Thursday, April 30, 2015

Law Day is May 1

Together with the Federal Bar Association, the Southern District of Florida is hosting Law Day Programs in U.S. Courthouses to educate area high school students. Law Day is an annual celebration of our liberties, a reaffirmation of our loyalty to our country and a rededication to the ideals of equality and justice. The designation of May 1st as “Law Day” is codified in 36 U.S.C. § 113. Click here for more information about the national program.

The American Bar Association’s Law Day theme this year is “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law,” celebrating the 800th anniversary of a document that is an international symbol of the rule of law and an inspiration for many basic rights, including due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the right to travel. The Law Day programs include: a mock trial exploring fourth amendment issues, an animated discussion of the Magna Carta, a dialogue on the tensions between our security and our freedom, and observation of court in session. As part of the local theme of “Diversity and Inclusion in the Law”, a panel of members of the judiciary and the legal community will share personal experiences and obstacles each faced and overcame in order to achieve success in the legal field.

The events will take place on Friday, May 1, 2015 from 8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the King building and the Broward courthouse.

For more information or to R.S.V.P. to attend the event, please contact
Jarred Reiling at or
Clay Roberts at

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"In the early 1970s, four Florida Supreme Court justices resigned from office following corruption scandals."

That was the U.S. Supreme Court today in decising Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar.  From the intro:
Our Founders vested authority to appoint federal judges in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and entrusted those judges to hold their offices during good behavior. The Constitution permits States to make a different choice, and most of them have done so. In 39 States, voters elect trial or appellate judges at the polls. In an effort to preserve public confidence in the integrity of their judiciaries, many of those States prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns. We must decide whether the First Amendment permits such restrictions on speech.
We hold that it does. Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money. We affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.
 I'm against judicial elections, but if you are gonna have em, then I think you gotta back the First Amendment and a person's right to ask for campaign contributions even if they are running for judge.  I find myself agreeing with Scalia again:

An ethics canon adopted by the Florida Supreme Court bans a candidate in a judicial election from asking anyone, under any circumstances, for a contribution to his campaign. Faithful application of our precedents would have made short work of this wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech. Intent upon upholding the Canon, however,the Court flattens one settled First Amendment principle after another.
The first axiom of the First Amendment is this: As a general rule, the state has no power to ban speech on the basis of its content. One need not equate judges with politicians to see that this principle does not grow weaker merely because the censored speech is a judicial candidate’s request for a campaign contribution. Our cases hold that speech enjoys the full protection of the First Amendment unless a widespread and longstanding tradition ratifies its regulation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The big argument today

The Washington Post has interesting clips on the gay marriage argument to listen to here, including the protestor:
Protester briefly disrupts court 
10:29 a.m.:  Before U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. could speak to the justices, a protester inside the chamber stood up and began shouting.
“Homosexuality is an abomination!” the man shouted from the center of the chamber.
He continued yelling about an “abomination to God” as he was quickly taken outside by security, but his shouting could be heard echoing through the building for several minutes.
The interlude was “kind of refreshing,” Scalia remarked. The room chuckled as Verrilli began to make his remarks.
As Verrilli began to discuss Lawrence v. Kansas, giving way to a discussion about the fundamental nature of marriage, the muffled cries of “abomination” could still be heard in the courtroom.

"This embarrassment is something I'll take to my grave."

That was 57-year old Dr. Krishna Tripuraneni before being sentenced by Judge Gayles to 2 years for tax evasion of about $18 million. The government had asked for 3 years and the defense asked for non-incarceration. From the Sun-Sentinel:
The doctor, who built a flourishing medical practice in Wellington, had asked the judge to consider his long history of donating his medical services to needy people and giving generously to deserving causes.

U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles said he balanced the doctor's significant illegal conduct and his long history of charitable work in deciding the appropriate punishment.

"The thing that stood out to me ... there was this duality — this very serious crime and there are also good works," the judge said.

The judge said he had difficulty discerning the doctor's motive, noting that unlike many defendants, he had no great financial need or a drug problem.

"Perhaps it was the need for more homes, or bigger homes, or more cars ... I don't understand it," Gayles said.

Tripuraneni admitted that he lied about his business expenses and used money from his medical businesses to build an oceanfront mansion in Manalapan. He also used the money to pay for interior design work at other homes he owned, to make pay payments for condos he purchased, and to pay tuition for his son and daughter. Prosecutors said he illegally classified his personal expenses as building repairs and other business-related expenses.

The mansion, which the family named Nirvana, was put on the market earlier this year with an asking price of $25 million. Forbes magazine reported the luxurious 12,244-square-foot home sits on an acre-and-a-half of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth Inlet. The agent handling the listing told the magazine the property features a Zen garden and said the family flew in Buddhist monks to bless the home.

Tripuraneni, in a dark grey suit, told the judge he was sincerely sorry for what he did and took full responsibility for his offenses, which spanned five years.

"This embarrassment is something I'll take to my grave," he said.

He said he was too ashamed to face his parents, who are in their 80s and live in India. And he said he dreaded the thought of his future grandchildren learning what he did.

"There will be an asterisk next to my name and it's hard to live with that shame," he said.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Time for a new A.G.

Eric Holder has stepped down and now we have Loretta Lynch. Part of his speech from CNN:

As in his speech when he took office six years ago, Holder laid claim to helping restore the Justice Department's reputation, a tacit shot at the Bush administration and the political scandal that hung over former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after the firings of U.S. attorneys.

Holder said he was proud of the department's work, which he said was done "free of politicization." He told the Justice staffers they were responsible for a new "golden age" at the Justice Department.

He cited the department's role in the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which has quickened the acceptance of same-sex marriage. He called same-sex marriage the "civil rights issue of our time." He also lauded the department's active role in civil rights enforcement, which has become a major focus in light of a national spate of police shootings and excessive use-of-force incidents.

While Holder listed his accomplishments, much of the ceremony also served as a reminder of the rocky relationship he has had with Republicans, who made him the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress and who regularly used him as the stand-in to take shots at President Obama in political fights.

In other news, gay marriage is before the High Court and Justices Scalia and Kennedy are gonna be fighting on this one. From the Washington Post:

Kennedy is often the deciding vote when the ideologically divided court splits 5 to 4, but in two-thirds of those cases he sides with the conservatives.

But if they often arrive at the same conclusion — one obstacle for same-sex marriage proponents in the current case is Kennedy’s allegiance to states’ rights — Kennedy and Scalia could not be more different in how they view a judge’s role.

Their different approach to gay rights reflects their more fundamental disagreement about how to think about the liberties protected by the Constitution,” said Paul M. Smith, a Washington lawyer who was on the winning side in the Lawrence case.

Scalia believes the only freedoms that should be viewed as protected by the Constitution “are those that have been protected under American law throughout our history, defined at the most specific level,” Smith said. Otherwise, the people decide.

Kennedy, Smith said, “believes that each generation has the right to conceive of newer and broader forms of liberty that merit constitutional protection. He sees history as a guide but not a straitjacket.”

Their battle is compelling, said Allison Orr Larsen, a William and Mary law professor, because it “brings to the forefront the theoretical question in constitutional law: How should courts respond to change when interpreting the Constitution?”

Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School and a former Kennedy clerk, said his former boss’s decisions on gay rights were not constructed to lead ultimately to a decision on same-sex marriage. But they provided a foundation for how to view new constitutional rights “if that’s where the country moves.”

Scalia, on the other hand, champions the cause of originalism, and Edward Whelan, a former Scalia clerk and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said his former boss learned quickly that “Kennedy’s judicial approach was not anything close to what Scalia’s is.”

“A basic tenet of originalism is that it’s not the role of judges to impose their own moral philosophies,” Whelan said. “Scalia understands the Constitution to leave the vast bulk of policy issues to the democratic processes and rejects the notion that it’s his role to read his own views into the Constitution.”

And here's your Monday moment of zen:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's been a bad week for law enforcement and dogs

First was the well-covered story of the Supreme Court ruling that traffic stops couldn't be extended, even briefly, to allow for drug-sniffing dogs to take a whiff around the car (yes, Rumpole, that was Scalia in the majority).

And next is this awful story about the FBI lying in courtrooms around the country about hair samples. In this particular case, the FBI convicted a man using hair analysis when the hair at issue was a dog's hair!

In one particularly shocking case from 1978, two FBI-trained hair analysts who helped in the prosecution of a murder case couldn’t even tell the difference between human hair and dog hair.

The case involved a murder in Washington D.C. that year. The victim, a cab driver, was robbed and killed in front of his home. Before long, police centered upon Santae Tribble, then a 17-year-old local from the neighborhood, as a suspect.

Tribble maintained his innocence. But no matter what he said and how much his friends vouched, two FBI forensics experts claimed that a single strand of hair recovered near the scene of the crime matched Tribble’s DNA. Thanks to that evidence, which was groundbreaking at the time, Tribble was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison after 40 minutes of jury deliberation, reported the Washington Post.

He would go on to serve 28 years until the truth came out: an independent analysis found that the FBI testimony was flawed. Not a single hair that was found on the scene matched his DNA. After attorneys brought the evidence to the courts, Tribble was exonerated of the crime, though he’d already been released from prison. “The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of at trial,” a judge wrote in the certificate of innocence released at the time, in 2012.

It gets worse. Not only did none of the hairs presented as evidence in trial belonged to Tribble, the private lab found that one of the hairs actually came from a dog.

“Such is the true state of hair microscopy,” Sandra K. Levick, Tribble’s lawyer, wrote at the time, in 2012. “Two FBI-trained analysts… could not even distinguish human hairs from canine hairs.”

Tribble’s case in not unique. In a Washington Post story released over the weekend, officials from the FBI and the Justice Department acknowledged the extent of their flawed use of hair forensics prosecutions prior to 2000.

The numbers are staggering. Over 95 percent of the cases involving hair evidence that the FBI has reviewed so far contained flawed testimony—257 out of 268 cases.

Ho hum. No one seems to care.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


That's how the appellant in this Federal Circuit case cited to a case so that it counted as one word instead of 14. The court wasn't amused:

The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure limit an
appellant’s opening brief to 14,000 “words.” Fed. R. App.
P. 32(a)(7). Appellants attempted in their first corrected
brief to create “words” by squeezing various words together
and deleting the spaces that should appear between the
words. For example, the following is not one word, although
that is how it appears on page 3 of Appellants’ first
corrected opening brief:


Instead, when written properly, it is 14 words: Thorner v.
Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365
(Fed. Cir. 2012). Similar matters appeared throughout
the brief.
In the alternative, Appellants move for leave to file a
new “corrected brief.” The new corrected brief does not
bring the actual word count below 14,000 words. For
example, the new corrected brief would, instead of deleting
spaces between words in case citations, replace various
phrases or case citations with abbreviations such as
“TOA1” and list those citations only in the table of authorities.
The Appellants also use abbreviations such as
“CR1” to cross-reference to something that was stated
earlier in the brief, although it is so poorly explained that
it is nearly incomprehensible. Neither the previously filed
brief nor the most recent proffered corrected brief comply
with the court’s rules. Instead, they represent an attempt
to file briefs that, if written properly, exceed the permitted
word limitation.
Appellants have failed to show cause why the brief
should not be stricken and why the appeal should not be
dismissed. Pursuant to the court’s March 17, 2015 order,
the appeal is dismissed.

In local news, the feds are targeting local businesses in a particular geographic area for money laundering. Can they do that? From the AP:

Federal investigators are targeting 700 businesses in the Miami area for enhanced scrutiny to detect trade-based money laundering schemes involving Latin American criminal organizations, authorities announced Tuesday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the focus would be on electronics exporters, including those in the cellphone business, in five ZIP codes near Miami International Airport. The targeted companies will be required to file certain Treasury Department forms for transactions over $3,000 rather than the current $10,000 threshold.

In addition, the companies will be required to identify people involved in the transactions, focusing especially on third parties who put up the money to complete the deals. Authorities say the program enhances law enforcement's ability to find and prosecute money launderers, including those in the illicit drug trade, counterfeit merchandise sales and human trafficking.

"It's very prevalent among the electronic exporters," said John Tobon, assistant special agent in charge of ICE homeland security investigations in Miami. "These are items that are very easily sold overseas."

The Miami businesses were not identified by name. Tobon said not all of them are wittingly involved in money laundering, although some are created solely for criminal groups to evade U.S. currency laws. Some legitimate exporters view the complex, often all-cash transactions as necessary for doing business in Latin America.

"We want to let them know this is not an acceptable business practice," Tobon said.

The new rules, formally known as a Geographic Targeting Order, were issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, which is part of the Treasury Department. A similar order was issued last year covering some 2,000 businesses in the Los Angeles area after raids in that city's fashion district resulted in seizure of $90 million in cash and $30 million in bank accounts traced to Mexican drug cartels.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What should the courts do about confusing statutes?

That was the question yesterday before the Supreme Court, which was looking at the Armed Career Criminal Statute. From the Washington Post:

Johnson was subject to an enhanced sentence because he had previous convictions. But he said that one of them — mere possession of a sawed-off shotgun — should not qualify as violent.

The Supreme Court originally took the case to decide that question. But months after the first argument, apparently unable to agree about the proper disposition of the case, the justices scheduled a new hearing on whether the clause was unconstitutionally vague.

As might be expected, Scalia led the questioning of whether the law could be saved. “Can we just patch up this statute in ways that have nothing to do with its text?” he asked Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben, representing the government. He suggested that was a job for Congress.

Scalia said he did not believe it was enough that everyone agreed that some convictions would qualify.

“I suppose you could have a statute that criminalized annoying conduct, right?” Scalia asked. “And according to the government, that would not be unconstitutional, because there’s some stuff that is clearly annoying, right?”

Dreeben said the concern should be less because the burden is on the government.

If a court is not satisfied that a crime fits within the category, “the government loses,” Dreeben said. “The tie goes to the defendant.”

So my question to our district and circuit judges is why aren't more statutes found unconstitutionally vague? It is almost unheard of for the lower courts to do so, leaving it to the Supreme Court to step in. But so few cases get to the Supreme Court that the law is rarely tested. If more district and circuit judges were willing to say what we all know -- that many of these statutes make no sense and criminalize all sorts of benign conduct, the Supreme Court would examine more cases and the law would progress.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Go Dore Go!

Tiffany Foster gambled and lost a lengthy trial before Judge Altonaga.  She was taken into custody after the verdict was read and by all accounts was facing a substantial jail sentence.  But Dore Louis didn't give up -- and he won his post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal based on his defense of withdrawal.  From the Miami Herald:

A woman branded by prosecutors as the “matriarch of patient brokers” for a Hollywood hospital that fleeced about $40 million from Medicare has been freed by a federal judge in a rare ruling that spares her from spending potentially the rest of her life in prison.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga threw out a Miami jury’s guilty verdicts against Tiffany Foster, 49, saying the trial evidence showed that she had “withdrawn” from the scheme to bilk Medicare more than five years before prosecutors filed an indictment against her and others in May 2014.

As a result, Foster should not have been charged because the statute of limitation for that period had already run out. Altonaga concluded that Foster “cannot be punished for the offenses for which she was convicted.”

The clock was ticking for Foster, who faced up to 25 years in prison at her sentencing on April 30.

Foster’s defense lawyers said they were “elated” with the judge’s answer to their post-verdict bid for acquittal — almost always a long shot.

“It is an important decision not only for Tiffany, but for anybody who has made mistakes in the past and long since moved beyond them,” said Miami attorney Marshall Dore Louis, who worked on the defense with Hilary Metz.

Good stuff. A shout out to Dore, but also to Judge Altonaga for having the courage to throw the case out.

Meantime, Paula McMahon is covering the Swap Shop trial in Broward. It's really entertaining and you should check out this entire article. Here's a snippet:

Jurors in the civil suit that pits luxury brand Louis Vuitton against the owners of the Swap Shop flea market in a fight over designer fakes got their first chance Friday to hear from the multimillionaire couple.

And the testimony from Preston and Betty Henn was a doozy.

"Ask me a sensible question," Preston Henn, 84, fired off.

"It's none of your business." "Don't want to." "Don't ask me dumb questions." "I. DON'T. KNOW."

Though lawyers had warned the jury that Henn is "petulant" and "quirky," jurors laughed out loud at times when they saw him in action.

The couple testified about condoms, crayons and cash. They discussed their strong work ethic and how they run their business. But above all else, both Henns — who sat in the courtroom but testified via pre-recorded video footage — made it crystal clear they don't have much patience for other people's questions.

Louis Vuitton's lawsuit accuses the Henns of contributing to the violation of the ritzy designer's trademarks by allowing vendors to sell fake Louis Vuittons at the market on Sunrise Boulevard in Lauderhill. If the Henns are found liable, they could face civil penalties of $1,000 to $2 million per proven trademark violation.

Louis Vuitton argues the Henns knew what was going on right under their noses because they both work at the market seven days a week.

The defense says the couple has taken reasonable steps to try to shut down the sale of counterfeits but that even Louis Vuitton, a multi-billion-dollar operation, has been unable to stem the tide of fakes.

The Henns are millionaires many times over and travel from their Hillsboro Mile home to their Aspen, Colo., retreat in a private jet they bought for about $18 million.

But they don't put on airs.

Preston Henn wears faded blue jeans to court most days and refills his Hard Rock Casino commuter mug from containers he carries to court in a variety of bags — an insulated vinyl shopping tote, a canvas book bag and, one day, one of the family's genuine Louis Vuitton leather handbags.

Betty Henn, 80, told the jury she and her husband resolve their disputes "by screaming at each other." But he gets the final say because, "He's a man."

At the market, they call her "Miss Betty" and vendors know they're playing with fire if they tick her off.

But when the lawyers asked what her job title was, she deadpanned: "Slave."

Jurors laughed. Preston Henn chuckled and patted her arm lovingly.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday news and notes

1.  Would you pick the Chief Justice for jury duty?  These lawyers passed in a state civil case:
Rubin eventually asked people to raise their hands if they were involved in certain professions or were close to people involved in those professions. When the topic turned to medicine, Roberts spoke up.
“Juror 49,” he began. “My sister is a nurse.”
Rubin asked for a few more details and got them – she lived in Indiana, with a specialty of cardiology. Then Rubin asked the highest ranking member of his profession a question he obviously knew by rote: “Would that in any way make it difficult or impossible for you to be fair and impartial?”
“Nope,” the chief justice said.
Rubin moved on to whether panelists knew people involved in the accident investigation field.
Several prospects answered, including Roberts, who told Rubin about his brother-in-law. Rubin again asked if that would keep him from being fair and impartial.
“No sir,” Roberts said.
The judge – Rubin – moved on to questions about whether anyone had been in a bad accident. A man in the back said he’d totaled his dad’s Volvo as a teenager. Rubin asked if he was OK, heard that he was, and started an exchange that had Roberts and his other juror candidates laughing.
“Did you work it out with him?” Rubin asked.
“I had to work at a Cheesecake Factory for a couple of summers,” Juror No. 54 said.
Minutes later, Rubin asked No. 49 to step to the bench, asking the lawyers in the case to join them for a quiet conversation out of the presence of the other prospective jurors. It seemed clear what Rubin was doing: He was about to ask the panelists if they had any experience as a lawyer or close connections to lawyers, and Rubin wanted to save Roberts from having to answer in the detailed affirmative in front of everyone else.
“Sir, good morning. How are you?” Rubin asked No 49.
“Very good, thank you,” No. 49 said.
“I’ve discussed this with counsel. Obviously we know what you do for a living, sir.”
The huddle quickly concluded, and Roberts was allowed to remain silent during the lawyers question.
That Roberts wasn’t selected could have had as much to do with his juror number as anything.
After taking into consideration which jurors attorneys wanted stricken, Rubin went in numerical order. The panelists selected – six for the trial, with two alternates -- started at No. 2 and ended at No. 14.
The high court resumes oral arguments Monday.

2.  Would you try Ruth Bader Ginger ice-cream?

3.  What's the dillio with Judge Fuller.  Senators want to know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Britto sues Apple

Over this ad:

Below is the complaint, which fell before Kathy Williams. According to the lawsuit, Britto's specific Trade Dress is "strong, fanciful, non-functional, and inherently distinctive," composed of vibrant color combinations, the juxtaposition of different patterns, bold black outlines, and "uplifting, bright and happy visual themes." Should be a fun one to watch.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"I want to reiterate to all department personnel…that they are prohibited from soliciting, procuring, or accepting commercial sex."

That was a friendly reminder from Attorney General Eric Holder to DOJ employees not to hire prostitutes even if it's legal in that country:
As an excuse for his actions, one DEA agent told investigators that prostitution is “considered a part of the local culture” — Holder dismissed this line of reasoning outright in his letter.
“Regardless of whether prostitution is legal or tolerated in a particular jurisdiction,” he wrote, “soliciting prostitutes creates a greater demand for human trafficking victims and a consequent increase in…commercial sex slavery.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday news and notes

1.  Justice Sotomayor had dinner with the Clooneys, per Page Six.

2.  AP: The FBI is getting a $200 million building in Miramar.  But we can't get a new state courthouse.

3.  This lawsuit says: Keep the Kardashians out of Florida!

4.  New proposed sentencing guidelines for fraud. Up up and away!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

An Unusual Decision Not to Publish - by Guest Blogger Brian Toth

An Unusual Decision Not to Publish - by Brian Toth
Earlier this year, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, dissented from the court’s decision not to review a ruling by the Fourth Circuit reviving a habeas petitioner’s claim that he was sentenced too harshly by a vindictive judge. The dissent in Plumley v. Austin was notable mostly for its sharp criticism of the Fourth Circuit’s choice to label its decision “unpublished”—that is, without precedential effect. The Fourth Circuit’s decision was 40 pages long, rendered after oral argument, contained a dissent, and, in Justice Thomas’s view, satisfied three criteria for publishing decisions. “It is hard to imagine,” Justice Thomas wrote, “a reason that the Court of Appeals would not have published this opinion except to avoid creating binding law for the Circuit.”

Yesterday, the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision in United States v. Rivero affirming a 30-year sentence for a 56-year-old defendant who pleaded guilty to possession with an intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Because Mr. Rivero qualified as a career offender, his advisory-guidelines range was 188 to 235 months. The government recommended that Mr. Rivero be sentenced toward to bottom of that range, but the district court, citing his lengthy criminal history, sentenced him to 360 months in prison—the statutory maximum. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision was rendered after oral argument and over a forceful dissent by the panel’s only active judge, Judge Martin, who addressed not just Mr. Rivero’s case but also the court’s precedents on sentencing. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Rivero, like the Fourth Circuit’s in Austin, was unpublished. Why?

In certain respects, the panel’s choice not to publish Rivero seems sound, and might even, to some, be preferable. Mr. Rivero’s first argument on appeal—was he a career offender?—was foreclosed by precedent, and applying precedent to new cases rarely justifies publication alone. And the majority disposed of Mr. Rivero’s challenge to the reasonableness of his sentence by carefully hewing to the court’s precedents and to its highly deferential standard of review. Plus, the decision doesn’t create binding precedent for imposing on other defendants, in Judge Martin’s words, “an extraordinary sentence for what seems to be an ordinary crime.” The court metes out tough justice for Mr. Rivero, but only for Mr. Rivero. 

But for those who closely follow the Eleventh Circuit, that yesterday’s decision is unpublished may seem unusual. The Eleventh Circuit takes special interest in sentencing, and nearly always seems to publish decisions involving large variances (only death-penalty cases get similar automatic-publication treatment). Further, because we want similarly situated defendants to be sentenced similarly—and because, presumably, we want the process in which they are sentenced to be similar, too—publishing decisions involving sentencing is important. The court, moreover, publishes many decisions where, as in Rivero, there has been oral argument. And although it’s common for the Eleventh Circuit to dispose of an appeal in an unpublished decision after oral argument where the result is clear, it’s not common to do so where there has been a strong dissent by the only active judge on the panel. And the facts of this case are compelling: Mr. Rivero, a 56-year-old man, indeed has a long criminal history, but he was given a tough sentence for, according to the majority, an “unremarkable” current offense. And the government recommended a bottom-of-the-guidelines sentence as well. In short, this is not your run-of-the-mill sentencing case. 

Courts don’t say why they publish their decisions; per the Eleventh Circuit’s internal operating procedures, the choice is up to the majority of the panel. Thus, why Rivero is unpublished is anybody’s guess. But I suspect that a principal reason was, as Justice Thomas observed in Austin, “to avoid creating binding law for the Circuit.” If so, then the question still remains, Why?

I don’t know and, to be clear, I’m not criticizing the majority’s choice not to publish Rivero. But one by-product of its decision seems clear: the likelihood of en banc review is greatly reduced, for there is little reason for the full court to undertake the arduous process of reviewing a decision that doesn’t bind it or lower courts. In dissent, Judge Martin observed that she was “aware of no published opinion in which we have held that an above-Guidelines sentence was substantively unreasonable.” If Rivero had been published, her observation would remain true. But it would also be true that the likelihood of en banc review—and therefore the likelihood of a published opinion in which an above-guidelines sentence was held to be substantively unreasonable—would have been greater.

"Was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial necessary?"

That's the provocative headline to this Nancy Gertner op-ed.  If Tsarnaev would have pleaded guilty to life without parole and where Massachusetts doesn't have the death penalty, should we have used all of these federal resources on a trial?  A snippet:

Perhaps Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to show that the government does not need Guantanamo or military tribunals to secure the death penalty for those accused of terrorism. Perhaps he believed that any lesser punishment would expose the administration to criticism about the softness of the civilian system and reopen the floodgates to military tribunals. But that political calculation hardly justifies what the government seeks here, its costs, its emotional toll on the victims and on the city, the likelihood of extensive appeals, even the risk of error, particularly when there was another alternative — a plea of guilty in exchange for life without parole.
Following such a plea, the victims would have spoken at length at a sentencing proceeding, directly confronting Tsarnaev. Their narratives would have been no less compelling than what we have heard the past few weeks. The focus would have been on them, and only them. And once life without parole was imposed, the case would have been over, completely and totally. There would have been no appeals.
In some ways, this phase may be more difficult than the first phase. At this point, the focus necessarily shifts to Tsarnaev and away from the victims. More troubling, the jury’s life-and-death decision could be taking place at the same time as the second anniversary of the bombing. Boston is gearing up for the Marathon, and jurors will be passing the banners, the familiar sights of Marathon Monday, coupled with the city’s commemoration of the tragedy. Jurors are supposed to tune out the press. While it is difficult in a high-profile case, here their efforts will have to be extraordinary. And any juror’s exposure to the emotional and intense coverage could put the entire trial at risk on appeal.
The choices for the government should not be a death finding in a civilian court, or a death finding in a military tribunal, lethal injection or a firing squad. Countless others accused of heinous crimes have pled guilty to a life without parole. There was another way. There still is.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Accusations against Dersh stricken

A justified win for Professor Dershowitz before Judge Marra.  Via the AP:

A federal judge rejected a bid by two women to join a high-profile sexual abuse lawsuit and ordered scandalous sex allegations against Britain's Prince Andrew and a prominent U.S. lawyer removed from the court record.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra's ruling Tuesday came in a case involving wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. The two women, identified as Jane Does No. 3 and No. 4, claim to be among dozens of women Epstein sexually abused as teenagers at locations ranging from a Palm Beach mansion to a private Caribbean island to a sprawling New Mexico ranch.
The women wanted to join a lawsuit filed by other alleged victims. The lawsuit against the U.S. government seeks to reopen a non-prosecution agreement Epstein reached with federal prosecutors. Epstein pleaded guilty more than six years ago to state sex offenses and served a 13-month jail sentence, but could have gotten a much longer prison term if the Justice Department had brought charges.
Federal prosecutors opposed allowing the two Jane Does to join the lawsuit, which was filed in 2008, and Marra agreed.
"Justice does not require amendment in this instance," the judge wrote.
Marra also ordered sensational allegations against Prince Andrew and well-known lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a former Harvard Law School professor, stricken from the court record. Both denied any wrongdoing, with Dershowitz contending in his own court filings that Jane Doe No. 3 made up sex abuse stories involving him. Buckingham Palace stood by Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II who is also known as the Duke of York.
Marra said the sex abuse details had no bearing on the lawsuit's goal of reopening the Epstein non-prosecution agreement.
"The factual details regarding with whom and where the Jane Does engaged in sexual activities are immaterial and impertinent to this central claim," the judge wrote. "These unnecessary details shall be stricken."
Buckingham Palace had no comment Tuesday, referring to its past denials. Dershowitz, in a statement, called the decision "a vindication of my position" and said it should serve as a warning to attorneys against making unsupported allegations.

Full Disclosure -- I'm quoted in this article in support of the decision.

Update -- Dersh is on the record with ATL:

This isn’t the end of all Epstein-related litigation for Professor Dershowitz. He’s still a defendant in that libel action filed against him by Paul Cassell and Bradley Edwards, counsel to Jane Doe #3 aka Virginia Roberts. But Professor Dershowitz might actually welcome the continuation of that case. With his involvement in the Jane Doe case now over, the defamation case may be the best avenue for completely disproving the allegations against him.
UPDATE (2:45 p.m.): I just raised this possibility in email correspondence with Professor Dershowitz, and he agreed: “Right. I won’t rest until she admits she made it up.”
In his 1982 memoir, The Best Defense (affiliate link), Professor Dershowitz wrote, “Sometimes the public has to be reminded that the word criminal in criminal lawyer — like the word baby in baby doctor — is a description not of the professional, but rather of the clientele.” Alan Dershowitz might represent criminals, but he’s no criminal himself — and those who allege otherwise do so at their peril.

WSJ covers SDFLA as "most productive court"

The blog reported on this previously, and today the WSJ has the numbers:
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the front office of the federal judiciary, has done the legwork to figure out which of the 94 federal trial courts cut through its caseload most efficiently in the fiscal year that ended in September 2014.
The AO ranked U.S. district courts by hours on the bench, hours in trial, and number of civil and criminal trials. At the top of the 2014 list is the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The Miami-based court was No. 1 in trial hours, No. 2 in hours on the bench, No. 15 in civil trials and No. 5 in criminal trials.
The “America’s Most Productive” rankings don’t include court-specific data. The average judge, nationally, spent 364 hours on the bench and 182.7 hours in trial, and conducted four civil trials and 3.5 criminal trials in 2014.
A disclaimer: These numbers are likely inflated, because they don’t account for the work of senior U.S. district judges, who opt to work a reduce caseload instead of retiring.
Chief Judge K. Michael Moore of Florida’s Southern District said civil cases that go to trial in his court take about 16 months from start to finish, while cases that settle prior to trial resolve themselves, on average, in six months.
In fiscal 2014, the number of civil and criminal cases filed per judge in the Southern District, which also encompasses Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, was 695, compared to the national average of 533.
Judge Moore, whose court ranked No. 2 overall in 2013, said his aim is to promote a culture in which lawyers know that “you’re going to have to complete your task in a defined amount of time.”
“Holding lawyers to a trial date is the biggest incentive for them to do the work that they need to do,” he said. “The days of judges sitting back and being passive participants in the case-management system are gone.”

Still, judicial vacancies are growing and the Senate isn't doing anything.  Sen. Leahy is pissed:
We are now three months into the new Congress with Republicans in the majority.  The Republican reign thus far has been defined by an attempt to shut down the Department of Homeland Security; a refusal to even allow a floor vote on an eminently qualified nominee for Attorney General; and the decision to inject a partisan abortion fight in what is otherwise an uncontroversial bill to build on our efforts to combat human trafficking.  On top of all of this, the Senate Republican Leadership has been unwilling to bring up for a vote any of the judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar.  Not one.   
The refusal by the Senate Republican leadership to schedule votes on any Federal judges is completely contrary to historical precedent.  This is also in stark contrast to the way Democrats treated President Bush’s judicial nominees.  During the Bush administration we were able to reduce overall judicial vacancies from 110 down to 28.  In the 17 months I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during President Bush’s first two years in office, the Senate confirmed 100 Federal circuit and district court judges.  I also served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the last two years of the Bush administration and continued to hold regular hearings on judges and we confirmed 68 district and circuit court judges in those last two years.
The Senate must continue to fulfill its constitutional obligation of advice and consent.  The fact that we are in the last two years of this presidency does not mean our work is done.  In the last two years of the Clinton administration, 73 judges were confirmed, and in the last two years of the Reagan administration, 83 judges were confirmed.  I have heard Senate Republicans state that 11 of the judges confirmed in the lame duck last year should count towards confirmations this year.  That is a bizarre claim.  Prior Congresses have always confirmed consensus nominees prior to long recesses.  And Senate Democrats were only forced to do so because Republican obstruction had left judicial vacancies close to or exceeding 90 through the first six years of this President’s tenure.

H/T Glenn Sugameli

Monday, April 06, 2015

Mikhail Gorbachev sentenced to 6 years to lottery scam

Okay, okay -- not that Mikhail Gorbachev.  Actually this guy's name is Mikhail Gorbachev George Williams.  Paula McMahon has the story:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertha Mitrani said Williams squandered a second chance he was given in 2010 when investigators from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service warned him that money he received was part of a lottery or sweepstakes scam. Williams, a Jamaican citizen, was warned he could face prosecution if he continued to participate.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom rejected a request from defense lawyer John Cotrone to go easy on Williams.
"You had an opportunity to walk away from this criminal activity and you did not," the judge told Williams. She reminded him he had admitted taking money from elderly people who were deceived by him and his cohorts in South Florida and Jamaica.
Though Williams apologized, he tried to split hairs with the judge during his sentencing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. He claimed he had no direct contact with the victims, did not realize how old they were and only took a percentage of the money before sending on the rest to Jamaica.
"That might be an attempt to minimize your conduct, sir, but I don't see it that way," the judge politely told him. The victims' lives were destroyed by the fraud and his punishment had to be "meaningful" and deter him and others, she said.

Meantime, there's a trial going on where a witness is wearing a disguise in a closed courtroom -- and this isn't in Russia.  It's right here in Miami:
Two FBI undercover employees can testify at a terrorism trial in a Miami federal courtroom closed to the public, a judge ruled Friday, citing national security concerns.
***In court papers, Miami attorney Silvia PiƱera-Vazquez argued the prosecution’s demands would deprive her client of a fair trial under the U.S. Constitution. She asserted the “government's actions in this case are eerily similar" to the prosecution described in Franz Kafka's The Trial.
In the classic novel, the attorney noted, “a bank teller was arrested and prosecuted by a remote, unidentified authority, of an unidentified crime, by unidentified witnesses, and eventually executed.”

Read more here:

Thursday, April 02, 2015

“So much for post racial America.”

That was Judge Marcia Cooke on her Facebook page after a run-in with Bay Harbor Islands town council candidate Kenneth Eskin.  The Herald has the story here.  And here is the Judge's Facebook post describing the incident:

My Facebook posts are pretty neutral, and rarely personal. Today's post is personal and I doubt it will evoke neutral response(s).
It is approximately 9:30 am. I am leaving for work. Hence I am dressed in the female legal eagle/corporate attire: navy blue suit, pearls and pumps. I am carrying a coordinating bag and briefcase. As I approach my car, a man approaches me with leaflets. Our town elections are in a few weeks and I assume he is a candidate for one of the vacant council seats. Many candidates come to the condos and do the meet and greet. As I approach my car, the conversation:
He: ‘What family do you work for?’
Me: ‘Excuse me, I live here.’
He: ‘Oh’
Me: ‘Yes, for over twenty-years.’
He: ‘Oh.’
As he tries to hand me campaign literature, I get in my car and drive away.
Yes, Kenneth Eskin, I live in Bay Harbor Islands.
So much for post racial America.
 Eskin responded to the Herald:
“I’m not going to deny it. It wasn’t malicious, I asked a question,” Eskin said. “If I offended her, I would apologize to her. I certainly meant nothing by it. There was nothing racially inspired.”
Eskin, 69, is running for a seat on the Bay Harbor Town Council. The election is April 21.
He said he approached Cooke on Tuesday morning while she was putting things away in her car and asked what family she worked for. He said he was trying to pass out campaign leaflets in the parking lot because he was not allowed inside the condo building.
Eskin said that he had no idea who Cooke was and that he had made an assumption because of the town’s racial makeup. Bay Harbor Islands is home to 5,854 people, 92 percent of whom are white.
“It’s a quick thing when you introduce yourself to strangers. You only have five seconds. I don’t know if that’s an excuse,” Eskin said. “There is like 3 percent of people of color on this entire island. You never know who you are talking to.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

"She shrieked with joy."

That was Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso after learning that his clemency petition for 48-year old Valarie Bozeman was successful.  Paula McMahon covers this great story:

Broward woman who is serving life in federal prison for a crack cocaine conviction is one of 22 people whose prison terms were commuted Tuesday by President Barack Obama.
Valarie Bozeman, 48, of Pompano Beach, who was also known as Theresa Brown, was sentenced to life in prison for a 1993 drug case. She has served more than 20 years in prison.
"She shrieked with joy," said Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso of the phone call when he told Bozeman the president was giving her a second chance. "This is a woman who is completely reformed. She is ecstatic that she can get back to South Florida. She just wants to be reunited with her family and be a productive member of society."

Bozeman's appeal and several attempts to get her life term reduced were all rejected by the courts. She is currently an inmate in Dublin, Calif., and is now scheduled to be released July 28.
Bozeman had some unlikely supporters: U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, the trial and sentencing judge, advocated for her early release, according to her defense team.
"[Valarie] wanted me to thank Judge Ungaro for her support all these years and for not forgetting her. She said that this only happened because Judge Ungaro has been her champion," Caruso said.
Ungaro had an aide respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The aide said the judge would "like to comment but she doesn't think it would be appropriate to do so."
Several officials from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons also wrote letters of recommendation for Bozeman and said she worked hard in prison and became a mentor to many other prisoners.
Bozeman's petition to have her prison term commuted was handled by Caruso, the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Florida, and Assistant Federal Public Defender Abigail Becker.
In an August 2008 letter to the trial and sentencing judge, Bozeman wrote that she had already served a lengthy punishment.
"I've done my time for the crime; it doesn't take me coming out of prison in a body bag to make the government succeed … I am rehabilitated. I won't fail myself, you or society. I have children and grandchildren," Bozeman wrote.
"I would like for you to grant me mercy and allow me to help society with the programs that are out there for the youth of today … How would they know there's a better way? How would they know unless someone is sent to tell them?"
Her mother, Nancy Bozeman, 72, of Pompano Beach, said her family is grateful to God, the president, her daughter's lawyers and Judge Ungaro.
"I do believe my daughter is one changed person and that I know in my heart," she said. "It's a very small house we live in but, praise God, we are going to have one very big party for her."
Congratulations to Michael Caruso and Abby Becker.  Well done.

Also a big shout out to Judge Ungaro for stepping up on this case.  Judges can make a difference.