Monday, November 12, 2018

Chuck Grassley and George Will (and lots of other GOPers) think we need sentencing reform

Here’s The NY Times on Grassley’s push for federal sentencing reform, which now has a real shot of passing:
A bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal on the most substantial rewrite of the nation’s sentencing and prison laws in a generation, giving judges more latitude to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences and easing drug sentences that have incarcerated African-Americans at much higher rates than white offenders.

The lawmakers believe they can get the measure to President Trump during the final weeks of the year, if the president embraces it.

The compromise would eliminate the so-called stacking regulation that makes it a federal crime to possess a firearm while committing another crime, like a drug offense; expand the “drug safety valve” allowing judges to sidestep mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders; and shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, according to draft text of the bill obtained by The New York Times.
George Will has this piece, which addresses a state sentence of life for a juvenile:
Parents who have raised sons understand that civilization’s primary task is to civilize adolescent males, a task that is difficult for many reasons, some of which neuroscience explains. The part of the brain that stimulates anger and aggression is larger in males than in females (for evolutionary, meaning adaptive, reasons). And the part that restrains anger is smaller in males. The Supreme Court has noted that adolescent brain anatomy can cause “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences,” thereby diminishing “moral culpability” and, more important, enhancing “the prospect that, as the years go by,” offenders’ “deficiencies will be reformed.” Hence “a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption.’ ”
Judges are supposed to be a check on the executive branch. I really don’t understand why sentences aren’t much lower. So many judges have become accustomed to just following the prosecutor/probation officer/sentencing guidelines, that we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. It’s absurd. It will be interesting to see how the new crop of Trump judges sentence defendants, especially non-violent first time offenders.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Will Alex Acosta be named Attorney General?

Marc Caputo floats the idea here:

WHAT ABOUT ACOSTA? — It’s well-known that President Donald Trump prizes loyalty and loves guys with Harvard degrees. By those standards, Alex Acosta fits the bill for attorney general. Acosta has also already survived Senate confirmation, too, and serves as Trump’s only Hispanic secretary, for labor. A son of Cuban exiles, Acosta has prosecutorial experience, having served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida before becoming dean of Florida International University. One possible blemish on Acosta’s record: His decision to give accused pedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein what many saw as a sweetheart deal.

Acosta would be a fantastic choice.

Also listed in the short list is Pam Bondi.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Election impact on SDFLA

With the Republicans picking up seats in the Senate and Rick Scott flipping Florida to a two-GOP Senate state, it will be that much easier for Trump to push his judiciary picks.  The three pending district court judges should be confirmed shortly.  And it will be interesting to see how quickly those two open seats get nominees.

Florida amended its constitution to allow for restoration of felon voting rights.  Republicans aren't happy about that one and are promising litigation. But that will likely be in state court. 

Two House seats in the SDFLA flipped blue (Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell).  Barzee-Flores couldn't flip the third seat though.

In non-election news, here's a federal judge who allowed jury nullification arguments in a child porn prosecution:
"This is a shocking case. This is a case that calls for jury nullification."
Many have had similar reactions when confronting cases involving authorities running roughshod over people with bad laws, punitive sentences, and ill-considered prosecutions. But this time, the person invoking jury nullification was a federal judge—District Judge Stefan R. Underhill of the District of Connecticut—and he spoke in court about a case over which he presided.
The prosecution that shocked Underhill involves Yehudi Manzano, a 30-something man charged with producing and transporting child pornography after saving, and then deleting, a video of his teenage sex partner to and from his own phone and its associated Google cloud account. "The only people who ever saw it were the guy who made it, the girl who was in it, and the federal agents," Norman Pattis, Manzano's attorney, told me.
But that, prosecutors say in the indictment, was enough for the federal government to proceed with charges under the assumption that Manzano acted "knowing and having reason to know that: such visual depiction would be transported and transmitted using any means and facility of interstate and foreign commerce." And that's important, because the mandatory minimum sentence under federal law for recording video of sex with an underage partner is 15 years.
That draconian sentence—independent of what was in store in the entirely separate state trial for sex with a minor—was too much for Judge Underhill. "I am absolutely stunned that this case, with a 15-year mandatory minimum, has been brought by the government," he said in court. "I am going to be allowed no discretion at sentencing to consider the seriousness of this conduct, and it is extremely unfortunate that the power of the government has been used in this way, to what end I'm not sure."
Judge Underhill acknowledged that he's not allowed to encourage jury nullification, but "if evidence comes in about the length of the sentence, or if Mr. Pattis chooses to argue, I do not feel I can preclude that. I don't feel I'm required to preclude that. And I think justice requires that I permit that."
The judge's appeal to jury nullification as a remedy for runaway prosecution didn't come out of the blue. Defense counsel and prosecutors had already sparred over the case's rather tenuous connection to interstate commerce, by which the federal government claimed jurisdiction.
"Apparently, the mere fact that the recording equipment was manufactured outside Connecticut is sufficient to meet the interstate commerce requirement of the statute," Judge Underhill noted in surprise. They also tussled over the extent to which jurors should be informed of the long years in prison that awaited Manzano upon conviction.
"Juries exist for a reason," Pattis argued in court. "They stand between the government and the accused, and they provide the accused with an opportunity to hold the government to its burden of proof. And in certain trials in our history, juries have done more than that. They've said the law is wrong, and we, the people, say it's wrong."
In response to that, Neeraj N. Patel bluntly told the court on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's office, "you should take steps to prevent jury nullification and not inform the jury of the sentencing consequences."
I'm not sure why the judge did not just Rule 29 the case after the government rested.  There's no appeal and it's a way for the judiciary to check the executive on absurd prosecutions.

Monday, November 05, 2018

El Chapo trial expected to last 4 months

So absurd.

No trial should last that long.

It's not fair to the jurors.

If the prosecutors can't prove that case in 2-3 weeks, then something is wrong.

Here's Reuters with the background:
U.S. prosecutors say that as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel since 2003, Guzman directed the movement of multi-ton shipments of drugs including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine across borders and into the United States. If convicted, Guzman faces life in prison.

According to court filings, prosecution witnesses will include former Sinaloa Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now cooperating with the U.S. government. Prosecutors have so far avoided naming the witnesses, saying that doing so would put them in danger. Some are expected to testify under aliases.

Although the charges in the case all relate to drug trafficking, prosecutors are also expected to introduce evidence that Guzman was involved in multiple murder plots in the course of his career, including in wars with rival cartels.

Guzman’s lawyers have so far given few hints about their planned defense. Eduardo Balarezo, one of the lawyers, said in a court filing that he will seek to prove that Guzman was merely a “lieutenant,” acting at the direction of others.

For a local case in the news, the WSJ covers the Andres Arias extradition appeal here. (Disclosure: I am handling that appeal with Professor Ricardo Bascuas). The title of the piece is: Will the U.S. Extradite an Innocent Man?
If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn’t get involved, an innocent man with young children could end up serving a 17-year sentence in a Colombian prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Forget that murderers in Colombia don’t get 17 years. Forget too that the Arias criminal case was heard only by a politicized Colombian Supreme Court with no chance for appeal—a violation of international human-rights law.

The crux of this matter rests on whether Washington has an extradition treaty with Bogotá. The countries signed one in 1979 but, as the Colombian Supreme Court has said, Colombia never ratified it.

President Santos refused to extradite multiple suspects wanted by the U.S., citing the lack of a treaty. One was Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, who Colombia captured in 2011 but sent to Venezuela where his secrets would be kept. Mr. Santos said he had no choice but “to comply with the Constitution and with the laws,” adding “we have an extradition agreement with Venezuela, not with the United States.”

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe also has stated, in a sworn affidavit presented in court, that there’s no treaty. Colombia uses domestic law to send suspects to the U.S.

In a motion for a stay of extradition pending appeal filed Tuesday in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Mr. Arias’s lawyers argued the point again. “The legality of the order sought to be stayed depends on whether a Treaty that Colombia insists it never ratified and never observes is in force. The Treaty itself states” in article 21(1) “that it is ‘subject to ratification.’ ”

Thursday, November 01, 2018

U.S. v. Bruce Wayne [Harrison]

You thought you knew who Bruce Wayne was.  But you were wrong.

