This time, a deep dive, by the New York Times. It starts this way:As a young associate in a prestigious Miami law firm, Barbara Lagoa took on an unusual pro bono case, one without a supervising partner and against a formidable adversary: the Clinton administration.
Ms. Lagoa represented a relative of a 5-year-old boy found off the Florida coast after his mother had drowned trying to cross over from Cuba. His name was Elián González.
Federal agents would eventually seize Elián and return him to his father in Cuba, setting off political shock waves that arguably cost former Vice President Al Gore the 2000 presidential election when he lost Florida.
“After six months, countless briefs, a few all-nighters, two oral arguments and one midnight raid by armed commandos, we learned what it was like to lose,” Eliot Pedrosa, another lawyer on the team, said at a ceremony last year when Judge Lagoa joined the Florida Supreme Court. The experience of “watching armed federal agents use force to pre-empt process,” he said, was “seared into her soul.”
That formative episode helped shape Judge Lagoa’s career as a federal prosecutor and appellate judge and thrust her into South Florida’s political culture, dominated by Cuban-American Republicans.
It is an electoral dynamic that remains powerful two decades later and has helped Judge Lagoa, who now sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, emerge as an attractive choice for President Trump as he considers whom he will name to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Trump says he may be meeting with her this week in Miami. The article ends this way:For the people trying to promote her nomination in South Florida, though, Judge Lagoa’s life story as the daughter of immigrants matters just as much as her record.
Her friends mention her modest upbringing in the blue-collar city of Hialeah. She rode her bike and roller skated around the neighborhood. Her parents saved up to send her to Catholic school. It was a big deal when she went away to New York for law school.
“In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food or hunger, liberty or prison, life or death,” Judge Lagoa said last year, when she was nominated to the Florida Supreme Court. “Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws — not of men.”
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Sunday, September 20, 2020
since the start of this blog back in July 2005.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Everyone will be talking about whether Trump has enough time and the votes to get someone confirmed in the next couple of months. But before we turn to politics, let's take a moment and remember the incredible woman, an inspiration to so many. What a truly amazing person. RIP.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, died Friday. The Supreme Court announced her death, saying the cause was complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.
The court, in a statement, said Ginsburg died at her home in Washington surrounded by family. She was 87.
"Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tired and resolute champion of justice."
Architect of the legal fight for women's rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation's highest court, becoming its most prominent member. Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.
Just days before her death, as her strength waned, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."
UPDATE -- Chief Judge Moore just issued this new order concerning COVID-19, which seems to suggest that judges are not permitted to hold in person plea or sentencing hearings. Yet there are rumors that the U.S. Attorney's Office will be convening a grand jury in November to start indicting cases that have been backlogged.
Let’s go Heat!
Have a great weekend.
Here are two great articles about the Heat's incredible run:
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
A federal judge has ordered all federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York to read a ruling she issued Wednesday that blasts prosecutors for their handling of evidence in a criminal case involving alleged violations of sanctions against Iran.U.S. District Court Judge Allison Nathan also said she was unsatisfied with the completeness of the government’s account of why prosecutors failed to turn over one key piece of evidence to the defense until the middle of trial, with one government attorney discussing with colleagues a plan to “ bury” the previously undisclosed letter among other documents being emailed to defense lawyers. “No responsible Government lawyer should strategize how to ‘bury’ a document that was not, but should have been, previously disclosed to the defense. A responsible Government lawyer should—at a minimum—forthrightly and truthfully reveal late disclosures to the defense,” Nathan wrote, emphatically disagreeing with the conclusion from U.S. Attorney’s Office leaders that there was nothing to “condemn” in the prosecutors’ actions.“This Court disagrees and hereby strongly condemns this conduct,” Nathan wrote in her 34-page opinion. Nathan called some of the omissions by prosecutors “shocking.” And she expressed the greatest concern over the explanation prosecutors gave her after the defense for Iranian banker Ali Sadr questioned the late disclosure of the letter prosecutors discussed burying.“The Court finds that the Government’s representation was misleading, as it implied that it had explicitly informed the defense that [the exhibit] was being disclosed for the first time. Indeed, the Court was misled,” the judge wrote. A jury convicted Sadr in March of five felony counts related to the alleged sanctions violations. However, in June, prosecutors abruptly sought to abandon the case due to the evidence issues that emerged.
You can read the whole opinion here. Good for Judge Nathan. Makes me remember how great Judge Gold was as a judge here in this District. Here's how the opinion starts:
Federal prosecutors have constitutional and statutory duties to disclose many types of evidence to defendants. This principle of disclosure is central to our criminal-justice system. “A prosecutor that withholds evidence on demand of an accused which, if made available, would tend to exculpate him or reduce the penalty helps shape a trial that bears heavily on the defendant . . . That casts the prosecutor in the role of an architect of a proceeding that does not comport with standards of justice.” Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87–88 (1963). And federal prosecutors, like all parties that appear before the Court, have ethical duties of candor. United States v. Universita, 298 F.2d 365, 367 (2d Cir. 1962) (“The prosecution has a special duty not to mislead; the government should, of course, never make affirmative statements contrary to what it knows to be the truth.”). In the near decade the Undersigned has sat on the bench in the Southern District of New York, the vast majority of Assistant United States Attorneys before the Court have embraced their disclosure obligations, worked diligently to meet them, and forthrightly admitted when they did not.
