The SDFLA Blog is dedicated to providing news and notes regarding federal practice in the Southern District of Florida. The New Times calls the blog "the definitive source on South Florida's federal court system." All tips on court happenings are welcome and will remain anonymous. Please email David Markus at email@example.com
Monday, December 27, 2010
Is anyone working this week?
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
"Zee Zee" cleared by Magistrate Judge Johnson
[Judge] Johnson said the evidence was not sufficient to show that Zachariah "would be willing to jeopardize his reputation and his career and put his family in harm’s way all for the opportunity to make what was an insignificant profit to him in light of his means at the time."
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra adopted Johnson’s findings on Monday, issuing a final judgment in Zachariah’s favor.
Zachariah’s attorney, Curtis Miner, a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, said Johnson’s decision is "a pretty stinging rebuke of the government’s case. She said the government’s argument strained credulity."
In a statement, Zachariah said: "I have great faith in our justice system, and I always knew I would be fully vindicated. The government put me through a long ordeal, but I am very happy to turn 100 percent of my attention back to my medical practice. "
Zachariah practices at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale.
Zachariah’s bench trial in front of Johnson lasted nine days over two months this fall.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Awesome new blog
It's called Law and the Multiverse Blog, and the NY Times featured it today:
Is Superman’s heat vision a weapon? If so, would the Second Amendment protect his right to melt pistols and cook hamburgers with it?
You might not have thought to ask these questions. You might have, in other words, a life. But a new blog and the interest it is generating show that there are people who look at an epic battle between superheroes and super-villains and really, really want to know who should be found liable for the broken buildings and shattered streets.
Those people now have a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, supervillains, and the law. Kicked off on Nov. 30, it addresses questions like: “What if someone is convicted for murder, and then the victim comes back to life?” And whether mutants are a legally recognizable class entitled to constitutional protection from discrimination.
Law and the Multiverse is the deadpan creation of two lawyers, James Daily, in Missouri, and Ryan Davidson in Indiana. Both are 28; they have only met online but collaborate like old friends.
Mr. Daily said the inspiration for the blog came, as so many great ideas do, over dinner with his wife and friends. They began discussing whether the parallel-dimension versions of a super-villain could somehow be brought to justice in a single trial. Alcohol, he insisted, was not involved. Once he discussed his plans for the blog on Metafilter, a collaborative site where people hash out projects, Mr. Davidson got in touch to offer his ideas and support — or, as he put it: “Hey, this looks awesome! Do you want a collaborator?”
Love it. I like these questions:
Other topics include the admissibility of evidence obtained through mind reading by Professor X of the X-men and whether the RICO Act could be effectively used by prosecutors against the Legion of Doom.
The answers are dry, technical and funny in their earnestness. The Second Amendment, Mr. Daily suggested, would protect many powers, but “at least some superpowers would qualify as dangerous or unusual weapons (e.g., Cyclops’ optic blasts, Havok’s plasma blasts)” that are “well beyond the power of weapons allowed even by permit.” Those super-duper powers would be tightly regulated, if not banned outright.
Then there’s this jurisprudential nugget: When Batman, the DC Comics hero, nabs crooks, is the evidence gathered against the bad guys admissible in court? Not if he is working so closely with Commissioner Gordon that his feats fall under the “state actor” doctrine, in which a person is deemed to be acting on behalf of government and thus is subject to the restrictions on government power. In fact, he might be courting a lawsuit claiming violations of civil rights from those who were nabbed.
“Either all of the criminals in Gotham have incompetent attorneys, the state action doctrine in the DC universe is weaker than it is in the real world, or Gordon has actually managed to keep his reliance on Batman a secret,” Mr. Daily wrote. “I’m going to opt for the second explanation.”
Friday, December 17, 2010
1. Uncle Luke (represented by Richard Brodsky) won before Judge Cooke.
2. Steve Binhak won a criminal environmental trial before Judge Gonzalez. From the PBP:
"It should send a shiver down your spine," Binhak told jurors. "Water seeping underground is connected all over the world. That means your backyard is connected to Florida Bay and the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge. Think about that the next time you cut your lawn."
3. Eddie O'Donnell Jr. and Bill Roppolo won a criminal tax trial before Judge Martinez.
Holiday time is a good time to try cases...
Have a nice weekend.
Update-- one other verdict from Friday: Paul Calli and Mike Pasano got a hung jury before Judge Hurley in a business opportunities case.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Acquitted Lyglenson Lemorin to be deported?
This is really an outrage.
The fight is still going on, but it's not looking so good for Lemorin. From the Herald:
Lyglenson Lemorin was acquitted of all charges in the Liberty City Seven terrorism trial three years ago. But he soon faces deportation to earthquake-ravaged Haiti by immigration authorities who still consider him a terrorist sympathizer and threat to national security.
Lemorin's lawyer on Wednesday filed an emergency petition to stop the legal American resident's removal from the United States. The odds are stacked against him, however, because the federal appeals court reviewing his case rarely grants such relief.
``It's a complete tragedy, a complete disregard for human life,'' said Lemorin's immigration attorney, Charles Kuck. ``Haiti is still an unmitigated disaster.''
In court filings, Justice Department lawyers responded that they oppose the emergency petition, saying only that Lemorin won't be deported before Jan. 12.
Haitian-born Lemorin, 35, grew up in Miami. He has been jailed in Georgia, Florida and now Louisiana and could be deported as soon as January. That's when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resumes deportations of Haitian nationals convicted of crimes in this country. Although Lemorin has no conviction, he is being lumped together with those who do, his lawyer said.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Feds arrest in case where only .01% chance of getting caught
A former banker at Switzerland's UBS AG has been charged with tax fraud conspiracy for allegedly helping a wealthy U.S. client hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service.