He also goes by: Hopper, Grasshopper, and ...

... of course ...

Loose Bruce.

Don’t tell me that this blog never gave you important information.

(And shame on you clerks for Marcus, Pryor, and Rosenbaum, for not including any Batman references).

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trevor Noah from the Daily Show visits Miami Beach

He’s here all week.  Good stuff.  He explains how the news has followed him here to Miami with the bomb case (clip from YouTube here). Here are some other clips from last night including Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber presenting Noah with the key to the city:

Here’s the intro to the show:

Monday, October 29, 2018

SDFLA peeps in the news

1. Cesar Sayoc will make his initial appearance today in magistrate court in the Southern District of Florida. The rumor mill says that Jaime Benjamin has been hired to represent him, at least for the SDFLA proceedings. He will certainly be held no bond and will be transferred to the SDNY for further proceedings.

2. Two (really great) former assistant federal defenders in Miami, now FPDs in San Diego, have been named judges. Linda Lopez has been appointed as a magistrate judge in the Southern District of California. And Shereen Charlick (the acting FPD in San Diego) has been appointed to a San Diego County Superior Court judgeship.

3. Jon Sale has been named to the Practitioners Advisory Group for the Sentencing Commission. He is the only member representing the 11th Circuit and will serve a 3-year term. It is a very prestigious position.

4. AUSA Jonathan Colan and AFPD Andy Adler just battled it out in the en banc 11th Circuit in U.S. v. Johnson on whether a police officer was entitled to seized ammunition and a holster from Johnson's pocked after he felt something during a Terry frisk. Here's the OA.  It was Britt Grant's first en banc argument.  The Court now has 12 active members.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Slow blogging.

Sorry for the very slow blogging lately. I’ve been traveling and under water at work. Please send tips if you have them and I will post. Also, please let me know if you want to guest post about the SDFLA.

Meantime, an arrest has been made in this District (it’s always this District!) in connection with the bombs being sent all over the place. His name is Cesar Sayok. AG Sessions will be having a press conference shortly (2:30 EST) to discuss the developments. He will likely be represented by the Federal Public Defender’s office at his initial appearance. It’s not clear where he will be indicted but rumor is that it won’t be here in South Florida. More to come.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

“Almost nobody knows that James Madison wrote the Constitution, they all think it was Thomas Jefferson … and he was in France!”

That was Justice Gorsuch speaking on the public's lack of knowledge about government and the judiciary. SCOTUSblog has more:
The justice noted that even law clerks who come to his office fail to recognize a portrait of Madison hanging above a fireplace.

Gorsuch spoke passionately about the benefits and importance of an independent judiciary. He said, “as difficult as our times sometimes seem, we are very blessed.” He asked rhetorically, “how many places in the world can you go where you can rest assured that you can have an independent judge decide your case?” Gorsuch singled out North Korea for having an expansive bill of rights that promises its citizens a right to free education, free medical and relaxation. He joked that he would enjoy a right to relaxation, but he argued that those North Korean rights are “not worth the parchment they’re written on because you don’t have judges to enforce them.”

Gorsuch then moved on to the second concern he has noticed during his time as a judge. He listed civility, human decency and kindness as “under assault in our society right now, and in our profession.” He criticized civil litigation specifically for its lack of civility and expressed concerns about civility becoming a bad word or passé. He wrapped up his point by stressing to the audience that people they may disagree with “love this country as much as you do.”

Just last week, Chief Justice Roberts said it wasn't the Court's job to educate the public. But perhaps opening up the Court to cameras would help with Justice Gorsuch's concerns and not at all detract from the Court's role.

Monday, October 22, 2018

11th Circuit affirms conviction where portion of trial occurred without the defendant and her lawyer

The case is U.S. v. Lourdes Garcia. It is the follow up to U.S. v. Roy, where the trial proceeded without the defendant present and was affirmed by the en banc 11th Circuit. Both cases involve the same district judge. Here’s how Garcia starts out, by Judge Marcus:

This is a troubling case. There can be no doubt -- and the government does not contest the point -- that constitutional error occurred. It is also clear that the error was plain and obvious. The decision to allow the government to introduce inculpatory evidence while both the defendant and her lawyer were absent for three to ten minutes in a trial that lasted more than 49 hours violated the defendant’s right to counsel, her right to confront the witnesses arrayed against her, and her right to be present at trial under both the Due Process Clause and Fed. R. Crim. P. 43. The only question is whether Garcia’s convictions should be reversed on account of the error.
We hold that Garcia’s convictions must be affirmed because the errors did not affect Garcia’s substantial rights. There can be no question that Garcia failed to preserve the errors at trial even though she had ample opportunity to do so. She was given every chance to object and to secure some remedial relief from the trial court but expressly declined to act. As a consequence, under well-established law we must review the constitutional violations that occurred for plain error, not for harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt. What’s more, there is good reason in this case to be punctilious in selecting the proper standard of review. The prejudice analysis is by no means clear-cut and the standard by which we measure it could well make all the difference.

Even though the defendant didn’t object, this is an absurd result. The problem started in Roy where the en banc court found that this wasn’t a structural issue. Hopefully the Supremes take a look.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rodney Smith appears before Senate committee today

Judge Rodney Smith had his committee hearing today before the Senate.  According to CNN:
The committee considered the nominations of Allison Jones Rushing to become a US Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit, Thomas P. Barber and Wendy Williams Berger to become US District Judges for the Middle District of Florida, Corey Landon Maze to become US District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, Rodney Smith to become US District Judge for the Southern District of Florida and T. Kent Wetherell II to become US District Judge for the Northern District of Florida.

Our other two nominees, Rudy Ruiz and Roy Altman, came out of committee a few months ago and are waiting for their final vote.

"We do not speak for the people; we speak for the Constitution."

That was Chief Justice Roberts last night at the University of Minnesota.  The Star Tribune has the details:
Roberts' advice to lawyers who submit briefs to the court: Keep it short. When he gets a brief shorter than the 50-page limit, Roberts joked that he'll pause, look to see who the lawyer is and say to himself, "Whoa, I like her." Shorter briefs also tend to be better written and focused.
When lawyers come for oral arguments, he urged dispassion: Don't push back against hypotheticals from the justices. That way, he said, the lawyers and justices can figure out the issues together.
Stein asked Roberts why he put a Bob Dylan quote in an opinion: "Was it just to make the opinion more interesting?"
Roberts said, no, but it was to make a point understandable for those who aren't lawyers. The line: "When you have nothing, you've got nothing to lose." He was explaining that to file a lawsuit against someone, you must have something at stake in the fight.
Stein asked Roberts if he heard from Dylan, but the chief justice said no. Roberts, however, did get into a dispute with the New York Times over his polishing the line from Dylan's singing, "When you ain't got nothing."
The audience, packed with dignitaries including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and the entire state Supreme Court, was warm to Roberts. During the question-and-answer session from college students, he faced inquiries about how he stayed motivated in law school, what he thought of the Socratic method and "what is race?"

Monday, October 15, 2018

“Brett Kavanaugh would not have been treated fairly had he been a defendant in federal criminal court”

That’s the title of my latest op-ed in The Hill.  Please check it out.  Here’s the introduction:
Throughout the confirmation process of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the President and the GOP have trumpeted how important it is for our society to value the presumption of innocence. Many criminal defense lawyers smiled as they heard conservatives champion this principle.

The sad truth, however, is that if Kavanaugh had been criminally charged in federal court, he would not have been treated so fairly.

Our criminal justice system is set up crush defendants, even innocent ones.
Here are two of the points:
Brett Kavanaugh would not be entitled to witness statements or to take depositions. The discovery process in federal criminal court is a joke. Remember those witnesses called before the grand jury? The defense is not entitled to see their statements until the witness testifies at trial. And if one of the grand jury witnesses does not testify at trial, then the defense is not entitled to review that statement. So too with other statements taken by law enforcement. They aren’t discoverable until after the direct examination of the witness at trial.

Forget about taking those witnesses’ depositions. Depositions do not exist in federal criminal trials, which may make you wonder how Kavanaugh would know what the witnesses were going to say. He wouldn’t, and he would find out at the same time the jury heard it.