But not all. In this case, federal prosecutors have by their own admission repeatedly violated their disclosure obligations and, at best, toed the line with respect to their duty of candor. Over the course of years in this prosecution—before, during, and after trial—the Government has made countless belated disclosures of arguably (and, in one instance, admittedly) exculpatory evidence. For some pieces of evidence, the Government provides plausible explanations for its late disclosure. For others, it provides no explanation at all. And when the Court pressed for more information about one of these failures, the Government made a misrepresentation to the Court. This serious dereliction requires a serious response.
And the conclusion:
Almost a century ago, the Supreme Court defined the singular role federal prosecutors play in our system of justice:
The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done . . . . He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor—indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one. Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).
The Government in this case has failed to live up to these ideals. The Court has recounted these breaches of trust, proposed some systemic solutions, urged referral to the Office of Professional Responsibility for admitted prosecutorial failures apparent in the existing record, and ordered further fact-finding. The cost of such Government misconduct is high. With each misstep, the public faith in the criminal-justice system further erodes. With each document wrongfully withheld, an innocent person faces the chance of wrongful conviction. And with each unforced Government error, the likelihood grows that a reviewing court will be forced to reverse a conviction or even dismiss an indictment, resulting in wasted resources, delayed justice, and individuals guilty of crimes potentially going unpunished. The Court thus issues this Opinion with hopes that in future prosecutions, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York will use only “legitimate means to bring about a just” result. Id. Nothing less is expected of the revered Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. That Office has a well- and hard-earned reputation for outstanding lawyers, fierce independence, and the highest of ethical standards. The daily work of the prosecutors in that Office is critically important to the safety of our community and the rule of law. Those who stand up in court every day on behalf of that Office get the benefit of that reputation—but they also have the responsibility to maintain it. The Court hereby ORDERS that the Acting United States Attorney ensure that all current AUSAs and SAUSAs read this Opinion. Within one week of the date of this Opinion, the Acting United States Attorney shall file a declaration affirming that this has occurred. The Court FURTHER ORDERS that each of the trial team AUSAs, supervising Unit Chiefs, and the SAUSA submit the declarations described in Section III no later than October 16, 2020. By October 30, 2020, the executive leadership for the USAO may submit a brief as to why no further proceeding for additional fact-finding or credibility determinations is necessary. Counsel for Mr. Sadr may, if they wish, submit a responsive filing by November 13, 2020, and the Government a reply by November 20, 2020.
The only thing that can be said for the SDNY is that they eventually did the right thing and dismissed the case. There have a bunch of cases in this District and others where serious misconduct has been uncovered, but admissions of wrongdoing and dismissals were not forthcoming. Sadly in those cases, the government has dug its heels in. If prosecutors won't dismiss where misconduct is uncovered, then judges should.
I'm told that there is a criminal component involving the seizure of a cell phone pursuant to a search warrant, the government’s lengthy efforts to unlock the seized phone, self-incrimination issues re: an i-Phone password, and a Rule 41 return of property issue.
The Palm Beach County Chapter of the Federal Bar Association
Towards A New E-Discovery Paradigm
A Zoom Webinar featuring:
THE HONORABLE WILLIAM MATTHEWMAN
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Presentation to be preceded by the swearing-in of the Palm Beach Chapter Officers
for the 2020-2021 year by:
THE HONORABLE KENNETH MARRA
SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
September 18, 2020, AT NOON
FROM YOUR COMPUTER – BY ZOOM
This event is FREE for all attendees.
0.5 CLE credit requested
RSVP by September 17, 2020 at noon to Traci Willard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Zoom Meeting ID and Password will be sent by 3 p.m. on September 17th. If you do not receive the invitation by 5 p.m., please send an email to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Well, the challenge was successful and Renatha Francis is out. The Governor appointed Jamie Grosshans, 41, in her place. Grosshams was appointed to the county bench when she was 38. Of the choices DeSantis had from the JNC list, many said that Grosshans was the most right wing and her reputation is certainly more conservative than Francis. Does anyone have any experience before her either in county, circuit, or the 5th?
Meantime, DeSantis said that Francis should now be considered for a federal seat in the Southern District of Florida. Currently David Leibowitz is still up for Judge Moreno's seat, but there has been no movement there in a while. Leibowitz is a great guy; smart and personable. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If Biden is elected in November, will there be enough time for Trump to fill Moreno's seat?
Monday, September 14, 2020
Things are starting to reopen. We even had sports this weekend. School may reopen before October 5. And the rumors are flying around that Chief Judge Moore may update his order on grand juries to allow them to reopen before the Jan 2021 date. But before we get too optimistic and happy, check out these horrific numbers from the prison system, via the Marshall Project:
The first known COVID-19 death of a prisoner was in Georgia when Anthony Cheek died on March 26. Cheek, who was 49 years old, had been held in Lee State Prison near Albany, a hotspot for the disease. Since then, at least 1,016 other prisoners have died of coronavirus-related causes. By Sept. 8, the total number of deaths had risen by 5 percent in a week.
There have been at least 1,017 deaths from coronavirus reported among prisoners.