Banker Renzo Gadola was named in the charging document filed Tuesday in Miami federal court. The document claims that Gadola and an unnamed second Swiss banker helped an unidentified Mississippi man hide an account at UBS and open another secret account at a second Swiss bank.
Gadola worked at UBS for 13 years, then in early 2009 began working as an independent investment adviser.
Prosecutors say Gadola and the other banker tried to prevent the client from disclosing his secret accounts to the IRS. During a November meeting at a Miami hotel, according to court documents, Gadola told the client the likelihood that his new accounts would be discovered was "practically zero percent."
"You have no link to UBS whatsoever, so 99.9 percent you have nothing to worry about," Gadola told the client, according to court documents.
Speaking of other things that happen only .01% of the time, a federal appellate court today ruled in favor of a criminal defendant in a Fourth Amendment case. And it was a biggie. Orin Kerr from Volokh has all the details of United States v. Warshak from the 6th Circuit, where the court held that email is protected by the warrant clause of the 4th Amendment. That almost deserves an !. (Hat tip: JK).
Monday, December 13, 2010
I think Elaine's boss said it best:
Monday morning quick hits
2. I forgot to post the Obama pardon story from a couple weeks ago. He finally pardoned some humans but the list is really a joke. It includes Ronald Lee Foster of Beaver Falls, Pa., who was sentenced to a year of probation and a $20 fine for mutilating coins in 1963. Wow, thank goodness Obama was on top of that one... "The president was moved by the strength of the applicants' post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.
3. No more crush videos: President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a bill that outlaws the creation and distribution of so-called animal crush videos -- culminating a remarkably quick response to a Supreme Court decision handed down less than eight months ago.
It was April 20 when the Court, in United States v. Stevens, struck down an earlier federal law that banned a more broadly defined category of depictions of animal cruelty. The Court found that law to be "substantially overbroad" and therefore unconstitutional under the First Amendment, because it could apply to hunting and fishing videos and other legitimate depictions.
The new law, passed with bipartisan support after hearings in recent months, focuses more narrowly on "obscene" animal crush videos in which animals are crushed or burned or otherwise mutilated. The definition ties the offense to obscenity -- which is not protected by the First Amendment -- by noting that the videos appeal to a particular sexual fetish.
Friday, December 10, 2010
“California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
This case is a travesty. It underscores the central pitfall of capital punishment: no system is fail-safe. How can we be about to execute a man when even some of America’s leading judges believe he has been framed?
Lanny Davis, who was the White House counsel for President Bill Clinton, is representing Mr. Cooper pro bono. He laments: “The media and the bar have gone deaf and silent on Kevin Cooper. My simple theory: heinous brutal murder of white family and black convict. Simple as that.”
That’s a disgrace that threatens not only the life of one man, but the honor of our judicial system. Governor Schwarzenegger, are you listening?
Thursday, December 09, 2010
That's "a pretty sorry state of affairs with respect to what goes on in the statehouse."
From the AP:
A politically connected eye doctor and prominent fundraiser pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting he filed false tax returns, lied to FBI agents and diverted tens of thousands of dollars in contributions for his own use.
During a plea hearing, Dr. Alan Mendelsohn said he got caught up in a Tallahassee pay-to-play system in which politicians reward those who funnel money to the right places and punish people who refuse.
Mendelsohn, who lobbied legislators on various health issues, told U.S. District Judge William Zloch of one instance in which he paid $82,000 to an associate of former state Sen. Mandy Dawson, a Democrat who had demanded repeatedly that Mendelsohn "hire" the aide.
"Otherwise, we had the great fear of being retaliated against legislatively," Mendelsohn told the judge, adding that such practices are common in state government.
Zloch responded that it was "a pretty sorry state of affairs with respect to what goes on in the statehouse."
In other news, Rumpole is covering the very sad story of Judge Robert Pineiro's death. The comments on the blog about him are lovely and I wish his family well during this terrible time.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Judge Cooke's annual holiday party
Fun with the new SDFLA website
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
What you see is what you get.
Mr. Ditullio’s lawyer successfully argued that the tattoos could be distracting or prejudicial to the jurors, who under the law are supposed to consider only the facts presented to them. The case shows some of the challenges lawyers face when trying to get clients ready for trial — whether that means hitting the consignment shop for decent clothes for an impoverished client or telling wealthy clients to leave the bling at home.
“It’s easier to give someone who looks like you a fair shake,” said Bjorn E. Brunvand, Mr. Ditullio’s lawyer.
The court approved the judicial equivalent of an extreme makeover, paying $125 a day for the services of a cosmetologist to cover up the tattoos that Mr. Ditullio has gotten since his arrest. This is Mr. Ditullio’s second trial for the murder; the first, which also involved the services of a cosmetologist, ended last year in a mistrial. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
“There’s no doubt in my mind — without the makeup being used, there’s no way a jury could look at John and judge him fairly,” Mr. Brunvand said in an interview in his office here. “It’s too frightening when you see him with the tattoos. It’s a scary picture.”
The first stage is a reddish layer to obscure the greenish tinge of the ink — “You cover a color with a color,” she explained. Then comes Dermablend, a cosmetic aid that smoothes and obscures and is used to cover scars and pigmentation disorders like vitiligo. A flesh-toned layer is then sprayed on with an air gun, and finally, to avoid the porcelain-doll look that comes from an even-hued coat, a final color touchup intended to, as theatrical makeup artists say, “put blood back in.”
The cosmetologist asked that she not be identified by her full name out of fear of reprisal and lost business. “We mostly do weddings,” she said.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Cameras in the 9th Circuit
Forget the latest episode of "House." The big TV event on Monday, at least in California, will be the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on Proposition 8, airing on C-SPAN. A panel of two appellate judges known to have liberal leanings and one with a more conservative reputation will consider the state's ban on same-sex marriage, passed by voters in 2008 but tossed out by a federal judge earlier this year.