On appeal, the court of appeals would be required to accept as true the accuser’s claims. If Kavanaugh proceeded to trial and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, the court of appeals would be obliged to accept the accuser’s claims in the light most favorable to her.

As for the other issues — like disclosure of favorable information or admission of prior bad acts — the appellate court would only reverse if Kavanaugh could show prejudice: that the trial would have ended in a different result absent the mistake.

These standards make it almost impossible to win an appeal after a guilty verdict.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Great FBA event honoring Judge Alan Gold

The Federal Bar Association put on a lovely event last night honoring Judge Gold.  His remarks, as well as George Knox's, were really touching.  Here are some (bad) pictures from the back of the room as Judge Gold began his speech and as Chief Judge Moore swore in the new board of directors:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Justice Sotomayor pinches Justice Gorsuch during oral argument

For real!  During Brenda Bryn's argument yesterday in Stokeling (concerning what amount of force constitutes a violent felony), the following exchange occurred:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I'm sorry, we used
the example of a tap on the shoulder not being
sufficient force. So can you answer Justice
Alito's hypothetical?
MS. BRYN: Right.
ordinary pinch -- let's not talk about an
extraordinary -(
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: -- pulling of the
ears that a parent might sometimes do. Let's
talk about just a pinch.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Is that sufficient
force? If we said a tap on the shoulder
couldn't be, why could a pinch be?
MS. BRYN: I -- I think the -- the
answer is looking at the -- the other side of
the equation from what a substantial degree of
force is. And Your Honor mentioned force
capable of -- of causing pain or injury. And I
think the only way to read that explanation of
violent force is as force that's -- a degree of
force that's reasonably expected to cause pain
or injury.
BRYN: I don't think a pinch -JUSTICE
SOTOMAYOR: -- you've said the
reasonable -- and I do understand your point,
which is, from personal experience, if you tap
an injured shoulder, it could cause injury.
It's capable of causing physical pain and
But we said, in the normal course of
circumstances, a tap on the shoulder would not
-- is not capable of producing injury. So -MS.
BRYN: Nor would a pinch.
Although you can't see it in the transcript, Sotomayor pinched Gorsuch where the laughter line occurs.  Pretty funny.

Justice Kavanaugh also asked his first questions:

counsel -- counsel, in Curtis Johnson, you rely
heavily on the general statements of the Court,
but the application of those general statements
was to something very specific: Battery and a
mere tap on the shoulder. And all Curtis
Johnson seemed to hold was that that was
So why don't we follow what Curtis
Johnson seemed to do in applying those general
statements to the specific statute at issue
here and why wouldn't that then encompass the
Florida statute, which requires more than, say,
a tap on the shoulder?
MS. BRYN: Because what the Court did
before applying the standard to the statute -to the Florida battery statute was to
definitively construe the words that -
JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Well, but it -but it's -MS.
BRYN: -- Congress used in the
elements clause.
Go ahead.
JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: But it -- as you
point out, it's -- it's a bit general, those
statements, that language. And so how do we
understand what the Court meant by that? You
look at how it applied it, and it was to a
battery statute, and it was a case where the
government argued that the mere tap on the
shoulder was okay. And the Court said no,
that's not enough. But all it seemed to carve
out was that kind of statute. At least as I
read page 139 of the Curtis Johnson opinion, it
seemed to very carefully distinguish those two

Well, there ya go.

If you're looking for a good event and a chance to mingle with the local judges, please come to the Federal Bar Association's function tomorrow night at the Four Seasons at 5:30.  Tickets here.  The FBA is honoring Judge Alan Gold, one of the District's heroes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

It's Armed Career Criminal Act day at the Supreme Court

Two criminal cases about the Armed Career Criminal Act greet new Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the Supreme Court this morning. (Our own Brenda Bryn will be arguing one of the cases.) Last night President Trump and Justice Kennedy had the ceremonial swearing in at the White House. All 8 Justices came to support their new "teammate." All of them looked uncomfortable while Trump spoke, except Justice Thomas who "vigorously" clapped throughout.

Looks like the protestors are out this morning before the argument.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

There’s always a Miami connection, even for Justice Kavanaugh’s first SCOTUS argument

Justice Kavanaugh’s first oral argument sitting will be Tuesday. And the first argument is Stokeling v. United States, a case out of the Southern District of Florida. Assistant Federal Defender Brenda Bryn will be arguing for Mr. Stokeling. The issue is:

Whether a state robbery offense that includes “as an element” the common law requirement of overcoming “victim resistance” is categorically a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i), when the offense has been specifically interpreted by state appellate courts to require only slight force to overcome resistance.

Rory Little at SCOTUSblog has more:

Questions arising under the Armed Career Criminal Act have plagued the Supreme Court since the statute was enacted in 1984 and amended in 1986. The statute imposes a 15-year mandatory-minimum imprisonment sentence on federal firearms offenders who have three prior “serious” drug or “violent” felony convictions, even if the prior convictions were under state law. But there is a remarkable variety among the 50 states regarding precisely how state criminal statutes are written, and how exactly those statutes are then interpreted by state courts across the nation. On October 9, the court will spend two hours considering three cases (two are consolidated for the second hour) that reveal, once again, the vagaries of the ACCA. It seems likely that the justices will have all three cases (as well as their prior expressions of unhappiness with the ACCA) in mind during the arguments. So the preview in United States v. Stitt and Sims, as well as this one, should be read for a full picture of the justices’ perspectives.

The first case on the October 9 docket is Stokeling v. United States. The question is what state law crimes of “robbery” should count as prior “violent felonies” under the ACCA. Denard Stokeling was convicted of an unarmed robbery in Florida in 1997; then in 2016 he was convicted federally for being a “felon in possession” of a firearm. If Stokeling’s 1997 prior robbery conviction counts as a “violent felony,” then his federal prison sentence in the current case would increase dramatically, from a 10-year maximum to the ACCA’s 15-year minimum.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in Stokeling’s case that the Florida state robbery crime does categorically meet the ACCA definition. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently ruled to the contrary (in United States v. Geozos, in 2017), finding that only “minimal” force is required under Florida law. Because Florida robbers apparently travel all across the country, the ACCA is invoked wherever they may subsequently commit a federal firearms crime. Certiorari was granted to resolve the circuit split.

At this point, lawyers may recall differing cases and hypotheticals from their 1L Criminal Law class: Does snatching a purse or chain or cash constitute “robbery”? Cases and definitions on this question of “how much force?” are split across the country. The answer is necessary in most states to distinguish simple theft from robbery, which can elevate a misdemeanor to a felony as well as make the difference between probation and prison time. Moreover, the ruling will apply to any other states that define “robbery” as Florida does. Thus the question presented in Stokeling is nationally important, and will affect the administration of the ACCA in federal courts around the country.

For his part, Stokeling points to a number of Florida state-court robbery cases that he says involved “only a slight degree of force.” He argues that the 11th Circuit’s view ignored not only the words but also the definitional spirit of Justice Antonin Scalia’s 2010 Curtis Johnson opinion, in which the “violent” in the ACCA’s “violent felony” was emphasized. He points out that in a subsequent decision (United States v. Castleman, in 2014), the court cited Johnson for the proposition that “the word ‘violent’ … standing alone ‘connotes a substantial degree of force.’” He argues that he should prevail on “a straightforward application of Curtis Johnson.”

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday news and notes

1. Justice Stevens says NO to Kavanaugh. From the Palm Beach Post:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens on Thursday said that high court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who Stevens once lauded in one of his books, does not belong on the Supreme Court.

Speaking to a crowd of retirees in Boca Raton, Stevens, 98, said Kavanaugh’s performance during a recent Senate confirmation hearing suggested that he lacks the temperament for the job.

Stevens, a lifelong Republican who is known for falling on the liberal side of several judicial rulings, praised Kavanaugh and one of his rulings on a political contribution case in the 2014 book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

“At that time, I thought (Kavanaugh) had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens said. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability … I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”

2. In the WSJ, Kavanaugh says, but I was just emotional at the hearings. I won't be like that as a judge:
I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.

Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good. As a judge, I have always treated colleagues and litigants with the utmost respect. I have been known for my courtesy on and off the bench. I have not changed. I will continue to be the same kind of judge I have been for the last 12 years. And I will continue to contribute to our country as a coach, volunteer, and teacher. Every day I will try to be the best husband, dad, and friend I can be. I will remain optimistic, on the sunrise side of the mountain. I will continue to see the day that is coming, not the day that is gone.