Florida is second only to Texas in number of prisoner deaths. And the death rate in prison is 130% higher than in general in Florida. This doesn't account for the number of deaths by staff members, which is also extremely high in Florida (75 as of now). Extremely sad.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Read the unanimous opinion here.
UPDATE -- while DeSantis lost this battle, he won a big one in the en banc 11th Circuit. William Pryor writes the majority opinion backing DeSantis' position that felons cannot vote until they have paid all court costs, fees, etc. Judges Jordan, Martin, and Jill Pryor all write dissents. Judge Jordan's ends this way:
Our predecessor, the former Fifth Circuit, has been rightly praised for its landmark decisions on voting rights in the 1950s and 1960s. See generally Jack Bass, Unlikely Heroes: The Dramatic Story of the Southern Judges Who Translated the Supreme Court’s Brown Decision Into a Revolution for Equality 259–77 (1981). I doubt that today’s decision—which blesses Florida’s neutering of Amendment 4—will be viewed as kindly by history.
Pryor responds like this:
I write separately to explain a difficult truth about the nature of the judicial role. Our dissenting colleagues predict that our decision will not be “viewed as kindly by history” as the voting-rights decisions of our heroic predecessors. Jordan Dissent at 189 (citing Jack Bass, Unlikely Heroes: The Dramatic Story of the Southern Judges Who Translated the Supreme Court’s Brown Decision Into a Revolution for Equality (1981)). But the “heroism” that the Constitution demands of judges—modeled so well by our predecessors—is that of “devotion to the rule of law and basic morality.” Patrick E. Higginbotham, Conceptual Rigor: A Cabin for the Rhetoric of Heroism, 59 Tex. L. Rev. 1329, 1332 (1981) (reviewing Bass, Unlikely Heroes, supra). As a distinguished colleague presciently warned decades ago, there is a “genuine risk” that later judges will “easily misunderstand” this lesson. Id. Our duty is not to reach the outcomes we think will please whomever comes to sit on the court of human history. The Constitution instead tasks us with “administering the rule of law in courts of limited jurisdiction,” id. at 1343, which means that we must respect the political decisions made by the people of Florida and their officials within the bounds of our Supreme Law, regardless of whether we agree with those decisions. And in the end, as our judicial oath acknowledges, we will answer for our work to the Judge who sits outside of human history.
Wednesday, September 09, 2020
On September 8, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court denied Thompson’s motion for rehearing, but granted her motion for leave to amend the Emergency Petition for Writ of Quo Warranto and Writ of Mandamus.
The Court ordered the Governor to show cause why he should not be required immediately to fill the vacancy in office of justice of the supreme court by appointing a candidate who was on the JNC's certified list of January 23, 2020, and is now constitutionally eligible for appointment. The Governor shall respond by Wednesday, September 9, 2020.
Monday, September 07, 2020
It would have been his 7th -- SEVENTH! -- trial. The AP covers the decision here:
A Mississippi man freed last year after 22 years in prison will not be tried a seventh time in a quadruple murder case, a judge ruled Friday after prosecutors told him they no longer had any credible witnesses.
Curtis Flowers was convicted multiple times in a bloody slaying and robbery at a small-town furniture store in 1996. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the most recent conviction in June 2019, citing racial bias in jury selection.
“Today, I am finally free from the injustice that left me locked in a box for nearly twenty three years,” Flowers said in a statement released by his lawyer. “I’ve been asked if I ever thought this day would come. I have been blessed with a family that never gave up on me and with them by my side, I knew it would.”
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joseph Loper signed the order Friday after the state attorney general’s office, which had taken over the case, admitted the evidence was too weak to proceed with another trial.
“As the evidence stands today, there is no key prosecution witness ... who is alive and available and has not had multiple, conflicting statements in the record,” Assistant Attorney General Mary Helen Wall wrote in a filing presented to Loper on Friday.
Vangela Wade, one of Flowers' current lawyers, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post. It starts this way:
Nearly 23 years. More than 8,000 days. That’s how long Curtis Flowers — a Black man who was tried an astonishing six times for the same crime — was locked away in a cramped jail cell with little ability to see his family. Until Friday, when Mississippi’s attorney general decided to drop the charges, Flowers was waiting to find out whether he would be subjected to yet another trial.
My organization, the Mississippi Center for Justice, has been defending Flowers since summer 2019, working with the team of lawyers that has represented him for many years. We are thrilled that he will finally go free. The accusations against Flowers were never grounded in facts, but rather fueled by improper conduct by Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans — the prosecutor in each of Flowers’s six trials.
Unfortunately, the Flowers case offers just a tiny snapshot of prosecutorial misconduct. Such misconduct — which can include introducing false evidence, using dubious informants, withholding evidence that could exonerate the defendant or discriminating in jury selection — puts countless innocent people behind bars. As a former prosecutor — notably, the only Black staff member in the office — I witnessed firsthand the disproportionate number of African Americans entangled within the criminal justice system.
Prosecutors wield enormous control over the criminal justice system. They determine which charges to pursue — if any — and make recommendations on bail, pretrial incarceration and sentencing, which are often accepted by judges. In each of these instances, prosecutors have the potential to abuse civil rights — with few, if any, consequences.
Thursday, September 03, 2020
Check out this Washington Post article here. Sherwin is being criticized by both the left and the right. But he's just trying to do the right thing by not bringing charges where there is no evidence. Good for Sherwin!
