Monday, July 31, 2017

Criminal Complaint against Imran Awan

Read the criminal complaint against Imran Awan here.  This is Debbie Wasserman Schultz's former aide, who  is charged with bank fraud.  The complaint is pretty vanilla -- he is accused of saying a rental property as a primary residence to get a loan.  Many are speculating that this case is just a place-holder for a bigger (and more sexy) case to follow. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Magistrate Judge Selection Panel

There is a new Magistrate Judge Selection Panel, to make a recommendation as to reappointment of Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman and the upcoming vacancy due to the retirement of Magistrate Judge William Turnoff.  Here is the committee:

Chair: Thomas E. Scott, Jr., Esq.
Members: Jerry Blair (non-attorney)
Raoul Cantero, III, Esq.
Laura Maria González-Marqués, Esq.
Markenzy Lapointe, Esq.
Tiffani Lee, Esq.
Abigail Price-Williams, Esq.
Nikki Lewis Simon, Esq.
H. T. Smith, Esq.
Rodolfo Sorondo, Esq.
Ryan Stumphauzer, Esq.
Dr. Jose Szapocznik (non-attorney)

Two wonderful magistrates.  Judge Turnoff will be missed... more on that to follow.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mary Barzee Flores is running for Congress

Mary Barzee Flores is running for Congress. Ileana's seat. Mary is a former federal defender and was nominated by Obama to be a federal district judge. But Marco Rubio blocked her by not signing the blue slip. So she is fighting back. From her email this morning:

After a few years serving clients in private practice, I again answered the call to public service when President Obama nominated me to serve as a Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida. Although I enjoyed strong support from Democrats and Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio blocked my nomination. He complained about my support of progressive organizations like the ACLU and EMILY’s List.
Marco Rubio disagrees with my political views. I disagree with his.
So I can understand why Marco Rubio would not want me on the federal bench. He won’t want me in Congress either.
Petty partisan politics prevented me -- like Judge Merrick Garland and so many other Obama federal court nominees -- from fulfilling President Obama's call to public service. But I’m persistent and I don’t give up easily. I remain committed to serving this community and this country.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

News & Notes

1. Richard Strafer's memorial service will be held on August 6 at 10am at Kendall Mt. Nebo, 5900 SW 77th Avenue. Miami, FL 33143.

2. We filed an emergency petition in the Supreme Court for former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Jay Weaver covers it here:
Attorneys for former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who is being detained in Miami on an extradition request to his homeland, filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that asserts his constitutional rights have been violated because his bid for bond was denied.

Martinelli’s legal team argued that federal courts nationwide have “misconstrued” a 114-year-old Supreme Court decision “as having erected a heavy presumption against bail in such [extradition] cases.”

“The belief that [this decision] imposed an unlawful presumption has prevailed [in extradition cases] for so long that it is now binding across the country,” Miami attorneys David O. Markus and Ricardo Bascuas wrote in Martinelli’s emergency petition for a writ of habeas corpus. “Only this court can resolve the confusion at this point.”

Markus and Bascuas, who were added to Martinelli’s legal team led by attorney Marcos Jimenez, said the U.S. Supreme Court was the former president’s only recourse because bond denials cannot be appealed in extradition cases in the federal district or appeals courts.

3. David Lat is blogging about Katherine Magbanua's case. Magbanua is represented by Chris DeCoste and Tara Kawass. Full disclosure, we represent Charlie Adelson.

4.  SCOTUS protestors get a taste of jail.  Via WP:
Five protesters who disrupted a session of the U.S. Supreme Court by shouting disapproval of its rulings on campaign finance law were sentenced to one or two weekends in prison Monday after losing a bid to overturn a 1949 law restricting public protest at the court.

U.S. prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Christopher R. “Casey” Cooper in Washington to order 10-day jail sentences for the defendants, members of an organization called 99Rise. They had stood and spoken one-by-one just after the court was gaveled into session April 1, 2015, about a year after the justices had struck down overall limits on campaign contributions.

Friday, July 21, 2017

RIP Richard Strafer

RIP Richard Strafer.

