Wednesday, October 20, 2021

11th Circuit changes font and format of its opinions

 You thought we only covered the bickering amongst our district judges?  No, dear readers! We also break the important news in the 11th Circuit, including that the court finally updated its font and format.  It used to look like this:

And here's the new one:

Monday, October 18, 2021

Breaking -- Ryon McCabe is your new Magistrate Judge


It looks like the judges worked through their deadlock... by turning to the AO's published guidance which permits for a revote and if that doesn't result in a majority, then the Chief Judge gets to choose.  It's unclear whether the revote broke up the logjam or whether the Judge Altonaga had to make the selection, but either way, it's over.

Congratulations to Ryon McCabe, a really good guy.  We had cases against each other when we were both new lawyers (he was an AUSA and I was an AFPD).  He was also honorable and is a smart guy.  He's been in private practice for some time now and McCabe Rabin.  The FBI will do its background check, which usually takes a few months, and then he will sit in West Palm Beach.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

RIP Shirley Henderson

 She covered all of the big trials in Miami back in the day.  The Miami Herald has the obit here.

She once said the cast of characters she captured in her renderings — the cops, terrorists, judges, lawyers, drug smugglers, exiles and everyday folk — was just so Miami. “This is about our mix — this is the socio-political and economical history of Miami.” Henderson’s bold pastel strokes have also been exhibited at HistoryMiami Museum in a popular exhibit in 2010, and are on permanent display at the University of Miami School of Law, the Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale, the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland and nationally at museums in Michigan and Ohio.
Her courtroom work even hangs on the walls of South Beach’s Joe’s Stone Crab after Jo Ann Bass bought 10 of her pieces in 1995 to hang on permanent exhibit at the landmark restaurant. “I have done every major trial in federal court for the last 35 years. These are historical documents. I think it’s very important to record the trials,” Henderson told the Herald in 2015.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

How do federal judges break their own tie?

That's the difficult question facing the federal judges in our district right now.  

I previously reported on the short list for Magistrate Judge in West Palm Beach.  This short list was recommended by a committee appointed by our Chief Judge.  Last week, the district judges interviewed the five finalists (as is the practice in the Southern District of Florida). After the interviews, the 16 active judges voted on who would be the next Magistrate Judge.  

The usual procedure would have the announcement that very day, but strangely I didn't hear that evening who got the nod.  And my sources weren't talking.   

Now we've found out why -- the vote ended in a tie* with no tie-breaking procedure.  And no one is budging.

So now what?  Our jury of judges seem to be hung.

Any advice for our brothers and sisters on the bench?

Do we need a good Allen charge for this situation?  

Members of the Judiciary: I'm going to ask that you continue your deliberations in an effort to agree on a magistrate judge. And I have a few additional comments I’d like for you to consider as you do so. Remember at all times that no district judge is expected to give up an honest belief about the merits of an applicant. But after fully considering the interviews and application, you must agree upon a magistrate judge if you can. You should not be hurried in your deliberations and should take all the time you feel is necessary. I now ask that you retire once again and continue your deliberations with these additional comments in mind. Apply them in conjunction with all the other instructions I have previously given to you.

*I have heard conflicting stories about whether the tie is 8-8 between two candidates of 5-5-5 (with one judge not voting) for three candidates.  Because I can't get confirmation on the vote, I am not posting the names just yet.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

What will trial penalty be in Varsity Blues case?

I'm sure you saw by now that the two Varsity Blues defendants who went to trial were convicted.  Via the NY Times:
Two parents were found guilty in federal court in Boston on Friday for participating in a bribery scheme to have their children fraudulently admitted as athletic recruits to some of the most prestigious universities in the country.

Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a private equity financier, were the first people to stand trial in the federal investigation known as Operation Varsity Blues.

The investigation has snared more than 50 parents, coaches, exam administrators and others in an admissions scheme that implicated college athletic programs at the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown. Many other wealthy parents, including some celebrities, have pleaded guilty rather than take their chances in court.

Mr. Abdelaziz, 64, was accused of paying $300,000 in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to U.S.C. as a top-ranked basketball recruit even though she did not make the varsity team in high school. Mr. Wilson, 62, was accused of paying $220,000 in 2014 to have his son admitted as a water polo recruit at U.S.C. His son did play water polo, but prosecutors said he was not good enough to compete at the university.

Mr. Wilson was also accused of agreeing to pay $1.5 million in 2018 to have his twin daughters, who were good students, admitted to Harvard and Stanford as recruited athletes.

“What they did was an affront to hard-working students and parents,” Nathaniel R. Mendell, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a news conference after the verdict. “But the verdict today proves that even these defendants, powerful and privileged people, are not above the law.”

This was always going to be a really hard sell to a jury, but the appeal will be fascinating because it's not altogether clear that this is an actual federal fraud crime.  Another interesting part of the case is that the government did not call its "star witness," Rick Singer, who made the tape recordings of all of the parents.  

Sentencing will also be worth watching.  DOJ has tracked every Varsity Blues case, and the highest sentence so far is 9 months and the highest sentence requested by the government has been 18 months.  Where will these two defendants end up just because they had the gall to go to trial?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  I have the over-under at 24 months. 

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Waiting for a U.S. Attorney...

 ...while other districts get theirs.

Here's a NY Times article about Damian Williams, the first Black U.S. Attorney for the SDNY.

One night in December 2018, two dozen lawyers and judges gathered at a fashionable restaurant in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood to welcome a new member, Damian Williams, into their distinguished fold.