Noting the mass arrests three weeks ago of 42 people who police said were in a group that spray-painted buildings and set fire to patio umbrellas in Northwest Washington’s Adams Morgan area, acting U.S. attorney Michael Sherwin told Bowser in his own letter that he had no choice but to drop charges against all but one defendant.
“The ‘42 rioters’ were arrested as a collective by MPD and presented to the Office without any articulable facts linking criminal conduct to each individual arrested,” Sherwin wrote in his letter. “Simply put, we cannot charge crimes on the basis of mere presence or guilt by association.”
In his letter, Sherwin says he met with police leaders to request help “to further develop these cases to establish a bare minimum of probable cause. To date, no sufficient evidence has materialized.”
“As I am sure you are aware, without some evidence to establish probable cause of a particular arrestee’s criminal conduct — e.g.,
a police officer’s observation or video footage of the alleged crime —
we cannot bring federal charges,” Sherwin wrote. “Surely, by your
comments, you are not suggesting that this Office skirt constitutional
protections and due process.”
Tuesday, September 01, 2020
But the way DOJ is treating him and his co-defendants in the press isn’t right. I call it chutzpah in this piece in the Hill:
Chutzpah is defined as “shameless audacity.” In his book of the same name, Alan Dershowitz said the concept is more easily demonstrated than defined. He gave the classic illustration of the kid who murders his parents and then pleads for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan. The Department of Justice’s recent actions with respect to Brian Kolfage (Steve Bannon’s co-defendant) — issuing press releases with inflammatory quotes about the allegations and the arrest while at the same time filing a motion with the court saying that the defense should not be able to respond in the press — is another good example of chutzpah. So too is DOJ's handling of the press in the Ghislaine Maxwell case — holding a lengthy press conference with pictures and charts and opposing the defense’s motion to curtail the prosecution’s media blitz.
On Aug. 20, the DOJ arrested Kolfage, Bannon and other alleged co-conspirators for fraud in connection with an online fundraising campaign for “We Build the Wall.” Regardless of what you think of Steve Bannon, President Trump, or “the wall” — and as a liberal Democrat, I have pretty strong views — all defendants are presumed innocent and should be treated fairly.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Florida Supreme Court Said Governor DeSantis Exceeded His Authority In Appointing Judge Renatha Francis, But Held Petitioner Thompson To The Remedy She Requested And Denied The Petition
The August 27th Opinion denied Representative Geraldine F. Thompson’s challenge to Governor DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court because the remedy sought was “legally unavailable under these circumstances.”
For those keeping an eye on this case, this dispute stems from Governor DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Francis to the Florida Supreme Court on May 26, 2020, and the undisputed fact that she has not been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding ten (10) years—a milestone she will reach on September 24, 2020. Petitioner took the position that to be eligible for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court, the person must meet the requirements laid out in Florida’s Constitution at the time of appointment. Governor DeSantis took the position that the person must meet the requirements laid out in Florida’s Constitution at the time of actually taking the oath and assuming the duties of her office, which Judge Francis intends to do on September 24, 2020.
Rather than simply ask the Court to 1) find that Judge Renatha Francis is ineligible for office and 2) issue a writ of mandamus compelling Governor DeSantis to appoint someone else from the short list sent up on January 23, 2020, Petitioner asked the Court to compel the JNC to create a new list from the original applicants and to compel Governor DeSantis to appoint someone from that new list.
The Court found that “[w]hen we read Article V, section 8 together with article V, section 11, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Bar eligibility requirement attaches at the time of appointment.” This is contrary to the Governor’s position.
Although the Court cleared up the dispute as to the time all constitutional eligibility requirements must be met, it ultimately denied the petition because of the relief sought by Petitioner:
There is no legal justification for us to require a replacement appointment from a new list of candidates, rather than from the one that is already before the Governor. And the correct remedy (an appointment from the existing list of eligible nominees) would be contrary to Thompson’s stated objectives in filing this case. Therefore, we hold Thompson to the remedy she requested and deny her petition.
This Opinion leaves us wondering what will happen next as there is still close to a month before Judge Francis meets the constitutional eligibility requirement and the Court clearly stated that she needed to have met it at the time of appointment. Will Petitioner, or another Florida Citizen, challenge the appointment of Judge Francis, and this time request the correct relief as pointed out by the Court? Will Governor DeSantis revoke his appointment and select one of the remaining 7 individuals on the January 23, 2020, list to avoid further litigation? Will it be status quo until September 24th and Judge Francis becomes Justice Francis?
The remaining individuals on the January 23rd list, aside from Judge Francis and now Justice Couriel, are:
Kyle is a commercial litigator at Conrad & Scherer LLP in Fort Lauderdale.
Petitioner Thompson filed a Motion for Leave to amend, and also filed an Amended Emergency Petition for Writ of Quo Warranto and Writ of Mandamus yesterday.
She is asking the Court to do exactly what it said would be the appropriate remedy and declare that Judge Francis was ineligible for appointment, and to compel Governor DeSantis to immediately appoint one of the 7 remaining on the January 23, 2020, list.
There's been a ton of publicity about the Steve Bannon arrest and charges. The prosecution has issued its press releases and even held a press conference. DOJ is a media machine these days. It wasn't always like that. But heaven-forbid that a defendant try to respond to the press...
