Monday, August 10, 2020

There will be no trials in the SDFLA for the rest of the year

 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

RIP Ron Lowy

 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.  

Nice job by local FBA chapter

 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 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

Heartbreaking stories from our prisons

The first is from Coleman (via the Miami Herald):

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.

Earlier in the week I highlighted some of the good work being done by our judges in the District on compassionate release (which does not just help inmates but helps prison staff as well). But there are a handful of judges who are refusing to grant any of these motions.  One judge recently said that it would not be fair to the defendants who have served their entire sentences.  (!!!)

Read the above stories... is it fair for someone to be sentenced to death?  To the judges who have not granted these motions, please reconsider your position. Be compassionate. Our criminal justice system hasn't crumbled because Congress passed the First Step Act or because judges are actually granting compassionate release motions.  Judges who are not granting any of the motions filed are being true activist judges -- not following the will of Congress or the people.  Worse, they are allowing defendants and prison staff to die.  Stand up!

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Lawyering (and judging) during a pandemic

Here's Judge Bob Scola, with defense lawyer Carl Kafka and Assistant State Attorney Carl Kafka Jr.,  Photo cred to Dorothy Kafka.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Is it a good thing for the Supreme Court to be leaking?

William Baude says yes in this Washington Post article and Josh Blackman argues no in this Newsweek piece.  

Baude's intro:  

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.”

And Blackman:

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.

If you missed the Cato panel on the vanishing trial, check it out here.  It was a lot of fun for me to be with such a great panel.   

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Vanishing Trial panel

I'm excited to be joining Rachel E. Barkow (@rachelbarkow), Kevin Ring (@KevinARing), and Clark Neily (@ConLawWarrior) for this interesting panel about the Vanishing Trial in America. It's Monday at noon. Here's the link.

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.