I revere the Constitution. I believe that an independent and impartial judiciary is essential to our constitutional republic. If confirmed by the Senate to serve on the Supreme Court, I will keep an open mind in every case and always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.

3. Meantime, the 11th Circuit had 153 pages of en banc-ness yesterday in another Johnson follow up case, called Ovalles. One of our newer judges, Newsom, wrote the majority opinion. (Strangely it doesn't say who joined the opinion). Bill Pryor wrote a concurrence (joined by Ed Carnes, Tjoflat, Newsom, and Branch). Martin wrote a dissent. Jill Pryor wrote a dissent (in which Wilson, Martin, and Jordan joined).

Newsom's opinion explains:
The question before us is whether one of the key provisions of an important federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), is unconstitutionally vague. As relevant to our purposes, § 924(c) makes it a federal offense—punishable by a term of imprisonment ranging from five years to life—for any person to use, carry, or possess a firearm in connection with a “crime of violence.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). The provision challenged here—§ 924(c)(3)’s “residual clause”—defines the term “crime of violence” to mean a felony “that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” Id. § 924(c)(3)(B).
The obvious (and decisive) question, then: Which is it here—categorical or conduct-based? Because we find ourselves at this fork in the interpretive road—the categorical approach imperiling § 924(c)(3)’s residual clause, a conduct-based reading saving it—we invoke the canon of “constitutional doubt.” Pursuant to that “elementary rule,” the Supreme Court has long held, “every reasonable construction must be resorted to in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” Hooper v. California, 155 U.S. 648, 657 (1895). The pivotal issue, therefore, is not whether § 924(c)(3)’s residual clause is necessarily, or even best, read to incorporate a conduct-based interpretation—but simply whether it can “reasonabl[y],” see id., “plausibl[y],” Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371, 381 (2005), or “fairly possibl[y],” I.N.S. v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 300 (2001), be so understood. Joining the Second Circuit, which recently came to the same conclusion, see United States v. Barrett, __ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 4288566 (2d Cir. Sept. 10, 2018), we find that § 924(c)(3)(B) can be read to embody the conduct-based approach—and therefore, under the constitutional-doubt canon, that it must be.
Accordingly, we hold that § 924(c)(3)(B) prescribes a conduct-based approach, pursuant to which the crime-of-violence determination should be made by reference to the actual facts and circumstances underlying a defendant’s offense. To the extent that our earlier decision in United States v. McGuire, 706 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 2013), holds otherwise, it is overruled.

Pryor's concurrence starts out this way:
How did we ever reach the point where this Court, sitting en banc, must debate whether a carjacking in which an assailant struck a 13-year-old girl in the mouth with a baseball bat and a cohort fired an AK-47 at her family is a crime of violence? It’s nuts. And Congress needs to act to end this ongoing judicial charade.


As United States Circuit Judges, we have been given great power and privilege. And our positions call upon us to decide the fate of many people who have neither. In a nation that incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than almost all others, federal judges devote much time to examining (and reexamining) the sentences imposed on people serving time in our federal and state prisons. The interpretation the majority of this en banc Court gives to the sentencing statute at issue here, which gives no relief for Irma Ovalles, presents the opportunity to review the development of this Circuit’s sentencing jurisprudence in recent years. My review reveals a body of law that has relentlessly limited the ability of the incarcerated to have their sentences reviewed. Decisions of this Court have left only a narrow path to relief for those serving sentences longer than the law now allows. Yet this narrow path is not mandated by decisions of the Supreme Court or by Acts of Congress. Indeed, this Court has withheld relief from prisoners even when precedent counsels otherwise.

This paragraph struck me:
My final observation about the majority’s en banc ruling against Ms. Ovalles is to note that the majority opinion makes much of the fact that the government has asked us to abandon the categorical approach in interpreting § 924(c)(3)(B). See Maj. Op. at 29–30. Judge Jill Pryor’s dissent explains why this consideration should not factor into our analysis of the statute at issue. Jill Pryor Dissent at 144–45. I would add that, when deciding whether Johnson was retroactive, we paid no heed to the government’s concession that it was. See supra at 1–2. If we are going to defer to the government’s view, we should do so whether it advocates for or against relief for the prisoner.

And finally, here's Jill Pryor:

This case—with all its textual analysis, discussion of canons of statutory construction, and parsing of precedent—may come across like a purely academic exercise. In reality, it is anything but. People who are serving sentences of five years to life under § 924(c) will get no relief from this Court even though the Supreme Court held that an identically-worded statute was so vague that its enforcement violated the right to due process under law. For the reasons I explain in more detail below, I respectfully dissent.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

BREAKING — Two New Magistrate Judges

They are

Jacqueline Becerra
Lisette Reid


So you want to be a Magistrate Judge

The Southern District of Florida will be holding its judges' meeting today in West Palm Beach. There it will interview the 6 candidates for Magistrate Judge and select two. A reminder that those six are:

Jacqueline Becerra
Sowmya Bharathi
Steven Petri
Lisette Reid
Alex Soto
Erica Zaron

Good luck to all!

Monday, October 01, 2018

BREAKING -- Magistrate Judge list cut to 6

The Magistrate Judge Selection Committee interviewed 15 candidates today and narrowed the list to 6. The district judges have their meeting this week and will select two from the following:

Jacqueline Becerra
Sowmya Bharathi
Steven Petri
Lisette Reid
Alex Soto
Erica Zaron

Congratulations to all six.

First Monday in October

Welcome Back!

It’s the First Monday in October but we only have 8 Justices.  That may change by Friday or we may be starting a new confirmation process.  Too hard to predict with so much happening.

The first case that was heard today dealt with endangered frogs, and two Justices decided to make “drain the swamp” references.  Here’s The NY Times coverage of the argument:

There was no empty chair to mark the absence of a ninth justice, and no mention of the confirmation fight. Instead, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. started the session with a nod toward continuity, noting that it was the 25th anniversary of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s investiture. “We all look forward to sharing many more years with you in our common calling,” the chief justice said.

Justice Ginsburg, who is 85, smiled and nodded.

Soon afterward, the eight justices turned their attention to the fate of the dusky gopher frog. They discussed draining the swamp, but not as a figure of speech.

The species is in danger of extinction, and the only known remaining frogs live in the De Soto National Forest in Mississippi. In 2012, the federal government came up with a backup plan, designating private land in Louisiana as “critical habitat” for the frogs’ survival. None of the frogs live there now, and the designation could limit the ability of the owners to develop the land, by one account potentially costing them about $33 million.

While we wait for a full Court, here’s your moment of zen from SNL:

Friday, September 28, 2018

Should Kavanaugh be confirmed if we don’t know who is telling the truth?

That’s the title of the final installment of my trilogy in The Hill on the Kavanaugh hearings.

From the intro:
After Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, there seemed to be a consensus — including even Republicans — that Ford was credible and that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was in serious trouble.

She was respectful, soft-spoken, calm, and tried to be helpful. She did not interrupt anyone and did not argue with the Senators. Republicans were hoping that she would come off as unsure, politically driven, or even unstable. She came across just the opposite. She was “100 percent sure” it was Kavanaugh, she never mentioned politics, and she came across as likable. President Trump was reportedly upset that Republicans were caught flat-footed by just how credible Ford was.

Then came Kavanaugh. He strode in holding his wife’s hand. She and his mother sat behind him as he began his opening remarks. His demeanor was the opposite of Ford’s — angry, indignant, and emotional. He interrupted the Senators and argued with them. Although very different than Ford, his demeanor was also effective and seemed to reinvigorate his supporters, who during the lunch break had been feeling defeated. He forcefully said again and again that he was 100 percent innocent. Energized Republicans took over the questioning from the prosecutor they had planned to let run the proceeding. The nomination, on life support after Ford’s testimony, seemed to be very much alive.

