Friday, May 31, 2013

Update to yesterday's post on flooding in the Broward Federal Courthouse

Acting Chief Judge Donald Graham sent the letter below on Wednesday to the GSA regarding the flooding.  You can read the whole back and forth, but GSA's position is absurd -- that the flooding will be fixed by February 2014.

You can see the videos from the courthouse here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's time for a new federal courthouse in Broward...

...because it's raining INTO the current courthouse.  Literally:


This is more than absurd; it's unsafe.

Who has more power -- a King or a Federal District Judge?

My money is on the district judge.  But Judge Scola had an entertaining exchange with Joel Steinger in the Mutual Benefits case yesterday.  Curt Anderson reports:

The alleged leader of an $800 million South Florida insurance fraud scheme was found competent to stand trial Wednesday despite severe pain from a spinal cord ailment that requires him to take powerful drugs including morphine.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola issued his ruling at a hearing Wednesday for 63-year-old Joel Steinger. Steinger was the top executive at Mutual Benefits Corp., which prosecutors say was a massive fraud scheme in which some 34,000 investors lost more than $800 million.
Steinger, seated in a wheelchair during the hearing, said he needs surgery to correct the spinal problem and complained loudly it would be unfair if he's forced to stand trial in September without the operation. Steinger said he cannot control his bowel movements or bladder and takes enough morphine "to choke a horse."
"I can't concentrate for five minutes because I'm all hopped up on drugs," Steinger told the judge. "And you're asking me to defend my life in a trial under these conditions? Do you think that's fair, your honor? I don't."
Scola, relying on a report by Bureau of Prisons mental health and drug experts, said there was no evidence to indicate Steinger suffered from mental problems or could not understand and take part in a trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin agreed.
"Simply put, the defendant is competent," she said.
The judge also said it's not within his power to order surgery for Steinger at the University of Miami, as he has requested, rather than at another hospital. Steinger is being held without bail until his trial and most of his assets were frozen long ago.
"I wish I were the king of the world, but I'm not," Scola said.
Ha! Okay, judge, maybe not the world, but of South Florida! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sample Size

This weekend, the NY Times was discussing that the Supreme Court was issuing a record number of unanimous opinions:
There has been a remarkable outbreak of harmony at the Supreme Court. Of the seven decisions issued in the last two weeks, six were unanimous.
There have been no dissents in more than 60 percent of the 46 cases decided so far this term. At this point last year, the justices were unanimous just 48 percent of the time, according to statistics compiled by Scotusblog. In the two terms before that, 52 percent of the cases decided by now were unanimous.
The harmony will dissipate in the final weeks of the term, which will probably conclude in late June. It is the divisive and hard-fought decisions that take the longest to produce, as the justices exchange draft opinions and respond to one other in evolving majority opinions, concurrences and dissents.
The marquee decisions of the term — on affirmative action, voting rights and same-sex marriage — will almost certainly be closely divided on the core issues. But the overall percentage of unanimous decisions is unlikely to drop to 40 percent, the average rate for full terms in recent years.
For now, consensus reigns. That is partly because some of the recent decisions were decidedly minor. One, concerning a towed car, would not have been out of place in small claims court or before Judge Judy. Another, about the meaning of the word “defalcation” in the Bankruptcy Code, must have made Justice Stephen G. Breyer, its author, wonder what he had done to deserve the assignment.
The end of the unanimity began yesterday with two 5-4 opinions.  From ScotusBlog:

In Trevino v. Thaler, in an opinion by Justice Breyer (but announced by Justice Kennedy, because Justice Breyer was absent), the Court held by a vote of five to four  that when a state’s procedural framework, by reason of its  design and operation, makes it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise on direct appeal a claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, the good cause exception recognized in Martinez v. Ryan applies.

Opinion author in red. Dissenting Justices in grey.

In McQuiggin v. Perkins, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held by a vote of five to four that actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a habeas petitioner may pass whether the impediment to consideration of the merits of a constitutional claim is a procedural bar, as it was in Schlup v. Delo and House v. Bell, or expiration of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act statute of limitations, as in this case.

Opinion author in red. Dissenting Justices in grey.
Opinion author in red. Dissenting Justices in grey.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Should judges be a part of plea negotiations?