We agree with U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling that found the proposition unconstitutional, and with his finding that gay men and lesbians have historically been targets of discrimination. As such, they are entitled to the highest level of protection from the courts under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against new laws that seek to strip them of their rights — including the right to marry. We also agree that there was no rational basis for Proposition 8. During the trial, even opponents of gay marriage were unable to articulate any ways in which such marriages would harm those of heterosexual couples, one of the contentions made by the defense. The defense's other claims — that heterosexual couples make better parents and that the purpose of marriage is responsible procreation — also fell apart under the lightest of scrutiny.
Friday, December 03, 2010
Another Mortgage Fraud NG verdict
More of these cases need to go to trial.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Tom Meeks receives Court's "Unsung Hero" award
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Congrats to the 3 who made the cut
Interesting facts: all three are judges, two state and one federal magistrate. Bagley and Scola were finalists for the last seat as well. Kathy Williams is still waiting to be confirmed for that seat...
UPDATE-- Kendall Coffey sent this email late last night to the 16 applicants:
On behalf of the Southern District Conference of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, I want to express our appreciation for the time you spent with us during your interview today. You are to be commended for your impressive presentation and qualifications as well as for your service to the public and to our profession. Because of the high quality of the applicants, these were truly difficult decisions. As a result of the deliberations that followed the interviews, the District Conference members have selected the following finalists whose names will be forwarded to Senator Nelson and Senator LeMieux in accordance with Rule 27 of the Florida Federal JNC Rules of Procedure:
John J. O’Sullivan
Robert N. Scola, Jr.
Again, we are grateful for the opportunity to have met with you and truly appreciate your participation in this important process.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Good luck to the applicants for Judge Huck's seat
Monday, November 29, 2010
Justice Stevens weekend
In 1976, just six months after he joined the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens voted to reinstate capital punishment after a four-year moratorium. With the right procedures, he wrote, it is possible to ensure “evenhanded, rational and consistent imposition of death sentences under law.”
In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.
But the reason for that change of heart, after more than three decades on the court and some 1,100 executions, has in many ways remained a mystery, and now Justice Stevens has provided an explanation.
In a detailed, candid and critical essay to be published this week in The New York Review of Books, he wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria.
The essay is remarkable in itself. But it is also a sign that at 90, Justice Stevens is intent on speaking his mind on issues that may have been off limits while he was on the court.
The whole review by Justice Stevens is worth a read.
Stevens was also on 60 Minutes:
It's amazing to watch him -- he still seems young and vibrant. I didn't know that his father was convicted and that an appellate court reversed the conviction. He discusses how that impacted him as a kid and as a judge. He also was at the game where Babe Ruth called the shot, and he talks about that as well. Great stuff.
UPDATE -- Rumpole has more on the Stevens interview here.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving pardons?
In any event, happy turkey day to you all. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
This kid's life has been ruined by these charges. I think those of us involved in the criminal justice system sometimes forget how much the fact of being charged really affects someone's life. The prosecutors ended up doing the right thing, but now what? How does Tyler Weinman get his life back? He was in high school when he got charged...
Here's the Herald article:
Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped their case against accused serial cat killer Tyler Weinman after two scientific experts determined that an animal, not the teen, was to blame for a string of grisly feline mutilations in South Miami-Dade last year.
That means Tyler Weinman, 19, is now a free man.
``Our job is to seek the truth and the truth is that this was done by an animal predator, not by a human being,'' Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said Wednesday.
Police and prosecutors -- who initially relied on the opinions of Miami-Dade's Animal Services department -- built a circumstantial and highly publicized case in the mutilations that terrorized pet owners across the upscale cities of Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay.
Weinman was initially accused of slaying 19 cats in South Miami-Dade, was faced a slew of burglary and cruelty to animal felonies.
``I'm so happy right now,'' said defense attorney David Macey. ``Vindication. I'm thrilled. And Tyler is elated that justice has prevailed.''
No DNA linked Weinman to eight preserved animal carcasses and finally, a defense forensic veterinarian concluded that an animal was to blame for the killings. Two state experts agreed.
``They peeled back underneath the skin and found puncture wounds and that was the end of the case,'' Fernández Rundle said. ``This is a classic case of scientific evidence trumping a circumstantial case.''
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Kimba Wood is cool
Courtesy of the WSJ Law Blog:
The Manhattan lawyer recently asked New York federal judge Kimba Wood to grant him a day’s reprieve in a criminal trial to attend the bris of his grandson. Epstein’s daughter has not yet given birth — so he doesn’t yet know the sex of the baby. But Epstein wanted to give Judge Wood ample notice to consider his request, given that his daughter’s due date is Dec. 3, smack in the middle of the scheduled trial.
So Epstein was stuck in the slightly awkward position of asking Judge Wood for a day off if, in fact, the baby turns out to be a boy. If it’s a girl, well, no bris, no day off needed.
Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public
celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal
this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” . . . However, should the baby
be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and family will arrive . . . for
the joyous celebration . . . known as the bris. . . . My presence at the bris is
not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those
Judge Wood, in a note written at the bottom of the letter, granted the request. But she did Epstein one better. Wrote Wood:
Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that
a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is
born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry
celebrating girls and women.
Federal JNC to interview all 16 applicants (updated)
UPDATE -- Confirmed. See here. The 16 interviews start and end with Magistrates (Seltzer & O'Sullivan). Only a 40 minute lunch!
One commenter told me: "There are more JNC members than applicants!"
Monday, November 22, 2010
Unlike Justice Breyer, Justice Scalia is a techie
By this point, the conversation started to shift into the home stretch, so Jan Crawford turned to fun stuff and lighter fare. She asked Justice Scalia: Do you have an iPod?
