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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Another holiday NG
Getting to Not Guilty
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Paul Calli takes on the feds in DC
Monday, December 19, 2011
DBR's year in review
Other than the Rothstein depo, I think everything else is pretty much shut down for the next two weeks.
If anything is going on, email me!
Friday, December 16, 2011
Miami's new magistrate
Congrats to Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes, our newest magistrate. She was Judge Highsmith's career law clerk, from 1991-2002. She currently works at Legon Ponce & Fodiman. Excellent news during the holiday season!
UPDATE -- No jail time. 2 years house arrest.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Exploding federal criminal code
The federal criminal code has grown so large it ensnares everyday citizens who have no idea they are violating the law, a bipartisan group of legal experts told a House panel Tuesday.
There are about 4,500 criminal statutes, said Edwin Meese, attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and now with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "This is in addition to over 300,000 other regulations that don't appear in the federal code but nevertheless carry essentially criminal penalties including prison," he said. "So the vast array of traps for the unwary that lurks out there in federal criminal law is more extensive than most people realize." The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's panel on crime, terrorism and homeland security,and several panelists cited an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal, part of a yearlong series about the expansion of the federal criminal code and the erosion of "criminal intent" requirements. The article chronicled the conviction of one Maryland man for actions prosecutors said weren't intentional. It explained how Lawrence Lewis ended up with a federal criminal record while trying to deal with clogged toilets at a military retirement home in Washington, D.C.
"He was subject to the same law that [would apply to] somebody who knowingly, willingly dumped toxic materials into a navigable water," said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who has introduced a bill to shrink the federal criminal code by a third and to define the level of criminal intent necessary to break the law.
Monday, December 12, 2011
"The only way I cannot die in prison is to tell the truth."
“I first asked him a little bit about why we should believe him,” said attorney Charles Lichtman, with the Fort Lauderdale law firm Berger Singerman, which is representing the bankruptcy trustee seeking to recover millions of dollars for investors and creditors. “I think Scott came off as extremely credible,” Lichtman said. “It was a nonstop dialogue about all aspects of the scheme. I guarantee the public has not heard a fraction of what happened. He ties together everything in a logical way.” Fort Lauderdale attorney William Scherer, who is suing Rothstein and others in a parallel civil case, backed that assessment. “In my judgment, he’s telling the truth,” said Scherer, who is representing 25 investors who lost $160 million. “It’s much worse than I realized. I’m saddened by some of what I’m hearing about my profession and my town.” Scherer, Lichtman and other lawyers interviewed outside the federal courthouse were reluctant to reveal the names of potential co-conspirators fingered by Rothstein in his deposition. But they said he spread the blame beyond himself, to colleagues in his former 70-attorney law firm to employees at the firm’s one-time bank, Toronto Dominion.Let's bring in the criminal defense lawyer for some perspective here before we declare Rothstein the definition of truth: “It’s obvious to me there are people he’s going after and there are others he’s trying to protect,” said criminal defense attorney Sam Rabin, who is representing TD Bank vice president, Frank Spinosa. Spinosa dealt directly with Rothstein and is under criminal investigation.
Judge Trott from the Ninth Circuit has a good seminar on informants that he teaches to prosecutors. I wonder what he would say about Rothstein. This is a passage in which he tells prosecutors to commit to memory:
Criminals are likely to say and do almost anything to get what they want, especially when what they want is to get out of trouble with the law. This willingness to do anything includes not only truthfully spilling the beans on friends and relatives, but also lying, committing perjury, manufacturing evidence, soliciting others to corroborate their lies with more lies, and double-crossing anyone with whom they come into contact, including the prosecutor. A drug addict can sell out his mother to get a deal, and burglars, robbers, murders, and thieves are not far behind. Criminals are remarkably manipulative and skillfully devious. Many are outright conscienceless sociopaths to whom "truth" is a wholly meaningless concept. To some, "conning" people is a way of life. Others are just basically unstable people. A "reliable informant" one day may turn into a consummate prevaricator the next.
There's going to be a long line at the King building
Just obtaining permission for his deposition was an ordeal, requiring dispensation from U.S. District Judge James Cohn, who is presiding over the criminal case, and the U.S. attorney’s office, which has charged eight defendants including Rothstein so far and plans another major racketeering indictment. “Obtaining Rothstein’s deposition is critical in order for the trustee to fully investigate all matters related to the Ponzi scheme,” Fort Lauderdale lawyer Paul Singerman, whose firm is working for the trustee, wrote in court papers. The goal is to “learn facts about potential targets and existing defendants ... as well as to have a complete understanding of the assets and liabilities of RRA, and the various roles that insiders, creditors and other third parties had with respect to the Ponzi scheme and the events at [the law firm].”UPDATE -- why are people lining up at the King Building? They should be in Judge Cooke's courtroom -- RRA's computer guy is on the stand right now! (10:35am)
Friday, December 09, 2011
Judge Scola's investiture
It was really nice. Good speakers (including Pam Perry, John Hogan, Carl Kafka, Marilyn Milian, and John Thornton) who had heart-felt remarks about Judge Scola. A great addition to the federal bench.