While all of you were having Bachelorette viewing parties last night, old time blog friend Vanessa Blum was covering the debate about judges participating in plea negotiations in this Recorder article.  A snippet from the lengthy interesting piece about the case just heard by the Supremes:

The scope of that prohibition could be clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pending case, U.S. v Davila, which addresses the limits on judicial involvement in plea discussions. The case has largely escaped notice locally despite its possible implications.
To Beeler, the benefits of the conferences are both practical, such as saving court resources, and human.
"It brings the defendant back to the table," she said in an interview. "People make decisions better if they're part of them."
The process can be intense, sometimes requiring all-day sessions and the sort of difficult, honest conversation more commonly associated with a therapist's office than a federal courthouse.
Also, it doesn't always end in a meeting of the minds. By one count, roughly one-third of criminal cases referred for settlement talks since 2011 resulted in plea agreements that obviated the need for trial. An additional 12 percent ended with some but not all defendants pleading guilty, an outcome with less systemic and cost-saving benefits because a jury trial must still be held.
In the state system, judges play a larger role in plea bargaining. However, direct judicial involvement is explicitly banned by federal rules, making criminal settlement conferences sensitive, as well as a rarity nationwide.
The local practice has started to draw more attention from other districts, particularly in the current federal budget crisis, said Northern District federal public defender Steven Kalar.
"Every defender I've spoken to is envious of our system," said Kalar. "I've personally spoken with judges in other districts about how this works and emulating our model. I think we're on the vanguard, but in a good way."
Kalar's counterparts in the U.S. attorney's office are somewhat less enthusiastic. A common gripe from line prosecutors is that participating in criminal settlement conferences is time-consuming and mainly helps defense attorneys to persuade clients that pleading guilty is their best option.
For now, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag isn't putting a stop to them.

I see these settlement conferences as a good thing and don't really see the downside.  What say you readers?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Justice Scalia's footnote draws criticism

In City of Arlington v. FCC, Justice Scalia wrote the following footnote to introduce one of the parties, “CTIA-The Wireless Association,”:
“This is not a typographical error. CTIA—The Wireless Association was the name of the petitioner. CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what itstands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.”
 Seems like Scalia is merely reminding lawyers to let the Court know what acronyms stand for.  No big deal and harmless enough. 

But David Post from the Volokh conspiracy is all fired up, calling it "embarrassing," "nonsense," "smarmy," "snarky" and "extraordinarily stupid".  Dude needs to relax:
This is a really embarrassing bit of nonsense — smarmy and snarky and extraordinarily stupid.
First:  0.45 seconds of work reveals that CTIA originally stood for the “Cellular Telephone Industry Association.”  It’s not a big mystery, “known only to wireless-service-provider insiders”: that’s what it says on the organization’s Wikipedia page.  So Scalia’s footnote communicates, to me, that he has never heard of “the Internet” and the very amazing things called “search engines” that let you “retrieve information” very, very quickly
And why that snarky remark about how it’s unpronounceable?  Let’s see ... can Justice Scalia pronounce “FBI”?  (here’s a hint: “eff-bee-eye”).  DHS?    KLM Airlines?
If this were a student paper, I’d circle this and write something like:  “Really bad footnote – why highlight your own cluelessness in the very first footnote.”  From the Supreme Court, it’s really a bit embarrassing.  Reminds me, again, of what Justice Jackson said many years ago:  We’re not final because we’re infallible, we’re infallible because we’re final.

Those poor students.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One many saved and another to be executed

1.  Big win for Alfredo Izaguirre, who got an acquittal on murder and kidnapping charges before Judge Moore yesterday.  From the Herald:

A member of the Santiesteban clan’s pot-peddling ring bear-hugged his defense attorney Monday after he was acquitted of killing a rival gang member who stole a load of marijuana from the Southwest Miami-Dade grow-house organization.
Norge Manduley was found not guilty of kidnapping and killing the robber after a handful of government witnesses testified in federal court that he was the shooter, but a couple of defense witnesses countered that he wasn’t the triggerman who killed Fidel Ruz Moreno four years ago.
If convicted, Manduley, 39, would have faced a mandatory life sentence.
“There was a lot on the line here,” Manduley’s attorney, Alfredo Izaguirre, said after the 12-person jury concluded deliberations following a one-week trial.
“The government had a bunch of co-defendants who were all dirty and the jury didn’t like that,” Izaguirre told The Miami Herald. “The government brought no independent witnesses. I brought two independent witnesses who identified another person as the shooter.”
The jury, which began deliberations late Friday, found Manduley guilty of one count: conspiring to possess with intent to distribute less than 100 marijuana plants. Sentencing is set for July 30 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore.