But what now? It seems we are in no better spot than when we started Thursday morning in terms of figuring out what happened 36 years ago: Those who believed Ford still believed Ford, and those who believed Kavanaugh still believed him.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

“Five simple rules for judging Kavanaugh and his accusers“

That’s the title of my latest article in The Hill.  Most of it is an explanation of how Senators who haven’t made up their minds (are there any left?) should use the pattern jury instructions on credibility of witnesses as a guide when listening to the witnesses on Thursday.  Here’s the intro:
The news cycle on the pending Brett Kavanaugh nomination is minute to minute. Despite the many moving parts, Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the accusations even as they continue to come in. Although some Senators have locked themselves into a position of either believing Kavanaugh or of believing his accusers, there are still some who want to see how the hearing plays out. For those open-minded Senators and for those of you who haven't made up your mind yet, below are five simple guidelines to help you judge the credibility of the witnesses who testify.  
Here is one of the questions:
Did the witness have the opportunity and ability to accurately observe the things he or she testified about?  Here, Republicans will question Ramirez about how much she had to drink and whether she can accurately say what really happened. As for Ford, Republicans will also question her about how much she had to drink at the party where she admits that everyone had at least one beer. Regarding Kavanaugh, there are reports that he was a heavy drinker in high school and college, and Ford says that he was "stumbling drunk" at the party.  Democrats are sure to question him about these claims.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Will the Kavanaugh hearings go forward this Thursday and can they be fair?

The news is happening so fast that it's hard to keep track.

We have Ronan Farrow, Michael Avenatti, new accusers, 30 year old calendars, yearbook entries, and on an on.

Professor Alan Dershowitz posted an article on how the hearings could be fair before a lot of this recent news.   Here is the intro and Rule #1 of 6:
It’s not surprising that each side of the Ford/Kavanaugh he said/she said dispute is seeking different procedures. This is an adversarial high-stakes confrontation between a male Supreme Court justice nominee and his female accuser. Reasonable people could disagree about the appropriate procedural steps, but there are basic rules that must be followed for hearings of this kind to be fair.
Rule 1: No one should presume that either party is lying or telling the truth. There is no gender-based gene for truth telling. Some women tell the truth; some women lie. Some men tell the truth; some men lie. Without hearing any evidence under oath, and subject to cross-examination, no reasonable person should declare psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford to be a victim or federal judge Brett Kavanaugh to be a perpetrator. Nor should anybody declare the opposite. The issue is an evidentiary one and evidence must be heard and subject to rigorous cross-examination, preferably by an experienced and sensitive female litigator.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"[W]e’re going to have to law the heck out of it."

That's Judge Rosenbaum in this opinion, taking off on a reference to The Martian:
There’s no easy way around it. We’re just going to have to science the heck out of this case.* And when we’re done with that, we’re going to have to law the heck out of it.
Defendant-Appellant Jason Alexander Phifer was convicted of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C). The substance involved was ethylone.
But as it turns out, ethylone constitutes a controlled substance—and Phifer was therefore convicted of an existing crime—only if ethylone is a “positional isomer” of butylone. Phifer says it’s not. To support his position, he urges that “positional isomer” means what he characterizes as the scientific term of art. The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) disagrees and contends that its regulatory definition of “positional isomer” governs, and even if it doesn’t, ethylone is a positional isomer of butylone under other scientific definitions. If the DEA is right that the regulatory definition necessarily governs, Phifer’s conviction stands. But if not, we must set aside Phifer’s conviction.
After careful consideration and a crash course in organic chemistry, we conclude that the DEA’s regulatory definition of “positional isomer” does not unambiguously apply to the use of that term as it pertains to butylone and ethylone in this case. We therefore vacate Phifer’s conviction and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

*We paraphrase Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, from The Martian (2015). See The Martian Quotes, IMDb, (last visited Sept. 20, 2018). The movie, in turn, was based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir.

The opinion takes a dive into chemistry and even has pictures.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

My piece in The Hill on the differences between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the criminal justice system

Here's the introduction with the first two differences. Please click here to read the whole thing:
Christine Blasey Ford has accused Brett Kavanaugh of serious crimes. Let me start off by saying that if these accusations are true, then Kavanaugh should not be a Supreme Court Justice or a judge of any kind. The Senate proposes to have hearings next week in order to consider whether these allegations are true. As these hearings proceed, though, it is important to remember that they are not to determine whether Kavanaugh will be charged criminally. Multiple factors preclude a criminal prosecution here:
The lack of corroboration. It goes without saying that a criminal charge of attempted rape or sexual assault will ruin a person’s life. For this reason, most prosecutors rightfully do not bring these sorts of cases without some sort of corroboration. For example, in the Bill Cosby prosecution, there was corroboration, from Cosby’s own statements to the physical evidence to the sheer number of women who made the same claims. As of this writing, we are not aware of any corroborating evidence to support Ford’s claims. There is no physical evidence. There is no admission to any portion of Ford’s claims by Kavanaugh. There are no similar claims by other women. There is no contemporaneous complaint. Without such corroboration, it is hard to imagine that a prosecutor would bring this case.

The claims are very old.
Most states have statutes of limitations for attempted rape and sexual assault. This means that prosecutors can’t prosecute for these crimes after a certain amount of time has elapsed. There are important reasons to have these limitations on prosecutions. For starters, evidence — including memory — gets stale after time. In this case, more than 30 years have passed since the alleged act took place. Therefore, Kavanaugh could not be prosecuted in many states. Maryland, the state where the alleged attack took place, does not have a limitations period for any felony sexual offense. As a practical matter though, the passage of this much time would make such a prosecution almost impossible.

I would appreciate any feedback on the article.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ben Greenberg stays on as 1st Assistant

Chief Judge Moore swore in Ariana Fajardo Orshan on Monday. In her remarks, she thanked Ben Greenberg and said he would be staying on as First Assistant.

In other news, there is talk about letting Dr. Ford’s lawyer (Debra Katz) question Judge Kavanaugh at the hearings next week before the Senators get their chance to grandstand ask questions. It’s an interesting proposal. I wonder whether Judge Kavanaugh’s lawyer (Beth Wilkinson) would get to ask Ford questions as well.

I like the idea of having the lawyers ask questions instead of the Senators, who don’t know how to ask real cross-like questions and are not really interested in getting out what happened as opposed to making different political points.

If you were able to cross either Ford or Kavanaugh, what questions would you ask?

Here’s Professor Althouse on what she would ask Kavanaugh:

But the bigger problem is that Kavanaugh can only say he has no memory of something. And Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is telling us that he was very drunk, so maybe a failure to remember could be attributed to drinking. He could honestly testify to no memory of the incident, but still need to establish that he didn't have a memory blanked out by alcohol use. Now, since we're not going to hear of the specific time and place of the incident, Kavanaugh will need to say that he never, in that entire period, experienced alcohol-induced amnesia. (And what if he can only say I have no memory of losing my memory?!).

If Kavanaugh denies ever experiencing alcohol-induced amnesia during that period, anyone who hung out with him back then is a potential source of testimony that they saw him drunk and, especially damning, they had reason to know that he couldn't remember what he had done. Is there anybody who knew Kavanaugh in high school who has tales of things Kavanaugh couldn't remember later? Did Kavanaugh ever have a discussion with anyone about alcohol-induced amnesia?

Once we get this far, you can see that whether Christine Blasey Ford's story is accurate or not, Monday's hearing can be used to trap Kavanaugh in lies, and then it's not a possible attempted rape from 30 years ago but perjury in the present.

Remember, the other person in the room, according to Ford, was Mark Judge, and Mark Judge seems inclined to corroborate Kavanaugh, but Judge is on record as a having been "completely annihilated" in high school.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Some interesting portions of the Manafort plea agreement

Here is the entire agreement.

Some interesting parts:

1. The Government believes that the sentencing guidelines yield a sentence of 210-262 months, even after acceptance of responsibility. That means that if Manafort had gone to trial and lost, the prosecution would have suggested that the guidelines were higher than 20 years for the 69-year old.

2. The agreement limits the sentence to a maximum of 10 years. If he successfully cooperates, that sentence will be greatly reduced. If he gets 40-50% cooperation credit, he wil be looking at 5-6 years. If he can convince the Virginia judge to give him a similar sentence and those sentences are run concurrent, he would be released in the 4 year range. He would get credit for the time he has been in.

3. The Special Counsel agreed not to bring any other charges. But this does not bind any state prosecutors (should there eventually be a pardon).