The only downside -- I was hungry by the end of it.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Just in time for the holidays, the Supreme Court Historical Society today began selling a cookbook full of recipes by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's husband Martin, who died in June, 2010. Entitled "Chef Supreme," the book is also a fond tribute to Martin Ginsburg, a prominent tax lawyer and scholar in addition to his after-hours avocation as a chef and gourmand.
Martha-Ann Alito, the wife of Justice Samuel Alito Jr., spearheaded the cookbook effort on behalf of the other Supreme Court spouses, who got to know him at Court events including lunches organized by the spouses. The 126-page book was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society.
"Marty's gleeful smile, his mischievous wit, perfect manners and his adoring gaze of Justice Ruth enlivened every event we as spouses shared," Martha-Ann Alito wrote in an afterword to the book. "His benchmark warmth, culinary excellence and considerate birthday cakes remain goals to be attained by this most junior spouse. He lives on as an inspiration to me."
The recipes in the spiral-bound book range from gravlax to vitello tonnato, osso buco to chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and are set forth in careful detail. The recipe for the "perfect baguette" runs six pages, including color photographs.
You can buy the book here.
In other news, Blago gets 14 years. Appropriate sentence or too high?
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Cameras in the Supreme Court?
Speaking of the Supreme Court, it heard argument today on another confrontation clause case. Here's Tom Goldstein's summary of what the case is all about:
Tomorrow, the Justices will hear argument in Williams v. Illinois, the next in the line of cases involving the Court’s more defendant-friendly interpretation of the Confrontation Clause. The question is whether the Confrontation Clause is violated if an expert testifies about the results of testing conducted by a non-testifying third party, if the report itself is not introduced at trial.
Here, an expert testified about the results of a DNA test conducted by an analyst, but the DNA test was not admitted. The Supreme Court of Illinois held that there was no constitutional violation. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the lower courts over the Confrontation Clause’s application in these circumstances.
One could say with a fair degree of confidence that the five Justices who started the revolution in the Court’s Confrontation Clause jurisprudence in Crawford v. Washington in 2004 and then adhered to their strong view in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts in 2009 would rule for Williams here. As a practical matter, it is hard to say that the underlying DNA report is not being used for its truth. But since then, two Justices in the majority – Justices Souter and Stevens – have been replaced by Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan. Although the latter two Justices joined the Bullcoming majority, they may have a lessened commitment to a robust application of the Confrontation Clause. Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in Bullcoming in particular signals that these facts may approach or pass the end of the line to which five Justices are willing to extend the Confrontation Clause.
Monday, December 05, 2011
2. Alan Fein is a big-time blogger now, opining on Obamacare and Miami and Judge Marcus.
3. Another big case, another dismissal due to prosecutorial misconduct (via Thomson Reuters):
Matz based his decision on numerous examples of government misconduct, beginning with falsehoods in search-and-seizure warrant applications, extending to false and misleading grand jury testimony by an FBI agent, and compounded by prosecutors' failure to turn over some of that testimony to the defense. Handzlik, Levine, and their teams had alerted the judge to much of the misconduct before the jury reached a verdict, but Matz said the magnitude of the government's behavior became clear only in retrospect.
"When a trial judge managing a large docket is required to devote a great deal of time and effort to a fast-moving case that requires numerous rulings, often the judge will miss the proverbial forest for the trees," Matz wrote. "That is what occurred here ... . The government has acknowledged making many 'mistakes,' as it characterizes them. 'Many' indeed. So many, in fact, and so varied, and occurring over so lengthy a period (between 2008 and 2011) that they add up to an unusual and extreme picture of a prosecution gone badly awry."
Here's the order. It's worth a read.
Friday, December 02, 2011
Guest post by Richard Rosenthal
about the following event honoring our former boss:
Today the Judges of the Southern District of Florida honored one of their
own by dedicating the Chief Judge Edward B. Davis Jury Assemby Room in the
Ferguson federal courthouse. It was a touching, heartfelt ceremony
remembering the late Chief Judge, who served our community for over two
decades on the federal bench. Several generations of the Davis family,
the Southern District Judges, the Judge's former law clerks, and many
longtime friends attended the midday ceremony, which was presided over
with characteristic grace and good humor by Chief Judge Moreno. At one
point, Chief Judge Moreno joked that he may have to tell the U.S. Marshals
not to allow any votive candles to be placed beneath Judge Davis'
portrait, even though such tributes may well be appropriate to honor
"Saint Ned." Judge Altonaga, who was one of Judge Davis' law clerks,
eloquently recalled the Judge's humanity and kindness toward all, and his
willingness to privately and compassionately mentor young lawyers who
tried cases before him. After Chief Judge Moreno opened the floor for
remarks, several the Judge's family members, law clerks, friends, and
professional colleagues shared warm recollections of an exemplary Judge
and a wonderful, unforgettable man. He is deeply missed.
--Richard B. Rosenthal (Law Clerk to Judge Davis, 1997-1998)
New federal jury room dedicated to Judge Edward B. Davis
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Conrad Black on American Justice
The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all prosperous democracies. The U.S. has a much higher percentage of successful prosecutions, a lower hurdle to clear to prosecute (with rubber-stamp grand juries), a greater range of offenses, heavier sentences, and a higher recidivism rate than any of those other countries.
As Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia wrote in his essay “Criminal Injustice” two years ago, either those other countries are less concerned with crime than the U.S., or Americans are more addicted to criminal behavior — both preposterous suggestions — or the U.S. justice system is not working well.
There are 48 million people in the United States with a “record,” many of them based on ancient DUIs or disorderly behavior decades ago at a fraternity party and other unstigmatizing offenses, but still a severe inconvenience to them when they travel abroad or their names are fed to almost any information system; and millions have had their lives effectively ruined. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and 50 percent of the world’s lawyers, who invoice almost 10 percent of U.S. GDP (around $1.4 trillion annually). In the mid-1970s, the U.S. had about 650,000 people in mental institutions; today, it has only 50,000. Prisoners cost $40,000 per year to detain, and some states can no longer afford it. The conditions of hundreds of thousands of prisoners are grossly and shamefully inhumane. (My own are not.)
The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights of assurance against capricious prosecution, due process, no seizure of property without due compensation, an impartial jury, access to counsel, prompt justice, and reasonable bail, don’t exist. The ubiquitous plea bargain is just the wholesale subornation or extortion of inculpatory perjury in exchange for immunities or reduced sentences (often with people who are threatened, although there is no evidence against them). Assets are routinely frozen on the basis of false affidavits in ex parte proceedings to deny defendants the ability to defend themselves. Those who do exercise their constitutional right to a defense receive three times as severe a sentence as those who plead guilty; 95 percent of cases are won by prosecutors, 90 percent of those without trial. The public defenders have no resources to conduct a serious defense and are usually just Judas goats of the prosecutors conducting the defendants to legal destruction.
Sentences are absurd: A marijuana deliverer is apt to be sentenced to 20 years in prison. There is minimal effort to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders. Private-sector firms are increasingly active in the prison industry and they and the militantly unionized correctional officers, almost all unskilled labor, constantly lead public demands for more criminal statutes and more draconian penalties.
I hoped in 2007–08, when rabid prosecutors attacked the chief of staff of the vice president (Scooter Libby) and secured his conviction on a very dubious charge, and other prosecutors convicted and caused the electoral defeat of five-term senator Ted Stevens on what was shortly proved to be a fraudulent prosecution, that the political class would awaken, at least to the danger to itself. When the Terror of the Committee of Public Safety reached its height in 1794, the French National Convention came to its senses, at least to a sense of self-preservation, and sent Robespierre and his whole committee (except for the war minister, Carnot), to the guillotine without a trial, and declared the dawn of the permissive Thermidor.
It would be taking a liberty to claim that American conditions have deteriorated to such a point, but Robespierre wasn’t thumbing the Bill of Rights or swaddling himself in Madisonian expatiations on the pursuit of liberty. The masses were singing the bloodcurdling call to arms of the Marseillaise, not crooning, hand over heart, about the land of the free.
A court-appointed investigation of the Stevens affair has found “serious, widespread, and at times intentional concealment of evidence, but did not specifically urge prosecution for criminal contempt of those responsible, because the trial judge had not precisely ordered the prosecutors to obey the law by turning over exculpatory evidence.”
Even after all I have been put through by the justice system of the United States, I had to rub my eyes and reread newspaper accounts and check them against each other to achieve a comfort level that what I was reading was what was intended, was corroborated, and was accurate. It was. The investigator found the prosecution “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence . . . and (other) serious misconduct.” He was neutral on the issue of whether the prosecutors should be charged with obstruction of justice, a catchment American prosecutors routinely use to ensnare, over-punish, and stigmatize frequently unexceptionable conduct — a charge so vague it is almost impossible to defend against successfully.
I have witnessed in the U.S. much sleazy prosecutorial conduct whose authors would have been disbarred in my native jurisdictions of Canada and Britain, and I cannot imagine how the U.S. justice system could have descended to such infamies. The only person in the Stevens outrage who seems to have had any redemptive qualities was Nicholas Marsh, one of the assistant prosecutors in the Stevens case, who committed suicide when the conduct of the prosecutors came to light. Depending on his exact apparent motives, and the sequel to his tragic action, he could play a role analogous to that of the Tunisian street vendor who set off the Arab spring by immolating himself.
The state of American justice is shameful and unspeakable, literally so to judge from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil insouciance of Commentary’s blue-ribbon high table of contemporary critics. Many of them attacked the nihilistic, self-destructive anti-Americanism of the American campuses, absolutely correctly. But if they noticed the fraudulence that has metastasized through the American legal system, their critique would carry greater weight.
The moral soul of America is rotting away and the only defense an individual American has is numbers: The prosecutocracy cannot send more than 1 percent of the entire adult population to prison at any one time, if only for budgetary reasons.
The first line of defense of society as a whole are those whose vocation is to study and espouse public policy. Failure on this scale will make them complicit in this vast crime of the state, if it continues. I am listening for Jefferson’s firebell in the night and all I hear is Gertrude Stein’s sound of one hand clapping.