2.  In another case, the 11th Circuit affirmed Florida's decision to execute John Ferguson, who believed he was the "prince of god."  Here are the key portions of the 65-page opinion:

The habeas petitioner in our case, John Ferguson, contends that under the Panetti decision he is mentally incompetent to be executed. As the facts come to us, Ferguson has a mental illness but he does understand that he is going to die by execution, and he understands that it is going to happen because he committed eight murders. Ferguson also believes, as tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of other people do, that there is life after death. Countless people also believe, as he does, that they are among God’s chosen people. But Ferguson’s religious belief is more grandiose than that because he believes that he is the Prince of God. The Florida courts rejected Ferguson’s Panetti claim, and we must decide whether their decision to do so “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding” or was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The key words being “clearly established law.” Or the lack of it.
AEDPA “reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Id. at 786 (quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). There was no extreme malfunction in his case. The Florida Supreme Court properly applied Panetti’s “rational understanding” standard, considered conflicting expert testimony about the nature and severity of Ferguson’s mental illness, and made a determination about his competency to be executed that is by no means beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement. AEDPA requires that federal habeas relief be denied and that we affirm that denial.
 Prior blog coverage of the case here.

Read more here:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Joint post by Justice Building, South Florida Lawyers, and Southern District of Florida Blogs

You lose your rights, not with a bang, but with a whimper. One small encroachment after another. A bureaucrat pushes the edges here, a prosecutor challenges the boundaries in a few cases there. No one says or does anything and then you look up and suddenly a cherished right is gone.
Nothing is more insidious and dangerous to our constitutional rights than a bureaucrat who, under the cover of a government agency, seeks to intimidate someone. That is why the letters we have posted  from the Florida Bar to attorney and blogger William Gelin have so alarmed us:the bloggers who run the Justice Building Blog, the South Florida Lawyers Blog, and the Southern District of Florida Blog.

WIlliam Gelin runs the JAA Blog which covers the Broward County Courthouse. To Mr. Gelin's credit he has never sought to hide his identity as the lawyer behind the blog. As a blogger who has openly challenged the way things are done in Broward, Mr. Gelin has courageously taken on numerous people in Broward County, including judges. Now, apparently after a series of posts about two Judges in West Palm Beach and Broward County, (ironically) anonymous bar complaints have prompted the Bar to send Mr. Gelin letters seeking him to admit or deny his involvement in the JAA Blog.

We as the legal blogging community in Miami view these letters as an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. The letters are chilling, and will have a chilling affect on the free speech of lawyers. Judges are invested with responsibilities and powers and all too often those powers cloud their judgment. The ability of lawyers to freely comment on a Judge represents an important check on those powers. The ability of citizens to write about the issues of the day has a long and storied history in our country. James Madison anonymously published many of the federalist papers under the pseudonym Publius in the local newspapers of the time. Blogging, anonymous and otherwise, serves a similar purpose.

The Florida Bar's letters to Mr. Gelin amount to both a fishing expedition and a veiled threat for him to stop criticizing Judges from the pages of his blog.  We jointly condemn the letters the Bar has written, and stand behind our colleague in this matter. That is why all three blogs have taken the unprecedented step of running this post simultaneously.We urge our readers to voice their support of Mr. Gelin by writing to the Bar to condemn the actions of the Bar Counsel in this case.

Thank you.

Justice Building Blog
South Florida Lawyers Blog
Southern District of Florida Blog

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday morning news and notes

1.  The former Hialeah mayor and his wife have been indicted on tax evasion charges.  Via Jay Weaver:

In 2010, while peeling back the layers of Hialeah’s “shadow banking’’ industry, federal prosecutors pressed the city’s mayor about allegations that he had collected exorbitant cash interest payments on more than $1 million in loans he made to friends and acquaintances.
Julio Robaina’s answer? Not true.
On Thursday, Robaina’s words came back to haunt him, when a federal grand jury indicted him and his wife on charges of conspiring to evade income taxes, making loans at sky-high interest rates, failing to report secret cash payments — and lying to federal authorities.
He made the statements at issue in August 2010, while preparing an unsuccessful run to become Miami-Dade County mayor.
Robaina, 47, and his wife Raiza Villacis Robaina, 39, who operated two loan companies, are accused of receiving the undisclosed cash payments as interest on the personal loans they made to friends, including convicted Ponzi schemer Luis Felipe Perez. The loans were doled out as part of an informal banking system operating below the radar in Hialeah.
The indictment alleges the couple tried “to enrich themselves by concealing, disguising and failing to report the true and correct amount of their income to the Internal Revenue Service.”
Husband and wife, scheduled to surrender to authorities and have their initial court appearance Friday, proclaimed their innocence through Julio Robaina’s defense attorney.


