Friday, August 31, 2018

How do the Cuban courts work?

Local South Florida prosecutors caught a glimpse during a murder trial.  The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the intro from the Miami Herald:
A witness box occupies the center of the courtroom. Five judges in long black robes listen to testimony. The defendant watches from the front row of the gallery with an armed guard at his side. There is no jury.

This is how justice operates in Cuba’s socialist system. Or at least that is what Florida prosecutors gleaned from a murder trial in Havana that was groundbreaking on several fronts: The star witness was a detective from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office; the defendant was a Cuban national accused of shooting a Jupiter Farms doctor in the head before he fled to the island, and a Florida prosecutor helped prepare the Cuban prosecution team for trial.

“It was fascinating. I was impressed how much it resembled our courtroom process,” said Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts, who was part of the team that made arrangements for the defendant, Marcos Yanes Gutierrez, to be tried in Cuba and watched the trial from the gallery. “There were opening statements, the presentation of evidence and closing arguments.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

‪Breaking — Ariana Fajardo Orshan confirmed as U.S. Attorney. ‬

Big congrats to Ariana Fajardo Orshan on her confirmation as U.S. Attorney for the best District in the country—the Southern District of Florida.

She takes over one of the busiest and certainly most exciting districts. Good luck to her!

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Open the Federal Courthouses"

That's the title of my op-ed, which was just published in Law360. 

Please click the link above to read the whole thing.  Here's the intro:
In the era of instantaneous 24-hour news, two of the most important and newsworthy events of the year just occurred: The president’s former campaign manager went to trial, and on the same day that the jury split its verdict, the president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to federal crimes and implicated the president in the process. Shockingly, the public did not see any of it.

We were not able to see the government’s main cooperating witness, Rick Gates, and judge for ourselves whether he was telling the truth or lying. We were not able to see the lawyers debate about important legal issues related to the special counsel’s office. We were not able to see Michael Cohen’s expression as he told the judge that he broke the law at the instruction of the president of the United States.

Forget about cameras, reporters in the Paul Manafort trial were not even permitted in the courtroom with their phones, tablets or computers. That meant no live reporting on Twitter and no emails to the newsrooms with updates. In a world focused on information and news as it happens, this is unacceptable.

If this trial or the plea hearing took place in any state court in the country, or if related hearings were held by Congress, the public would have the benefit of watching what was happening, either live or on their DVRs or on the nightly news. They would be able to follow instant reports on social media. In other words, the public would have access to the courtrooms, as guaranteed by the Constitution. And there could be no allegation that the reporting was “fake.”

If there was a vote on whether cameras should be allowed in our federal courthouses, it would pass — overwhelmingly. In fact, the only group of people who seem to be against cameras in the courtroom are federal judges.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal."

That was the President of the United States this morning, according to this CNN article:
Trump's latest attempt came in a friendly taped interview with Fox News, which was conducted on Wednesday but aired a day later. Trump sought to put distance between himself and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted to campaign finance crimes in federal court on Tuesday and implicated the President by saying he'd directed the action.
And he sharply decried those who testify against former confidants to ease legal troubles, bemoaning the longstanding practice.
"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal," Trump said in the interview, adding he's witnessed similar scenarios over his decades in public life. "I know all about flipping, 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go."
Suspects cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced sentence is a central feature of the criminal justice system, but Trump has long valued loyalty over legal precedent or practice.
Actually, there was a short period of time back in the late 90s where courts found that federal prosecutors' use of 5K and Rule 35 were illegal because it was bribery under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 201.  In other words, it encouraged false false testimony (which is very different than the claim that snitching should be illegal because its disloyal).

The main case was U.S. v. Singleton out of the 10th Circuit. Judge Zloch followed suit in U.S. v. Lowery, 15 F. Supp. 2d 1348 (S.D. Fla. 1998).  From his conclusion:
The Court's finding herein, although lengthy, may be reduced to one simple principle: it is not this Court's Constitutional function to engage in legislation. By invoking the theory that "settled expectations" demand exclusion of the Executive Branch from the reaches of Section 201(c) (2), the Executive Branch requests that this Court usurp the function properly left to the United States Congress. Moreover, the Executive Branch's theory amounts to nothing more than this: it has always been done this way, so it must be right. Such reasoning has never been the proper basis for a legal ruling and this Court refuses to make it the basis for one now.
Further, if, as the Executive Branch asserts, Section 201(c) (2) obviously excludes the Executive Branch, the Court feels compelled to question the need for legislation, hurriedly introduced in the wake of Singleton on July 15, 1998, to amend the Statute. See S. 2314, 105th Cong. (1998). By such action, Congress has reinforced the conclusion that Section 201(c) (2) presently includes the Executive Branch.
Finally, the Court notes that the testimony of cooperating witnesses and cooperating defendants is a valuable resource for law enforcement in the investigation and successful prosecution of criminal activity. Any exclusion, however, of the Executive Branch from Section 201(c) (2) must come from the Legislative Branch, and not the Judicial Branch. A judge's authority has limits and outside those limits or designated areas, the democratic institutions govern. Thus, if any changes are to be made to Section 201(c) (2), or if more appropriate, the substantial assistance provisions, it is solely for Congress, and not for the courts or the Executive Branch, to make them.
Accordingly, after due consideration, it is
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Defendant, Oslet Franklin Lowery, Jr.'s Motion To Suppress (DE 134) be and the same is hereby GRANTED.
Singleton, Lowery, and other cases didn't last long.  They were all reversed.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

11th Circuit judges speak their minds on Roe v. Wade (and it wasn't Judge Bill Pryor!)

The case is West Alabama Women's Center v. Williamson.

Chief Judge Carnes starts off his opinion this way:  "Some Supreme Court Justices have been of the view that there is constitutional law and then there is the aberration of constitutional law relating to abortion.* If so, what we must apply here is the aberration." (Footnote omitted).

If there is any question as to how he feels about abortion, you can see it here in the first paragraph of the intro section: "This case involves a method of abortion that is clinically referred to as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E). Or dismemberment abortion, as the State less clinically calls it. That name is more accurate because the method involves tearing apart and extracting piece-by-piece from the uterus what was until then a living unborn child. This is usually done during the 15 to 18 week stage of development, at which time the unborn child’s heart is already beating."

Judge Dubina concurs just to make sure that everyone knows that he personally disagrees with Casey and Roe too: 
I concur fully in Chief Judge Carnes’s opinion because it correctly characterizes the record in this case, and it correctly analyzes the law. I write separately to agree on record with Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 168-69, 127 S. Ct. 1610, 1639-40 (2007) (Thomas, J., concurring), with whom then Justice Scalia also joined. Specifically, Justice Thomas wrote, “I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court’s abortion jurisprudence, including Casey [Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992)] and Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705 (1973), has no basis in the Constitution.” Id. at 169, 127 S. Ct. at 1639. The problem I have, as noted in the Chief Judge’s opinion, is that I am not on the Supreme Court, and as a federal appellate judge, I am bound by my oath to follow all of the Supreme Court’s precedents, whether I agree with them or not.
OK, Judge Dubina. You're on record now.

In other 11th Circuit news, the court addressed the Georgia state court bail system where an man was arrested and was too poor to post bail.  Therefore he was held for 6 days even though the misdemeanor he was arrested for could not be punished by a jail sentence.  Judge O'Scannlain (visiting from the 9th Circuit) along with Julie Carnes said as long as bail is addressed within 48 hours, all is OK.  Judge Martin started her persuasive dissent like this:

Maurice Walker was jailed by the City of Calhoun for six days because he was too poor to pay his bail. He challenges the City’s practice of jailing people before trial when they are too poor to make bond, arguing it violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The Majority rejects this claim, characterizing the pretrial jailing as “merely wait[ing] some appropriate amount of time to receive the same benefit as the more affluent.” Maj. Op. at 27. In this way, the Majority renders it unnecessary to review the City’s practice with heightened scrutiny. I believe the Majority rewrites this court’s binding precedent in Pugh v. Rainwater, 572 F.2d 1053 (5th Cir. 1978) (en banc),2 which held that “[t]he incarceration of those who cannot [pay for pretrial release], without meaningful consideration of other possible alternatives, infringes on both due process and equal protection requirements.” Id. at 1057. The Majority fails to recognize this infringement on the rights of indigents, so I dissent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What does the Cohen plea agreement say? (Corrected)

Here is the Michael Cohen plea agreement to all 8 counts of the information.

The maximum sentence to these 8 counts is 65 years.

The government calculates the guidelines at level 24 (51-63 months) and the defense calculates a level 23 (46-57 months). The dispute is over grouping. I would love to hear the pundits (especially the ones who have never practiced in federal court) trying to explain the grouping guidelines. Most federal probation officers and judges can't figure out the grouping rules.

The guidelines were calculated as follows:

Base offense level 7
+16 for more than 1.5 million and less than 3.5 million under the fraud guidelines
+2 for sophisticated means (for use of the shell companies)
+2 for special skill (lawyer)
-3 for acceptance of responsibility
total: 24
(the defense believes it's 23 based on a complicated grouping argument)

CORRECTION.  I initially posted that the parties agreed that no variance arguments could be made, but this was incorrect.  The bottom of page 4 says that no *departure* arguments could be made, but the top of page 5 allows for variance arguments.  That means that Cohen is free to argue for a below-guidelines sentence based on personal characteristics, sentencing disparity, and just about anything he wants.  The prosecutor is free to argue for an above guideline sentence based on the seriousness of the crime, impact on the community and so on.  But an above guideline sentence is unlikely.

Although it's not specifically mentioned in the plea agreement, it is obvious that Cohen is cooperating. He said as much during his colloquy today and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, has been all over the news saying the same thing.

If he gets cooperation credit, the defense will be asking for a significant reduction below the guidelines -- probably all the way to probation.  It is too difficult to speculate what the prosecution would ask for at this time, although the SDNY is known for giving large cooperation reductions. The judge will be permitted to do whatever he wants, from 0 to 65 years in prison.  But he will likely start with the guidelines and then go lower depending on how much Cohen cooperates and based on the variance arguments he makes.

The plea agreement was not signed by the U.S. Attorney for the SDNY as he is recused. So Robert Khuzami was on the signature block as Acting U.S. Attorney. Guy Petrillo signed for the defense.

Tough day for the White House, to say the least.

Manafort guilty of 8 counts in trial #1. He still has trial #2 in DC.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Waiting is the hardest part

Trial lawyers know that the worst part of the case is waiting for the jury to return a verdict. You can’t do other work. You just sit around stressed to the max, filled with both hope and anxiety. And the longer the jury is out, the more that anxiety builds.

It’s funny listening to the talking heads explaining what short deliberations mean and what the lengthy Manafort jury deliberations mean. No one knows, obviously. They just finished day 3 without a verdict. It may mean that they are going slowly through the evidence. It may mean that they are fighting. It may mean that they want another lunch. It may mean that there is one holdout. Or more. Or an even split.

I’ve had juries out 9 days and juries out 15 minutes and everything in between. It’s just impossible to know what they are thinking.

Good story about my 9 day jury — It was a trial in Savannah, GA with 10 defendants. My middle daughter was born on a Friday and we started the 6 week trial on the following Monday. When the trial was over, I was looking forward to getting home and spending time with my new baby. But the jury wouldn’t reach a verdict. Day after day. Finally on day 9, my wife decided to travel up to Savannah so that I could see the baby. You know what happened 5 minutes after she boarded the flight and turned off her phone... Of course... VERDICT. Happily for me and my client, it was a not guilty. That was a fun celebration...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

“If you don’t have the right equipment for the job, you just have to make it yourself.”

What does that MacGyver quote have to do with the FTCA? CA11 Judge Rosenbaum, known for her awesome intros, is here to tell you:

The fictional Angus MacGyver’s defining talent is his ability to cobble together a solution when the precise tools he needs to solve a problem are not available.1 As “Mac” has explained, “If you don’t have the right equipment for the job, you just have to make it yourself.” MacGyver: Out in the Cold (ABC television broadcast Feb. 16, 1987). So synonymous with improvising has the name “MacGyver” become that the Oxford Dictionaries added the name to their collection as a verb meaning to “[m]ake or repair (an object) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand.”

The Federal Tort Claims Act’s (“FTCA”) directive making the federal government liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances,” 28 U.S.C. § 2674, requires courts to MacGyver a remedy in fashioning tort-damages awards against the United States, where the unique aspects of the federal government make it difficult or impossible to strictly apply a state damages statute to the government. In those situations, courts must approximate the statutory remedy as closely as they can to achieve the ends required by the FTCA.

Here, we review the district court’s efforts in improvising application of Florida’s medical-malpractice-damages statute, section 768.78(2) of the Florida Statutes, to Appellant-Cross-Appellee United States. Following a bench trial, the United States was held liable upon the district court’s finding that a doctor at a federal health facility caused Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants’ son E.R.T., Jr. (“E.R.T.”), to suffer severe and life-altering injuries at the time of his birth. On appeal, the government challenges the district court’s application of section 768.78(2) to the method of payment the district court chose for the government to satisfy the judgment against it. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, cross-appeal the district court’s jerry-rigging of section 768.78(2)’s bond requirement as the court found it pertains to the United States. The district court did an admirable job of MacGyvering a solution in this case, and we affirm much of what it did. Nevertheless, for the reasons that follow, we must reverse discrete portions of the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

1. Angus MacGyver is the lead character in the television series MacGyver, a show that centers on MacGyver’s use of scientific knowledge to solve problems and to extricate himself and his team members from danger. The original version of MacGyver, starring Richard Dean Anderson, ran from 1985 through 1992. MacGyver(original), IMDb, (last visited Aug. 13, 2018). In 2016, the series was rebooted, this time with Lucas Till playing the name character. MacGyver (reboot), IMDb, (last visited Aug. 13, 2018).

Thursday, August 16, 2018

District updates

1. The incoming U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan will be up for a final vote shortly. She will be confirmed and is expected to be in the office in the next few weeks. She has been well liked everywhere she has gone (the State Attorney’s Office, Circuit Judge, and leader in the Federalist Society), and this should be no different.

2. The two open magistrate positions are still open. Applications are due Wednesday. From the email blast that just went out:

The Judicial Conference of the United States has authorized the appointment of two (2) full-time United States Magistrate Judges for the Southern District of Florida at Miami. The term of office is eight years.

A full public notice for the magistrate judge positions is posted on the Courts Internet website at: One position initially will be assigned for a period not to exceed three years to supervise the Court's Pro Se Prisoner Division.

Interested persons may contact the Clerk of the District Court for additional information and application forms. The application form is also available on the Courts website Applications must be submitted only by applicants personally to; by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, 2018.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

11th Circuit updates

A bunch of interesting decisions coming out of CA11:

1. Another Johnson fight, this time in an en banc denial. Judge Martin dissents from the denial and explains the makes-no-sense position o the 11th. Julie Carnes defends that position in a concurrence to the denial. Martin’s conclusion is very powerful:

The Supreme Court recently reminded us of our crucial duty to “exhibit regard for fundamental rights and respect for prisoners as people.” Rosales- Mireles v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1897, 1907 (2018) (quotation omitted). This duty encompasses thorough review of sentences we now know are longer than the law permitted, because “[t]o a prisoner, th[e] prospect of additional time behind bars is not some theoretical or mathematical concept[;] . . . [it] has exceptionally severe consequences for the incarcerated individual and for society which bears the direct and indirect costs of incarceration.” Id. (quotations omitted and alterations adopted). When considering claims like Mr. Beeman’s, “what reasonable citizen wouldn’t bear a rightly diminished view of the judicial process and its integrity if courts refused to correct obvious errors of their own devise that threaten to require individuals to linger longer in federal prison than the law demands?” Id. at 1908 (quotation omitted).
Mr. Beeman was sentenced in 2009. With a ten-year maximum sentence, he could be nearing his release date. Instead, he will spend another seven-and-a-half more years behind bars. And not only does this Court sanction his unconstitutional sentence, we will prevent him—and many other prisoners like him—from arguing the full merits of his case in court. Our Court is now daily presented with pleadings from prisoners who are barred from our Court because of the rule created in the Beeman panel opinion. In my view, it is the role of the courts to hear these claims. I therefore register my dissent about this court’s failure to do so.

2. The 11th had to decide what to do with a cell-site case post-Carpenter. Sadly, the court finds that the good faith exception applies and holds that even though there was a 4th Amendment violation (grudgingly), no need to suppress anything (yay):

The Government has maintained throughout this case that it acted in good faith and that the Leon exception therefore applies; neither Sturgis nor Joyner presented any argument or evidence to either the district court or this Court to counter that proposition. They have instead relied on their assertion of a warrant requirement and their hope that Carpenter would come down in their favor,5 but the fact that the Carpenter Court agreed with their Fourth Amendment theory does not affect the applicability of the Leon good faith exception in this case.

3. Finally, the court vacated a plea and sentence where there was no transcript of the plea and the lower court could not adequately reconstruct the record:

Because the reconstructed record does not allow for effective appellate review of Elmore’s change-of-plea hearing, we vacate her convictions and total sentence, and remand her case to the District Court for further proceedings.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why do some judges like "rocket dockets" and "rocket trials"?

I have yet to find a lawyer who likes them.  And most judges don't act this way.  But the E.D.V.A. is known for having a rocket docket.  And there are a handful of judges here and around the country who have them.  The Atlantic covers the rocket Manafort trial here:

There is no dillydallying in the trial of Paul Manafort.

Jury selection lasted but a few hours. The federal judge presiding over the case has repeatedly reminded the lawyers of his impatience and routinely interrupts their questioning of witnesses to speed them up. The most dramatic part of the trial has quickly come and gone. The whole thing could be over in three weeks, leaving plenty of time before Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman has to stand a second trial on separate charges in September.

High-profile trials of deep-pocketed defendants can often drag on for months. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s initial prosecution of Manafort on charges of financial fraud is moving briskly along, and its speedy pace is largely due to the particular federal district court where the case is being tried.

The Eastern District of Virginia is famous in the legal community for being the nation’s original “rocket docket”—a jurisdiction where strict rules and a deeply embedded judicial culture help move cases to trial more rapidly than almost anywhere else. In civil cases, the court has been ranked first for speed year after year, but the reputation extends to criminal prosecutions as well.

Here's a more reasonable judge (in Houston) who now has a standard order granting automatic stays where one of the lawyers is pregnant:

Pregnant litigators already have enough to worry about without trial dates getting in the way of due dates.

So Houston state district Judge Ravi Sandill recently issued a standing order that grants expecting lawyers an automatic continuance of a trial setting in his court for up to 120 days before the birth or adoption of a child.

“We did it for a couple of reasons,” said Sandill, judge of Harris County’s 127th District Court. “For one, it’s the right thing to do. And secondly — I think most judges do this already — but it alleviates anxiety for lawyers.”

Sandill said he came up with the idea after reading about Christen E. Luikart, a pregnant Florida lawyer whose motion for continuance sparked controversy last month after her opposing counsel objected to it — just as the Florida Supreme Court is weighing a proposed rule that would create a presumption that pregnant lawyers should get three-month continuances.

“After reading about that, I thought if we could push this, leading by example is not a bad thing for the practice,’’ Sandill said of his order.

Friday, August 10, 2018

"However, when it comes to whether or not the president should agree to a voluntary interview, the usual rules apply."

That's Jon Sale in his op-ed for The Hill.  Here's the intro to the piece:
For months now, pundits have propagated the myth that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team must interview President Trump to complete their investigation. This misconception is based on the belief that Mueller requires and is entitled to an interview to determine the president’s knowledge and intent. Mueller is not so entitled, and the president should not do it.

Government prosecutors conduct white-collar investigations every day. Usually, prosecutors complete their investigations without the benefit of interviewing the person under investigation.

Like all white-collar investigations, Mueller’s investigation requires an analysis of the president’s knowledge and intent. The allegations involving obstruction and foreign meddling in our election are no exception.

Knowledge and intent determinations are necessary in most white-collar investigations. Typically, prosecutors determine whether they can prove criminal intent based on the facts uncovered in their investigation, including relevant witness testimony and documentary evidence such as emails.

The prevailing view, based on legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, is that Mueller cannot seek an indictment of the president from the grand jury and, thus, his recourse is to write a report. That report can address the president’s knowledge and intent based on the evidence, without the benefit of a voluntary interview of the president.

While it is “typical” for a prosecutor to conclude an investigation without interviewing the person under investigation, this investigation is anything but typical. However, when it comes to whether or not the president should agree to a voluntary interview, the usual rules apply. The president’s legal team is wise in recommending that he not agree to an interview; all it could do is help Mueller’s team advance an arguable case against the president.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Should judges ask questions of witnesses?

We're back on the Manafort trial.  Lead snitch Rick Gates is on the stand and is getting hammered for his lies.  Even the judge took part.  From the Washington Post:
Just before the jury left for the day, Rick Gates echoed other prosecution witnesses in saying Paul Manafort kept a close eye on his financial affairs.
“Mr. Manafort in my opinion kept fairly frequent updates,” Gates said, after a discussion of movement between their consulting firm’s offshore accounts. “Mr. Manafort was very good at knowing where the money was and where it was going.”
Judge Ellis, as he has repeatedly, interjected.
“He didn’t know about the money you were stealing,” Ellis said, “so he didn’t do it that closely.”
The comment by the judge goes to a question at the heart of the trial — how much fraud could possibly have gone on under Manafort’s nose without his knowledge.
Downing also challenged Gates on his acceptance of responsibility, pointing out that he has not repaid the money he stole from Manafort.
“I spent it over the years,” Gates said.
That's pretty devastating for the prosecution.  But I feel pretty strongly that judges should not be questioning witnesses.  It's just not their role.  And jurors tend to defer to judges.  Most times, judges do it to cover for prosecution mistakes and it hurts the defense, especially during a strong cross of a government witness.  No one really complains when this happens... the complaints only seem to crop up when the prosecution is getting hurt. Either way, though, judges should let the lawyers do the questioning. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Prosecutors will decide..."

That was the catch-phrase in John Oliver's take on why the criminal justice system is in shambles. He ticks through a bunch of the problems that result from letting prosecutors control the system: the trial tax, what discovery is produced, no accountability for misconduct, and so on.  One example:
“Prosecutors typically get to decide whether something is relevant to the defense, which seems inherently flawed,” said Oliver. “You can’t just count on an adversary to voluntarily expose all of their weaknesses. In Star Wars, the rebels had to steal the Death Star plans. The Empire didn’t just email it to them with the subject line FWD: GIANT STUPID WEAK SPOT (VERY DUMB, GO TO TOWN).”
It's below and definitely worth a watch.

In the Manafort trial, the judge is actually standing up to the prosecution team and trying to limit irrelevant evidence. But the prosecutors aren't used to someone else deciding. So they have resorted to disrespect and anger. From Politico's article "Manafort prosecution's frustration with judge leads to fiery clashes":

For days, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis has been cracking the whip at prosecutors in the Paul Manafort fraud trial, prodding them again and again to keep the case moving forward and to drop matters he considers irrelevant.

Prosecutors’ frustration with those exhortations spilled out publicly Monday in a series of prickly clashes in which Ellis snapped at one of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, Greg Andres, and Andres sometimes lashed back at the judge — something lawyers rarely do.

The day’s first significant altercation came as Andres sought to question Manafort’s former deputy, Rick Gates, about his travels, using his passport as a visual aid.

“Let’s go to the heart of the matter,” Ellis said.

“Judge, we’ve been at the heart. …” Andres replied, before the judge cut him off.

“Just listen to me. … Don’t speak while I’m speaking,” the judge said, sharply. He added that he didn’t see how the testimony on travel “amounts to a hill of beans” with regard to the charges against Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.


Ellis said he wanted to give Andres an “opportunity to educate me” about the usefulness of the testimony about Ukraine’s political system and why wealthy individuals were paying millions of dollars to back Manafort’s work as a political consultant.

“I don’t see any earthly relationship” between testimony about “political contributions” and the alleged tax evasion on Manafort’s part, the judge said.

Andres took issue with calling the payments political contributions, and he appeared to fault Ellis for minimizing the significance of the payments in his comments in front of the jury

“These people are not making political donations,” the prosecutor said. Calling the donors “oligarchs” — a term Ellis banned the government from using in front of the jury last week — Andres explained that their livelihood was completely dependent on government-granted monopolies.

“That makes it even clearer to me” that it’s not relevant, the judge interjected. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re good or bad or oligarchs or crooks or mafia or whatever. … You don’t need to throw mud at these people.”

At that point, Ellis noted that Andres was looking at the lectern. “You’re looking down as if to say, ‘This is B.S.,’” the judge complained.

Andres seemed angered by the accusation and said the judge was leaping to conclusions. “We don’t do that to you,” the prosecutor said.

When the judge mentioned an earlier complaint he made about lawyers rolling their eyes, Andres interrupted again and the atmosphere grew tense. “I find it hard to believe I was both looking down and rolling my eyes,” he said.

Andres pressed on with his argument that the payments to Manafort were not political contributions, this time adding the charge that every time the government tried to elicit testimony about why the payments were made, “Your Honor stops us.”

“The record will reflect I rarely stopped you,” Ellis insisted.

“I will stand by the record,” Andres snapped.

“And you will lose,” the judge shot back.

Interesting state court issue concerning the Governor's power to appoint judges

Florida Circuit Judge Robert Foster is due to retire on January 7, 2019, due to mandatory retirement. That would mean that Gov. Scott's successor would appoint his replacement. So Judge Foster said he will retire on Dec. 31, 2018, to allow Scott to appoint his replacement. The First District agreed that this was permissible. But the Florida Supreme Court (4-3) has stayed the order pending further briefing. It's an interesting battle, covered more in depth by this article.

There's no good solution to how we select our judges. Appointments are by their nature political. And elections are not based on actual judicial qualifications since they are not permitted to campaign or debate. I'm not sure what the right answer is here.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

11th Circuit panel not happy about the new “panel published order” rule created by another panel

So the Johnson litigation produced lots of angry opinions back and forth by various wings of the 11th Circuit. One wing got the upper hand by quickly publishing a bunch of orders within 30 days days (based on pro-se pleadings under 100 words, without government responses, and without oral argument). And in those orders, the right wing of the court said that they are binding on future panels. Judges Wilson, Martin, and Jill Pryor are rightfully not happy about it. And said so in two concurrences in this order.

From Judge Wilson’s concurrence:

These applications are often decided without counseled argument from the petitioner, and are always decided without an opposing brief from the government, except for death-penalty-related applications. We also rarely have access to the whole record. See generally Jordan, 485 F.3d at 1357–58 (describing the limitations we face when deciding these applications). When making these determinations, therefore, the panel typically races to issue an unappealable order based solely on the arguments of a pro se prisoner constrained to a little over one page per ground.
Conversely, when we decide a merits appeal, we have essentially unlimited time to decide the case, there are usually attorneys on both sides, we have extensive briefing, and we have the entire record in front of us (including an order from the court below). And the large majority of our published merits opinions come from our oral argument calendar, where attorneys for each party argue for at least fifteen minutes. Of course, after a merits opinion issues, aggrieved parties may petition for panel rehearing, for rehearing en banc, or for a writ of certiorari.
Despite this stark contrast in process, published panel orders and published opinions now enjoy the same precedential heft, equally binding future panels of this court unless and until overruled by the court sitting en banc. In fact, published panel orders perhaps have greater weight, because they may not be appealed to the Supreme Court and they may not be the subject of a petition for rehearing en banc. We should not elevate these hurriedly-written and uncontested orders in this manner.