Bannon's co-defendant called the case a witch hunt and DOJ has filed a letter complaining to the judge that the defendants are making extra-judicial statements which may taint the jury pool. DOJ had the chutzpah to cite to Sheppard v. Maxwell, F. Lee Bailey's Supreme Court case which found that the defendant (Sam Sheppard, a/k/a the Fugitive) could not get a fair trial with all of the publicity surrounding his trial.
If DOJ is going to speak to the press, then defendants should be permitted to respond.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
“The Department of Justice has been casting a wide net charging these SBA loan fraud cases, and I look forward to discovering if this is an example of that net having been cast too wide.”
That was Bradley Horenstein discussing his new COVID-19 case. His client is accused of getting a relief loan for a farm in Miami... according to the feds, no farm. From the Herald:
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
For years, the words “qualified immunity” were seldom heard outside of legal and academic circles, where critics have long contended that the doctrine is unjust. But outrage over the killing of George Floyd and incidents like it have made this 50-year-old legal doctrine — created by the U.S. Supreme Court itself — a target of broad public demands for comprehensive reform to rein in police behavior.
The criticism that qualified immunity denies justice to victims of police brutality is well-founded. As Reuters reported just two weeks before Floyd’s death, the immunity defense has been making it easier for cops to kill or injure civilians with impunity. Based on federal appellate court records, the report showed, courts have been granting cops immunity at increasing rates in recent years — even when judges found the behavior so egregious that it violated a plaintiff’s civil rights — thanks largely to continual Supreme Court guidance that has favored police.
The regional differences Reuters has found in how qualified immunity is granted only add to arguments that the doctrine is unfair. “It’s essential to our system of government that access to justice should be the same in Dallas and Houston as in Phoenix and Las Vegas,” said Paul Hughes, a prominent civil rights attorney who frequently argues before the U.S. Supreme Court. “It shouldn’t turn on the happenstance of geography as to whether or not they (plaintiffs) have a remedy.”
The “happenstance of geography” shows up in a comparison of Collie’s case to the one Benny Herrera’s family filed after a cop killed him in 2011. Police in Tustin, California, were looking for the 31-year-old father of four after a former girlfriend reported that he had assaulted her. They found him walking along a lightly trafficked road, behaving erratically. As in Collie’s case, a cop opened fire when he thought Herrera was about to shoot him. Like Collie, Herrera did not have a gun.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
It's a little off-topic, but hey, it's Friday afternoon. Check out his Miami Herald op-ed here. The intro:
On Aug. 14, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors approved Aug. 24 as the start of practice for the fall sports seasons, including football. Under the FHSAA’s plan, the regular season will start on Sept. 4, and there will be a nine-week regular season. As in past years, there will be playoffs in November and a state championship in December.
Of course, this isn’t like past years in one major respect: the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has had an undeniable impact on this country — and on Florida and Miami-Dade County, in particular. And, in the sports arena, it’s already led major college football conferences to cancel the football season. The FHSAA however, plans to move forward as if it’s business as usual, with the only exception being that it’s giving high schools until Sept. 18 to opt-out of its proposed schedule and set their own, the consequence being that these schools can’t compete for a state championship.
The FHSAA plan is unacceptable.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
In a case that could have major ramifications ahead of the November election, a panel of federal judges in Atlanta questioned lawyers Tuesday about Florida’s decision to require felons pay off all court fees and fines before voting. Ten judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, half of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump, peppered lawyers representing Gov. Ron DeSantis and more than a dozen felons about the state’s law and whether its requirements to pay off all fees equated to a modern-day “poll tax.” Most of the questioning, however, fixated on complicated judicial precedents. After more than two hours of back-and-forth that was carried on Zoom, the video conferencing site, judges gave little indication how they would rule. One exception was Judge Barbara Lagoa, who, along with Judge Robert Luck, was appointed to the court by Trump after Gov. Ron DeSantis named them to the Florida Supreme Court last year. Lagoa asked many questions that indicated she agreed with DeSantis’ position on Amendment 4, passed by Floridians in 2018 that wiped away the state’s Jim Crow-era ban on voting by people convicted of felonies. At one point, Lagoa questioned whether the court, if it finds parts of Amendment 4 unconstitutional, shouldn’t simply void the entire amendment. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Julie Ebenstein responded that not even DeSantis’ attorneys have said that Amendment 4 should be tossed out. Judges routinely “sever” parts of a law, striking some parts while preserving others. “Everybody agrees that nullifying Amendment 4 would be an absurd result that should be avoided,” Ebenstein said.
Monday, August 17, 2020
Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Miami Palmetto High School grad, is on Biden’s short list. She currently sits on the district bench in D.C. She was a star debater in high school. I got to know her as she was a few years ahead of me in high school (I went to Killian) and a year ahead of me at law school. She’s a great person. A former PD, she would be a wonderful addition to the Court.
Joe Biden has fulfilled his promise to choose a woman as his running mate. Let’s turn our attention to another promise he made: to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court. A number of women with different kinds of legal experience have been suggested by NGOs and journalists. But to legal insiders, Biden’s options narrow down very quickly to two names: Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the federal district court in Washington, D.C.***Jackson became a federal judge in 2013. There was no major fight over her nomination, probably because it was for a district court position, which is not the traditional path to the Supreme Court. (Of the current justices, only Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a district court judge, and she followed that with a long stint on the court of appeals.) She’s now just shy of her 50th birthday. Jackson’s national profile rose significantly in 2019 when she presided over a case in which the House Judiciary Committee sought to enforce its subpoena against Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel. Jackson’s opinion rejected the Trump administration’s claim of absolute immunity and insisted that “presidents are not kings.” No comparably high-profile case has come before Kruger.