4. The guidelines as set forth in the agreement say that the laundered funds were in excess of $25 million, it involved sophisticated means, he led 5 or more criminal participants, and that he obstructed justice. Interestingly, Manafort carved out the ability to argue that he was not the leader of 5 or more criminal participants.

5. Manafort agreed that he would not profit off of this case through books, speeches, and the like. (As an aside, there is a debate in the law about whether this provision is enforceable).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pushups, dice, and Chinese restaurants on Christmas

This isn't Page 6 material, but for SCOTUS gossip fans, it's fun stuff.

First up is Notorious RBG who gave a speech yesterday.  Lots of reports about how she said the confirmation hearings need to go back to the way they used to be.  But the great line was that she can do more pushups than anyone on the Court other than Gorsuch "who rides his bike to work" or "possibly" the Chief.  Love it.

Next up is SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  After the hearings last week, the Dems submitted lots of written questions.  There was a whole section about gambling as there have been lots of rumors about him playing cards, dice, and sports.  One specific set of questions centered around an email about a dice game.  He answered that he did play dice, but not for money.

Finally, is Justice Kagan, who spoke last night t Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn.  Steven Mazie tweeted about it and has some gems, including her eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas like other Jews:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Incoming U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan to start Monday

It's official.  House Fajardo takes the throne on Monday. 

If you could have one policy change at the USAO, what would it be?  Please make your request in the comments, and do so respectfully.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Judge Newsom does not like the Establishment Clause jurisprudence in CA11 or SCOTUS

He really doesn’t like it.

Last week, a per curium panel (Newsom, Hull and visiting district judge Royal) of the 11th Circuit addressed an appeal by the City of Pensacola of “a district court decision ordering it to remove a 34-foot Latin cross from a public park on the ground that the City’s maintenance of the cross violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”  It affirmed “conclud[ing] that [it was] bound by existing Circuit precedent.”

Fine and dandy.

But Judge Newsom didn’t like being so bound.  He concurred and had lots to say.  He’s a great writer, so agree or disagree, you’ll enjoy the read, where he explains that “[t]he Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is, to use a technical legal term of art, a hot mess.”  He urges en banc review: “Given the inconsistency—er, uncertainty—in the Supreme Court’s own Establishment Clause precedent, I would leave it to the en banc Court to chart the next move for this Circuit.”

How about this passage:
So where does all that leave us? As I’ve already confessed, I don’t pretend to know—as I’m sitting here—exactly how the questions surrounding the constitutionality of the Bayview Park cross should be analyzed or resolved. Here, though, is what I do know: 
1. That the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is a wreck; 
2. That as a lower court, we are nonetheless obliged to do our best to discern and apply it; 
3.That in the last decade, the Supreme Court has increasingly emphasized the centrality of history and tradition to proper Establishment Clause analysis, culminating in its statement in Greece that “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted ‘by reference to historical practices and understandings.’” 134 S. Ct. at 1819 (quoting Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 670 (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part)); 
4. That there is a robust history—dating back more than a century, to before the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, by which the First Amendment would eventually be applied to state and local governments—of cities, states, and even the federal government erecting and maintaining cross monuments on public land; and
5. That our now-35-year-old decision in Rabun—which invalidated a cross situated in a state park and, in so doing, summarily dismissed “historical acceptance” as a reliable guide for Establishment Clause cases—is irreconcilable with intervening Supreme Court precedent.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Federal Bar Association to honor Judge Alan Gold

I am very pleased to announce that the South Florida Chapter of the Federal Bar Association will be honoring Judge Alan Gold with the "Ned" Award, named after our beloved Edward B. Davis.

The  Annual Awards and Installation Dinner will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel, Brickell, on Thursday, October 11, 2018, at 5:30 pm. You can purchase tickets here.

Judge Davis would have been thrilled that Judge Gold is receiving this award.  Gold is a UF grad and then attended Duke for law school.  He served as a state judge and then President Clinton nominated him in 1997 to fill Jose Gonzalez's seat.  He took senior status in 2011.  Judge Rosenbaum filled his seat.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

District updates

While Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is proceeding with his confirmation hearing (follow live Scotusblog here), our District is also undergoing some changes:

1. New U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan has been confirmed. She will be taking the reigns shortly.

2. District judge nominees Roy Altman and Rudy Ruiz have not yet been set for final hearings. That may happen sometime in October. The other nominee Rodney Smith has not yet had his initial judiciary committee hearing so it is unclear when he will be confirmed. The other two open slots remain open and there is no pending action on them.

3. The magistrate judge committee will be interviewing 15 candidates for two slots on October 1. The district judges will then vote on the slate at the judges' meeting on October 4.

4. There is one constant in the District, Federal Defender Michael Caruso.

Monday, September 03, 2018

So you wanna be a magistrate judge?

We will have two new magistrate judges in the beginning of 2019.  The magistrate judge committee is set to interview 15 of the applicants.

I don’t have the whole list, but I am hearing that there are some favorites emerging to get the two slots (in alphabetical order):

1.  Jacqueline Arango (Akerman, former AUSA)
2.  Jacqueline Becerra (Greenberg Traurig, former AUSA)
3.  Sowmya Bharathi (AFPD)
4.  Steven Petri (AUSA)
5.  Erica Zaron (County Attorney’s Office)

Good luck to everyone!

Friday, August 31, 2018

How do the Cuban courts work?

Local South Florida prosecutors caught a glimpse during a murder trial.  The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the intro from the Miami Herald:
A witness box occupies the center of the courtroom. Five judges in long black robes listen to testimony. The defendant watches from the front row of the gallery with an armed guard at his side. There is no jury.

This is how justice operates in Cuba’s socialist system. Or at least that is what Florida prosecutors gleaned from a murder trial in Havana that was groundbreaking on several fronts: The star witness was a detective from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office; the defendant was a Cuban national accused of shooting a Jupiter Farms doctor in the head before he fled to the island, and a Florida prosecutor helped prepare the Cuban prosecution team for trial.

“It was fascinating. I was impressed how much it resembled our courtroom process,” said Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts, who was part of the team that made arrangements for the defendant, Marcos Yanes Gutierrez, to be tried in Cuba and watched the trial from the gallery. “There were opening statements, the presentation of evidence and closing arguments.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

‪Breaking — Ariana Fajardo Orshan confirmed as U.S. Attorney. ‬

Big congrats to Ariana Fajardo Orshan on her confirmation as U.S. Attorney for the best District in the country—the Southern District of Florida.

She takes over one of the busiest and certainly most exciting districts. Good luck to her!

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Open the Federal Courthouses"

That's the title of my op-ed, which was just published in Law360. 

Please click the link above to read the whole thing.  Here's the intro:
In the era of instantaneous 24-hour news, two of the most important and newsworthy events of the year just occurred: The president’s former campaign manager went to trial, and on the same day that the jury split its verdict, the president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to federal crimes and implicated the president in the process. Shockingly, the public did not see any of it.

We were not able to see the government’s main cooperating witness, Rick Gates, and judge for ourselves whether he was telling the truth or lying. We were not able to see the lawyers debate about important legal issues related to the special counsel’s office. We were not able to see Michael Cohen’s expression as he told the judge that he broke the law at the instruction of the president of the United States.

Forget about cameras, reporters in the Paul Manafort trial were not even permitted in the courtroom with their phones, tablets or computers. That meant no live reporting on Twitter and no emails to the newsrooms with updates. In a world focused on information and news as it happens, this is unacceptable.

If this trial or the plea hearing took place in any state court in the country, or if related hearings were held by Congress, the public would have the benefit of watching what was happening, either live or on their DVRs or on the nightly news. They would be able to follow instant reports on social media. In other words, the public would have access to the courtrooms, as guaranteed by the Constitution. And there could be no allegation that the reporting was “fake.”

If there was a vote on whether cameras should be allowed in our federal courthouses, it would pass — overwhelmingly. In fact, the only group of people who seem to be against cameras in the courtroom are federal judges.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal."