2.  The defendants in the B-Girl case who went to trial and lost got whacked; the judge went above the guidelines for each of them according to the Herald.  Jay Weaver is all over the courts today:

A South Beach nightclub operator was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for directing a bunch of “bar girls” to seduce and swindle customers at a string of Russian-style lounges.
Albert Takhalov was convicted in December along with two other businessmen of fleecing hundreds of thousands of dollars from dozens of male patrons by racking up bogus bills for champagne, vodka and caviar on their credit cards at seven private Miami Beach clubs.
Takhalov, 31, cried as he apologized to U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, saying he made a “great mistake” but “had no intention of breaking the law.” Other tearful family members asked for leniency, to no avail.
Scola, who found that Takhalov committed perjury on the witness stand at his trial, expressed no sympathy for the defendant, saying “he doesn’t have a right to lie.”

3.  Paula McMahon covers the big takedown in the staged accident case:

The vehicle collisions looked like typical South Florida accidents with motorists and passengers reporting they needed treatment from chiropractors and massage therapists.
But investigators said the crashes were carefully staged by willing participants who were trained how to defraud the insurance system to make money for themselves and a highly organized group of medical professionals, clinic owners and recruiters.
Investigators announced charges Thursday against 33 people they said were involved in staging accidents for insurance fraud — the latest hit in a three-year investigation that identified about $20 million in fraudulently obtained payouts from insurers.
"If you get upset about your car insurance premiums going up, this crime is one of the reasons why," said William J. Maddalena, the assistant special agent in charge of FBI Miami. "Every time an insurance payout is made for a staged accident in Florida, we all feel the pain in the pocketbook."
Operation Sledgehammer, a state and federal investigation, has led to charges being filed against a total of 92 defendants from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Those already convicted have been ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution to insurance companies so far, prosecutors said.
The operation got its code name when undercover investigators saw suspects using a sledgehammer to make vehicles look like they'd been in an accident.
The fraud involved a "massive," complicated, highly organized scheme that investigators said included everyone from clinic owners and medical staff who provided fraudulent diagnoses and prescribed fake treatment, to office workers who billed for the services, and recruiters who found accident "victims" and trained them to stage collisions on the streets and highways of South Florida.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

AUSA Mike Garofola's profile on for the Bachelorette

Well, you all remember that local AUSA Mike Garofola is going to be appearing on the Bachelorette.  Now, his profile is on  Here's the picture:

Michael G.

Below is the questionnaire that he filled out for the show, and here are the highlights posted on the site:

What do you hope to get out of participating in this television show?
I hope to find the woman I am going to marry and have a blast doing it while friends watch it unfold on television.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you bring and why?
1. Insulin - to survive
2. Food/water - see #1
3. Fully charged cell phone - To ask for transportation off said island

Describe your best friend of the opposite sex and why she deserves that title.
Ashley - She has always been there for me during my worst times, is very perceptive and very feisty. She sugar coats nothing, which is good because I can't have sugar.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I will be married with two children and another on the way, in an amazing home, and at another stage of my professional career.

If you wanted to approach a woman you had never met before, how would you go about it?
I just go up to her and introduce myself. Nothing to it. No gimmicks.

What's your biggest date fear?
I don't have any "fears" when I go on a date.

Kosher Prisons

Curt Anderson is covering the kosher meal dispute in Florida jails.  Here's the latest twist and turn from the 11th Circuit:

Despite Florida's recent change of policy, a federal appeals court Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Jewish prison inmate who claimed his rights were violated by the state Department of Corrections' previous refusal to serve kosher meals.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a lower federal judge to reconsider the lawsuit filed in 2010 by Bruce Rich, an Orthodox Jew who is serving a life sentence at Union Correctional Institution. The judge previously dismissed the lawsuit at the state's request, citing lack of evidence.
Florida announced earlier this year it would resume offering kosher meals statewide by September to prisoners who qualify. The appeals judges, however, determined that Rich deserved a new hearing on his lawsuit despite the policy change.
"There is nothing to suggest that Florida will not simply end the new kosher meal program at some point in the future, just as it did in 2007," they wrote. The judges also noted that the policy was changed just two weeks before oral arguments were held in Rich's appeal and initially affected only his prison.
The ruling comes as a federal judge in Miami is considering a similar lawsuit filed by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which contends that the new prisons diet program should be overseen by court order. U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz has scheduled a June 4 hearing in that case.
State officials "continue to argue that they may deny a kosher diet to prisoners at any time," the federal lawyers wrote.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday News & Notes

