Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday news and notes -- Law Professor edition

1.  Professor Rick Bascuas' appellate clinic at UM is making new law again.  This time it's a confrontation clause issue in United States v. Manouchecka Charles.  The issue -- can an agent testify regarding a defendant's translated statement to him through an interpreter, or does the government have to call the interpreter to comply with the Constitution's right to confront witnesses.  The 11th Circuit held that a defendant is entitled to confront the interpreter and relying only on the agent violates the Confrontation Clause.  But because there was no objection during the trial, there was no plain error.  Congrats to Professor Bascuas for spotting this issue and running with it.

2.  Courts around the country continue to give huge downward variances in fraud cases -- even after trial -- because the guidelines make no sense.  Professor Berman has the update on the latest one here, by Judge Kimba Wood in an bid-rigging case:

As reported in this Wall Street Journal, headlined "US set back on bid-rig sentencing," a federal district judge in NYC yesterday handed down a set of white-collar sentences that were far below calculated guideline ranges and far below the sentences being sought by federal prosecutors.  Here are the details:
US District Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York handed Peter Ghavami, the former co-head of UBS' municipal-bond reinvestment and derivatives desk, an 18-month sentence. Prosecutors had sought at least 17½ years and as long as 21 years, 10 months for Ghavami, who also served as the Swiss bank's head of commodities at one point.
The much harsher sentence proposed by the government would have been longer than the 11-year term given in 2011 to Galleon hedge-fund founder Raj Rajaratnam for his insider-trading conviction.
But Judge Wood, a one-time nominee to become US attorney general who also sentenced former Drexel Burnham Lambert executive Michael Milken to 10 years in prison, raised questions about the government's method of calculating losses in the case, which it had pegged at about $25 million.
She also praised Ghavami's "admirable history" and noted that he faces other penalties including a $1 million fine and deportation to Belgium, where he is a citizen. Because Ghavami, 45 years old, is not a US citizen, he also has to serve in a "low security" prison instead of a "miminum security" camp.
One of Ghavami's former colleagues, Gary Heinz, 40, a former vice president on UBS' municipal-bond reinvestment desk, was given a 27-month sentence Wednesday, while Michael Welty, 49, another former vice president, got 16 months. Prosecutors had asked for at least 19½ years for Heinz and about 11 years or more for Welty.
Last summer, a New York jury found the three former UBS employees guilty of leading a scheme that caused municipalities to pay millions of dollars more for bond deals than they needed to pay. The case dealt with an obscure corner of the bond market in which local governments raise money from investors through bond deals, then invest the proceeds in investment products that banks and others are supposed to sell in a competitive process....
3.  Professor Fredrick Vars has started an online petition to save the Federal Defenders:

Petition: Save Federal Defender Services

Sequestration imperils the constitutional right of criminal defendants to adequate legal representation.  About 90% of federal criminal defendants require court-appointed counsel.  In FY 2013, sequestration resulted in a $52 million cut to Federal Defender Services, bringing massive layoffs and furloughs.  It is estimated that in FY 2014, if nothing is done, FDS will be forced to terminate as many as one-third to one-half of employees.
Funding for prosecutors is apparently headed in the opposite direction.  The Senate Appropriations Committee last week announced a $79 million increase to the FY 2014 budget for U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the express purpose of bringing more criminal cases in federal court.  This radical imbalance threatens the fundamental right to counsel.
Please join me in urging Congress and the President to restore adequate funding for Federal Defender Services. 
Update: Thanks to all for the strong support so far. Please send me an email ( with your name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), and city of residence. I will subsequently post a document with this petition and the names of signatories.
Fredrick Vars
Associate Professor, University of Alabama School of Law
Birmingham, Alabama


Bob Becerra said...

I don't think you see downward variances like this in fraud cases in our District.

Anonymous said...

Of course not; we're in the capital of fraud. If the sentences being handed down now are not deterring more people, imagine if they were lower.