What a tragedy. Richard was a friend. A really great guy. Brilliant lawyer. He could spot a great issue and crank out a 50-page perfect brief faster than anyone I knew. Here's the DBR obit:

Miami criminal appellate lawyer G. Richard Strafer died Friday after contracting a mystery infection on a European cruise and letting his colleagues know before going into a coma in Britain. He was 66.

Strafer was known for his compelling appellate writing, including a 2012 petition that persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in the Kaley v. United States on the constitutionality of pretrial asset freezes. The court later found them legal.

Strafer had his own firm for many years and last summer became of counsel at Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf.

"He is one of the finest legal writers in this country," Black Srebnick senior partner Roy Black said while Strafer was hospitalized. "He has a brilliant and incisive mind and understands and resolves thorny legal problems better than anyone I know."

Strafer fell ill last month after contracting an infection on a Viking Cruises trip during a vacation with his husband, Jon Rick. Strafer was quarantined in his cabin, given antibiotics by the ship's doctor and taken to a hospital after the cruise ended.

At the hospital outside London, Strafer suffered cardiac arrest. That night, colleagues said his medical records show the hospital staff removed him from oxygen for nearly 10 minutes, and he lapsed into a vegetative state shortly afterward around June 22.

About a week later, he was flown to Baptist Hospital in Miami, where he was visited by his husband, 26-year-old daughter Jordan, friends, colleagues and his two dogs. Strafer trained the dogs as therapy pets so they could cheer up hospital patients, particularly children. In his final days, the dogs were allowed to climb onto his hospital bed and snuggle in his arms.

Under conditions of his living will, Strafer was removed from life support Monday. The source of the infection has not been determined.

And here is the Herald obit:
Richard Strafer, a brilliant, behind-the-scenes appellate lawyer at the marquee criminal-defense firm in Miami, has been a fanatical runner and bicyclist for years. He competed in two World Championship Duathlons, finishing eighth in his age group in Spain in 2011 and 22nd in Hungary in 2007.

So when he set off on a leisurely European cruise in early June, his colleagues and friends thought it was a tad ironic.

Days after departing from Stockholm, Sweden, on a cruise to Norway, the 66-year-old Strafer caught a chest cold. It soon flared up to a 104-degree fever and pneumonia.

By mid-June, when the ship sailed into Greenwich, England, Strafer had already been under medical supervision for the latter half of the cruise. After being transferred to an English hospital, doctors gave him antibiotics for a worsening lung infection that they could not diagnose, but the medication proved ineffective. As his lungs deteriorated, Strafer went into cardiac arrest that cut off oxygen to his brain. Within a week, he slipped into a coma.

Strafer, considered to possess one of the sharpest legal minds in South Florida, never awoke from it. After being flown in a private air ambulance to Miami in early July, he was taken to Baptist Hospital, where a stream of family and friends visited his bedside. Baptist doctors concluded his coma was irreversible.


“Everyone is heartbroken,” said attorney Scott Kornspan, managing partner of Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, where Strafer worked for more than 15 years. “How does this happen on a cruise line to a perfectly healthy man? We're all in shock and dumbfounded about what happened.”

Kornspan said he communicated with Strafer on June 17 just after he was transferred from the Viking Cruises ship to the English hospital. Strafer expressed alarm over his prognosis after doctors immediately told him in the hospital’s ICU that if he had arrived three hours later he would have died. They also told him that because of the seriousness of his condition, he should contact next of kin and a spiritual adviser.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#SeersuckerDay at the USSC meeting

#SeersuckerDay at the USSC meeting in DC. That's Judge Bill Pryor and Judge Charles Breyer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Judge Rosenbaum starts her opinion with a GoT quote

Judge Rosenbaum starts her opinion with a Game of Thrones quote.  And it's Tyrion Lannister, Hand of Daenerys Targaryen.  Looks like she was watching the premier with the rest of us on Sunday night.  Here's the intro:
“A wise man once said a true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms.”1 Whether or not that may be accurate, a true history of the United States would be incomplete without a history of great political conversations, wherever they might have occurred. And great political conversations could not exist in the absence of the First Amendment. So the First Amendment generally prohibits government retaliation against a person for exercising his rights to free speech and association, including supporting the political party and candidates of his choice.
1. Tyrion Lannister, speaking of himself. “Oathbreaker,” Game of Thrones (2016), as quoted by (last visited June 20, 2017).