1.  Which group is more diverse?  The U.S. Supreme Court or the lawyers who argue before it? 

The Supreme Court by a long shot.  From the AP:

In roughly 75 hours of arguments at the Supreme Court since October, only one African-American lawyer appeared before the justices, and for just over 11 minutes.
The numbers were marginally better for Hispanic lawyers. Four of them argued for a total of 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Women were better represented, accounting for just over 17 percent of the arguments before the justices.
In an era when three women, a Hispanic and an African-American sit on the court and white men constitute a bare majority of the nine justices, the court is more diverse than the lawyers who argue before it.
The statistics from the court term, though, also reveal a lack of African-American and Hispanic lawyers in the elite Justice Department unit that represents the federal government at the Supreme Court.
The top supervisory positions in the Office of the Solicitor General all are held by men, though there are six women in the office who argued high court cases this term.
The office serves as a pipeline to the big firms that dominate the argument calendar at the court. Lawyers in the office make several arguments a term and acquire the experience and ease of standing before the justices that make them attractive to private firms.

2.   What does defalcation mean? Even though the Urban Dictionary doesn't define it, the High Court has finally decided:

After a century and a half of uncertainty, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday finally decided the meaning of "defalcation," a word in the bankruptcy code that can refer to embezzlement but also, more generally, misuse of funds.
Under federal bankruptcy law, anyone acting as a fiduciary who later seeks bankruptcy relief cannot discharge debts if there is evidence of "fraud or defalcation."
In a unanimous decision, the court said that for a court to make a defalcation finding about a trustee, the person in question must be acting with gross negligence or have some knowledge that what he or she is doing is improper.
In the past, the precise meaning of defalcation had not been determined by the Supreme Court. The term was first used in bankruptcy law in 1841 and in relation to discharge of debt in 1867.
In making its views known, the court handed a victory to Randy Bullock, an Illinois man who is filing for bankruptcy.
Bullock wanted to discharge debt concerning money he owes for his role overseeing his father's life insurance trust. He used money from the trust to make investments for himself and other family members. He eventually paid the money back with interest.
The question before the court was whether Bullock's actions, which did not deprive the trust of any money, fitted within the legal definition of defalcation.
The court did not make a final determination on that point, instead remanding the case back to the district court so that the new definition of defalcation can be applied.
3.  Sixty percent of the time the Supreme Court is unanimous.  I was surprised (via USA Today):

With three more 9-0 rulings issued Monday, the nine justices of the Supreme Court have now reached unanimous decisions in nearly 60% of the cases decided this term -- a loftier rate of agreement than in recent years.
That percentage is sure to drop as more controversial cases are decided between now and the end of June, when the 2012 term ends. Last term, the justices were unanimous 45% of the time. The recent high was 48% two years ago. From 2006-08, fewer than four in 10 rulings were unanimous.
For this time of year, however, the 60% mark is quite an achievement for a court narrowly divided between Republican and Democratic nominees. During the past three years, slightly more than half the decisions were unanimous at this time, according to detailed statistics kept by
Chief Justice John Roberts puts a premium on reaching consensus. So he likely was pleased Monday when the three decisions announced by Democratic nominees Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan each garnered nine votes. None of the other justices even chose to write separate concurring opinions.