One might have expected Scalia, whose jurisprudence often involves traveling back in time to when particular constitutional provisions were enacted, to declare that he listens to all his music on a Victrola — but no. As it turns out, he does have an iPod!
This response seemed to catch Crawford by surprise. She asked him if he uploads the music himself; he said that he does, and that his playlist consists mostly of classical music and opera.
(It’s amusing to imagine Justice Scalia, one of the greatest legal minds in our nation, loading up his own iPod like a mere mortal. Couldn’t he ask a staffer to do it, or maybe one of his many grandchildren? But then again, if Justice Elena Kagan can fetch her own pizza, then Justice Scalia can load his own iPod.)
As it turns out, Scalia is more tech-savvy than one might have expected from a 74-year-old. He composes his opinions on a computer (unlike Chief Justice Roberts, who writes in longhand). In fact, said Scalia, “I can hardly write in longhand anymore” — which he’s reminded of whenever he has to write a handwritten condolence note.
When he has to take materials home for work, he uses a thumb drive, or accesses the Court computer system remotely. And perhaps most excitingly, as I previously reported on Twitter, Scalia has an iPad! He uses it for working at home; staff members load the parties’ briefs on to it.
I wonder whether the SDFLA judges are more like Breyer or Scalia. I know many of them email from their phones (I actually saw one judge recently in her car emailing as she was driving), but do they Facebook, Twitter, read the blogs, etc?
There's lots more fun stuff at ABT on Scalia, so go check it out.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wesley Snipes surrenders
The judge said it was time: "The defendant Snipes had a fair trial; he has had a full, fair and thorough review of his conviction and sentence. ... The time has come for the judgment to be enforced," the judge wrote in his 16-page decision.
From Bop.gov: 1. WESLEY TRENT SNIPES 43355-018 48-Black-M UNKNOWN IN TRANSIT
According to SCOTUSBlog:
The Ninth Circuit Court agreed on Wednesday to allow live and delayed broadcasting of the Dec. 6 oral argument on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 — California’s ban on same-sex marriage. In a brief order, the Court cleared live broadcasting by C-SPAN, the cable network. It also gave permission to a San Francisco station, KGO-TV, an ABC affiliate, to provide coverage.
It's something at least. HT: BL
Judge Camp is going to plead guilty today. I'll post the plea agreement as soon as it's public. The Times Herald reports:
Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Camp is scheduled to enter a plea of guilty today in federal court on two misdemeanor counts and one count of aiding and abetting another’s drug possession, according to Newnan attorney Michael Kam, one of the attorneys representing Camp.
What do you think is a fair sentence?
Thursday, November 18, 2010
"It's quite clear, we don't have a Facebook page."
If I'm applying the First Amendment, I have to apply it to a world where there's an Internet, and there's Facebook, and there are movies like ... 'The Social Network,' which I couldn't even understand," he said.
It doesn't get better:
Although Breyer was making a point about judicial philosophy, he also touched on the court's sometimes limited grasp of technological developments. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts in a public employee privacy case before the court earlier this year tried to figure out the role of a text-messaging service in enabling an exchange between two people.
"I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the other thing," Roberts said. Responded Justice Antonin Scalia: "You mean it doesn't go right to the other thing?"
And in a recent case dealing with a California law regulating the sale or rental of violent video games to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy pressed a skeptical state lawyer on whether the v-chip blocking device, rather than a state law, could be used to keep children away from the games.
"V-chips won't work?" Kennedy asked, before the lawyer politely explained they are limited to television programming.
I do agree with Breyer here:
Breyer said he disagrees with those who argue that originalism is "a good system because it will keep the subjective impulses of the judge under control."
"If you want to have history solve everything, let's get nine historians and not nine judges," Breyer said. "And you'll discover that the nine historians are fighting about the various points on which these cases turn anyway."
Adam Liptak from the NY Times has an interesting article today about how vague Supreme Court opinions are and how lower courts are struggling trying to figure them out. Here's a passage from the article dealing with the text messaging case:
In the privacy case that infuriated Justice Scalia and mystified Judge Hull, City of Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court ruled that a California police department had not violated the constitutional privacy rights of a member of a SWAT team when it audited the text messages on a pager the city had issued him.
Justice Kennedy took the unusual step of accepting three important points in the case only for the sake of argument, and he spent much of his opinion explaining that the court had taken pains to decide as little as possible.
“Cellphone and text message communications are so pervasive that some persons may consider them to be essential means or necessary instruments for self-expression, even self-identification,” Justice Kennedy went on. “On the other hand, the ubiquity of those devices has made them generally affordable, so one could counter that employees who need cellphones or similar devices for personal matters can purchase and pay for their own.”
Given that, he said, the case should be decided on grounds so narrow that the decision would have almost no precedential effect. “The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear,” he wrote.
In his concurrence, Justice Scalia decried this approach.
“Applying the Fourth Amendment to new technologies may sometimes be difficult, but when it is necessary to decide a case, we have no choice,” he wrote. “The-times-they-are-a-changin’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty.”
Many scholars say there is an important place in Supreme Court jurisprudence for incremental rulings, purposeful ambiguity and the delegation of discretion to lower court judges.
“If the goal is to clear up any conflict in the lower court opinions, then you may want a clearer opinion,” Professor Spriggs said. “But a real bright line may create some injustices in the system.”
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
We're # 2!!
I actually like the new D terminal, despite the really long walks. The train 3 floors up isn't really convenient. But at least there are some restaurants along the way.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Howard Stern & Billy Joel
Okay, one more:
Monday, November 15, 2010
Monday morning quick hits
-- The NY Times covers Miami cyber-criminal Albert Gonzalez in a lengthy article. It's a fascinating piece about how Gonzalez fell back into a life of crime after cooperating with the feds. He explains that he would have been better off just serving his time instead of snitching in the first place.