That was the President of the United States this morning, according to this CNN article:
Trump's latest attempt came in a friendly taped interview with Fox News, which was conducted on Wednesday but aired a day later. Trump sought to put distance between himself and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted to campaign finance crimes in federal court on Tuesday and implicated the President by saying he'd directed the action.
And he sharply decried those who testify against former confidants to ease legal troubles, bemoaning the longstanding practice.
"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal," Trump said in the interview, adding he's witnessed similar scenarios over his decades in public life. "I know all about flipping, 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go."
Suspects cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced sentence is a central feature of the criminal justice system, but Trump has long valued loyalty over legal precedent or practice.
Actually, there was a short period of time back in the late 90s where courts found that federal prosecutors' use of 5K and Rule 35 were illegal because it was bribery under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 201.  In other words, it encouraged false false testimony (which is very different than the claim that snitching should be illegal because its disloyal).

The main case was U.S. v. Singleton out of the 10th Circuit. Judge Zloch followed suit in U.S. v. Lowery, 15 F. Supp. 2d 1348 (S.D. Fla. 1998).  From his conclusion:
The Court's finding herein, although lengthy, may be reduced to one simple principle: it is not this Court's Constitutional function to engage in legislation. By invoking the theory that "settled expectations" demand exclusion of the Executive Branch from the reaches of Section 201(c) (2), the Executive Branch requests that this Court usurp the function properly left to the United States Congress. Moreover, the Executive Branch's theory amounts to nothing more than this: it has always been done this way, so it must be right. Such reasoning has never been the proper basis for a legal ruling and this Court refuses to make it the basis for one now.
Further, if, as the Executive Branch asserts, Section 201(c) (2) obviously excludes the Executive Branch, the Court feels compelled to question the need for legislation, hurriedly introduced in the wake of Singleton on July 15, 1998, to amend the Statute. See S. 2314, 105th Cong. (1998). By such action, Congress has reinforced the conclusion that Section 201(c) (2) presently includes the Executive Branch.
Finally, the Court notes that the testimony of cooperating witnesses and cooperating defendants is a valuable resource for law enforcement in the investigation and successful prosecution of criminal activity. Any exclusion, however, of the Executive Branch from Section 201(c) (2) must come from the Legislative Branch, and not the Judicial Branch. A judge's authority has limits and outside those limits or designated areas, the democratic institutions govern. Thus, if any changes are to be made to Section 201(c) (2), or if more appropriate, the substantial assistance provisions, it is solely for Congress, and not for the courts or the Executive Branch, to make them.
Accordingly, after due consideration, it is
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Defendant, Oslet Franklin Lowery, Jr.'s Motion To Suppress (DE 134) be and the same is hereby GRANTED.
Singleton, Lowery, and other cases didn't last long.  They were all reversed.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

11th Circuit judges speak their minds on Roe v. Wade (and it wasn't Judge Bill Pryor!)

The case is West Alabama Women's Center v. Williamson.

Chief Judge Carnes starts off his opinion this way:  "Some Supreme Court Justices have been of the view that there is constitutional law and then there is the aberration of constitutional law relating to abortion.* If so, what we must apply here is the aberration." (Footnote omitted).

If there is any question as to how he feels about abortion, you can see it here in the first paragraph of the intro section: "This case involves a method of abortion that is clinically referred to as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E). Or dismemberment abortion, as the State less clinically calls it. That name is more accurate because the method involves tearing apart and extracting piece-by-piece from the uterus what was until then a living unborn child. This is usually done during the 15 to 18 week stage of development, at which time the unborn child’s heart is already beating."

Judge Dubina concurs just to make sure that everyone knows that he personally disagrees with Casey and Roe too: 
I concur fully in Chief Judge Carnes’s opinion because it correctly characterizes the record in this case, and it correctly analyzes the law. I write separately to agree on record with Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 168-69, 127 S. Ct. 1610, 1639-40 (2007) (Thomas, J., concurring), with whom then Justice Scalia also joined. Specifically, Justice Thomas wrote, “I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court’s abortion jurisprudence, including Casey [Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992)] and Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705 (1973), has no basis in the Constitution.” Id. at 169, 127 S. Ct. at 1639. The problem I have, as noted in the Chief Judge’s opinion, is that I am not on the Supreme Court, and as a federal appellate judge, I am bound by my oath to follow all of the Supreme Court’s precedents, whether I agree with them or not.
OK, Judge Dubina. You're on record now.

In other 11th Circuit news, the court addressed the Georgia state court bail system where an man was arrested and was too poor to post bail.  Therefore he was held for 6 days even though the misdemeanor he was arrested for could not be punished by a jail sentence.  Judge O'Scannlain (visiting from the 9th Circuit) along with Julie Carnes said as long as bail is addressed within 48 hours, all is OK.  Judge Martin started her persuasive dissent like this:

Maurice Walker was jailed by the City of Calhoun for six days because he was too poor to pay his bail. He challenges the City’s practice of jailing people before trial when they are too poor to make bond, arguing it violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The Majority rejects this claim, characterizing the pretrial jailing as “merely wait[ing] some appropriate amount of time to receive the same benefit as the more affluent.” Maj. Op. at 27. In this way, the Majority renders it unnecessary to review the City’s practice with heightened scrutiny. I believe the Majority rewrites this court’s binding precedent in Pugh v. Rainwater, 572 F.2d 1053 (5th Cir. 1978) (en banc),2 which held that “[t]he incarceration of those who cannot [pay for pretrial release], without meaningful consideration of other possible alternatives, infringes on both due process and equal protection requirements.” Id. at 1057. The Majority fails to recognize this infringement on the rights of indigents, so I dissent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What does the Cohen plea agreement say? (Corrected)

Here is the Michael Cohen plea agreement to all 8 counts of the information.

The maximum sentence to these 8 counts is 65 years.

The government calculates the guidelines at level 24 (51-63 months) and the defense calculates a level 23 (46-57 months). The dispute is over grouping. I would love to hear the pundits (especially the ones who have never practiced in federal court) trying to explain the grouping guidelines. Most federal probation officers and judges can't figure out the grouping rules.

The guidelines were calculated as follows:

Base offense level 7
+16 for more than 1.5 million and less than 3.5 million under the fraud guidelines
+2 for sophisticated means (for use of the shell companies)
+2 for special skill (lawyer)
-3 for acceptance of responsibility
total: 24
(the defense believes it's 23 based on a complicated grouping argument)

CORRECTION.  I initially posted that the parties agreed that no variance arguments could be made, but this was incorrect.  The bottom of page 4 says that no *departure* arguments could be made, but the top of page 5 allows for variance arguments.  That means that Cohen is free to argue for a below-guidelines sentence based on personal characteristics, sentencing disparity, and just about anything he wants.  The prosecutor is free to argue for an above guideline sentence based on the seriousness of the crime, impact on the community and so on.  But an above guideline sentence is unlikely.

Although it's not specifically mentioned in the plea agreement, it is obvious that Cohen is cooperating. He said as much during his colloquy today and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, has been all over the news saying the same thing.

If he gets cooperation credit, the defense will be asking for a significant reduction below the guidelines -- probably all the way to probation.  It is too difficult to speculate what the prosecution would ask for at this time, although the SDNY is known for giving large cooperation reductions. The judge will be permitted to do whatever he wants, from 0 to 65 years in prison.  But he will likely start with the guidelines and then go lower depending on how much Cohen cooperates and based on the variance arguments he makes.

The plea agreement was not signed by the U.S. Attorney for the SDNY as he is recused. So Robert Khuzami was on the signature block as Acting U.S. Attorney. Guy Petrillo signed for the defense.

Tough day for the White House, to say the least.

Manafort guilty of 8 counts in trial #1. He still has trial #2 in DC.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Waiting is the hardest part

Trial lawyers know that the worst part of the case is waiting for the jury to return a verdict. You can’t do other work. You just sit around stressed to the max, filled with both hope and anxiety. And the longer the jury is out, the more that anxiety builds.

It’s funny listening to the talking heads explaining what short deliberations mean and what the lengthy Manafort jury deliberations mean. No one knows, obviously. They just finished day 3 without a verdict. It may mean that they are going slowly through the evidence. It may mean that they are fighting. It may mean that they want another lunch. It may mean that there is one holdout. Or more. Or an even split.

I’ve had juries out 9 days and juries out 15 minutes and everything in between. It’s just impossible to know what they are thinking.