Judge Jordan concurs.  Instead of recent pop culture, he cites Shakespeare:

If a jury were to find that Chief Gomez did not have the City Manager’s blessing, then maybe everything that took place after the delivery of the letter to Mr. Rodriguez was just “sound and fury, [s]ignifying nothing.” William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of McBeth, Act V, scene 5 (1606).

SDFLA Summer

1. The SDFLA is pretty quiet right now.  There's a 4-5 trial nearing its end in front of Judge Gayles for the interns who want to see some good lawyering.  

2. Former SDFLA AUSA Michael Brown has been nominated to the district bench in the NDFLA.  Brown is a good guy, who currently works at Alston & Bird:
It's been a good month for Alston & Bird partner Michael L. Brown.
President Donald Trump nominated Brown July 13 to fill a long-vacant post on the federal court bench in the Northern District of Georgia. Brown's nomination came only 23 days after he and his New York law partner secured the acquittal of a bond trader in a federal trial in Connecticut closely watched by Wall Street.
Brown—a former federal prosecutor and co-leader of Alston's government and internal investigations practice—teamed up with Alston New York partner Brett Jaffe in a successful defense of Tyler Peters, a former vice president at international broker-dealer Nomura Securities International Co.
The jury convicted only one of Peters' co-defendants in the securities fraud conspiracy and gave Brown's client a clean sweep after the Alston team presented Peters as a junior trader who was simply doing what he had been trained by his supervisor to do and who did not know that the misstatements the traders made when making securities sales were illegal.
The court record included scrappy—and lengthy—letters Brown wrote to the judge on the defense team's behalf flatly accusing federal prosecutors of misconduct. The at times pugnacious letters were indicative of Brown's style. He is not afraid of a legal brawl.
"Mike is a great lawyer," said Atlanta attorney Page Pate, who has known Brown since the two were first-year law students at the University of Georgia. "If he is representing the government, he's going to be a hard-ass for the government. If he's representing a client, he's going to fight like hell for his client. He is one of a select group of people who can literally go either way."

3. This is a pretty funny tweet for you GoT fans:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Judge Milton Hirsch's Constitutional Calendar

If you haven't subscribed to Judge Milton Hirsch's Constitutional Calendar, you should. To subscribe, send an email to is

[UPDATE -- I had the unsubscribe email up earlier. Sorry about that, but it is fixed now.]

Here is today's entry:

On July 18, 1949, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball in the modern era, appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Robinson was not suspected of being a communist or “fellow traveler.” But communists at home and abroad were in the habit of making much of the hypocrisy of an America that preached democracy and equality, but practiced Jim Crow. HUAC wanted assurances that the American black community was not tempted by communist blandishments.

Robinson began his testimony with a brief statement. (This was a good sign. Many witnesses were denied the privilege of making any statement before answering questions.) It included the following:

"I have had a great many messages come to me, by wire, phone and letter, urging me not to show up at this hearing. And I ought to make it plain that not all of this urging came from Communist sympathizers. Of course most of it did. But some came from people for whom I have a lot of respect and who are just as opposed to Communist methods as I am.

"And so it isn’t pleasant for me to find myself in the middle of a public argument that has nothing to do with the standing of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the pennant race – or even the pay raise I am going to ask Mr. Branch Rickey for next year!

"So you’ll naturally ask, why did I stick my neck out by agreeing to be present and why did I stand by my agreement in spite of the advice to the contrary."