-- Does anyone really think that we should still have judicial elections? This is ridiculous.
-- First opinions of the Term come out today. Check out ScotusBlog around 10am.
-- Judge Cooke won't be in trial this week. She's in Atlanta sitting as a visiting judge on the 11th Circuit.
UPDATE -- the Supreme Court decided one case, Abbott v. United States, No. 09-479, holding that Section 924(c) and does not preclude the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences for different counts of conviction.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Who's the most at blame here?
Here’s what happened in the middle of a trial of parents for killing their child through child abuse (felony murder under Georgia law):
[T]he prosecutor, in the final moments of her concluding argument on behalf of
the State, “clicked” her fingers at which signal one of the deputies in the
courtroom turned out the lights and an associate prosecutor “popped out a cake
out of a grocery bag” complete with eight candles, which were then lit with a
lighter brought into the courtroom; the prosecutor and her associate then
proceeded to sing to “dear Josef,” i.e., the deceased victim, the celebratory
words to “Happy Birthday.”
The dissent (in Smith v. State, decided Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court) argued that this was prosecutorial misconduct that required reversing the convictions, even though the defense lawyer did not object:
There was no legitimate reason for what the prosecutor did. It was neither
argument nor rebuttal, because there is nothing at all in the record about
birthdays and birthday cakes to raise even the slightest possibility that the
prosecutor was drawing a reasonable inference from the evidence presented or the arguments made by defense counsel. To the contrary, the evidence established that the victim’s family followed an austere lifestyle, including dietary
restrictions, that eliminated the possibility of the victim experiencing the
type of birthday event dramatized by the prosecutor. The prosecutor’s birthday
production was not meant to be argument or rebuttal: it was a theatrical stunt
spun out of pure fantasy. Its sole purpose was to prejudice the rights of
appellants before the jury in an impermissible attempt to invoke the jury’s
passions and divert the jury from the evidence. It offended the dignity and
decorum of the court and violated every precept of professionalism and fair
play. Yet the trial court did absolutely nothing. The event played itself out
without the trial judge performing his duty to maintain decorum in the
courtroom. Moreover, after observing this “‘preposterous’” performance, the
trial court took no steps of any kind to minimize the prejudice. There was no
rebuke to counsel; there was no direction to the jury to ignore the spectacle
they had just witnessed; there was no charge to the jury that sympathy for the
victim was to play no role in their verdict.
[Footnote: I am giving the prosecutor the benefit of the doubt by concluding that her motive for pulling this stunt was simply to evoke sympathy for the victim in an unprofessional attempt to obtain guilty verdicts at any cost, as this motive is less offensive than the other possible motive raised by this case, i.e., that she was
deliberately pandering to the television audience observing the proceedings on
Court TV. See defense counsel’s testimony at the hearing on appellants’ motion
for new trial (“I understand the cameras were rolling and everybody wants to be
Nancy Grace’s friend”).]
The majority agreed the prosecutor’s behavior was improper, but concluded that the defense lawyer’s decision not to object was a strategic judgment, and therefore not grounds for reversal. (“Arora testified at the motion for new trial hearing that he made a strategic decision not to object to the ‘Happy Birthday’ song during closing argument. Specifically, Arora thought that the ‘Happy Brithday’ song was so ‘preposterous,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘over the top’ that ‘it would turn the jurors off,’ and that he should not call any more attention to it by objecting to it.”)
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
16 Applicants for Judge Huck's seat
Ana Marie Martinez
Caroline Heck Miller
I'm struck by the very low number of applicants. Looks like 8 state court judges applied and 3 federal magistrates. Only two private practitioners.
I'll have more soon.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
I'm sure the DOJ officials at this conference weren't staying in the forest though; they were probably staying at the Ritz. Kosher Meatball Blog (I still don't get the name) has more on this OIG report entitled "A Review of U.S. Attorney Travel that Exceeded the Government Lodging Rate." It's not pretty.
Monday, November 08, 2010
Miami Herald cites SDFLA and SFLawyers!
Within months, his bright future would take a dark turn: He and his friends were returning to the New Orleans campus one night when their car swerved to avoid another and slammed into a tree. Bustillo's spinal cord was severed, leaving him paralyzed.
Today, as he sits in a wheelchair in his corner office overlooking Biscayne Bay, Bustillo displays only optimism. A lawyer for more than 20 years, he is director of the Miami regional office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in charge of protecting investors in a region riddled with fraud, from old-fashioned boiler rooms to newfangled Ponzi schemes.
``I could have wallowed in my misfortune, or worked hard, educated myself and not let it become an obstacle,'' said Bustillo, 45, born in New Jersey to Cuban exile parents who moved the family around to Venezuela, Panama and other countries.
Friday, November 05, 2010
Looks like Ponch is going to have a few solo missions on the California Highway Patrol for awhile
Justice Stevens gave this cool speech -- and he uses trilogies too:
Today I plan to say a few words about memorials, mosques, and monuments. Like Lieutenant Ichikawa, who is being honored today, I served in the Pacific theater during World War II. The Empire of Japan was our principle enemy in that theatre. Lieutenant Ichikawa, like literally thousands of other patriotic Japanese Americans including residents of Hawai'i as well as residents of the Mainland -made a magnificent contribution to our war effort there.
In other news:
Gary Kravitz, Murray Greenberg, and Nathaniel Persily of Columbia Law School, along with the St. Thomas Law Review have put together a symposium next weekend (November 12-13, 2010) entitled Bush v. Gore: A DecadeLater. Panelists inclue Greenberg, Persily, Ben Ginsberg, Kendall Coffey, Ben Kuehne, Joe Klock, Jim Bopp, Justice Fred Lewis, Judge Nikki Clark, Jeff Erlich, Paul Hancock, Kim Tucker and an academic panel including Jim Gibson, Nelson Lund and Edward Foley.