Monday, May 13, 2013

11th Circuit conference criticized

Seems like every judicial conference is under attack these days.  From Jaime Dupree of the AJC:

Even as automatic budget cuts force various federal agencies to cut spending, a group of federal judges from the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit went ahead with their 2013 Judicial Conference last week, spending several days - and maybe several hundred thousand dollars - at a golf resort and spa in Savannah, Georgia.
"The Eleventh Circuit did not cancel the 2013 conference because it is an infrequent and valuable meeting of judges and attorneys that improves the administration of justice within the circuit," said James Gerstenlauer, the Chief Executive of the Eleventh Circuit, as he defended the legal gathering.
"In addition, there were significant financial costs associated with cancelling the conference because of contractual guarantees made to the hotel and the conference center," Gerstenlauer added in an email.
The gathering of 167 federal judges from Georgia, Florida and Alabama came just weeks after the Chief Judge for the Eleventh Circuit was quoted on a legal web site as saying the $85 billion sequester was having a "devastating impact" on the federal judiciary.
The last judicial conference held by the Eleventh Circuit was in May of 2011 at the Swan Hotel in Orlando, Florida; Gerstenlauer said that gathering cost "about $211,000 in travel and lodging expenses" for 159 judges.
"The government travel costs for the 2013 conference are not yet compiled," Gerstenlauer said.
The theme of the conference was, "Justice, History, and Civil Liberties," and featured "historical presentations about Thomas Jefferson and the trial of the slave ship Wanderer."
"No taxpayer funds were spent for speakers for the conference or for the slave ship Wanderer presentation," Gerstenlauer said.

 The article also has a response from the 11th Circuit, which is interesting. Here's a portion of it:

No taxpayer funds were spent for speakers for the conference or for the slave ship Wanderer presentation.

Attendees received retractable pens, which cost approximately 58 cents each; no taxpayer funds were used to purchase the pens. No gifts were provided to conferees.

The Eleventh Circuit did not cancel the 2013 conference because it is an infrequent and valuable meeting of judges and attorneys that improves the administration of justice within the circuit.  In addition, there were significant financial costs associated with cancelling the conference because of contractual guarantees made to the hotel and the conference center.

The travel expenses for federal judges were paid with government funds pursuant to travel regulations.  No reimbursements were provided for either their spouses or family members.  Attorney attendees paid a $375 conference registration fee and paid their own travel expenses. The government travel costs for the 2013 conference are not yet compiled.  

What are your thoughts on judicial conferences?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gen. William Suter

The Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the Federal Bar Association yesterday at the Hyatt.  It was a very entertaining speech.  Lots of good stories about the Court.

But Suter was also substantive.  For example, he predicted that the exclusionary rule would be abolished in the near term.  He reasoned that the exclusionary rule was not as necessary any longer because police are better trained than they used to be.

He also made predictions about the affirmative action case, and said that if the case was remanded for strict scrutiny analysis that it would have a hard time getting back before the Supreme Court because Justice Kagan was recused.

Judge Graham asked him about cameras in the courtroom and explained that no one had taken advantage of the pilot program here in his division the SDFLA.  Suter was not in favor of cameras, saying Congress should pass a budget first and that cameras would demean the Court.  He also said no one would watch.  Not a convincing argument for me, but that seems to be the feeling of the Court.

I asked him if he read SCOTUSBlog.  He said yes, he needed to find out what was going on in the Court every morning.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Clerk William Suter to speak to the Federal Bar today

A portrait shot of William Suter, looking straight ahead. He has short gray hair and is wearing a light gray blazer with a maroon patterned tie over a light blue collared shirt. He has an American flag pin on his lapel.They call him "The General" and he'll be at the Hyatt at noon. 

He's retiring at the end of this Term after 20 years at the High Court.

Should be an entertaining talk.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

11th Circuit

The judges are back from the 11th Circuit conference, which was in Savannah, Georgia last week.

Apparently the agenda included a re-enactment of a slavery trial that occurred in Savannah and also a speech by a Thomas Jefferson impersonator.

Meantime, there are still two openings on the 11th Circuit and apparently no progress being made in moving those nominations forward.

Since the 11th got back to business this week, it has ruled on an interesting case involving Cuba.  From Bloomberg:

Florida lost a court bid to reinstate a law prohibiting state agencies from entering into contracts worth $1 million or more with companies that do business with Cuba.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta said today that the Florida measure “reaches far beyond the federal law in numerous ways and undermines the president’s exercise of the discretion afforded him by Congress.” A three-judge panel upheld a July ruling by a lower court in Miami barring enforcement of the law.
The “Cuba Amendment” legislation was signed on May 1, 2012, by Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, and covers an estimated $8 billion in annual state contracts, the appeals court said. The law, designed to apply economic pressure to the communist regime in Cuba beyond the U.S. government sanctions already in place, was challenged by Odebrecht Construction Inc. 