Robinson went on to assure the committee members that the African-American community would not be seduced by the communist sales-pitch. Apparently the committee was satisfied. Robinson never heard from them again.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New JNC members announced

Here's the list of new JNC members for the Southern District of Florida (h/t Celia Ampel):

The Southern District JNC members are:

• Chair Manny Kadre, chairman and CEO, MBB Auto LLC, Coral Gables

• Georgina Angones, assistant dean of law development and alumni relations, University of Miami School of Law, Coral Gables

• Ellyn Bogdanoff, shareholder, Becker & Poliakoff, Fort Lauderdale

• Reginald Clyne, partner, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, Miami

• Kendall Coffey, partner, Coffey Burlington, Miami

• Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, partner, Holland & Knight, Miami

• Renier Diaz de la Portilla, solo practitioner and mediator, Renier Diaz de la Portilla P.A., Miami

• Albert Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg, Miami

• Peter Feaman, president, Peter M. Feaman P.A., Boynton Beach

• Robert Fernandez, partner, Zumpano Castro, Coral Gables

• Daniel Foodman, partner, WNF Law, Miami

• Philip Freidin, partner, Freidin Brown, Miami

• Carey Goodman, mediator, Cudjoe Key

• Anat Hakim, general counsel, WellCare, Tampa

• Jillian Hasner, president and CEO, Take Stock in Children, Miami

• Marilyn Holifield, partner, Holland & Knight, Miami

• Eduardo Lacasa, chief operations officer, Chrysalis Health, Fort Lauderdale

• Ira Leesfield, partner, Leesfield Scolaro, Miami

• Dexter Lehtinen, partner, LSRCF Law, Miami

• David Leibowitz, general counsel, Braman Management Association, Miami

• Richard Lydecker, founding partner, Lydecker Diaz, Miami

• Debbie Maken, author and attorney licensed in Mississippi, West Palm Beach

• Tom Mersch, partner, Kelley Kronenberg, Fort Lauderdale

• Carlos Nunez, partner, WNF Law, Miami

• Thomas Panza, senior partner, Panza, Maurer & Maynard, Fort Lauderdale

• Edward Pozzuoli, president, Tripp Scott, Fort Lauderdale

• David Prather, partner, Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin, West Palm Beach

• Dennis Richard, partner, Richard & Richard, Miami

• Robert Rigal, CEO, Echelon Medical Capital, Boca Raton

• Jon Sale, of counsel, Broad and Cassel, Miami

• Christian Searcy, president and CEO, Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, West Palm Beach

• Harley Tropin, president, Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, Coral Gables

• Joanne Urquiola, Joanne R. Urquiola P.A., Miami

• Steve Waserstein, partner, WNF Law, Miami

• Stephen Zack, partner, Boies Schiller Flexner, Miami

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Judge Frank Hull to take senior status

Zoe Tillman reports that Judge Frank Hull is taking senior status:

This is big news as she is probably the most conservative judge on the Court as it relates to criminal justice issues, even though she is a Clinton appointee.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Plea bargaining and tattoos

Plea bargaining and tattoos.

Chief Judge Ed Carnes starts an opinion about plea bargaining this way, comparing the process to tattoos:

In negotiating a plea bargain both sides aim for the best terms they can get, placing bets on what the future will hold. The problem is that the future and certainty are strangers and not everyone wins a wager. Sometimes a deal, like a tattoo, does not age well and what appeared to be attractive in the past seems unattractive in the future. But plea agreements, like most tattoos, are written in permanent ink and cannot be redrawn just because one party suffers from the plea bargain form of buyer’s remorse. This case is here because two defendants convinced the district court, over the government’s objections, to take up the judicial pen and redraw their freely entered plea agreements whose ink had been dry for nearly a decade.

Still no cameras in the Supreme Court

You can film the cops on the street, but you can't watch a Supreme Court argument.  Something is wrong there.  The 3rd Circuit ruled last week that you have a constitutional right to record the police on the street.  From the AP:

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia has joined five other circuits in finding that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape police in public.

The U.S. 3rd Circuit on Friday joined what it called the "growing consensus" that the public can photograph or record police without retaliation.

U.S. Judge Thomas L. Ambro stressed that the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to "information about how our public servants operate in public."