This event will be held at St. Thomas and admission is free. The symposium has been approved for a maximum of 7 CLE credits.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
Friday, November 12, 2010
Welcoming Remarks 4:00-4:15 p.m.
The View from the Litigants 4:15-5:45 p.m.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Continental Breakfast 8:30-9:00 a.m.
The View from the Administrators 9:00-10:30 a.m.
The View from the Bench 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
The View from Academia 12:15-2:00 p.m.
Closing Remarks 2:00-2:15 p.m.
Registration is required prior to November 10, 2010. Please contact the Law Review Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (305) 623-2380.
St. Thomas Law Review
St. Thomas University School of Law
16401 NW 37th Avenue
Miami Gardens, FL 33054
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
"If Mr. Rothstein thinks setting up Mr. Settineri is going to get him a get-out-of-jail card, he's sadly mistaken.''
Defense attorney Jeffrey Weiner and federal prosecutors recommended that Settineri receive four years' imprisonment at his sentencing Wednesday morning in Fort Lauderdale.
The U.S. District Judge James Cohn called it a ``fair resolution.'' The maximum is five years.
In exchange for his guilty plea in August, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Stone dropped the original conspiracy charges, which carried up to 20 years in prison.
After Settineri's sentencing, Weiner said that his client could actually be released from prison in about two years. Settineri received credit for eight months of detention since his arrest in March. The judge also allowed him to enter a 500-hour alcohol abuse program in prison, which, if completed, would cut an additional year off his sentence.
Weiner said that while his client said nothing at his sentencing, Settineri took full responsibility and apologized for his wrongdoing in a court filing.
``His life was fine until he made this terrible mistake in judgment,'' Weiner said. ``He thought he was helping a friend in need. He's embarrassed about it.''
"Some of the Grimm’s fairy tales are quite grim." -- Justice Scalia during oral argument yesterday
Here's the NY Times article on the violent video game argument in the Supreme Court:
The law would impose $1,000 fines on stores that sell violent video games to people under 18. It defined violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in a way that is “patently offensive,” appeals to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
“What’s a deviant violent video game?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia, who was the law’s most vocal opponent on Tuesday. “As opposed to what? A normal violent video game?”
“Some of the Grimm’s fairy tales are quite grim,” he added. “Are you going to ban them, too?”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer took the other side. He said common sense should allow the government to help parents protect children from games that include depictions of “gratuitous, painful, excruciating, torturing violence upon small children and women.”
Scalia got the better of Alito in this exchange:
But Justice Scalia said there was nothing in the tradition of American free speech that would allow the government to ban depictions of violence. The thought, he said, would have been foreign to the drafters of the First Amendment, drawing a needling comment from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the lone dissenter in the Stevens case.
“What Justice Scalia wants to know,” Justice Alito said, “is what James Madison thought about video games.”
“No,” Justice Scalia responded, “I want to know what James Madison thought about violence.”
And they better not ban Mortal Kombat!
Justice Elena Kagan, the court’s newest and youngest member, seemed to be the only justice with even a passing familiarity with the genre under review, even if it was secondhand.
“You think Mortal Kombat is prohibited by this statute?” she asked Mr. Morazzini. It is, she added, “an iconic game which I am sure half the clerks who work for us spent considerable time in their adolescence playing.”
Mr. Morazzini said the game was “a candidate” for government regulation.
There was another big oral argument yesterday -- US v. Skilling:
A three-judge appeals court panel grilled attorneys for former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling and the government on Monday, trying to decide whether to throw out or order new trials on any of Skilling's 19 convictions.
His defense lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, argued the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that the government was wrong to use a particular legal theory in charging Skilling with conspiracy means that charge and the remaining 18 should be thrown out.
The government contends that a rational jury would have convicted even without the faulty theory that he deprived Enron of his "honest services," because evidence overwhelmingly supported Skilling's guilt.
But the hearing, in which each side had 30 minutes to provide oral arguments, was more about the judges' questions than the lawyers' answers.
Judge Edward Prado asked if it would make more sense for the federal district court where Skilling was tried in 2006 to decide the issues raised by the Supreme Court decision.
Determining if the "honest services" theory tainted the other charges would involve digging into the voluminous details of the five-month trial, Prado said.
Petrocelli said nothing would prevent the appeals court from sending the issue to the trial judge, but that the question is one of law.
"The court isn't being asked to act as a 13th juror," or guess what the original jury was thinking, Petrocelli said. Rather it needs to look at the court record and determine if a "reasonable jury" could find Skilling not guilty based on the evidence.
"The record is filled with acquittal evidence," Petrocelli said.
You can access the audio of yesterday's Fifth Circuit oral argument via this link (53.7MB Windows Media audio file). Why don't we have that in the 11th Circuit?
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Monday, November 01, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
“Public defenders are not defenders of the public. They are not serving the public good. They are taxpayer-funded attorneys for criminals."
21 See STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (Paramount Pictures 1982). The film references several works of classic literature, none more prominently than A Tale of Two Cities. Spock gives Admiral Kirk an antique copy as a birthday present, and the film itself is bookended with the book’s opening and closing passages. Most memorable, of course, is Spock’s famous line from his moment of sacrifice: “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” to which Kirk replies, “the needs of the few.”
By justice, he meant: "That Darrell can be present in San Francisco for Game 1 of the World Series while Cliff Lee wields his usual style of Post-Season justice to the hapless souls that are otherwise known as the Giants lineup," according to a footnote.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Must read sentencing order in Irey case
This matter comes before the Court on the Unopposed Motion for Continuance of Resentencing Hearing Pending Review in United States Supreme Court (Doc. 80). As the motion’s title suggests, the parties seek to have this Court delay its resentencing of the Defendant, William Irey (“Irey”), on the chance that the Supreme Court will grant his petition for writ of certiorari, due to be filed on October 27, 2010. As things now stand, this Court is obligated by the July 29, 2010 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (henceforth, the “July 29 Order”) to impose a 30-year sentence on Irey. Given that Irey is in the early stages of serving the 17-and-a-half-year sentence originally imposed by this court, there is no pressing need to impose the longer sentence — a fact apparently recognized by the Government, which does not oppose the motion. For these reasons, the motion will be granted, and the resentencing will be continued.
Under normal circumstances, that would be the end of the matter. But these are not normal circumstances. The July 29 Order raises a host of important issues, a fact recognized both by the Defendant in the instant motion and by the appellate court in the order itself. The pendency of the petition for a writ of certiorari provides the Court with a rare opportunity to respond to certain aspects of the appellate decision, prior to its possible review by the Supreme Court, with information that only the undersigned possesses. In addition, the July 29 Order has certain implications that affect the courts that are tasked with the imposition of criminal sentences — implications that might not be apparent to the parties themselves. The Court believes that a discussion of these points may assist the Supreme Court in determining whether the petition ought to be granted.
It is for these reasons, and not out of any disrespect for the Circuit Court’s authority to reverse the sentence I imposed, that I will take this opportunity to respond to certain portions of the July 29 Order....
I normally conclude the sentencing process by coming back to a consideration of the need for the sentence imposed to promote respect for the law and to provide just punishment for the offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A). These are subjective factors that overlay the other statutory considerations. As I said at the sentencing, “I just do the best I can under the circumstances. It comes down to my view of what promotes respect for the law and provides just punishment. And here, as indicated, I think that a thirty year sentence . . . is greater than necessary to accomplish the statutory objectives.” (Tr. at 61).
The Circuit Court acknowledged that I properly calculated the guideline score, committed no procedural error, and gave thorough and thoughtful consideration to the statutory sentencing factors. Nevertheless, after demonizing Irey with over 100 references to uncharged conduct (child abuse), the Circuit Court either misconstrued or exaggerated my comments, or took them out of context, considered numerous facts and arguments never presented to me, and concluded that there were no mitigating circumstances to justify any sentence other than the 30-year guideline sentence.
This is an extraordinary and unprecedented result. The Circuit Court has effectively usurped my sentencing discretion and raised serious questions regarding Irey’s right to due process. I concede that the majority opinion has raised valid concerns about the reasonableness of the sentence I imposed. Were this case remanded to me for re-sentencing, I would take these concerns into account and exercise my discretion accordingly. But as it now stands, I will not be given that opportunity. Nor, it appears, will Irey be given the opportunity to confront the facts and arguments raised for the first time on appeal, which resulted in a 12 and a half year increase in his sentence.
In his separate opinion, Judge Tjoflat states that the majority opinion’s approach — i.e., resentencing defendants on appeal — does “immense and immeasurable institutional damage.” Irey III at 1267. In my opinion, it also undermines the basic tenets of sentencing law developed over the past five years, and opens a Pandora’s box of new sentencing issues. I regret that my sentencing of this defendant — including any errors I made in doing so — appears to have led to this result.
SDFLA launches new website
Make sure to look at it from your phone and your desktop as it has a mobile version.
After you take a look, then you can take this survey.
I think it's a big improvement.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Let's see what happened this weekend -- Scalia and Kagan go skeet shooting. Seriously:
According to two witnesses, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia took fellow Justice Elena Kagan out for a lesson in skeet shooting at his shooting club in Virginia last week.
The witnesses saw Scalia at the Fairfax Rod and Gun Club, where he is a member, around noon on Wednesday of last week. He was with a woman who was noticeably diminutive in height, like Kagan, who stands at about five feet three inches. The witnesses, who got a very close look at the pair, say that the woman was the newest Supreme Court Justice.
Scalia was bending down in order to teach Kagan how to hold the shotgun, the witnesses say, and the pair were shooting skeet.
Maureen Dowd on the Court: "Supremely Bad Judgment." The conclusion:
The 5-to-4 Citizens United decision last January gave corporations, foreign contributors, unions, Big Energy, Big Oil and superrich conservatives a green light to surreptitiously funnel in as much money as they want, whenever they want to elect or unelect candidates. As if that weren’t enough to breed corruption, Thomas was the only justice — in a rare case of detaching his hip from Antonin Scalia’s — to write a separate opinion calling for an end to donor disclosures.
In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court chose the Republican president. In Citizens United, the court may return Republicans to control of Congress. So much for conservatives’ professed disdain of judicial activism. And so much for the public’s long-held trust in the impartiality of the nation’s highest court.
Justice Stephen Breyer recently rejected the image of the high court as “nine junior varsity politicians.” But it’s even worse than that. The court has gone beyond mere politicization. Its liberals are moderate and reasonable, while the conservatives are dug in, guzzling Tea.
Thomas and Scalia have flouted ethics rules by attending seminars sponsored by Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate run by billionaire brothers that has donated more than $100 million to far-right causes.
Christine O’Donnell may not believe in the separation of church and state, but the Supreme Court does not believe in the separation of powers.
O.K., have a good day!
Friday, October 22, 2010
"Calling John Roberts"
Unlike the president’s State of the Union message, which is required by Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the annual report on the state of the judiciary is a modern tradition. It was begun just 40 years ago by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and carried on with enthusiasm by Chief Justice Rehnquist, who often used it for significant pronouncements on judicial policy.
Chief Justice Roberts has had a rather problematic relationship to the tradition during his five years in office. The focus of his first report, on Dec. 31, 2005, was judicial pay. Noting that federal judges’ earning power had eroded by 24 percent since 1969, he said that Congress’s failure to raise judicial salaries presented a “direct threat to judicial independence.” While in my view he was completely right on the merits of the issue, some members of Congress resented what they viewed as hyperbole from the new chief justice, and the public responded with a shrug. The much-deserved pay raise has yet to happen.
Then last year, Chief Justice Roberts went minimalist, so much so that it left many people scratching their heads. Here was his report, in full, minus the statistical appendix:
Tony Mauro, a longtime observer of the court, responded on The Blog of Legal Times, “Imagine if the president, instead of giving a full State of the Union address, sent a note to Congress telling the legislative branch that life is good, all is O.K., and let’s catch up next year.”
Chief Justice Warren Burger began the tradition of a yearly report on the federal judiciary in 1970, in remarks he presented to the American Bar Association. He instituted that practice to discuss the problems that federal courts face in administering justice. In the past few years, I have adhered to the tradition that Chief Justice Burger initiated and have provided my perspective on the most critical needs of the judiciary. Many of those needs remain to be addressed. This year, however, when the political branches are faced with so many difficult issues, and when so many of our fellow citizens have been touched by hardship, the public might welcome a year-end report limited to what is essential: The courts are operating soundly, and the nation’s dedicated federal judges are conscientiously discharging their duties. I am privileged and honored to be in a position to thank the judges and court staff throughout the land for their devoted service to the cause of justice.
Best wishes in the New Year.
I’m willing to assume that last year’s baffling report was the result of judicial modesty rather than an idea deficit. In any event, I look forward to waking up on New Year’s Day to this headline or its reasonable equivalent: “Senate Imperils Judicial System, Roberts Says.”
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Why aren't more judges speaking out against the guidelines?
A federal judge in Brooklyn has rebutted the criticism by a top Department of Justice official that many federal judges have "lost" their "moorings to the sentencing guidelines" in major fraud cases.
The attack on a "regime" of judges who impose fraud sentences "inconsistently and without regard to the federal sentencing guidelines" appeared in a letter sent in June by Jonathan J. Wroblewski, the director of the Office of Policy and Legislation to the chief of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge William K. Sessions III.
Last week, Eastern District Judge John Gleeson responded to Wroblewski's implication that, as Gleeson put it, fraud sentences "are inexplicably and unjustifiably all over the lot."
In a 16-page "statement of reasons" for a fraud sentence, Gleeson wrote that the discrepancies between guideline sentences and actual sentences is not evidence of the unmooring of judges, but rather indicative of the difficulty of capturing the nuances of a complex case in a list of guidelines.
The 539-page Sentencing Guidelines Manual is only one of eight factors that judges are statutorily required to consider at sentencing, Gleeson added.
He also noted that if judges had truly become unmoored from the guidelines, then prosecutors would appeal sentences more frequently -- only 18 of the 1,711 below-range fraud sentences issued last year were appealed.
"[I]n determining whether reforms are needed, and especially in determining whether the existing guideline should be burdened with even more adjustments, the Commission should examine whether our system already provides an adequate solution for the claimed 'unacceptable' outcomes the Department complains about," Gleeson wrote in United States v. Ovid, 09-CR-216. "I suggest that it does, in the form of appellate review, and for all of the handwringing in the DOJ Letter about unacceptable sentences, the Department for the most part has not even tried to avail itself of that solution."
Gleeson is no push over. He is a former federal prosecutor and the prosecutor who put away John Gotti. He's tough but he's known as fair and extremely smart. I'm hoping that, like Gleeson and others are doing, more and more judges will start to stand up to these draconian guidelines that have no relationship to the goals of sentencing.
Hat tip -- Sentencing Law and Policy
Domestic disputes resulting from marital infidelities and culminating in a thumb burn are appropriately handled by local law enforcement authorities.
The Tea Party’s favorite part of the Constitution — the 10th Amendment, which limits federal power — arrived at the Supreme Court last week. In keeping with the spirit of the times, it came wrapped in the plot of a soap opera.
The amendment has played a starring role in challenges to the recent federal health care legislation. But the justices have not made the task of divining their own views particularly easy.
Their most recent consideration of where Congress’s constitutional power ends came in a case involving the civil commitment of sex offenders.
Now the court has decided to consider what to do about a woman hellbent on poisoning her best friend.
The woman, Carol A. Bond of Lansdale, Pa., was at first delighted to learn that her friend was pregnant. Ms. Bond’s mood darkened, though, when it emerged that her husband was the father. “I am going to make your life a living hell,” she said, according to her now-former friend, Myrlinda Haynes.
Ms. Bond, a microbiologist, certainly tried. On about two dozen occasions, she spread lethal chemicals on her friend’s car, mailbox and doorknob.
Ms. Haynes, who managed to escape serious injury, complained to the local police. They did not respond with particular vigor. After checking to see whether the white powder on her car was cocaine, they advised her to have it cleaned.
Federal postal inspectors were more helpful. They videotaped Ms. Bond stealing mail and putting poison in the muffler of Ms. Haynes’s car.
When it came time to charge Ms. Bond with a crime, federal prosecutors chose a novel theory. They indicted her not only for stealing mail, an obvious federal offense, but also for using unconventional weapons in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, a treaty aimed at terrorists and rogue states.
Had she been prosecuted in state court, Ms. Bond would most likely have faced a sentence of three months to two years, her lawyers say. In federal court, she got six years.
Ms. Bond’s argument on appeal was that Congress did not have the constitutional power to use a chemical weapons treaty to address a matter of a sort routinely handled by state authorities.
She relied on the 10th Amendment, the one so beloved by Tea Party activists. It says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Now on to the First Amendment (via ATL). Go to the 2:20 mark... It's too good to pass up: