Friday, August 30, 2013

What is Marco Rubio's reason for blocking Will Thomas?

The DBR (John Pacenti) has a lengthy article about Marco Rubio's decision to block two African American nominees -- William Thomas and Brian Davis -- to the district court.  But he refuses to explain his reason for the decision. 

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a tea party darling, is blocking confirmation hearings for two black judicial nominees by withholding the formality of submitting what is known as a "blue slip." Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas was nominated 552 days ago for a Miami opening in the Southern District of Florida. Nassau Circuit Judge Brian Davis has been waiting even longer — 612 days — for action to fill a Middle District of Florida vacancy in Tampa. The blue slip is a required by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Waiting for blue slips is a longstanding procedure that the chairman does not plan to break, his spokeswoman Jessica Brady said Thursday. Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has submitted blue slips for both candidates. Rubio's and Nelson's offices did not respond to telephone calls or emails seeking comment by deadline. The failure to submit blue slips marks a ratcheting up of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, even if means alienating minorities, critics say. Thomas and Davis fulfill Obama's goal of bringing greater diversity to the federal bench. Both are black, and Thomas is openly gay. Obama has been more dedicated to diversity than any of his predecessors, with 43 percent of women nominees compared with 22 percent under George W. Bush and 29 percent by Bill Clinton. Obama also surpassed his predecessors on nominating blacks and Hispanics. By delaying the nominations of minorities, Republicans hope to hinder a lasting legacy on the lifetime appointment of jurists, said Andrew Blotky, director of Legal Progress, part of the Center for American Progress in Washington. "If you look at how long these vacancies have been open, it's ridiculous and unconscionable," he said.

Meantime, the district continues to try interesting cases.  The psychic trial is going on in Ft. Lauderdale.  Via Paula McMahon:

When Sylvia Roma visited a psychic in late 1997, she was a successful executive who figured her life was happy and the tarot card reading was "just for entertainment."
But Roma was quickly convinced that her family was cursed, she said, and over the next 14 years she sent close to $800,000 worth of cash and gold coins to the woman she knew as Joyce Michaels, but who was really Rose Marks.
Marks summoned her to Fort Lauderdale in July 2002 and told her that nearly $500,000 in cash and gold coins Roma had already given to Marks had burned in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — yet Roma continued to send money and jewelry to Marks, she testified.
"I was in so far, I had nothing to do but believe her. I didn't see any way out," Roma testified Thursday in federal court in West Palm Beach, where Marks is on trial.
Prosecutors say Marks, 62, of Fort Lauderdale, and her family defrauded about $25 million from victims they met in Manhattan and South Florida.
It's rare for so-called Gypsy fortune-telling frauds cases such as this one to go to trial, law enforcement experts say, and one of the reasons is that alleged victims are embarrassed and ashamed to admit they've been tricked.
Roma, who will be back on the witness stand Friday to be cross-examined by the defense, told jurors that she became depressed and isolated as Marks urged her to send more and more money.
Marks told Roma she couldn't discuss "the work" with anyone because it would let "negative energy" affect Marks' efforts to lift the curse and help Roma to have a happier life, she said. Marks told her she was meditating and building an altar and a protective shield with the hundreds of gold coins that Roma provided to her.

Any predictions on how this one will turn out?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

JNC decides to interview these 17 applicants

Two new federal district judges will come from this list:

Beatrice Butchko
Jack Tuter, Jr.
John Thornton, Jr.
David Haimes
Thomas Rebull
Mary Barzee Flores
Martin Bidwill
Daryl Trawick
Jeffrey Colbath
Darrin Gayles
Robin Rosenberg
Migna Sanchez-Llorens
Meenu Sasser
Veronica Harrell-James
Beth Bloom
Barry Seltzer
Peter Lopez

I've listed the applicants in interview order.  The interviews are on September 17, and this list will be narrowed to 4 people.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fat Joe to the Big House

For 4 months on a tax evasion case.  He's at FDC.  From TMZ:
Fat Joe has just turned himself in to prison to serve his 4 month sentence for tax evasion.

The rapper -- real name Joseph Cartagena -- is officially in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Miami.

As TMZ previously reported, Joe pled guilty back in December to stiffing Uncle Sam on a boatload of taxes for the years 2007 and 2008 ... more than $1 million total.

He originally faced up to two years in the slammer for the crime -- but was ultimately sentenced to just 4 months and a $15,000 fine, plus one-year supervised release.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Justice Ginsburg not going anywhere

She's been giving a bunch of interviews lately, the most recent one on the front page of yesterday's NY Times. Lots of really interesting stuff, including that she's not leaving the Court any time soon:
On Friday, she said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.

“There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.

Were Mr. Obama to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor, it would presumably be a one-for-one liberal swap that would not alter the court’s ideological balance. But if a Republican president is elected in 2016 and gets to name her successor, the court would be fundamentally reshaped.

Justice Ginsburg has survived two bouts with cancer, but her health is now good, she said, and her work ethic exceptional. There is no question, on the bench or in chambers, that she has full command of the complex legal issues that reach the court.

Her age has required only minor adjustments.

“I don’t water-ski anymore,” Justice Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over.”

Justice Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, said she intended to stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam, and that, at my age, is not predictable.”

“I love my job,” she added. “I thought last year I did as well as in past terms.”

In other news, Eric Holder is speaking out for PD funding. Here's his op-ed:
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that everyone who is charged with a serious crime has the right to an attorney. In Gideon v. Wainwright, Justice Hugo Black observed for the court that “in our adversary system, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured of a fair trial unless counsel is provided to him.” As a prosecutor, as a judge and as our nation’s attorney general, I have seen this reality firsthand.

Despite the promise of the court’s ruling in Gideon, however, the U.S. indigent defense systems — which provide representation to those who cannot afford it — are in financial crisis, plagued by crushing caseloads and insufficient resources. And this year’s forced budget reductions, due largely to sequestration, are further undermining this critical work.

In stark contrast to many state defender programs, the federal public defender system has consistently served as a model for efficiency and success. According to court statistics, as many as 90 percent of federal defendants qualify for court-appointed counsel, and the majority of criminal cases prosecuted by the Justice Department involve defendants represented by well-qualified, hardworking attorneys from federal defender offices. Yet draconian cuts have forced layoffs, furloughs (averaging 15 days per staff member) and personnel reductions through attrition. Across the country, these cuts threaten the integrity of our criminal justice system and impede the ability of our dedicated professionals to ensure due process, provide fair outcomes and guarantee the constitutionally protected rights of every criminal defendant.

I join with those judges, public defenders, legal scholars and countless other criminal-justice professionals who have urged Congress to restore these resources, to provide needed funding for the federal public defender program and to fulfill the fundamental promise of our criminal justice system.

The Justice Department is strongly committed to supporting indigent defense efforts through an office known as the Access to Justice Initiative, which I launched in 2010, and a range of grant programs. The department took this commitment to a new level on Aug. 14 by filing a statement of interest in the case of Wilbur v. City of Mt. Vernon — asserting that the federal government has a strong interest in ensuring that all jurisdictions are fulfilling their obligations under Gideon and endorsing limits on the caseloads of public defenders so they can provide quality representation to each client.

Unfortunately the federal public defender program is in dire straits. As I write, federal defenders representing the Boston Marathon bombing suspect are facingabout three weeks of unpaid leave. In Ohio, the director of one federal defender office who had served there for nearly two decades has laid himself off rather than terminate several more junior attorneys.

This shameful state of affairs is unworthy of our great nation, its proud history and our finest legal traditions. In purely fiscal terms, the cuts imposed by sequestration defy common sense because they will end up costing taxpayers much more than they save. The right to counsel is guaranteed under the Constitution. On the federal level, this means that every defendant who is unable to afford a lawyer must be represented by either a federal public defender or an appointed attorney from a panel of private lawyers. While federal defender offices are staffed by experienced, dedicated professionals operating in a framework that has proved both effective and efficient, panel attorneys often possess less experience and incur significantly higher fees. An increased reliance on panel attorneys may result in less desirable outcomes as well as significantly higher costs.

Five decades after the Supreme Court affirmed that adequate legal representation is a basic right, sequestration is undermining our ability to realize this fundamental promise. The moral and societal costs of inadequate representation are too great to measure. Only Congress has the ability to restore the funding that federal defenders need to ensure that justice can be done. It is past time for our elected representatives to act.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Judge Scola sentences Khan to 25 years...

...10 more than the prosecution was asking for. The AP's Curt Anderson has this:
Hafiz Khan, 78, had faced up to 60 years behind bars on four terrorism support-related charges. But U.S. District Judge Robert Scola opted for less than the maximum term, although it is 10 years more than the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors.

The case against Khan, who was imam at a Miami mosque prior to his 2011 arrest, was built on hundreds of FBI recordings of both telephone calls and Khan's face-to-face conversations with an undercover informant. In the calls, Khan discusses details of numerous wire transfers to Pakistan over a three-year period that totaled about $50,000.

Khan also was overheard praising deadly attacks by the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, including a 2009 bombing at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan. In another call, Khan was heard wishing for the deaths of 50,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"May Allah utterly destroy them. The destruction . if they do not repent and do not revert to the right path," Khan said on the FBI recording.

Scola said several times Friday that the evidence against Khan was strong.

"I can't think of a case where the evidence would be more overwhelmingly clear," the judge said.

During trial, Khan testified in his own defense that although he sometimes made strongly worded political statements, the money he sent to Pakistan was for family, friends and charity. In particular, Khan said he sent money to a religious school, or madrassa, that he'd founded in Pakistan's Swat Valley. That school was closed for a time by the Pakistani government, which claimed it was a Taliban hideout and training ground.

Khan also claimed in his testimony that he only pretended to support extremist Taliban views — including toppling Pakistan's government in favor of one that would impose strict Islamic law — in order to obtain $1 million promised him by the man who turned out to be the FBI informant. Prosecutors said that was a complete fabrication.

"Terrorists need money. What he did was put lives at risk," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley. "It put Pakistani lives at risk and it put American lives at risk."

In a lengthy statement to the judge in Pashto through an interpreter, Khan again insisted he was not a terrorism financier and that his sole intent was to help the poor in his native Swat Valley.

"I did not send one dollar to the terrorists or the fighting Taliban," Khan said. "I am absolutely against the terrorists and the violence."

Khan's wife, Fatima, appealed to Scola from her wheelchair, also in Pashto, to allow him to come home. She said his rants against Pakistan and the U.S. on the FBI tapes did not mean he was a proponent of violence.

"He gets angry a lot. He is not speaking from his heart," she said.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

CJA rates being cut by $15/hour to $110/hour

That's the decision to save the Defenders from having to make massive layoffs around the country. From the USA Today article:
The federal judiciary for the first time is cutting the fees of court appointed defense lawyers, including those representing death penalty defendants, to deal with the "dire consequences'' of required government budget reductions known as sequestration.

The reductions, outlined in a notice to U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake, chairwoman of the Federal Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services, are part of an unprecedented criminal justice cost-cutting effort that also will scale back operations of federal probation services at a time when authorities are planning to rely more heavily on programs like probation to help reduce the rising federal prison population.

The cuts in attorneys' fees will be implemented next month with payments dropping from $125 per hour to $110 in non-death penalty cases and from $179 per hour to $164 in cases where capital punishment is being sought.

The reductions are aimed at saving $50 million during the next 13 months to avoid further cuts into the full-time staff of the federal defenders service. The defender program consists of both full-time public defenders, who have been targeted for furloughs and layoffs, and private court-appointed lawyers who assist in the representation of the indigent.

In addition to the fee cuts, millions of dollars in fees to the outside court-appointed counsels, scheduled for payment in fiscal year 2014 (beginning in October), would be deferred into fiscal year 2015.

In the letter to Blake made public Monday, William Traxler Jr., chairman of the Judicial Conference's Executive Committee, warned that the fee cuts "may impact the delivery of justice, but are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program.''

The sequester hasn't affected the U.S. Attorney's office in the same way as it has not had to fire employees or have furlough days.

It also hasn't impacted BOP. In fact, the government is asking for 15 years in prison (a life sentence) for 78-year old Hafiz Khan. Via Curt Anderson:

An elderly Muslim cleric convicted of sending tens of thousands of dollars to finance the Pakistani Taliban terror organization should spend at least 15 years in prison, federal prosecutors recommended Wednesday.

Hafiz Khan, 78, could get as much as 60 years behind bars when he is sentenced Friday because each of the four terrorism supported-related convictions carry maximum 15-year sentences. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said in court papers that combining all four potential sentences into one would be sufficient punishment.

Sentencing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

Shipley said hundreds of FBI recordings of Khan on the telephone and speaking in person with an informant show he supported the Taliban's attacks on Pakistani and U.S. targets and knew his money was going to promote violence. Some calls showed Khan praising attacks such as a deadly 2009 bombing at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, and the failed 2010 attempt to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square.

"We are not contending that Khan's misconduct tops the scale of terrorism offenses," Shipley said. "But his sending money to militants in Pakistan helped the Taliban put Pakistani and American lives in jeopardy and fostered violence, not peace."

Khan's attorney, Khurrum Wahid, filed separate papers Wednesday asking for a more lenient but unspecified sentence, pointing to Khan's advanced age and medical problems. He also cited Khan's testimony in his own defense that he intended the roughly $50,000 he sent over a three-year period to be used for family, friends and charity in his Pakistan homeland. Before his 2011 arrest the imam at a Miami mosque, Khan also founded a religious school, or madrassa, in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Breaking -- Applicants for the Southern District of Florida District Bench

Your next two federal judges will come from this list (which is in no particular order):

1. Peter Lopez
2. Gary Eason
3. Marina Wood
4. Darrin Gayles
5. Lornette Reynolds
6. Jeffrey Colbath
7. Barry Seltzer
8. Robin Rosenberg
9. Mary Barzee Flores
10. Beth Bloom
11. Dennis J. Murphy
12. Daryl E. Trawick
13. Candance R. Duff
14. Beatrice Butchko
15. Lisa Hu Barquist
16. Marjorie Gadarian Graham
17. Martin J. Bidwill
18. Jack Tuter
19. David Haimes
20. Ricardo J. Bascuas
21. Lourdes A. Rodriguez de Jongh
22. Isabel “Cissy” Boza Skipper
23. Carlos Augusto Rodriguez
24. Meenu Sasser
25. Thomas J. Rebull
26. Migna Sanchez-Llorens
27. Veronica Harrell-James
28. John Thornton

UPDATE -- Although I believe that this list is complete, it is possible that it is not. If you know of other people who have applied, please email me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Judge Rosemary Barkett is leaving the 11th Circuit

She's headed to the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, which was established in 1981 to resolve claims between the two countries.

Judge Barkett will be missed.  She's been a strong, independent voice on the court for a long time. 

That'll be vacancy #3 on the 11th Circuit.

Speaking of vacancies, applications were due today for the open district seat.  If I can get a hold of the list of applicants, I will post it.

Monday news and notes -- Back to school edition

1.  Judge Huck is trying to tutor young lawyers.  Via the DBR:

Senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck said when he got out of law school in 1965, he didn't need to consult a career counselor.
Freshly minted lawyers simply cracked open the Martin-Hubbell Law Directory and figured out where they wanted to start practicing law. Then they started to make phone calls.
"Back then if a law firm was really busy and they needed a lawyer, they needed them right then," said Huck, who after graduating the University of Florida loaded up his Volkswagen Beetle and headed south to an Orlando firm.
Coming off the Great Recession, it's not so easy for new lawyers these days.
So Huck organized two seminars aimed at making it a little easier. Early last month, he again assembled the Federal Court Observer Program, a mainstay for seven years. He also reached out to young lawyers at his alma matter.

2. Go Dore Go.  Dore Louis' creative motion for NSA records started a new trend.  I think it's hilarious that the Miami Herald refers to Dore Louis not as Mr. Louis or Louis, but as Dore:

One of the first phone-records motions in a criminal case came from Marshall Dore Louis, a Miami defense attorney who represents Terrance Brown, implicated in a federal bank truck robbery conspiracy case. Dore may have started a trend.

After Dore filed his motion in June, he received calls and email messages from dozens of attorneys across the country interested in filing similar motions in their cases.

In addition, many more attorneys in drug-trafficking cases nationwide are said to be preparing motions after Reuters revealed on Aug. 5 that the NSA is a partner in a special Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) unit that supplies tips to local law-enforcement authorities. Those tips come from a massive phone-records database that the DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) taps, Reuters said.

The expected onslaught of demands for NSA records from defense attorneys is an ironic twist for a once-secretive agency whose acronym was often jokingly said to stand for No Such Agency.

3.  Did Steven Steiner learn his lesson.  Judge Williams hands him a 15-year sentence:

Steven Steiner, a former executive for a Fort Lauderdale insurance brokerage business that fleeced hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison.
Steiner, 61, was convicted earlier this year of conspiring to launder the money to support his expensive lifestyle in waterfront homes in Fort Lauderdale and Maine, and a condominium in Manhattan.
His defense lawyer urged U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams to show mercy and sentence him to about five years, far less punishment than recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.
“Mr. Steiner is admittedly an imperfect soul,” attorney Joaquin Mendez wrote in an objection to the sentencing guidelines. “However, he requests that the court consider his good deeds and sensibilities, which the sentencing guidelines generally ignore, into account in determining the appropriate sentence.”
Federal prosecutors strongly disagreed, arguing that a 22-year prison term under the sentencing guidelines for Steiner’s offense would not be “unreasonable.”
Williams essentially split the difference in determining the punishment for the former vice president of Mutual Benefits Corp., the business that was shuttered by federal regulators almost a decade ago.
Steiner offered no apology for his wrongdoing, and instead penned a rambling, remorseless note to the judge. He described as “draconian” the indictment against him and his former partner, saying they lost everything in forfeiture to the U.S. government.
“There were clearly no real winners at the end of this trial,” Steiner wrote in his 14-page note, saying he was “no doubt one of America’s biggest losers.”
“I was ultimately punished for the greed and arrogance of others,” he concluded.

Read more here:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sentences in synthetic marijuana case

Marc Seitles represented the owner, John Shealy, who was sentenced to 18 months.  From the Sun-Sentinel:

Shealey, of Royal Palm Beach, and Harrison, of Lantana, cut deals with federal prosecutors, each agreeing to plead guilty to a count of conspiring to break federal laws. They admitted plotting to distribute an illegal substance and selling a misbranded drug. Both agreed to turn over more than $2 million in assets.
Attorneys for Shealey and Harrison argued Wednesday that their clients had prior attorneys advise them the products they were manufacturing were legal. Whenever the federal government listed a chemical as illegal, Kratom Lab would destroy any products containing it, said Marc Seitles, Shealey's attorney.
The defense attorneys questioned why Shealey and Harrison weren't issued cease-and-desist letters to stop making the products.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin said the two men had to have known what they were doing was highly questionable, if not illegal. They were marketing Mr. Nice Guy as a herbal incense with anyone, including children, able to buy it at gas stations, convenience stores and online.
...With their plea deals, neither man faced more than five years behind bars. Federal prosecutors recommended a 28-month sentence for Harrison and three years in prison for Shealey.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said he found their cases unusual because of the ambiguities surrounding the laws governing the chemicals.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

No bond in "chat room" terror case

No surprise on the bond issue, but the twist here is that the FBI used an undercover agent in a chat room to build this case against people in Saudi Arabia and Kenya.  Curt Anderson has the details:

Two men accused of providing thousands of dollars and recruiting fighters for terrorist organizations overseas pleaded not guilty Tuesday at a hearing where prosecutors revealed the case against them was built largely by an undercover FBI agent posing on the Internet as a terror finance middleman.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro said at a bail hearing that the agent, known only as an "Online Covert Employee," actually used brother and sister personas in an Internet chat room to make contact with Gufran Ahmed Kauser Mohammed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India who relocated in 2011 to Saudi Arabia. Mohammed was interested in using the FBI undercover agent to help finance al-Qaida and affiliated terror groups in Syria and East Africa, authorities say.
In July 2012, for example, Mohammed told the FBI agent in the chat room that he wanted one of his wire transfers "to fund an al-Qaida terrorist attack on United States citizens or the United Nations," Del Toro said. No specific targets were named.
The other suspect, 25-year-old Mohamed Hussein Said, is a Kenyan involved with al-Shabaab, an African terror organization currently attempting to replace Somalia's government with one that observes strict Islamic law, Del Toro said. Said, who had never travelled to the U.S. until his arrest, identified terrorist fighters for a Syrian offshoot of al-Qaida and received more than $11,000 from Mohammed for the al-Shabaab organization, court documents show.
In one of the online chats, Said in February said he had one recruit "who would be willing to conduct a martyrdom operation within the United States and be like one of the 19," the indictment says. Del Toro said Said was referring to the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The two men never met in person until their arrests earlier this month in Saudi Arabia. Del Toro said the FBI undercover agent posed as Mohammed on the Internet to convince Said to travel from Mombassa, Kenya, to Saudi Arabia. The men were taken into custody by the Saudis, turned over to the FBI and immediately flown to Miami to face the terror support charges.
The undercover online FBI agent worked out of the Miami office and many of Mohammed's wire transfers actually wound up here. All told, Mohammed attempted to send more than $25,000 to fund al-Qaida and the affiliates, according to the indictment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. O'Sullivan ordered both men held without bail until trial. Mohammed's attorney, Vince Farina, said his client had a computer science master's degree from UCLA and had brothers living in both California and Texas, as well as parents in California. Farina did not provide their names.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tuesday news and notes

1. Eric Holder's speech was quite a doozy and is a breath of fresh air for the draconian sentences that have been doled out over the past 20 years.

Even though law enforcement is complaining that their snitches won't be as motivated under the new policy, the real question is whether the actual policy goes far enough. Unfortunately, the policy is not law and is not binding on prosecutors.  In other words, it leaves the discretion with individual prosecutors as to whether to follow it or not.  (In the recent Brady policy issued to prosecutors, it's become clear that nothing much has changed because prosecutors still say that they are only obligated to turn over what's required by the rule and not by the policy statement of their boss.) Rumpole also raises the real concern (in the comments) about whether the new policy will be ignored when defendants actually decide to fight and go to trial... Let's see how this plays out; It's still a good start, which should be applauded because judges will be free to judge again instead of imposing arbitrary min/man sentences.

UPDATE --the actual policy can be read here.

2.  The ABA has approved a resolution in support of legislation authorizing judgeships.  Via Legal Newsline (HT GS): 

At this year’s meeting, which runs through Tuesday, delegates voted in favor of comprehensive legislation to authorize needed permanent and temporary federal judgeships, with particular focus on the federal districts with identified judicial emergencies “so that affected courts may adjudicate all cases in a fair, just and timely manner.”
The ABA also is urging President Barack Obama to advance nominees for current vacancies for federal judicial positions “promptly” and the U.S. Senate to hear and vote on the nominations “expeditiously.”
The association noted that Congress has not passed comprehensive legislation authorizing additional judgeships since 1990.
Since that time, federal district courts have experienced a 38 percent growth in caseloads but have seen only a 4 percent increase in judgeships.
“Legislation is needed to ensure that the federal judiciary has the judgeships it needs to adjudicate all cases in a prompt, efficient and fair manner,” according to the association’s executive summary of the resolution.

“As of May 16, 2013, there are 85 federal judicial vacancies and 24 nominations pending. Filling these existing judicial vacancies is essential.”
Last month, U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chris Coons introduced legislation that would create 91 new federal judgeships in two federal circuits and 32 federal districts across 21 states.

Maybe we should confirm the outstanding judges first...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Three powerful op-eds in the New York Times (UPDATED)

All three are really worth your time.

The first is John Grisham's piece on Guantanamo, highlighting a horrible injustice to a person named Nabil Hadjarab:

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

Next up is the editorial board condemning BOP for transferring 1100 women inmates:

The decision by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to transfer more than 1,100 women from a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., to other locations, including a remote facility in Aliceville, Ala., was rightly denounced as bad policy when it became widely known earlier this summer.
Now, 11 senators from Northeastern states have sent a letter to the bureau’s director, Charles Samuels Jr., asking him to reconsider the plan to send prisoners to Aliceville. The senators, led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, argue that the transfers would make it difficult if not impossible for families to sustain the visits that make it more likely that inmates will re-enter society successfully once they complete their sentences. The move would leave the Northeastern corridor with no federal beds for female inmates.

Finally is Nicholas D. Kristof's column on "all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system," exploring "the nightmare experienced by Edward Young."

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

In May, a federal judge, acknowledging that the case was Dickensian but saying that he had no leeway under the law, sentenced Young to serve a minimum of 15 years in federal prison. It didn’t matter that the local authorities eventually dismissed the burglary charges.

Horrific. All three.

Updated -- Some good news this morning via the NY Times. Eric Holder is announcing a new policy on drug cases to ease some of the crazy high sentences in drug cases:
Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.

Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.

For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.

It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would be recharged because of the new policy.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

I really like this story

From federal prisoner to federal law clerk on the D.C. Circuit.  Really incredible.  From the BLT:

Shon Hopwood's unique career in the law has taken a dramatic new turn. The onetime jailhouse lawyer who served time in federal prison for robbing banks has been hired as a 2014 law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit."I'm amazed at the opportunities and second chances I have been given," said Hopwood Wednesday after returning home to Seattle from his interview with Brown on Monday. Hopwood said the judge offered him the job soon after the interview. "I quickly said yes."While in Washington, D.C. Hopwood, 38, also visited former solicitor general Seth Waxman, who has been something of a mentor to Hopwood for more than a decade. They made contact after a certiorari petition Hopwood wrote for a fellow inmate while in prison was granted review by the Supreme Court. The 2004 case was Fellers v. United States. Hopwood chronicled his experiences in the 2012 book Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption.After a post-prison stint with Cockle Law Brief Printing Company in Nebraska, Hopwood has been a student for the last two years at University of Washington School of Law. Last summer he interned for a federal district court judge in Seattle, and this summer he has been working in the federal public defender's office, also in Seattle. Hopwood said that partly because of the budget cuts caused by sequestration, he has appeared in court for sentencing and other proceedings more often than fellow students working at law firms. Hopwood is scheduled to graduate from law school next summer....  
After his year with Judge Brown, will Hopwood follow in the footsteps of other D.C. Circuit clerks and apply for a Supreme Court clerkship? "I haven't given that any thought at all," he said, sounding surprised at the question. "I'm taking it one step at a time, and I'm still in a state of shock."

UPDATE -- the judge who sentenced Hopwood, Judge Kopf, wrote a blog post about his sentencing decision and gut instincts at sentencing. Hopwood and the judge have a fascinating discussion in the comments section, including this initial letter from Hopwood:

Shon Hopwood says:
August 8, 2013 at 11:07 am
Dear Judge Kopf,

I wouldn’t say that your sentencing instincts suck. While I meant what I said at sentencing, I was hardly the person that could back it up. I was a reckless and selfish young man back then. I changed. I think most of us change from the age of 22 to 38. And many, like me, outgrow the irresponsibility and foolishness. I can’t tell you how many law enforcement officers (including prosecutors) have come up to me and said something similar to this: I know your story and I too committed some crimes when I was young (although not in the category of bank robberies), and I was lucky enough to not get caught. They changed and channeled their energies and became responsible professionals. I did, too.

And to answer Russ’s question, as far as the length of sentencing, I think it had little effect on my rehabilitation. Prison is not the place for personal growth. Very few people come out of it for the better. From my experience, sentences over 5 years do little to help society or the prisoner. Five years is about the maximum amount of time for someone to “get it” and change and create a different life. More than that, and prisoners feel hopelessness and they think “why bother, I just need to get through this and go home.” It’s very difficult to “seize the day” in prison and use every day to prepare for release when you staring at a 10- or 20-year sentence in the face. And like I said, prisons are not designed with rehabilitation in mind. It’s almost solely about incapacitation, which is why the national recidivism rate hovers at 66%.

I made it because I grew up and because I received a large dollop of God’s grace in the form of: 1) a loving family that never gave up on me; 2) finding the law and helping others through the law, which gave me purpose; 3) a beautiful woman who encouraged me (and I later married once I was released); and 4) some gracious lawyers at WilmerHale who mentored me and pushed me to dream big (my original dream was to become a paralegal, not law school, and definitely not a future clerk on the DC Circuit).

But as a judge, you’re constrained by the system we have. I’ve never believed that it’s up to judges to fix that system on their own. It requires citizens to view criminal justice issues differently (and heck, to view prisoners differently), and a Congress to actually pass some legislation.

I feel fortunate that I have been given so many second chances, including the sentence which allowed me to be released at a fairly young age. That doesn’t always happen.

Take care,

Don't file Anders briefs

The blog has discussed this issue before, and the last time, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

This time, in United States v. Fries, a defendant's conviction was reversed for insufficient evidence:

Fries did not object to the proposed jury instruction, either at the charge conference or at trial, on the ground that it did not require the government to prove that the buyer of the firearm did not possess an FFL. Nor did Fries file a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the government’s case, at the close of all the evidence, or in a post-trial motion.
Fries filed a notice of appeal, but soon thereafter his attorney filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and an Anders brief, contending that a review of the record revealed no arguable issue of merit upon which he could proceed in good faith. A member of this Court subsequently denied the motion to withdraw and ordered further briefing on the following two issues:
(1) whether the district court effectively removed the burden of proof regarding an element of the 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(5) offense by instructing the jury that the sale of a firearm to a licensed dealer was an exception to the prohibition on sales to non-residents that did not apply in the case; and (2) whether the evidence was insufficient to convict when no evidence was presented as to whether the buyer of the firearm was a licensed dealer.
In keeping with that directive, Fries now argues that because there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that Visnovske did not have an FFL when Fries sold him the firearm at issue in Count II, his conviction should be reversed. He also argues in the alternative that because the trial judge instructed the jury that transferee’s licensure status was an exception to criminal liability under
§ 922(a)(5) rather than an essential element of the crime, the jury instructions erroneously relieved the government of its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person to whom Fries allegedly sold the Kimber firearm charged in Count II of the indictment (Visnovske) did not possess an FFL. 

Ultimately the Court rules for the defense:

It is no answer to say that the particular element at issue here—the licensure status of the transferee for purposes of § 922(a)(5)—is unimportant or somehow a technicality: our charge as arbiters of the law does not turn upon the potential for intrigue presented by the particular plot or cast of characters of a given case. Even where the defendant fails to move for acquittal and our review of the record is at its most charitable, in the end the responsibility to provide some scintilla of evidence regarding each element of a crime falls squarely on the government. Because the government failed to make that minimal showing, Fries’s conviction must fall.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Two local mayors charged... and arrested

Lots of local media coverage about the new case brought today against Mayors Michael Pizzi and Manuel Marono, so no need to rehash it on the blog.

But I've always wondered why there needs to be arrests in cases like this. Why not have them surrender and save the very overspent system the expense of sending the calavry to bring them in.

Of course the reason is to show the public the images/video of the arrests...

Is it worth it, readers?

UPDATE -- here are the complaints for Pizzi (represented by Ben Kuehne) and for Marono (represented by Kendall Coffey).

Tuesday's news and notes -- Government misbeheaving edition

Any one of these stories is breathtaking, but all three together... wow.

1.  FBI informants commit a lot of crimes -- with the FBI's approval.  USA Today's Brad Heath has the depressing story here:

WASHINGTON — The FBI gave its informants permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, according to newly disclosed documents that show just how often the nation's top law enforcement agency enlists criminals to help it battle crime.
Agents authorized 15 crimes a day, on average, including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies. FBI officials have said in the past that permitting their informants — who are often criminals themselves — to break the law is an indispensable, if sometimes distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations.
USA TODAY obtained a copy of the FBI's 2011 report under the Freedom of Information Act. The report does not spell out what types of crimes its agents authorized, or how serious they were. It also did not include any information about crimes the bureau's sources were known to have committed without the government's permission.
"The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?" said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who has studied such issues. "I'm sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked."
A spokeswoman for the FBI, Denise Ballew, declined to answer questions about the report, saying only that the circumstances in which its informants are allowed to break the law are "situational, tightly controlled," and subject to Justice Department policy. The FBI almost always keeps its informants' work secret. The agency said in a 2007 budget request that it has a network of about 15,000 confidential sources.
2.  So how to federal cases actually get started?  The government has asked DEA to cover up and fabricate the answers. This is insane, if true. From Reuters:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses."I have never heard of anything like this at all," said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

3. And if the government is doing anything wrong, there is nothing that you can do about it. Huffington Post has this long read about misbehaving prosecutors and how the system protects them. Here's a little snippet of a really great article:

Over the last year or so, a number of high-profile stories have fostered discussion and analysis of prosecutorial power, discretion and accountability: the prosecution and subsequent suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz; the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers; the related Department of Justice investigations into the sources of leaks that have raised First Amendment concerns; and aggressive prosecutions that look politically motivated, such as the pursuit of medical marijuana offenders in states where the drug has been legalized for that purpose. In May, an 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists were convicted of "sabotage" and other "crimes of violence" for breaking into a nuclear weapons plant to unfurl banners, spray paint and sing hymns. Even many on the political right, traditionally a source of law-and-order-minded support for prosecutors, have raised concerns about "overcriminalization" and the corresponding power the trend has given prosecutors.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Amos Rojas, Jr. named U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of FLorida

Amos Rojas Jr., to be United States Marshal, Southern District of Florida
Amos Rojas Jr. currently works for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, serving as the Deputy Director of the South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force.  He previously worked for 24 years in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), including serving for eight years as the Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Regional Operations Center of the FDLE.  Prior to joining the FDLE, he served as an Investigative Supervisor in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, and he has also served on the Huntsville (Alabama), South Miami, and Miami-Dade Police Departments.  He received his undergraduate degree in 1983 from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. 

From the Herald:

Amos Rojas Jr., a former longtime law enforcement officer who works as an investigator for the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, has been nominated to serve as the U.S. marshal in South Florida.
Rojas, who was nominated by President Barack Obama on Thursday, is the deputy director of the South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force in the state attorney’s office.
Previously, he spent 24 years with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, retiring as the special agent in charge of the Miami region. Rojas also was a police officer on the Huntsville, Ala., South Miami and Miami-Dade police departments.
A 1983 graduate of the University of Alabama, Rojas must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he starts his new position as head of the U.S. Marshals Service in the Southern District of Florida.
Obama, in a statement regarding four new U.S. marshal nominees in Florida, Ohio and Texas, said: “These nominees have spent their careers risking their own safety to protect their fellow Americans.”

Read more here:

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday news and notes

1.  The results of the poll from a few days ago:
Would you spend 4+ days in solitary confinement without food, water, or a bathroom for $4 million?
Selection Votes 
Yes, but not for less than $4 million 17%10 
Yes, I would do it for anything over $1 million 28%16 
No, but I would for $10 million 14%
No, I would never do it for any amount of money 41%24 
58 total free polls

2.  Congrats to Guy Lewis and Mike Tein (and their lawyer Paul Calli)  -- the bar investigation is closed because there was no PC to proceed.  From the DBR:
A Florida Bar grievance committee has found no probable cause to pursue a complaint alleging Miami law partners Guy Lewis and Michael Tein lied about the source of their fees in a wrongful death case.
The Bar also confirmed it has opened an investigation into three of the firm's most vocal litigation opponents: Miami attorneys Bernardo Roman III, Jose "Pepe" Herrera and Ramon Rodriguez.

 3.  The U.S. Attorney's Office issued this press release on the results of the pill-mill trial in front of Judge Marra. The headline boasts: "Jury Convicts Two Doctors of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering Resulting from Pill Mill Operation in Broward and Palm Beach Counties"
Here's the headline, however, from the Palm Beach Post: "Jury clears two local pill mill doctors of eight overdose deaths, convicts them of money laundering"
The AP headline: "Fla. MDs cleared of most serious pill mill charges:"
The Sun-Sentinel: "Doctors not guilty of most charges in pill mill case"
The blog has discussed USAO press releases before, and for the most part, they have gotten better, but this one seems to be misleading to me.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Judicial happenings

1.  Congrats to Judge Carnes on becoming Chief of the 11th Circuit.  From the Montgomery Advertiser:

Joel Dubina, Montgomery-based federal appeals court judge, will step down today as chief judge of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and a Montgomery judge will succeed him.

The 11th Circuit announced Wednesday that U.S. Circuit Judge Ed Carnes will assume the position, which is awarded in order of seniority. Dubina was appointed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990 after four years as a U.S. district judge in Montgomery; Carnes was appointed to the circuit in 1992. Both were appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

Judge Dubina had a great run as Chief and will remain active on the court.

2.  Glenn Sugameli breaks the news again about federal judgeships:

A) New future vacancy raises US total to 101 current and future vacancies

B) Major bill to create 91 new federal judgeships, including many in FL

How will this bill affect us:

Permanent judgeships:

· 3 additional district judgeships for the southern district of Florida;

· 5 additional district judgeships for the middle district of Florida;

· 1 additional district judgeship for the northern district of Florida;

Temporary judgeships:

· 1 additional district judgeship for the middle district of Florida;

Permanent status to temporary judgeships:

· 1 in the southern district of Florida;

Of course we currently have two open seats and the JNC is accepting applications now, until August 19 (the first day of school).  From everything I am hearing, there is an expectation that there will be about 25 applications, and the JNC will then send 4 names to the Senators for 2 slots (after the interviews).