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, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3659388/quotes (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!