And back home in South Florida, it looks like Judge Rosenbaum will be busy with this case filed by Frank Haith.  From the Herald:

Former University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith on Monday morning filed a petition in Miami-Dade federal court seeking subpoenas to try to uncover whether his checking account records were accessed illegally by unauthorized parties as part of the NCAA Nevin Shapiro investigation.
He and his attorney, Michael Buckner, want to be able to depose Bank of America employees and make sure the bank preserves evidence in anticipation of a civil lawsuit.
The Rule 27 Petition, obtained by The Miami Herald, states that in October 2012, Haith and his wife, Pamela, became suspicious of a possible privacy breach and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the issue through repeated requests to the bank. If a Bank of America employee or agent permitted an unknown party to view or procure the records, it could be a violation of federal and state laws.
Haith, now at the University of Missouri, had been asked by the NCAA to provide microfiche copies of three checks dated June 10, 2010. He had already provided photocopies of those checks, and other financial documents, in October 2011, but the NCAA wanted clearer images. Each check was for $3,200 andmade out to his assistant coaches — Jorge Fernandez, Jake Morton and Michael Schwartz.

Read more here:

Monday, May 06, 2013

How pro-business is this Supreme Court

Apparently, the most pro-business Supreme Court ever... From the NY Times:

But the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.
In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.
Whether the Roberts court is unusually friendly to business has been the subject of repeated discussion, much of it based on anecdotes and studies based on small slices of empirical evidence. The new study, by contrast, takes a careful and comprehensive look at some 2,000 decisions from 1946 to 2011.
Published last month in The Minnesota Law Review, the study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over those 65 years by the proportion of their pro-business votes; all five of the current court’s more conservative members were in the top 10. But the study’s most striking finding was that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business interests since 1946 are the most recent conservative additions to the court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both appointed by President George W. Bush.
I wonder how district courts around the country as a whole rank now -- I would bet that like the Supreme Court, they are more pro-business now than ever. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Cuban spy to give up citizenship and remain in Cuba

Curt Anderson has all of the details:

One of the convicted spies known as the "Cuban Five" will be able to permanently remain in Cuba in exchange for renouncing his U.S. citizenship, a federal judge ruled Friday after U.S. officials dropped their initial opposition.
Rene Gonzalez, 56, has been in Cuba since April 22 to attend memorial services for his father, who died earlier last month. Gonzalez was released from U.S. prison in October 2011 but was still serving three years' probation, which the Justice Department had previously insisted must be completed in the U.S.
This week, however, the Justice Department reversed its position, leading to U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard's ruling accepting Gonzalez's offer to give up U.S. citizenship.
Reached in Havana, Gonzalez told The Associated Press he was thrilled but wanted a chance to review the judge's decision.
"First I have to read the order," he said. "If the order is real, it will be a great relief to me."

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Nominees for Florida Circuit Court

The blog generally doesn't cover state court appointments (that's Rumpole's domain), but that latest Circuit Court seat has some interesting applicants from the federal family.  The Governor will decide from the following five, three of which have federal court ties:

Jason Bloch
Donald J. Cannava
Wendell M. Graham
Ayana Harris
Robert Luck

Bloch is a county attorney.  Harris is a AFPD.  Luck is a AUSA.  Cannava and Graham are county judges.

Above the Law ranks law schools

It's a very interesting read and analysis:

The basic premise underlying the ATL approach to ranking schools: the economics of the legal job market are so out of balance that it is proper to consider some legal jobs as more equal than others. In other words, a position as an associate with a large firm is a “better” employment outcome than becoming a temp doc reviewer or even an associate with a small local firm. That might seem crassly elitist, but then again only the Biglaw associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.
In addition to placing a higher premium on “quality” (i.e., lucrative) job outcomes, we also acknowledge that “prestige” plays an out-sized role in the legal profession. We can all agree that Supreme Court clerkships and federal judgeships are among the most “prestigious” gigs to be had. Our methodology rewards schools for producing both.
Now more than ever, potential law students should prioritize their future job prospects over all other factors in deciding whether to attend law school. So the relative quality of law schools is best viewed through the prism of how they deliver on the promise of gainful legal employment. The bottom line is that we have a terrible legal job market. Of the 60,000 legal sector jobs lost in 2008-9, only 10,000 have come back. So the industry is down 50,000 jobs and there is no reason to believe they will ever reappear. If you ignore school-funded positions (5% of the total number of jobs), this market is worse than its previous low point of 1993-4. The time has come for a law school ranking that relies on nothing but employment outcomes.