Good story about my 9 day jury — It was a trial in Savannah, GA with 10 defendants. My middle daughter was born on a Friday and we started the 6 week trial on the following Monday. When the trial was over, I was looking forward to getting home and spending time with my new baby. But the jury wouldn’t reach a verdict. Day after day. Finally on day 9, my wife decided to travel up to Savannah so that I could see the baby. You know what happened 5 minutes after she boarded the flight and turned off her phone... Of course... VERDICT. Happily for me and my client, it was a not guilty. That was a fun celebration...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

“If you don’t have the right equipment for the job, you just have to make it yourself.”

What does that MacGyver quote have to do with the FTCA? CA11 Judge Rosenbaum, known for her awesome intros, is here to tell you:

The fictional Angus MacGyver’s defining talent is his ability to cobble together a solution when the precise tools he needs to solve a problem are not available.1 As “Mac” has explained, “If you don’t have the right equipment for the job, you just have to make it yourself.” MacGyver: Out in the Cold (ABC television broadcast Feb. 16, 1987). So synonymous with improvising has the name “MacGyver” become that the Oxford Dictionaries added the name to their collection as a verb meaning to “[m]ake or repair (an object) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand.”

The Federal Tort Claims Act’s (“FTCA”) directive making the federal government liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances,” 28 U.S.C. § 2674, requires courts to MacGyver a remedy in fashioning tort-damages awards against the United States, where the unique aspects of the federal government make it difficult or impossible to strictly apply a state damages statute to the government. In those situations, courts must approximate the statutory remedy as closely as they can to achieve the ends required by the FTCA.

Here, we review the district court’s efforts in improvising application of Florida’s medical-malpractice-damages statute, section 768.78(2) of the Florida Statutes, to Appellant-Cross-Appellee United States. Following a bench trial, the United States was held liable upon the district court’s finding that a doctor at a federal health facility caused Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants’ son E.R.T., Jr. (“E.R.T.”), to suffer severe and life-altering injuries at the time of his birth. On appeal, the government challenges the district court’s application of section 768.78(2) to the method of payment the district court chose for the government to satisfy the judgment against it. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, cross-appeal the district court’s jerry-rigging of section 768.78(2)’s bond requirement as the court found it pertains to the United States. The district court did an admirable job of MacGyvering a solution in this case, and we affirm much of what it did. Nevertheless, for the reasons that follow, we must reverse discrete portions of the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

1. Angus MacGyver is the lead character in the television series MacGyver, a show that centers on MacGyver’s use of scientific knowledge to solve problems and to extricate himself and his team members from danger. The original version of MacGyver, starring Richard Dean Anderson, ran from 1985 through 1992. MacGyver(original), IMDb, (last visited Aug. 13, 2018). In 2016, the series was rebooted, this time with Lucas Till playing the name character. MacGyver (reboot), IMDb, (last visited Aug. 13, 2018).

Thursday, August 16, 2018

District updates

1. The incoming U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan will be up for a final vote shortly. She will be confirmed and is expected to be in the office in the next few weeks. She has been well liked everywhere she has gone (the State Attorney’s Office, Circuit Judge, and leader in the Federalist Society), and this should be no different.

2. The two open magistrate positions are still open. Applications are due Wednesday. From the email blast that just went out:

The Judicial Conference of the United States has authorized the appointment of two (2) full-time United States Magistrate Judges for the Southern District of Florida at Miami. The term of office is eight years.

A full public notice for the magistrate judge positions is posted on the Courts Internet website at: One position initially will be assigned for a period not to exceed three years to supervise the Court's Pro Se Prisoner Division.

Interested persons may contact the Clerk of the District Court for additional information and application forms. The application form is also available on the Courts website Applications must be submitted only by applicants personally to; by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, 2018.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

11th Circuit updates

A bunch of interesting decisions coming out of CA11:

1. Another Johnson fight, this time in an en banc denial. Judge Martin dissents from the denial and explains the makes-no-sense position o the 11th. Julie Carnes defends that position in a concurrence to the denial. Martin’s conclusion is very powerful:

The Supreme Court recently reminded us of our crucial duty to “exhibit regard for fundamental rights and respect for prisoners as people.” Rosales- Mireles v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1897, 1907 (2018) (quotation omitted). This duty encompasses thorough review of sentences we now know are longer than the law permitted, because “[t]o a prisoner, th[e] prospect of additional time behind bars is not some theoretical or mathematical concept[;] . . . [it] has exceptionally severe consequences for the incarcerated individual and for society which bears the direct and indirect costs of incarceration.” Id. (quotations omitted and alterations adopted). When considering claims like Mr. Beeman’s, “what reasonable citizen wouldn’t bear a rightly diminished view of the judicial process and its integrity if courts refused to correct obvious errors of their own devise that threaten to require individuals to linger longer in federal prison than the law demands?” Id. at 1908 (quotation omitted).
Mr. Beeman was sentenced in 2009. With a ten-year maximum sentence, he could be nearing his release date. Instead, he will spend another seven-and-a-half more years behind bars. And not only does this Court sanction his unconstitutional sentence, we will prevent him—and many other prisoners like him—from arguing the full merits of his case in court. Our Court is now daily presented with pleadings from prisoners who are barred from our Court because of the rule created in the Beeman panel opinion. In my view, it is the role of the courts to hear these claims. I therefore register my dissent about this court’s failure to do so.

2. The 11th had to decide what to do with a cell-site case post-Carpenter. Sadly, the court finds that the good faith exception applies and holds that even though there was a 4th Amendment violation (grudgingly), no need to suppress anything (yay):

The Government has maintained throughout this case that it acted in good faith and that the Leon exception therefore applies; neither Sturgis nor Joyner presented any argument or evidence to either the district court or this Court to counter that proposition. They have instead relied on their assertion of a warrant requirement and their hope that Carpenter would come down in their favor,5 but the fact that the Carpenter Court agreed with their Fourth Amendment theory does not affect the applicability of the Leon good faith exception in this case.

3. Finally, the court vacated a plea and sentence where there was no transcript of the plea and the lower court could not adequately reconstruct the record:

Because the reconstructed record does not allow for effective appellate review of Elmore’s change-of-plea hearing, we vacate her convictions and total sentence, and remand her case to the District Court for further proceedings.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why do some judges like "rocket dockets" and "rocket trials"?

I have yet to find a lawyer who likes them.  And most judges don't act this way.  But the E.D.V.A. is known for having a rocket docket.  And there are a handful of judges here and around the country who have them.  The Atlantic covers the rocket Manafort trial here:

There is no dillydallying in the trial of Paul Manafort.

Jury selection lasted but a few hours. The federal judge presiding over the case has repeatedly reminded the lawyers of his impatience and routinely interrupts their questioning of witnesses to speed them up. The most dramatic part of the trial has quickly come and gone. The whole thing could be over in three weeks, leaving plenty of time before Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman has to stand a second trial on separate charges in September.

High-profile trials of deep-pocketed defendants can often drag on for months. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s initial prosecution of Manafort on charges of financial fraud is moving briskly along, and its speedy pace is largely due to the particular federal district court where the case is being tried.

The Eastern District of Virginia is famous in the legal community for being the nation’s original “rocket docket”—a jurisdiction where strict rules and a deeply embedded judicial culture help move cases to trial more rapidly than almost anywhere else. In civil cases, the court has been ranked first for speed year after year, but the reputation extends to criminal prosecutions as well.

Here's a more reasonable judge (in Houston) who now has a standard order granting automatic stays where one of the lawyers is pregnant:

Pregnant litigators already have enough to worry about without trial dates getting in the way of due dates.

So Houston state district Judge Ravi Sandill recently issued a standing order that grants expecting lawyers an automatic continuance of a trial setting in his court for up to 120 days before the birth or adoption of a child.

“We did it for a couple of reasons,” said Sandill, judge of Harris County’s 127th District Court. “For one, it’s the right thing to do. And secondly — I think most judges do this already — but it alleviates anxiety for lawyers.”

Sandill said he came up with the idea after reading about Christen E. Luikart, a pregnant Florida lawyer whose motion for continuance sparked controversy last month after her opposing counsel objected to it — just as the Florida Supreme Court is weighing a proposed rule that would create a presumption that pregnant lawyers should get three-month continuances.

“After reading about that, I thought if we could push this, leading by example is not a bad thing for the practice,’’ Sandill said of his order.