Friday, August 14, 2020
He’s joining Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya. A big get for them. Big enough for the AP to cover the move here:
A federal prosecutor who has jailed some of Venezuela’s biggest crooks is stepping down, The Associated Press has learned, leaving a void that could dampen U.S. efforts to expose criminal activity in the South American country amid rising tensions with the Trump administration. Michael Nadler, an assistant U.S. attorney, is leaving to enter private practice next month at a boutique Miami law firm— Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya—said a person familiar with the move who insisted on speaking anonymously because it hadn’t been made public. Nadler, 48, has indicted multiple Venezuelan Cabinet ministers, businessmen and Swiss bankers as part of a sustained effort by investigators in the Southern District of Florida to recover some of the $300 billion estimated to have been stolen from Venezuela in two decades of socialist rule.
Nadler had this to say about the move:
It's has been an honor and privilege working as an AUSA for almost 10 years. Having the opportunity to work on some of the biggest cases in the country and focusing on high-level complex money laundering, Foreign Corruption Practices Act, foreign bribery cases, and targeting corruption at the highest levels in these international cases has been the highlight of my career to date. I thank the US Atty Fajardo for entrusting me and having the confidence in me to work these cases and to Willy Ferrer for hiring me. Leaving was an incredibly difficult decision. But when the opportunity presented itself to join a fantastic group of people and really talented lawyers at a well-respected and prominent boutique law firm, the choice was much easier. I look forward to this new chapter in my life.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Here’s the link to the announcement:
Today, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key positions in his Administration: Judge K. Michael Moore, of Florida, as Chairman of the United States Sentencing Commission. Judge Michael Moore serves as the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, a post which he has held since 2014. Judge Moore was appointed to the Southern District of Florida by President George H. W. Bush in 1992. Before his appointment to the Federal bench, Judge Moore served as the Director of the United States Marshals Service and as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. Judge Moore also spent over a decade of service as an Assistant United States Attorney.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
It’s hard to tell. She’s faced a ton of criticism when she was the District Attorney in San Francisco and Attorney General of California (who can forget this exchange in the democratic debates). But she is pitching herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and there are some who have supported this view, including this public defender. Last September, Harris release her criminal justice plan, which sounds pretty good (summarized from Newsweek)
Among the goals she listed were ending mass incarceration, investing in programs aimed at reducing crime, legalizing marijuana, making changes to the criminal justice system's "sentencing schemes, stopping private prison use and encouraging prisoners' rehabilitation, the last of which was a callback to her earlier "Back on Track" program.
Monday, August 10, 2020
It’s a pretty striking announcement. (The official order isn’t up yet, but it’s been leaked.)
And there’s no telling when we will have grand juries back.
Schools are reopening in October, but not the courthouses. I’m not saying which is right (I have no idea) but lots of criminal defense lawyers in town are frustrated.
And... if it’s not safe enough to conduct trials, how is it safe — or fair — to keep folks locked up at FDC and FCI (where another person just died). Both FDC and FCI are complete disasters right now. Families were protesting outside of FCI this weekend because of the conditions there.
It’s hard to see when the criminal justice system in South Florida will return to normal.
Friday, August 07, 2020
Just heard this sad news. Ron was a super nice guy that you always saw around the courthouses and jails. Here’s a nice article about him when he won an award from the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club. He recently represented Cesar Sayoc, which was a highly publicized case. Sad.
Check out this awesome program to teach high school students advocacy and other legal and life skills. Judges Beth Bloom and Robin Rosenberg are helping to run the program, which looks like a lot of fun:
In the flagship program, Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions, realistic scenarios bring forward issues related to the coronavirus, including social media memes used to start ambiguous rumors, and a car parade of 16-year-olds protesting for the right to vote.
The program, which is facilitated by judges and members of local Federal Bar Association (FBA) chapters, has reached students in federal courtrooms across the country. As it enters its fourth year, the live program with judges and lawyers is available online to high school and college teachers who want to offer it to their students.
“The need for civil discourse skills doesn’t diminish when day-to-day life is disrupted,” said U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, of Miami, who launched the fall series with a virtual program from her closed courtroom on July 31. “In fact, now more than ever, students need exposure to the ways that civil discourse is the foundation for effectively resolving disputes in the legal system and in their lives.” Bloom and U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, with the assistance of FBA chapters in the Southern District of Florida, pioneered the courtroom program in 2017.
For the coming academic year, they have modified it as a 90-minute distance-learning module. South Florida teachers can request a judge and attorney team(link sends e-mail) for a class in the 2020-2021 term. Interested teachers in other parts of the country should make requests at email@example.com(link sends e-mail).
“Over the past three years, working with federal judges on this initiative has been a rewarding experience in our chapter and in our school communities,” said Stephanie Turk, the South Florida Chapter’s civics liaison and an associate at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson. In the July distance-learning pilot, coordinated by Bloom and South Florida Chapter President Alaina Fotiu-Wojtowicz, a partner at Brodsky Fotiu-Wojtowicz, students learned and practiced several life-impacting skills.
Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Tressa Clements pressed her hand to the ICU window and spoke through her tears. “Baby girl, I pray to God you would wake up,” she said to her child, lashed to a ventilator. “I want you to wake up.” That was Sunday evening — the penultimate day of Saferia Johnson life. Johnson, an inmate at the women’s work camp at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County, died the next morning, just after 10. The cause: COVID-19. She was 36. Johnson, a non-violent inmate with two young sons, had petitioned the prison for compassionate release. The warden had rejected the request.
Just days after the first corrections officer in Florida prisons died of COVID-19, a second officer died of the highly infectious disease, which has infected 9,180 inmates and 1,810 officers across the state prison system. Fifty-four inmates have died. Joseph “Joe” Foster, was remembered by family and friends as a devoted husband, father and proud U.S. Army veteran. He was hired by the state Department of Corrections in December 2009. “We called him ‘the enforcer’ because he always took care of everybody,” said Cory Surles, a friend of Foster’s who served alongside him in Germany from 1997 to 1998. Surles confirmed that Foster died Monday night. Surles said Foster, who had a wife of 15 years, two sons and a daughter, was a “family guy” who had a “heart of gold.” His last Facebook posts were about school reopenings, and how he feared the state would be putting children in danger if they sent them back to in-person instruction.
Tuesday, August 04, 2020
Monday, August 03, 2020
Some people close to — perhaps even on — the Supreme Court have suddenly lost their aversion to talking to the press. Once described as the “last leakproof institution,” the court had its internal deliberations laid bare last week in a series of remarkable articles by CNN’s Joan Biskupic. Relying on unnamed “sources familiar with the inner workings of the court,” Biskupic provided a play-by-play account of how the justices decided the term’s highest-profile cases; she had some similar scoops last year. This week’s revelations include that the justices originally considered granting only gay, but not transgender, employees civil rights protection in Bostock v. Clayton County, before embracing the broader view; that the newest justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh, urged the court to duck controversial rulings on abortion and presidential tax returns; and that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. persuaded enough of his colleagues in a copyright case that his initial dissent became the majority opinion. The articles by Biskupic, a former Washington Post reporter, have prompted speculation about whether her sources include justices themselves and have generated consternation among court-watchers concerned about the flouting of long-standing confidentiality norms. “We all find these leaks scintillating,” wrote Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law. “But they need to stop. These internal deliberations should remain private.”
The Supreme Court has turned into a sieve. Last week, CNN reporter Joan Biskupic published a four-part series that revealed the high court's private deliberations. Even worse, the leaks were designed to advance specific narratives about which justices are strong and which are weak. Chief Justice John G. Roberts is all-powerful. Justice Neil Gorsuch appears decisive. Justice Brett Kavanaugh looks weak and ineffective. And Justice Elena Kagan lurks in the background, eager to lend a helping hand to form a moderate coalition. We do not know who leaked the information to the press. It could have been the justices, their law clerks or even allies outside the Court. Frankly, it doesn't matter. These leaks have no doubt destroyed trust and camaraderie on the Court. Relationships will become distant, and the workplace will become even more toxic. There is only one person who can restore order to the Court: Chief Justice Roberts. Alas, I doubt the George W. Bush appointee is up to the task. Roberts fancies himself the second coming of the great Chief Justice John Marshall. Not even close. Instead, now he more closely resembles one of his lesser-known predecessors, Chief Justice Warren Burger. In 1979, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong published the groundbreaking book, The Brethren. The reporters interviewed several of the justices and hundreds of Court staff to peel back the curtain. They revealed internal Court squabbles, painted some of the justices as partisans and highlighted Burger's inept leadership. This book tore the justices apart and created distrust for decades. Burger, an ill-suited chief justice, could do nothing to heal those wounds. Roberts now faces an even greater crisis of confidence. Unless he can rise to the occasion, and plug these leaks, the Roberts Court will tear itself apart. A Supreme Court divided cannot stand. If Roberts cannot unite the Court, he must leave it.
Saturday, August 01, 2020
In other news, kudos to Judges Middlebrooks and Scola for really taking the lead in this District regarding compassionate release cases. Here's the most recent Middlebrooks order and Scola order.
Judge Middlebrooks has, by far and away, issued the most grants and is taking the pandemic crisis in our prisons very seriously.
In the Scola case, Sandra Huarte was originally sentenced to 262 months, but is now free after serving "nine long years."
Judge Ungaro also issued a grant this week, here. And it's nice to see that Judge Lenard also got in the game with this order.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
BRANCH, Circuit Judge, delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, GRANT, TJOFLAT, ED CARNES, MARCUS, and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges, joined.
WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, filed a concurring opinion.Interestingly, 4 senior judges elected to participate in the case, and all of them voted with the majority. Had they not participated, it looks like there would have been a 3 judge plurality.
JORDAN, Circuit Judge, filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
WILSON, Circuit Judge, filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
MARTIN, Circuit Judge, filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROSENBAUM and JILL PRYOR, Circuit Judges, joined.
ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge, filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARTIN and JILL PRYOR, Circuit Judges, joined.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
She's up for the Fort Pierce seat.
UPDATE -- in other news, Judges Luck and Lagoa denied a motion to recuse in the felon voting rights case. Here is an article covering the motion and order.
Two of President Donald Trump’s appointees to a federal appeals court have refused calls to recuse from a case that advocates say would affect the right of approximately 750,000 Florida residents with previous felony convictions to vote.
Voting rights advocates are challenging a Florida law that requires former felons to pay any outstanding legal financial obligations before they can vote, even if they can’t afford it. These obligations include the several hundred dollars in court fees and costs that are imposed in felony cases, as well as fines and restitution orders that can run in the thousands or even millions of dollars. Challengers argue a “pay-to-vote” policy is unconstitutional and the same as a prohibited poll tax.
The challengers argued Judges Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit should disqualify because they were involved in a related legal fight as state supreme court justices. In an opinion released Monday morning, Lagoa and Luck disagreed and said they would stay on.
The Florida case is one of the biggest voting rights fights pending in federal court with less than 100 days until the November presidential election. A federal district judge in Tallahassee ruled in May that the state could not condition voting rights on fines and fees that people with past convictions could not pay. The full bench of the 11th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on Aug. 18, the same day as Florida’s primary election.
Monday, July 27, 2020
Federal district judge Alvin Hellerstein was rightly outraged that a probation officer acting on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons had Michael Cohen arrested because he was writing a book about President Donald Trump and because Cohen would not agree to give up his First Amendment rights as part of his supervised release. The judge found that “the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it’s retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others."
It is almost unheard of to see a federal judge get upset with a probation officer or the Bureau of Prisons. That’s because there is a fiction in the criminal justice system that a probation officer is an “arm of the court.” Criminal law practitioners, however, know the truth about probation officers — they often are advocates for the executive branch (prosecutors) and can push harder than even prosecutors do for draconian prison sentences.
Look at what happened with Cohen — he was arrested without approval from a judge and without his lawyers having the ability to argue his position with a judge before the arrest. And what was the supposed justification by the arresting officer? Cohen was “antagonistic” and did not want to sign a document outlining conditions of his ongoing release.
DOJ tried to come to the defense of the prison system and probation, arguing that Cohen’s lawyer was trying to “haggle” with the probation officer about wearing an ankle monitor. The judge made quick work of that argument: “What’s an attorney for if he is not going to negotiate an agreement with his client?”
You might be thinking that it is outrageous for a probation or prison officer to have this much power. If so, it’s even worse than you think. Although prosecutors and defense lawyers are not permitted to speak to the judge without the other side present, probation officers typically meet with judges alone, making their recommendations in secret without the parties getting a chance to be heard. And judges often defer to prison officials.
Thursday, July 23, 2020
“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it’s retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others,” Hellerstein said in a scathing ruling issued Thursday morning. “In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at the terms and conditions of supervised release, I have never seen such a clause.”The judge also made quick work of Cohen’s lawyer fighting for various conditions:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Rovner argued that Cohen’s lawyer Jeffrey Levine tried to haggle with the probation officer on his requirement that Cohen wear an ankle monitor, saying it was a condition reserved for “violent” convicts. There was nothing wrong with Levine trying to negotiate for his client, the judge said, and the attempt to debate the terms should not have been cause to imprison him.
“What’s an attorney for if he is not going to negotiate an agreement with his client?” the judge said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on whether prosecutors intend to appeal.
Danya Perry, one of Cohen’s attorneys, called the ruling a victory for the First Amendment. “This principle transcends politics and we are gratified that the rule of law prevails,” Perry said.
Cohen’s legal team also includes lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Alabama’s history of enacting laws designed to suppress people of color is well-documented. See Lynch v. Alabama, No. 08-S-450-NE, 2011 WL 13186739, at *12–18 (N.D. Ala. Nov. 7, 2011) (detailing Alabama’s extensive history of legislation designed to disenfranchise and limit the power and influence of its Black citizens), aff’d in part, vacated in part, remanded sub nom., I.L., 739 F.3d 1273. The majority opinion essentially argues that we should not penalize Alabama’s legislators for Alabama’s past; rather, we should start with a clean slate when reviewing the Photo ID Law. But this is not what the law commands us to do. Alabama’s history of voter suppression is relevant here and provides a wealth of direct and circumstantial evidence that should be considered at trial.14
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
Judge Branch wrote the majority opinion, joined by Judge Carnes:
At the end of 2015, advocacy groups and individual Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against Alabama’s Secretary of State, John Merrill, challenging Alabama’s 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law (hereinafter, the “voter ID law”), passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code § 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs allege the law has a racially discriminatory purpose and effect that violates the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (the “VRA”). Specifically, Plaintiffs claim the law violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution; Section 2 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. § 10301; and Section 201 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. § 10501. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of Alabama’s voter ID Law. Secretary Merrill denies that the law is discriminatory, arguing that Alabama accepts so many types of acceptable IDs that most Alabamians already possess photo ID and voters who do not have one can obtain one easily.
Secretary Merrill filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts, while Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on one claim and one issue.1 The district court granted Secretary Merrill’s motion and Plaintiffs-Appellants timely appealed.
Because Plaintiffs have failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and because no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama’s voter ID law is discriminatory, we affirm the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary of State for the State of Alabama.