Each had once been a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, running a special unit in the U. S. attorney’s office that investigated fraud on Wall Street. It was a job barely known to the public. But among New York’s corporate and legal elite, it was a position of power and influence, often shared by co-chiefs.

Mr. Williams was the latest appointee. That night, amid jocular toasts and ribbing, Judge Jed S. Rakoff read a whimsical poem in honor of Mr. Williams, gently mocking his self-effacing nature with an out-of-character boast:

“I’m now co-chief — my name is Damian,” the judge began. “Things will never be the same again.”

The judge was only teasing, but in one sense he got it right.

On Tuesday, Mr. Williams, 41, was confirmed by the Senate to be the next United States attorney for the Southern District of New York — a position whose occupants have included future judges, senators, cabinet members and a New York City mayor. The appointment would make Mr. Williams the most powerful federal law enforcement official in Manhattan and, significantly, the first Black person to lead the storied 232-year-old office.


“Beyond his extraordinary qualifications, Damian is the right person at this time in history to be the U.S. attorney for Manhattan,” said Theodore V. Wells Jr., a Black partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss and one of the nation’s most prominent litigators.

“It’s important for both Blacks and whites to see a person of African-American descent — especially in this time where there’s so much social unrest — in that top job,” Mr. Wells said.

David E. Patton, the city’s federal public defender, said Mr. Williams now has the opportunity to institute key reforms in the way his prosecutors charge cases, like embracing President Biden’s campaign pledge to end mandatory minimum sentences.

“This is a core issue he can tackle,” Mr. Patton said.

Another issue Mr. Williams will confront is diversity in his office: Of its 232 assistant U.S. attorneys and executives, only seven — including himself — are African American.



Tuesday, October 05, 2021

If I told you that a pro se defendant beat back a temporary injunction request against 4 DOJ lawyers....

 ...and gave you only one guess who the pro se defendant was, who would you guess?

Yup, you got it -- Fane Lozman.  The same Fane Lozman who has won twice in the Supreme Court.  

The PBP covers his most recent case, before Judge Middlebrooks -- who patiently presided over a 5-hour hearing:

Longtime Riviera Beach gadfly Fane Lozman this week towed his 20-foot-long floating home away from the banks of Singer Island to comply with a state court order saying that its bottom was damaging environmentally sensitive seagrasses that are protected by Florida law.

On Friday, federal officials told U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks that Lozman is now running afoul of federal rules.

The floating container home, anchored in a cove south of John D. McArthur Beach State Park, poses a hazard to marine navigation and should be removed from the water immediately, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice said during a five-hour court hearing.

The dueling lawsuits — one filed against Lozman by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Palm Beach County Circuit Court and the other by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court — has put the former U.S. Marine and self-made millionaire in an untenable position, Middlebrooks said.

“Mr. Lozman is caught between state and federal regulatory agencies,” he said.

Further, Middlebrooks said, it appears Lozman may be the victim of selective enforcement.

The Army Corps cited Lozman for last year anchoring his 910-square-foot container home on submerged land he owns off Singer Island. Yet, Middlebrooks noted, it has done nothing to force the removal of a partially submerged rusted barge that has been in the Lake Worth Lagoon for at least four years and appears to pose a far greater risk to boaters.

“I realize that there’s a fair amount of regulatory discretion that the Corps has,” Middlebrooks said. “But seeing that barge and that metal and comparing it to what Mr. Lozman has, well, there’s no comparison.”

Further, he said, living on the Intracoastal Waterway, he is no stranger to local waters.

“Going down the Intracoastal Waterway, I’ve seen more structures that pose more harm than Mr. Lozman’s stripped-down container home,” he said.

In other SDFLA news, Judge Kathy Williams presided over a civil trial last week.  The plaintiff, represented by Mark Schweikert, won $6 million against the Miami-Dade School Board.  From the Herald:

A federal jury has ordered the Miami-Dade School Board to pay $6 million to a former student of an ex-Palmetto High teacher accused of harassing and sexually abusing a string of female students. In a verdict late Friday, jurors concluded the school district, despite multiple warnings, did nothing to stop Jason Edward Meyers, a creative writing teacher. 

The verdict found Meyers “posed a substantial risk of sexual abuse or harassment to female students,” yet the district was “deliberately indifferent” in how it handled the accusations. The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of an unidentified student in 2019. It was the second lawsuit filed in the Meyers saga — an earlier lawsuit from another former student settled for $1.1 million.

Jurors deliberated less than two hours in ruling in favor of the young woman, who was about 16 and 17 when she was groomed into having sex with Meyers on campus. Now 23, the woman testified during last week’s trial, as did several other victims. “She was one who was brave and courageous to be scrutinized in that way,” said her attorney, Mark Schweikert. “To win it in the eyes of the jurors — members of this community — is incredibly cathartic for her and for myself as her advocate.”
Meyers, 46, is still awaiting trial in Miami-Dade criminal court in a case involving the same victim from last week’s trial — she will have to testify again. To the frustration of his victims, the criminal trial has been pending for more than five years, because Meyers changed attorneys — and then because of the pandemic. He’s awaiting trial on three felony counts of engaging in sex with a minor. 

Meyers was not named in the federal lawsuit. “No one was interested in hearing his side of the story in that civil case,” said his criminal defense attorney, Bradley Horenstein. “Jason Meyers is innocent. Looking forward to our day in court.” 

The Miami-Dade school district, in a statement on Monday, did not say whether it will appeal.