He acknowledged the pressure faced by police but said bystander recordings since at least the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 have both "exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges." Such recordings, he said, provide different perspectives than the images captured by police dashboard and body cameras.

Cellphone recordings in the years since King's violent arrest was videotaped by a bystander have repeatedly captured shootings of motorists, suspects and others by police, fueling a national conversation around policing and minority communities, activists say.

"There's just no question in 2017 that the right to record the police is part of the liberty protected by the First Amendment, even more so now that smartphones are as ubiquitous as they are," said Molly Tack-Hooper, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania who argued the case. "A huge percentage of the country walks around with technology in their pocket that enables them to deter police misconduct by merely holding up a smartphone ... and distributing those recordings at the touch of a button."

Each federal appeals court that has weighed the issue has found it unconstitutional for police to interfere with such public recordings, Ambro said. The technology allows bystanders to complement traditional press accounts of how police use their power, he said.

Supreme Court Justices are public servants as well. We should get a chance to see how they operate in court.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Should judges be able to reject plea deals?

Should judges be able to reject plea deals?  That's the question raised in this case where "a federal judge in West Virginia has rejected a plea deal for a man accused of dealing heroin and fentanyl, arguing that 'the secrecy surrounding plea bargains in heroin and opioid cases frequently undermines respect for the law and deterrence of crime.'" From the Washington Post:

In his 28-page ruling, the district judge for the southern district of West Virginia, Joseph R. Goodwin, notes the severity of the opiate epidemic in West Virginia, calling the state “ground zero” in a crisis that amounts to “a cancer that has grown and metastasized in the body politic of the United States.”
He argues that given this context, “the bright light of the jury trial deters crime, enhances respect for the law, educates the public, and reinforces their sense of safety much more than a contract entered into in the shadows of a private meeting in the prosecutor’s office.”
The judge makes a compelling case about needing more trials:
Plea bargains have become so widespread in part because of a perception that they place a lighter load on an overburdened criminal justice system.

But Goodwin argues that this perception is outdated. The judge draws on federal data sources to illustrate that federal criminal trials have fallen precipitously even as the number of U.S. attorneys has grown dramatically.

“In [fiscal year] 1973,” he writes, “each federal prosecutor handled over eight criminal trials on average. By [fiscal year] 2016, the average number of criminal trials handled by each federal prosecutor plummeted to 0.29 trials.”
Even though the system desperately needs more trials, it strikes me as wrong and dangerous to reject plea deals on an individual basis to accomplish this goal.  Rejecting plea deals on an individual basis will unfairly harm particular defendants, especially if that defendant will get a higher sentence should he lose the trial.

So, I think there are lots of ways judges can accomplish more trials.  For example, give more variances after trial.  Explain to defendants that there will not be a trial tax for going to trial.  Hold prosecutors' feet to the fire for discovery and other violations so that they don't think that they can get away with everything.  Enforce violations by excluding evidence.  Appellate courts need to have a more limited view of harmless error in the few cases that do go to trial.  There's a lot more to be said here.

Yes, more trials, but not this way.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Happy 12th Birthday to the Southern District of Florida Blog

Happy 12th Birthday to the Southern District of Florida Blog!

Twelve years ago in 2005, on the July 4 weekend, I started this blog and it's been a fun run of over 3,200 posts and over 5 million page views.

To put the 12 years in perspective:

The Wilkie Ferguson courthouse was not yet open.
Judge Zloch was Chief Judge of the District.
Mel Martinez was one of our Senators.
Alex Acosta had just been named Acting U.S. Attorney.
The Supreme Court had five different Justices than today: Rehnquist, Scalia, Stevens, Souter and O'Connor.
There was no Twitter.
My firm had one lawyer, me (it now has 5).
I had one daughter (I now have 3).
My commute was 20 minutes (it's now 45).
We still don't have a Floridian serving on the Supreme Court, which was the very first post!

Thanks again to all of you for reading and for the tips.  I still very much enjoy keeping tabs on the most interesting and exciting District in the country.