For real (via HuffPost):
    The U.S. Capitol Police officer who decided to arrest an activist because she briefly laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January is a rookie cop who had never conducted an arrest before nor worked at a congressional hearing. Nevertheless, prosecutors persisted this week in pursuing charges against the 61-year-old woman the rookie had taken into custody.
    Katherine Coronado of the U.S. Capitol Police was in her second week on the job when she was assigned to keep watch over Sessions’ confirmation hearing on Jan. 10. Coronado was involved in the arrest of Desiree Fairooz, an activist affiliated with the group Code Pink, after Fairooz laughed when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” (Sessions had been rejected as a federal judge in the 1980s because of concerns about his views on race, and back when he was still a Democrat, Shelby himself actually ran an ad suggesting Sessions had called the Ku Klux Klan “good ole boys.”)
    Fairooz was seated in the back of the room, and her laugh did not interrupt Shelby’s introductory speech. But, according to the government, the laugh amounted to willful “disorderly and disruptive conduct” intended to “impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct” of congressional proceedings. The government also charged her with a separate misdemeanor for allegedly parading, demonstrating or picketing within a Capitol, evidently for her actions after she was being escorted from the room.
    A video shot by a HuffPost reporter that shows Fairooz being arrested was included as evidence in the trial, which will continue at Superior Court in D.C. on Tuesday. The video jurors saw Monday shows Coronado taking Fairooz into custody as she’s assisted by fellow officers.
    Jason Covert, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys trying the case, asked Officer Coronado on Monday whether the laughter was “loud enough to draw your attention” or if she recalled “seeing other people turning around.” Coronado claimed she had seen other people turn around and later said Fairooz had been laughing “very loudly.”
    Samuel Bogash, a lawyer representing Fairooz, showed a video of the audience laughing at another part of the hearing, when Sessions joked about disagreements with his wife. But Covert argued that it was appropriate for the audience to laugh when Sessions made a joke about his marriage but not when Shelby claimed Sessions had a long record of “treating all Americans equally.”

Monday, May 01, 2017

SCOTUS decisions

No decisions this morning on the cell-site data cases.  They will be relisted again.  But we do have a decision in this Miami case.  From SCOTUSBlog:
The Supreme Court handed a partial but significant victory to cities today, holding that the Fair Housing Act allows the city of Miami to bring a lawsuit alleging that two banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, violated the law when they issued riskier but more costly mortgages to minority customers than they had offered to white borrowers. But it was hardly a complete win for the city, as the court also ruled that the lower court should have applied a tougher test to determine whether the city can recover compensation for its losses. This means that the case will now return to the lower court for it to decide whether there is enough of a connection between the banks’ lending practices and the city’s economic injuries to hold the banks liable.
 That means that Judge D will get the case back. Fun times.

Friday, April 28, 2017

News and Notes (UPDATED)

1.  Congrats to the new Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta.  Great news.  Acosta got 60 votes, including Sen. Nelson.

2.  The Melgen jury is still out.  Today marks day 3 of deliberations.  Strong likelihood of a verdict today before the weekend.  After 7 weeks, they won't want to come back next week.

UPDATE -- Friday afternoon verdict -- GUILTY on all counts.

3. Federal agent acquitted of road rage, via the Sun-Sentinel.

4.  "The lipstick gang"?  Paula McMahon has the details:
Call them the gang that couldn’t put on lipstick straight.
When three men, wearing bright red lipstick, heavy makeup and women’s clothing, walked into a jewelry store and said they were shopping for an engagement ring earlier this month, workers quickly realized they were dealing with an unusual band of gun-toting robbers.
So far, authorities said they have identified two of the wanted men. Jerome Simmons, 29, of Fort Lauderdale, was arrested as he crawled out of a nearby bush sporting only his boxer shorts, socks, makeup and carrying a walkie-talkie in his hand. A pink sweatshirt, pink sweat pants, a wig and a pair of shoes were found under a nearby vehicle, police said.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Your government at oral argument

Have you ever had a judge (or Justice) respond to an argument by saying, "Oh, come on." (via the NY Times):
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. tried to test the limits of the government’s position at a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday by confessing to a criminal offense.
“Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone,” the chief justice said, adding that he had not been caught.
The form that people seeking American citizenship must complete, he added, asks whether the applicant had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.
“If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all’?” Chief Justice Roberts asked.
Robert A. Parker, a Justice Department lawyer, said the offense had to be disclosed. Chief Justice Roberts seemed shocked. “Oh, come on,” he said.

Meantime, Alex Acosta will soon by in Trump's Cabinet.  Hopefully he won't be forced to make such silly arguments.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

En banc 11th Circuit decides U.S. v. Roy

At long last, the en banc 11th Circuit today decided United States v. Roy.  The opinions span 287 pages.  Judge Carnes wrote the majority opinion, finding harmless error in conducting trial without counsel present during a portion of the trial.  From the conclusion:
We end, as we began, by acknowledging that although Alexander Roy received a fair trial he did not receive a perfect one. Whatever the circumstances surrounding it, and regardless of who knew what and when they knew it, we do not condone the taking of any inculpatory testimony in the absence of defense counsel. It is constitutional error, which should be avoided. But neither would we condone, much less participate in, scuttling the harmless error rule. As we have explained, the rule plays an important role in, and serves vital interests of, our judicial system. To reverse Roy’s conviction based on his counsel’s brief absence during initial presentation of only a small part of the overwhelming evidence against his client would require us to enlarge exceptions to the harmless error rule to the point where they would be large enough to consume much of the rule. Doing that would run counter to decisions of the Supreme Court, this Court, and the better reasoned decisions of other circuits.
The dissent expresses the view that “we must vigilantly ensure we are adhering to our obligation” and “commitment to the Constitution” where the defendant has committed “disturbing” crimes. Dissenting Op. at 257. And it espouses the view that the more disturbing the crimes the defendant committed the greater our obligation to adhere to the law because “the constitutional processes that the Framers put into place are there to protect everyone, including people accused of the gravest and most serious crimes.” Id. We disagree with any suggestion, if it be such, that someone charged with sexual crimes against minors is entitled to more constitutional protections than someone charged with kiting checks. The constitutional protections are the same for all regardless of their crimes.
We do agree, of course, that “[t]he Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel does not apply on a sliding scale based on the gravity of the defendant’s offense.” Id. at 258. But neither does the application of the harmless error rule vary inversely with the seriousness of the crime. Countless other convicted defendants whose trials were less than perfect have been denied automatic reversal and a presumption of prejudice. This defendant, although he is entitled to the full protections of the law, is not entitled to special treatment. Because the Sixth Amendment violation that occurred during his trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, his conviction is due to be affirmed.
The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
 Judges Tjoflat, Pryor, Jordan, and Rosenbaum each filed concurring opinions.

Judges Wilson, Martin, and Pryor each filed dissenting opinions.

More to follow...

Mistakes or Fraud?

The issue has been framed as "mistakes vs. fraud" in the Melgen trial, which is now with the jury.  From the PBP:
Acknowledging Dr. Salomon Melgen made some mistakes as he struggled to treat more than 100 patients a day at clinics from Delray Beach to Port St. Lucie, his attorney spent more than three hours Tuesday trying to overcome what federal prosecutors called “staggering” evidence that the ophthalmologist bilked Medicare out of as much as $105 million.
The 62-year-old Harvard-educated retinal specialist should not be found guilty of 76 charges of health care fraud for sloppy record-keeping, attorney Matthew Menchel told a federal jury in closing arguments. Further, he said, the doctor shouldn’t be sent to prison for trying innovative measures to help patients who were told their vision loss was hopeless.
While nationally renowned ophthalmologists testified during the nearly two-month trial that they were appalled by Melgen’s methods, Menchel insisted they had “agendas.” The people the jury should listen to are the patients, he said.
“It’s the patients who are experts in blindness,” Menchel said “It’s the patients, not the doctors, who are experts.”
Patients who testified — both for and against the wealthy physician who faces corruption charges in New Jersey with Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez — didn’t hold any animosity toward Melgen, he said. “Patients smiled warmly at him for a reason,” he said.
The reason, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin countered, was that they that they had no idea he was using them as “props” to rake in millions from the federal insurer.
“He wasn’t just aggressive,” Stefin said, using Menchel’s word for Melgen’s tactics. “He was abusive. He took advantage of patients in many cases — people who were elderly, people who were sick, people who were trusting.”
Melgen subjected patients — some who had prosthetic, blind or shrunken eyes — to dozens of unnecessary and sometimes painful tests to “line his pockets with millions and millions of dollars,” agreed fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Chase.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gotta love this story

Justice Breyer's cell phone went off in Court today. Of course it's no big deal and things happen.  But can you imagine if that happened to a lawyer instead of a judge.  Woah, the sky would fall.  Here's the WP on the incident:
Some questions about today’s incident remain unanswered. Breyer’s ringtone was not the usual sounding one, but reporters couldn’t make out exactly what it was. And it is unclear whether a justice’s black robe has pockets.

In local courts, the Melgan trial is wrapping up with closings today. 

Federalists and privacy

The Federalist Society will be discussing cell tower data and privacy this Friday.  I will be debating the Florida Solicitor General, Amit Agarwal, who was my opponent in the en banc cell tower case of U.S. v. Quartavious Davis.  It's being moderated by Judge Raag Singhal.  Should be fun: