Sunday, December 29, 2019

New Year, new judges

Happy new year everyone!

Here are some updates on the local judgeships:

1. The Fort Pierce seat is still open. It's been pretty quiet since the last update back in July, where we learned that 3 candidates were being vetted:

Aileen Cannon (AUSA, Fort Pierce)
David Leibowitz (former AUSA, general counsel Braman)
Michael Sherwin (AUSA, Miami)

2. Raag Singhal has been confirmed and is sitting in Ft. Lauderdale. Congrats again to him.

3. President Trump has nominated John Badalamenti to be a district judge in the Middle District of Florida. He is currently a state judge and formerly an assistant federal public defender.

4. The Florida Supreme Court has two open seats. An update on the 32 applicants here (Miami applicants in bold):

Judge Kimberly Bonner of the 12th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties,
Judge Hunter Carroll also of the 12th Judicial Circuit.
Judge Howard Coates Jr. of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
John Couriel, an attorney with the Miami firm Kobre & Kim.
Jack Cox, an attorney with the Hobe Sound firm Jack Schramm Cox, Chartered.
Judge Fabienne Fahnestock of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County.
Manuel Farach, an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale office of the firm McGlinchey Stafford.
Judge Renatha Francis of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
Judge Jonathan Gerber of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Southeast Florida.
Judge Jamie Grosshans of the 5th District Court of Appeal in Central Florida.
Judge Jeff Kuntz of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Southeast Florida.
Judge Bruce Kyle of the 20th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.
Judge Norma Lindsey of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Judge Howard McGillin of the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.
Judge Bronwyn Miller of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Judge Anne-Leigh Moe of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.
Belinda Noah, a Tampa attorney and CEO of Belinda Noah Productions, Inc.
Judge Virginia Norton of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Judge Timothy Osterhaus of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.
Eliot Pedrosa, a Miami attorney and U.S. representative on the Board of Executive Directors of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County.
Judge Cymonie Rowe of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
Judge Lori Rowe of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.
Judge Samuel Salario of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Southwest Florida.
Judge Tatiana Salvador of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Judge Meredith Sasso of the 5th District Court of Appeal in Central Florida.
Judge Ed Scales of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Judge Elijah Smiley of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.
Judge Adrian Soud of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Judge William Thomas of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County.
Judge Daryl Trawick of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County.
Judge Thomas Winokur of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Judge Moore closes courts on December 24

Here’s the Administrative Order.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Festivus for the rest of us.

It’s going to be a quiet two weeks in the District.  But the powers that be have made the deadline for applying to the Florida Supreme Court on December 24.  Fun times.  Here’s an article about the applicants for the two open seats (Lagoa/Luck) so far:

As of Friday evening, 12 applicants had already handed in their paperwork in a process that stems from President Donald Trump naming former Florida Supreme Court justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Atlanta-based court handles cases from Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

The openings offer Gov. Ron DeSantis an opportunity to appoint two more justices to a Supreme Court he’s already reshaped.

Shortly after taking office in January, DeSantis named three conservative jurists --- Luck, Lagoa and Carlos Muñiz --- to replace three liberal-leaning justices who were forced to step down after reaching a mandatory retirement age.

The applicants as of Friday evening included lawyer Belinda Noah, along with five Florida appellate judges and six circuit judges from across the state.

Judges Ed Scales and Norma Lindsey of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, Judge Samuel Salario of the 2nd District Court of Appeal and Judge Thomas “Bo” Winokur of the 1st District Court of Appeal had applied. They were all appointed to their current jobs by former Gov. Rick Scott.

Also in the running were circuit judges Cymonie Rowe, of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County; Daryl Trawick, of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County; Howard McGillin, of the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties; Elijah Smiley, of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties; Tatiana Salvador, of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties; and Hunter Carroll, of the 12th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Raag Singhal confirmed!

The vote was 76-17.  Congratulations to our newest federal judge!  Woohoo!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Raag Singhal to be confirmed today (UPDATED)

Most of the country will be focused on the impeachment vote today. But the Trump judge machine is still operating and another slate of district judges will be confirmed today, including our own Raag Singhal this afternoon. Judge Singhal is great, so say what you will about Trump, but we are getting a good one!

UPDATE -- looks like it will actually be tomorrow (Thursday).

Monday, December 16, 2019

Breaking: Gov. DeSantis Appoints SDFL AFPD and AUSA to State Court Bench, Elevates Former AUSA

Assistant Federal Public Defender Ayana Harris and AUSA Miesha Darrough are joining the state court bench, two of four new County Court judges named today by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Former AUSA and current County Court Judge Robert Watson is being elevated to the Circuit Court, along with two other County Court judges. The Governor just made the announcement at a press conference at the University of Miami, where he presented his latest seven judicial appointees.

Harris is a Howard Law grad and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 2002. She first served as a state public defender and since 2008 has been an Assistant Federal Public Defender.

Darrough is also a graduate of Howard University Law School and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 2005. She served as an Assistant State Attorney from 2005 to 2014, including as a felonies Division Chief. Darrough then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she is currently Special Counsel to U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan.

Watson is a Stanford Law grad and has been a Florida lawyer since 2003. He practiced at Steel Hector & Davis and Holland & Knight before serving as an AUSA from 2011 to 2016. After two years at Kobre & Kim, he was appointed to the County Court by then-Gov. Rick Scott in January 2019.

Congratulations to all of the appointees!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

In defense of former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin

So the outgoing Kentucky Governor did the right thing and issued a bunch of pardons as some of  his last acts in office, and the local prosecutors are not happy about it.  From the Washington Post:
Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on Friday night defended his controversial pardons as reflections of America’s foundational “support for redemption,” a statement that followed a Republican state leader’s call for a federal investigation into Bevin’s actions.
The former governor, who lost his bid for reelection in November, made national headlines this week after he pardoned hundreds of people during his final days in office, including a man convicted of reckless homicide, a child rapist and a woman who threw her newborn in the trash. In one case, Bevin pardoned a man convicted of homicide who was the brother of one of the former governor’s campaign donors.
The pardons outraged local attorneys and prosecutors, who said they were not consulted during the process. As the backlash continued to build Friday, Republicans in the Kentucky state Senate issued a statement blasting Bevin.
He responded:
On Friday, Bevin responded to his critics in a series of 20 tweets. He said he spent “hundreds of hours” reviewing pardon applications and made each decision based on the “set of facts, evidence, lack of evidence, supporting documents, reasons and unique details.”
Bevin added it was “highly offensive and entirely false” for anyone to suggest “political or financial considerations” played a role in his decisions.
“The criminal justice system is intended to find the proper balance between justice for the victims and rehabilitation for the offenders. When it is not possible to guarantee more of either being accomplished by further incarceration, it is reasonable for a person to be considered for either a commutation or a pardon,” Bevin wrote. “This is never an exact science. … The entire criminal justice system hinges upon the judgment of third parties.
Bevin, a devout Christian, also strongly defended himself from charges he endangered public safety.
“Not one person receiving a pardon would I not welcome as a co-worker, neighbor, or to sit beside me or any member of my family in a church pew or at a public event,” he wrote. “No community is either more or less safe now, than it was before the pardons and commutations given over the past four years.”
Good for Bevin and shame on the critics. We put way too many people in jail for way too long. The fact that the Governor used his pardon power as it was intended should be applauded. If we are serious about criminal justice reform, we should be encouraging this sort of behavior.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A new hope

There's been a lot of talk about how the new judges (both district and circuit) will be on criminal justice issues.  One of those judges, Roy Altman, is already distinguishing himself as independent, smart, and not just another government rubber-stamp.  Here's his latest order (which demonstrates those qualities), dismissing a hung count after trial. 

Federal courts are now used to prosecute cheating in class

We all know of the high profile, and controversial, prosecutions of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.  But now, the "Varsity Blues" prosecutors have expanded their case to go after parents who have engaged in simple cheating.  The latest case (and plea deal!) involves a charge of wire fraud for a parent who paid $9,000 for another person to take an online class for her son.  Immoral, yes.  Federal criminal wire fraud... come on!  From USA Today:
In a different twist in the nation's college admissions scandal, a woman from Newport Beach, California, was charged Monday and agreed to plead guilty to paying $9,000 to have someone take online classes for her son so he could graduate from Georgetown University.

Karen Littlefair is the 53rd person charged with crimes in the nation's sweeping college admissions case involving Rick Singer, but her case stands out from the other 35 parents charged. She is the first parent charged in the "Varsity Blues" scandal in a cheating plot involving a student already enrolled in college rather than one seeking admission.

In a deal with prosecutors, Littlefair, 57, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The date of her plea hearing in Boston federal court was not set.

She is the wife of Andrew Littlefair, president and CEO of Clean Energy Fuels. He was not charged in the case.
Whenever there are challenges to broad statutes, you hear prosecutors say in defense: "Don't worry; you can trust us; we would never abuse the statute." But this case is an example of why judges cannot accept those sorts of defenses. This case is just absurd.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Should the jury see a cooperating witness' factual proffer?

Justice Sotomayor isn't so sure. Here's a statement she issued today in a case where cert was denied:
For his alleged role in a group beating, petitioner Calmer Cottier was charged with, among other things, second-degree murder by an Indian in Indian country. Two other participants accepted plea deals with the Government; as part of their pleas, the participants signed statements— known as factual-basis statements—that implicated Cot-tier in the murder. A federal prosecutor also signed those inculpatory statements to vouch for their veracity. Then, that same prosecutor offered those same incriminating statements as evidence at Cottier’s trial. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit observed that the court in which Cottier was prosecuted “routinely” sends unredacted factual-basis statements into the jury room. 908 F. 3d 1141, 1149 (2018). I agree with the Eighth Circuit that this practice is “troubling.” Ibid. By presenting the jury with a factual-basis statement signed by the Government, the prosecution improperly ex-presses its “‘personal belief ’ ” in the truth of the witness’ statements—a stamp of approval, an assurance from the Government itself, that the witness is to be believed. United States v. Young, 470 U. S. 1, 7–8 (1985). In this case, however, Cottier’s attorney did not object to the statements’ admission and used them as part of Cottier’s defense. For that reason and others expressed by the Eighth Circuit inaffirming Cottier’s convictions, I do not dissent from the denial of certiorari but instead echo its admonition that the admission of such statements “is not a favored practice.”908 F. 3d, at 1149.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Judge Barbara Lagoa sworn in

Here are some lovely pictures from the swearing in.  Congratulations to Judge Lagoa!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

All around good-guy Ben Greenberg jumps to Greenberg Traurig

Great get for GT.  He's the former U.S. Attorney and a South Florida guy. 

The SDFLA U.S. Attorney's office is undergoing a lot of change in the past year.  It will be interesting to see what direction it goes without people like Ben.

Congrats to him and GT.

Meantime, in unrelated news, the government will have to deal with a huge lawsuit of women prisoners against Coleman (a federal prison for women outside of Orlando) for repeatedly raping its inmates.  Story by the Herald here:

Fourteen women, ranging in age from 30 to 56 and nearly all first-time offenders, have banded together to sue the United States, not under pseudonyms but under their real names, over the abuse they say they’ve endured at the Bureau of Prisons-operated camp. Seven of the women are still incarcerated.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Who is Andrew Brasher?

So who is Andrew Brasher, the new 11th Circuit nominee. The Vetting Room has the details here.  Below is the introduction and conclusion, but there is quite a bit of interesting information in the entire post, which you should check out.
Six months ago, Judge Andrew Brasher was narrowly confirmed to be a U.S. District Court Judge.  Now, the 38-year-old Brasher is ready to move on from the position to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Andrew Lynn Brasher was born in Milan, TN on May 20, 1981.  Brasher moved to Alabama to attend Samford University, a private Christian University in Homewood, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2002.[1]  Brasher went on to Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 2006.
Upon graduation, Brasher clerked for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.[2]  He then joined the Birmingham office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP as an Associate.
In 2011, Brasher was appointed by Luther Strange, then the Attorney General of Alabama, to be Deputy Solicitor General.  Brasher served in that capacity until 2014 when he was appointed Solicitor General of Alabama.[3] 
In April 2018, Brasher was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, filling a longstanding vacancy opened by the resignation of Judge Mark Fuller.  Brasher was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-47 vote on May 1, 2019, and has served on the Middle District since then.
Overall Assessment
Despite Brasher’s significant experience with litigation, his youth and strongly conservative writings and experience made him a controversial nominee at the district court level and caused his nomination to sit for over a year before confirmation by a narrow vote.  Now, as an appellate nominee, Brasher may well have a faster confirmation, simply because Republicans tend to prioritize appellate nominees.  Nonetheless, Brasher’s brief tenure as a district court judge, as well as his youth and conservative ideology, is likely to make him a controversial nominee.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Welcome back

It's the first Monday in December... the year is just about over.  And the Supreme Court has decided to hear a big gun case, the first in 10 years.  From the AP:

For years, the National Rifle Association and its allies had tried to get the court to say more about gun rights, even as mass shootings may have caused the justices to shy away from taking on new disputes over gun limits. Justice Clarence Thomas has been among members of the court who have complained that lower courts are treating the Second Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms” as a second-class right.

The lawsuit in New York began as a challenge to the city’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, either to a shooting range or a second home.

Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court’s decision in January to step into the case signaled a revived interest in gun rights from a court with two new justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointees of President Donald Trump.

Officials at both the city and state level scrambled to find a way to remove the case from the justices’ grasp. Not only did the city change its regulation to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons to locations outside New York’s five boroughs, but the state enacted a law barring cities from imposing the challenged restrictions.

“There is no case or controversy because New York City has repealed the ordinance and the New York state Legislature has acted to make sure it remains repealed,” said Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel and vice president of the gun control group Brady’s legal action project.

But those moves failed to get the court to dismiss the case, although the justices are likely to ask at arguments about whether there’s anything left for them to decide.

Paul Clement, who represents three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate challenging the transportation ban, said in an email that among the reasons the case remains alive legally is that the court frowns on tactical moves of the sort employed by the city and state that are meant to frustrate the justices’ review of an issue.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

Some things I’m thankful for:

1.  United States v. Booker.
2.  Judges who downward vary and don’t have trial penalties.
3.  Brady v. Maryland.
4.  Prosecutors who have open files and turn over witness statements.
5.  Judges who order prosecutors to turn over witness statements and exhibit lists before well in advance of trial.
6.  Self-surrender for initial appearances and for serving sentences.
7.  Magistrate judges who issue reasonable bonds.
8.  Appellate judges who are not afraid to reverse.
9.  Defense lawyers who fight and the wonderful criminal defense bar in SDFLA.
10.  Clients who have the guts to fight.

Keep up the list in the comments.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

“The Case of the Polite Bank Robber.”

The introduction to this per curiam opinion (clearly written by Judge Rosenbaum), United States v. Roberto Perez, is entertaining:
If this were an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, it might be called The Case of the Polite Bank Robber.1 Without any weapons, Defendant-Appellant Roberto Arturo Perez calmly walked into two different banks. He handed a teller at each bank a note with instructions using words like “please” and “thank you,” made no reference to any type of weapon, bargained pleasantly with one teller for $5,000, and allowed another teller to leave the teller’s post and report the robbery while it was ongoing.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a good bank robbery. But from the perspective of the Sentencing Guidelines, there are certainly less bad ones. All bank robberies charged under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) necessarily involve implicit or explicit threats of some type, since they must all occur by “force and violence” or “intimidation” to qualify as bank robberies under that statute.2 But the Guidelines more harshly punish defendants who use implicit or explicit threats of death to accomplish bank robberies than those who employ lesser threats in their crimes.
Here, we decide whether the district court clearly erred in concluding that Perez’s conduct and choice of language would have instilled in a reasonable person a fear of death, justifying application of the Guidelines’ threat-of-death enhancement. In other words, we must evaluate whether Perez’s bank robberies were of the less bad variety, by Guidelines standards. After careful consideration and with the benefit of oral argument, we hold that they were. We therefore vacate Perez’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

1. For the uninitiated, the Encyclopedia Brown children’s book series, written by Donald J. Sobel, follows the adventures of Leroy Brown (not the Leroy Brown of Jim Croce notoriety). Brown was a fictional, highly intelligent, boy sleuth who solved mysteries.

Congrats to Tracy Dreispul of the FPD's office and to UM Law Professor Ricardo Bascuas for the win.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Judge Roy Altman does the right thing and sentences Yujing Zhang to time served

The prosecutors asked for 18 months on this trespass case even though the guidelines were 0-6. From the Miami Herald:

On a spring afternoon, a Chinese businesswoman wearing a gray evening gown was so determined to meet President Donald Trump that she bluffed her way into his private Palm Beach club, saying at first she wanted to go to the pool, but later insisted she was on a mission to attend a gala event at Mar-a-Lago.

Yujing Zhang was let in by the Secret Service and club security staff after they confused her last name with that of a member, but was arrested soon after her mysterious arrival on March 30.

On Monday, the 33-year-old Chinese woman appeared in a Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom, where she was sentenced to eight months behind bars — essentially time served. She had been found guilty in September of entering a restricted area and lying to federal agents about it.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman rejected a request by the U.S. attorney’s office that he sentence her to 18 months.

The sentence, likely to be followed by Zhang’s deportation to China, writes an end to a bizarre court case in which the defendant, a woman with limited English skills and no legal training, represented herself — clumsily and ineffectively, for the most part.

She had fired the public defender’s office, though was still receiving advice on the side.

There is a lot of pressure on new judges to give guideline sentences even though the experiences judges rarely give guideline sentences anymore. And the government has a new strategy with the new judges to ask for high-end sentences or above-guideline sentences to dissuade them from giving downward variances. Credit to Judge Altman for rejecting the government's request.

Friday, November 22, 2019

President Trump officially nominates Andrew Brasher to the 11th Circuit

It's hard to imagine a court going through more change than the 11th Circuit. Here's the link to the WH press release. Brasher will fill Ed Carnes' seat if he is confirmed. He will have a tougher time than Luck and Lagoa, who were easily confirmed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Judge Barbara Lagoa confirmed to the 11th Circuit

The vote was 80-15

Congratulations Judge Lagoa!

The 11th Circuit has now technically “flipped.” But both Luck and Lagoa are much more down the middle than their predecessors.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Monday, November 18, 2019

Bruce Bagley charged with money laundering

Yes, that Bruce Bagley. The professor of drug cartels and dirty money. Oh boy.

From the Herald:

A University of Miami professor who studies organized crime and drug cartels was accused Monday of engaging in a plot to launder millions in dirty money from Venezuela.

Federal prosecutors in New York announced Bruce Bagley, 73, was charged with money laundering and conspiracy after he “opened bank accounts for the express purpose of laundering money for corrupt foreign nationals.”

Bagley is a longtime UM international relations professor who wrote the book “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today.” Over the years, Bagley has been a go-to quote for the media on topics including the failures of the U.S. war on drugs, violence in Haiti and, yes, corruption in Venezuela.

Federalist Society

The Federalist Society in Florida is known as the King & Queen maker... or more accurately, the judge makers, not only here in South Florida but across the state and nationally.  They had their big shindig in Washington, DC last week and over the weekend.  And although the Federalist Society strives to appear non-partisan, everyone knows that it is a deeply conservative organization.  This weekend, some of this speeches were over-the-top partisan, so I wonder how those who are going to these events as a way to launch their judicial careers feel about these speeches.  Here’s a New York Times article about AG Bob Barr’s speech attacking the left:

His forceful defense of the president came after some of Mr. Trump’s allies have in recent weeks accused Mr. Barr of failing to vociferously back the president. Mr. Trump was said to be frustrated that Mr. Barr urged him to release a reconstructed transcript of the July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at the center of the impeachment case. The president also wanted Mr. Barr to hold a news conference to say the president had violated no laws, only to have Mr. Barr rebuff the request. Mr. Trump has denied that account.

Speaking for an hour at the upscale Mayflower Hotel a few blocks from the White House, Mr. Barr hit back at the president’s critics on an array of fronts as he argued that Mr. Trump, in his capacity as president, has not overstepped his authority.

While Mr. Barr never uttered the word impeachment, he castigated those he sees as stalling Mr. Trump’s agenda. He defended the president’s right to set policies, steer the country’s diplomatic and military relations and keep executive branch conversations confidential from congressional oversight.

“In waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in shredding norms and undermining the rule of law,” Mr. Barr said.

He noted that opponents labeled themselves “the resistance” immediately after Mr. Trump was elected and accused them of “using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration.

“Resistance is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power,” Mr. Barr said. He added that it connotes that the government is not legitimate. “This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion.”

Mr. Barr spoke as the second public impeachment hearing wrapped up on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have accused Mr. Trump of abusing the power of his office for personal gain.

Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, testified that she was the target of a smear campaign engineered to get Mr. Trump to remove her; she was recalled from Kiev in the spring. She said that her dismissal from the post put national security at risk by opening the door for Russia to further influence Ukraine, a strategic American ally.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Judges Lagoa & Luck to be confirmed next week

Sen. McConnell has filed cloture, which means that they should receive the final confirmation vote next week.  According to those in the know, that should be Tuesday or Wednesday.  Congrats to both of them, really good people. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

District Judge rules border search of cell phone must be based on reasonable suspicion

Unfortunately this major decision isn't from our District. It's from the District of Massachusetts. Here's the ruling.

From Forbes:
A Boston federal court ruled Tuesday that U.S. federal agents can’t conduct “suspicionless” searches of international travelers’ smartphones and laptops at the border and other ports of entry, a decision hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a “major victory for privacy rights.”
  • In a 48-page decision, U.S. district judge Denise Casper ruled that border officials need justifiable reasons to search a person’s electronic devices, which should be balanced against the privacy interests of travelers.
  • According to Reuters, Casper’s ruling is a higher standard than current U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies.
  • Casper also ruled that the CBP and ICE policies violate the Fourth Amendment, which provides people protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • Agents, however, are still not required to obtain search warrants to examine phones and laptops with reasonable suspicion. 
  • The ACLU was representing the case’s 11 plaintiffs; lawyer Esha Bhandari said the decision “significantly advances Fourth Amendment protections for the millions of international travelers who enter the United States every year.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

“Judge, may I address the court. We’re ready to go.”

That was U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan appearing in state county court. From the Miami Herald:

U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan, a former Miami-Dade judge, made a recent return to the state courthouse to watch a trial — involving a minor car crash.

Fajado appeared recently in support of her niece, who was the victim in a fender-bender accident in West Miami-Dade. Fajardo never identified herself on the record nor said she was the top federal prosecutor in South Florida.

But when the judge called the case, Fajardo did speak up, schooling the courtroom’s young prosecutors who appeared to be waffling on whether to proceed to trial against the woman who hit her niece’s car.

“Judge, may I address the court. We’re ready to go,” Fajardo said, according to the audio of the Oct. 22 hearing. “The issue is restitution. I told them you can reserve restitution, per statute, for 60 days to produce the deductible. They seem to think they can’t proceed forward. So I’m here on behalf of my niece, who has now missed school all day. I’m not understanding why we can’t go forward without restitution.”

Monday, November 11, 2019

Prosecutors fighting against First Step Act

That’s according to the Washington Post in this article:

The five former inmates assembled on the White House stage weren’t scheduled to speak, but President Trump couldn’t help himself. “Where’s Gregory? Greg?” he said. “Come on, get up here!”
From behind the president, Gregory Allen saluted and then made his way to the microphone. “Two months ago, I was in a prison cell, and I’m in the White House,” declared Allen, a Florida resident who had been freed under Trump’s signature criminal justice legislation. “That’s continuing to make America great again!”
The gathering in April was a triumphant celebration of the First Step Act, the most sweeping overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in a generation. Since its passage nearly a year ago, the law has led to the release of more than 3,000 inmates — including Allen, who was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 2001.
The Justice Department, though, had never wanted to let Allen out of prison. In fact, even as he and Trump shared a joyous embrace on television, federal prosecutors were trying to persuade a judge to put Allen back behind bars.
“DOJ is pushing against the will of the people, the will of Congress, the will of the president,” said Holly Harris, a conservative activist and leader of the Justice Action Network who worked with Congress and the White House to pass the law.
The First Step Act aims to lessen long-standing disparities in punishment for nonviolent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. Having five grams of crack, a form of cocaine that is more common among black drug users, used to carry the same mandatory minimum sentence as having 500 grams of powder cocaine, which is more common among white drug users.
But federal prosecutors are arguing in hundreds of cases that inmates who have applied for this type of relief are ineligible, according to a review of court records and interviews with defense attorneys. In at least half a dozen cases, prosecutors are seeking to reincarcerate offenders who have been released under the First Step Act.

This isn’t just happening in First Step cases. It’s happening across the board at sentencing. Lately, prosecutors have taken a new strategic tact — ask for middle or top of the guidelines in an effort dissuade judges from giving variances. Prosecutors are even doing this — not only opposing variances, but opposing low end sentences — in plea cases. This is done so that judges feel like they are doing the defendant some sort of favor by giving an oppressive low-end guideline sentence. Prosecutors are also asking probation to come back much higher than plea agreements state in an effort to have judges believe that a regular old guideline sentence in the plea agreement is a huge benefit to the defendant. Most judges are rejecting these outrageous tactics. But there are a few judges out there that seem to be moved by these new tactics, refusing to give any variance even for first time, non-violent offenders... which is just horrible.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Happier topics

Let's move on to nicer subjects after the last post, shall we?

It looks like the old Dyer building is on the way to a recovery, courtesy of Miami-Dade College.  From the Miami Herald:

Three years after taking possession of Miami’s grandly historic but long vacant federal building, Miami Dade College is nearing completion on the initial phase of a massive $60 million renovation that will return the 1933 Neoclassical masterpiece to public use.

The public college has wrapped up cleanup work to remove asbestos and mold from the vast former courthouse and post office, which has been shuttered since 2008. Next comes remodeling and restoration, a job expected to take two years, said Miami Dade’s interim president, Rolando Montoya, in an interview.

Once that’s done, the monumental building will house the college’s architecture, interior design and fashion design programs in appropriately splendid surroundings. The college also plans to install flexible-use classrooms, robotics and computer labs, faculty and administrative offices, and a conference center with capacity for 400 people.

“I think this is going to be beautiful,” Montoya said: “The building will be an interesting combination of several historical facilities with some high-tech, very modern facilities. It’s very nice architecturally, this combination.”

But, he added: “It’s a lot that has to be done. The building was in very bad shape.”

The limestone-clad federal building, widely regarded as one of the finest works of architecture in Miami, occupies most of a city block at Northeast First Avenue and Third Street across the street from the college’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. Known in latter years as the David W. Dyer building after a prominent judge, the building is on the National Register of Historic places and is also a city of Miami designated historic landmark.

As part of the renovation, the college will restore the Dyer building’s pièce de résistance, an ornate central courtroom adorned by a mural depicting the role of justice in Florida’s development. The federal General Services Administration meanwhile will do its best to restore the badly deteriorated contemporary abstract frescoes by artist David Novros that grace the building’s interior courtyard, Montoya said.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Judge Moore is really serious about the Bluebook (updated)

Footnote 2:
The Court adopts in part Magistrate Judge Reid’s R&R with the following alterations: the pin cite in the citation on page six, line seven should be “1279” and omit citation to “n.2”; the pin cite in the citation on page seven, line seven should be “1223, n.2”; the case name on page seven, line nine should read: “Goebert v. Lee Cty.”; the quotation on page nine, line six should read: “[The] right must be . . .”; the pin cite in the citation on page nine, line thirteen should be “1121”; the quotation on page thirteen, line eleven should read: “We do not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent . . .”; the pin cite in the citations on page fourteen, lines one and six should be “589–90”; the quotation on page seventeen, line five should read: “Miami-Dade County and/or Public Health Trust”; the quotation on page eighteen, line nineteen should read: “[it] can rise to the level . . .”; the pin cite in the citation on page twenty, line seventeen should be “589–90”; the parenthetical on page twenty-one, line nine should read: “offering extraction over a root canal is not a constitutional violation if an extraction is medically appropriate to remove tooth decay”; the citation on page twenty-seven, lines five to six should read: “219 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir. 2000)”; and the citation on page twenty-seven, line nine should read “219 F.3d at 132.” Finally, the Court notes that it does not adopt citations in the R&R that do not conform to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015).

Here’s the R&R and the District Order.

Update— both in the comments and in emails/texts, people are criticizing me for posting this public order. I didn’t write the order, of course. This blog is meant to publish news about the District. Lawyers and judges around town are talking about the order. Numerous folks sent it to me. It certainly seems newsworthy. I have personal feelings about the order and who it makes look bad, but I’m not putting those out there. I’ll let you comment on that issue. I just put it out there because it happened.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Breaking Andrew Brasher nominated to the 11th Circuit

As predicted on this blog, President has nominated Andrew Brasher to fill Chief Judge Carnes’ seat.

From the White House release:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
November 6, 2019
President Donald J. Trump Announces Judicial Nominees
Today, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate:
Andrew L. Brasher of Alabama, to serve as Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Andrew Brasher currently serves as a United States District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama. Before taking the bench in May 2019, Judge Brasher was the Solicitor General of the State of Alabama, where he argued cases before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Alabama Supreme Court. He previously served for several years as the Deputy Solicitor General and practiced in the litigation and white-collar criminal defense practice groups in the Birmingham, Alabama office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP. Upon graduation from law school, Judge Brasher served as a law clerk to Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Brasher earned his B.A., summa cum laude, from Samford University and his J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Law Review.

Monday, November 04, 2019

News & Notes

1. Lots and lots of DUI convictions have been exposed as faulty under this NY Times report regarding the inaccurate breathalyzer tests.

2. Transitions is having its Fall Festival this Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6pm at the Historic Lyric Theatre, 819 NW 2nd Avenue.

3. Are Trump's tax returns headed to the Supreme Court? From Lyle Denniston:
President Donald Trump’s lawyers plan, within the next 10 days, to go to the Supreme Court with a plea to rule – before the Justices’ current term ends this summer – that no court has power to order that his personal and business tax returns be handed over to a state criminal investigation. That appeal follows a unanimous ruling Monday by a federal appeals court in New York City, rejecting the President’s sweeping claim of total immunity to any state probe of his financial affairs.

In its 34-page decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the accounting firm that has the Trump personal and business tax records must obey a New York state grand jury subpoena demanding the turnover of eight years of that data, going back to January 2011. The panel stressed that its ruling was narrow and did not settle wide-ranging questions on what kind of legal immunity Trump might have, if the subpoena were aimed at him directly rather than at his accounting firm. (The firm is Mazars USA; it takes no position in the legal fight over Trump’s records.)

Under an agreement reached last month, between the state prosecutor and Trump’s attorneys, a defeat for the President in the appeals court would start the running of a 10-day period for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Vowing to pursue that appeal, one member of the Trump legal team, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Sekulow, said in a statement that “the issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our Republic. The constitutional issues are significant.”

Under the terms of the two sides’ agreement, the state prosecutor will make no attempt to enforce the disclosure of the tax records during the ten days that an appeal is being prepared – that is, apparently, by November 14 – and for another 10 days after that while legal papers are being submitted to the Justices by both sides. Trump’s team is also required to ask the Justices to grant review, hear and reach a final decision during the Court’s current term, which is expected to run until late June. If the Justices do grant review, the subpoena will not be enforced while the Justices work on a decision.

The Justices have complete discretion to grant or deny review; Trump has no guarantee of review. The Justices also have no duty to proceed on the schedule Trump’s team will be suggesting. However, because of the importance of the constitutional dispute, review and a speedy process very likely will be allowed.

The main constitutional question the appeal is expected to raise is this: Does the President, while serving in office, have complete immunity to any investigation by a state or local government prosecutor, even if the probe seeks information of a personal or private nature and does not demand access to any documents or data directly involving the performance of official duties?

4. Speaking of the Supreme Court, there was an interesting case there today on the 4th Amendment. From Orin Kerr:

[T]he Supreme Court will hold argument in an interesting Fourth Amendment case, Kansas v. GloverGlover raises a simple question: When an officer spots a car driving on a public road, and a license check reveals that the registered owner of the car has a suspended license, does the fact that the registered owner of the car has a suspended license create reasonable suspicion that the driver of the car has a suspended license that then justifies a Terry stop of the car?   Put another way, for Fourth Amendment purposes, can the police presume that the registered owner of a car is driving it?

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Congrats to Judge Rodney Smith

The SDFLA clerk’s office is getting lots of experience planning big parties. The latest was for Judge Rodney Smith, who had his investiture on Friday. Still to come — Raag Singhal and the Fort Pierce seat. Then we’ll have the 11th Circuit slots for Lagoa and Luck. Good times.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

RBG and the Clintons reminisce

I didn’t remember that Gov. Mario Cuomo was Clinton’s first choice for the Supreme Court. He ended up nominating Ginsburg. There was a concern about her age as she was 60 at the time. But she has served now for 27 years. More from the Washington Post:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she knew there was concern about President Bill Clinton nominating a 60-year-old to the Supreme Court when he picked her in 1993.
“Some people thought I was too old for the job,” Ginsburg said Wednesday night during a conversation with Clinton and Hillary Clinton at Georgetown Law Center in Washington. She paused a beat.
“If you worried about my age, it was unnecessary,” she said.
Ginsburg is now 86 and entering her 27th year on the court. She and the Clintons reminisced about the old days at an annual lecture named for her.
Bill Clinton repeated that he knew within 10 minutes of interviewing then-Judge Ginsburg that he would offer her the job, although his first choice was New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

He said she was serious about judging and laid out her views clearly. “I thought, this woman is completely on the level,” Clinton said.
Later, it was conceded that the serious Ginsburg also has a sense of humor. “It’s essential to the job,” she said.
Ginsburg says she is ‘on my way to being very well’ after cancer treatment

Hillary Clinton said she liked to think she had something to do with Ginsburg’s nomination as well. “I may have expressed an opinion or two about people he should move up” the list of possibilities, she said.

I wonder how many kids will dress up as RBG for Halloween today. Hope you have a fun night.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Are the Dems taking criminal justice reform seriously enough?

On Monday, at a forum involving former prisoners, only three Democratic nominees showed up to answer questions.  One of them is former prosecutor Kamala Harris, who has a terrible record on criminal justice reform.  Meantime, Donald Trump is speaking about criminal justice reform at every turn.  This issue has traditionally belonged to the left, but it seems to be up for grabs in the next election.  From the Marshall Project:

Harris faced questions about her record as a prosecutor in San Francisco and later as California’s attorney general, and whether she had been committed enough to “progressive prosecution.” She defended her actions, positioning herself as the only Democratic candidate who has taken tangible steps toward “reforming the criminal justice system.” The senator pointed to her creation of a reentry and job training program, for example.Harris’s critics say she opted for the most politically palatable programs while shying away from more substantive approaches, like declining to prosecute more low-level offenses, that could have reduced the number sent to prison each year in California.
As senator, Harris has been a vocal critic of President Trump’s First Step legislation, calling it a “compromise of a compromise.” The act granted early release for thousands of non-violent drug offenders. Harris said Monday that did not go far enough. “You took a step, but you just learned how to walk,” she said. “We need the plan for step ten.”She said on day one as president, she would conduct a comprehensive audit of the criminal justice system to understand areas for reform. Her plan also includes allocating federal funding to help local counties clear people’s criminal records, removing clemency from the Department of Justice and legalizing marijuana.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Ed Carnes to take senior status

Big news out of the 11th Circuit... Chief Judge Ed Carnes is taking senior status.  That means Donald Trump will get another judge on that court.  Currently pending are Barbara Logoa and Robert Luck.  But this seat won't go to a Florida lawyer or judge.  This one will go to someone from Alabama. 

The word is that District Judge Andrew Brasher is the favorite.  He's from the Middle District of Alabama.  If confirmed along with Lagoa and Luck, Trump will have appointed 6 judges to the court. 

Chief Judge Carnes has been on the court since 1992 (Bush) and has been Chief since 2013.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NED Award to Patricia Seitz

The Federal Bar Association's NED award holds a special place in my heart.  The NED is named after Edward B. Davis, known to his friends as Ned.  He was the ideal federal judge -- smart, funny, old-school, and a real human being.  I've never heard anyone say a negative word about him or his wife, Pat Davis.  Two of the best.  And yes, I'm biased since I clerked for Judge Davis.

Last night, the local Federal Bar Association gave the annual NED award to Judge Patricia Seitz.  Congratulations to Judge Seitz for this amazing honor.

Judge Altonaga, a former Judge Davis clerk, introduced Judge Seitz.  That was really cool, especially since Judge Altonaga is Judge Davis'
second favorite law clerk.

 h/t for the picture from last night's event from Michelle Suskauer

Raag Singhal advances to Senate floor

Congrats to Judge Singhal, who advances to the Senate floor for a full vote. He sailed out of committee this morning.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Addicted to jail (Probation Officers)

A few weeks ago, I wrote this piece in The Hill, "We're addicted to jail."  It addressed a problem that we have in the United States -- we jail too many people for too long.  I offered one modest proposal, that we get more defenders and civil lawyers on the bench and fewer prosecutors:
One easy fix — appoint more criminal defense lawyers and civil lawyers to the bench and fewer prosecutors. According to the Cato Institute, former prosecutors are “vastly overrepresented” throughout the judiciary. As to federal judges alone, the ratio of former prosecutors versus former criminal defense lawyers is four to one (and if you include lawyers who worked for the government on the civil side, the ratio is seven to one). A criminal case or a civil rights case has a 50 percent chance to be heard by a former prosecutor and only a six percent chance to be heard by a judge who has handled a case against the government. Cato explains the unfairness of this with a simple example — we would never allow four of the seven referees of a Ohio State-Michigan football game to be alumni of Michigan. Ohio State fans would never tolerate it. And yet, there are no criminal defense lawyers on the Supreme Court and there hasn’t been one for more than 25 years.

In many cases, former prosecutors have never represented a person sentenced to jail. They have never visited a client in jail. They have never explained to a family — while the family cried — that their loved one is going to be taken from them. As prosecutors, they have only put a lot of people in jail. And so, as judges, this addiction to jail continues, even for someone like Deandre, who ends up serving a jail sentence because he overslept.
I've decided to continue to write on this subject and offer other proposals with the hope of trying to fix the over-criminalization problem that both sides of the aisle agree on (when they literally can agree on nothing else).  If you'd like to write a response (and sign your name) or make your own proposal, please feel free to email me and I will post it.

One crazy function of the federal criminal justice system is that probation officers, who are mostly non-lawyers, prepare a presentence investigation report, which includes a calculation of the federal sentencing guidelines.  In other words, these officers are analyzing complex legal questions and making a determination, many times after only speaking to the prosecution about the case.  Those reports often-times take the most extreme view of the guidelines (even more extreme than the government's view of the guidelines), views that are not supported by the plea agreement, by the law, or by the facts.  The reports also do not ever include reasons for why there should be a downward variance under 3553.  They simply repeat their standard policy that there are no factors that warrant a variance.  And then some judges will meet with probation officers ex parte and discuss the guidelines and potential sentences, all without hearing from the parties.  It's an upside-down practice.

So here's another modest proposal, this one regarding probation officers --

1.  Probation officers should not do any analysis of the guidelines whatsoever.  That should be left to the parties to each submit their guideline calculations. The judge and her law clerks can then analyze the parties' submissions and rule on any disagreements.  The same for variance arguments (up or down).    

2. Just as importantly, judges should not have ex parte meetings with probation officers before the sentencing (or accept ex parte "blue sheets" with probation recommendations as to sentence).  It's simply not fair to the parties.  The judge that I clerked for -- Judge Edward B. Davis -- would occasionally meet with a probation officer in chambers when he had a question about something in the report.  But he would never do it without the parties.   I remember one exchange he had with a probation officer who had not recommended minor role for a drug courier.  Judge Davis asked him why the reduction was not considered even though the case law was clear that it was to be decided on a case by case basis.  The PO responded that his office had a policy of never including it.  Judge Davis chuckled and asked, "Don't you work for me?" 

 We have a real jail problem.  The federal guidelines are in part to blame.  That issue is exarcerbated when probation officers have the ability to shape the debate over how those guidelines are applied and then have access to the judge without the parties before sentencing.  There is no downside to making these small changes to our sentencing process. 

Bigger ones to follow.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"Corruption fighter to controversy, Kastrenakes lauded for smarts, chided for ‘God complex’"

That's the title of this Palm Beach Post article which profiles Palm Beach judge John Kastrenakes.  From the intro:
The two faces of Judge John Kastrenakes — vigilant defender of the law and unbridled hothead — played out in stark relief this month after his decision to send a juror to jail for 10 days.
WEST PALM BEACH — When John Kastrenakes arrived at the Palm Beach County Courthouse 10 years ago to take a seat on the powerful circuit bench all that was missing was a shining steed.
After sending five elected officials in the county to prison, the career prosecutor was feted as a gleaming knight who would use his formidable skills as a dogged crime fighter to continue to chip away at the area’s reputation as “Corruption County.”
A year later, he grabbed headlines for far different reasons.
Stopped for driving the wrong way in the parking lot of a service plaza on Florida’s Turnpike, Kastrenakes became irate. Blasting the Florida Highway Patrol trooper as “a liar,” he said he would never believe her and would doubt the veracity of any FHP officer who appeared in his courtroom.
Concerned about his ability to be fair, state prosecutors asked him to step down from seven cases built by FHP troopers. Kastrenakes agreed and apologized for his outburst.
The two faces of Kastrenakes — vigilant defender of the law and unbridled hothead — played out in stark relief this month.
Howls of overreaching and racial bias greeted his decision to send a 21-year-old West Palm Beach juror to jail for 10 days. Ruling that DeAndre Somerville willfully violated his orders, Kastrenakes found the young black man guilty of contempt of court after he explained that he overslept and didn’t call to report his absence because his cellphone was broken.
Florida state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, has asked the Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate Kastrenakes.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Investiture for Roy Altman

It will be a big party on the top floor of the Wilkie Ferguson courthouse tomorrow afternoon for Judge Roy Altman.  Congrats to Judge Altman.

Judge Rodney Smith’s investiture will be next.

Then, if all goes according to plan, Judge Raag Singhal will be confirmed and have his.

We are still waiting on that 5th open district seat in Fort Pierce.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Lagoa and Luck on the Senate calendar

Judges Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck will have their first hearings before the Senate tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 10am and will answer any questions the Judiciary Committee might have.  After this hearing, they'll answer written questions from the Senators.  Floor votes should come relatively quickly. 

If you are interested in getting all the news as it happens, you should follow @fedjudges on Twitter.

Will the Dems address federal judges in tonight's debate?

Trump has placed an emphasis on remaking the federal judiciary and he has been extremely successful. Obama (and Clinton) never had such an emphasis. And the Democratic candidates so far have barely mentioned the judiciary in their campaigns and debates. Hopefully it will be discussed tonight.

Others, however, have been pressing for a new narrative on judging. Clark Neily of Cato has called for a moratorium on appointing prosecutors to the bench.
Given the government’s vast resources, nearly every court case pitting a lone citizen against the state represents a David-versus-Goliath fight for justice. To further stack the deck with judges who are far more likely to have earned their spurs representing Goliath than David is unfair to individual litigants and a bad look for the justice system as a whole.

Fortunately, the solution is simple: a temporary moratorium on nominating former prosecutors to the bench and a strong preference for lawyers with substantial experience representing individuals against the government in criminal and civil cases. If that proposal seems extreme, consider the image of a federal judiciary in which former public defenders outnumbered prosecutors 4 to 1. Notwithstanding the transformative effect that would have on our deeply dysfunctional criminal justice system, not to mention the Bill of Rights, it’s probably not a good idea. But neither is it wise to continue doing nothing while the imbalance runs the other way.

It is perfectly understandable that current government officials wish to stock the courts with former government advocates. But it’s a bad deal for the rest of us and a doubtful way to ensure equal justice under law.

And Demand Justice has put out its own Supreme Court shortlist (as Trump did when he was a candidate) since no Dem has done so. There are no Floridians on the list, and it's not a realistic list in my view (with only 2 Circuit judges), but it's a conversation starter.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Kudos to Judge Scola for being compassionate

It’s not every day that a federal judge is compassionate. But Judge Scola deserves a lot of credit today for releasing 84-year old Hafiz Khan, who is dying. The federal public defender’s office filed the motion for Khan, which received very strong opposition from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. From the Miami Herald:

“I do find that his demise is imminent, and he can no longer speak and does not pose a danger to the community,” Scola said Friday, after holding three hearings this week on the Khan family’s petition.
Earlier this week, a prison doctor testified that Khan has a host of dire health issues and could die within weeks. But he also said he may be too weak to be moved from the prison medical facility, let alone to Miami. Scola, the judge, raised concerns about the logistics of transferring Khan because of his fragile state.

The family, with the help of Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso and colleague Sowmya Bharathi, found a solution that satisfied the judge’s concern: a hospice center in Raleigh that could accommodate Khan on Friday.

“No one wants him released without proper medical care available,” Bharathi said, adding that Khan’s family had the finances to pay for his ambulance transfer to the Raleigh facility and the daily hospice care.

The judge said that because of Khan’s rapidly deteriorating health and inability to speak, he believed the defendant would be unable to spread any possible propaganda to incite the Taliban to take violent action against Americans — evidence that surfaced during his 2013 terrorism trial in Miami.

“Mr. Khan’s danger was his ability to speak and influence other people,” said Scola, who in his order prohibited Khan from any access to a telephone, computer or the internet. He also limited his visitors at the Raleigh hospice facility to immediate family members.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

CA11 issues interesting opinion on experts

There are 3 opinions in this lengthy case, with the majority written by visiting district judge Lewis Kaplan, a concurrence by Julie Carnes, and a dissent by Tjoflat.

Of note is that many practitioners think that the criminal discovery rules require less disclosure from prosecutors on experts than the civil case counterparts. But Tjoflat explains that that understanding is wrong. Prosecutors must make real expert disclosures or risk full reversal:

In closing, to understand just how significantly Mentor has been wronged today, consider what we would do if this case were criminal rather than civil. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(1)(G), the government has a duty to “give to the defendant a written summary of any [expert] testimony that the government intends to use.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(G). The government’s summary must include the expert witness’s “opinions, the bases and reasons for those opinions, and the witness’s qualifications.” Id. As with the Civil Rules, the government has the continuing duty to inform the defendant of changes to the expert’s opinion. Id. 16(c). And, like Civil Rule 37(c), Criminal Rule 16 empowers the district court to “prohibit [a non-compliant] party from introducing
the undisclosed evidence.” Id. 16(d)(2)(C).

Now imagine this were a criminal trial. The government identifies Dr. Porter as an expert witness. Mentor obtains Dr. Porter’s summary, deposes Dr. Porter and—based on the information obtained—builds its defense. All seems to go as planned until, mid-trial, Dr. Porter changes his tune in a way that prejudices Mentor. Moreover, the circumstances of the reversal indicate that the government induced Dr. Porter to change his opinion. Mentor moves for a mistrial citing the
prejudicial and deliberate Rule 16 violation. The district judge denies Mentor’s motion, and Mentor appeals. Now the case is before our Court. What result?

Reversal. See United States v. Chastain, 198 F.3d 1338, 1348 (11th Cir. 1999) (“[W]here it is apparent . . . that the defense strategy may have been determined by the failure to disclose, there should be a new trial.” (citation omitted) (second and third alterations omitted)). Reversal, and perhaps—because of the violation’s deliberateness—a citation of criminal contempt for the prosecution. But over on the civil side—with the same degree of prejudice and the
same degree of deliberateness—we inadvertently reward this behavior.

Why is that? Why do we tolerate in a civil case the same kind of behavior that would require reversal in a criminal case? It seems that we have two standards of ethics and professionalism—one for criminal cases, and another, significantly more lenient standard for civil cases. Lawyers do without a hint of shame in a civil case what they would never think to do in a criminal one. This bifurcated sense of what ethics and professionalism require of the bar is sadly nothing new. But what is new—and what is made worse by today’s majority opinion—is the extent to which we will let civil lawyers get away with behavior that would be unthinkable in a criminal trial.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

“We’re addicted to jail.”

That’s the title to my latest in The Hill.  Please take a look.  Here’s a snippet:

We issue jail sentences like candy, to address every known problem that we have. Drug problem — jail. Using your family member’s address to get your child into a better school — jail. Paying college athletes — jail. The United States jails more people than any other country in the world. We have higher incarceration rates than Russia, Iran, and Iraq — by a lot. We tolerate innocent people sitting in jail when we only suspect that they might have done something wrong, as one man did for 82 days when he brought honey into the United States. 82 days.

Even though oversleeping doesn’t seem to be a rampant problem, the judge in Deandre’s case admitted that he was trying to solve a broader jury “misconduct” issue with jail. This is not how it should be.

The jail solution has become much worse than the diseases it was trying to cure. So what do we do about it?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

First Monday in October

The Term starts off with two exciting criminal law cases:

1. First up is Kahler v. Kansas: “Whether the Eighth and 14th Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense.”  Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog has a nice write up here.  A snippet:
Under Kansas law, Kahler could not argue that he was insane as a defense to the charges. In 1995, Kansas had replaced the insanity defense with a new law that allows a defendant to argue that, because of mental illness, he could not have intended to commit the crime but makes clear that mental illness “is not otherwise a defense.” The law was a response to several high-profile criminal cases, including the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial court instructed the jurors in Kahler’s trial that they could only consider Kahler’s mental illness as part of determining whether he intended to kill his victims. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Kahler’s death sentence, rejecting his argument that the failure to allow him to raise an insanity defense violated the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in March.
In his brief on the merits, Kahler contends that it has long been established that a mentally ill person who commits a crime without understanding that his actions are wrong is not morally responsible for those actions and therefore should not be held criminally responsible. The importance of this rule, he suggests, can be seen in the fact that, until 1979, every jurisdiction in the United States allowed an insanity defense. Today, he continues, 45 states, the federal government, the U.S. military and the District of Columbia all allow a mentally ill defendant to assert an insanity defense.
But under Kansas law, Kahler argues, it doesn’t matter whether an insane defendant understands that what he is doing is wrong. The only question is whether he intended to commit the crime, which is a much lower bar. Therefore, Kahler posits, “so long as a defendant intentionally kills another human being—even if he delusionally believes the devil told him to do it, or that the victim was an enemy soldier trying to kill him,” he can be convicted of murder even if he is insane. Such an approach is not the equivalent of offering an insanity defense, Kahler maintains. Rather, he predicts, the state’s rule will “shrink the class of defendants who might be acquitted as a result of mental disease or defect almost to the vanishing point.”
Removing such a fundamental principle from the criminal justice system, Kahler maintains, violates the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, which was enacted to protect exactly these kinds of basic principles. Kansas’ rule also violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment because, “by convicting and punishing people who are not blameworthy, cannot be deterred, and require incapacitation and rehabilitation that the criminal justice system cannot provide,” it doesn’t advance any of the justifications for punishment – such as deterrence or retribution. Indeed, Kahler notes, at the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted, it was widely regarded as cruel and unusual to impose criminal punishments on the insane.
Kahler acknowledges that the Supreme Court normally gives the states a fair amount of latitude in how they structure their criminal justice systems, and he concedes that states can “tweak” a baseline standard that hinges on whether the defendant knows that his actions were wrong. States can also require defendants to show that they are insane, perhaps even beyond a reasonable doubt, but they can’t get rid of the insanity defense altogether.
Kansas frames the issue very differently, telling the justices that the state has simply “redefined,” rather than “abolished” the insanity defense. Although a defendant cannot raise insanity as an affirmative defense to accusations of a crime, the jury can still consider evidence of mental illness in determining whether the defendant could have intended to commit the crime.
2.  Second up is Ramos v. Louisiana, which addresses “whether the 14th Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict.”  Amy Howe again:
In Ramos’ case, the justices are not writing on a blank slate. Nearly 50 years ago, in Apodaca v. Oregon, the court ruled that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a unanimous jury, but that such a right does not extend to defendants in state trials. The justices were deeply divided. Four justices would have ruled that the Sixth Amendment does not require a unanimous jury at all, while four others would have ruled that the Sixth Amendment establishes a right to a unanimous jury that applies in both state and federal courts. That left Justice Lewis Powell, who believed that the Sixth Amendment requires a unanimous jury for federal criminal trials, but not for state trials, as the controlling vote.
In his brief on the merits, Ramos starts with the threshold question of whether the Sixth Amendment’s jury trial clause requires a unanimous verdict at all. He argues that the answer is yes: The Sixth Amendment, he contends, guarantees a defendant in a criminal case a “trial, by an impartial jury,” which the Supreme Court has consistently interpreted as requiring a unanimous jury verdict before a defendant can be convicted of a crime. This includes the court’s 1972 decision in Apodaca, he continues, in which “a majority of the Court agreed yet again that the Sixth Amendment requires jury unanimity to convict.”
The history and purposes of the jury trial clause also make clear that a unanimous verdict is required to convict a defendant, Ramos continues. Starting as far back as the 14th century, Ramos explains, laws in England required a unanimous verdict. The colonies embraced this requirement in their own legal systems, and the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights adopted this understanding of what the right to jury trial meant in the Sixth Amendment. The requirement of a unanimous verdict also serves important purposes at the heart of the jury trial right, such as countering possible bias or overreach by prosecutors. “Indeed,” Ramos writes, “the knowledge that a conviction cannot be obtained absent a unanimous verdict deters prosecutors from bringing questionable charges in the first place.” The requirement also “ensures the jury’s verdict represents the voice of the whole community” and “promotes public confidence in the reliability and fairness of the criminal justice system.”
Louisiana counters that the Sixth Amendment does not require a unanimous jury. Nothing in the text of the Constitution imposes such a requirement, even though the Constitution imposes other requirements on the jury system – for example, specifying where jury trials must take place. And, the state argues, the justices should not assume that, just because juries were required to be unanimous in the late 18th century, that requirement was tacitly included in the Constitution’s reference to a “jury.” To the contrary, the state suggests, the history of the Bill of Rights shows that the Framers intentionally omitted a unanimity requirement from the Sixth Amendment: The original draft of the amendment included a unanimity requirement, but the Senate rejected it, instead adopting a different version without one. At the same time, the state observes, some state constitutions explicitly imposed a unanimity requirement – which they would not have needed to do if the phrase “trial by jury” had been understood to include a requirement that the jury’s vote be unanimous. Indeed, the state adds, there were other historical jury practices that no one has argued should be read into the Sixth Amendment – for example, “the requirement that juries consist of twelve male property owners who would be held without food and drink until they returned a unanimous jury verdict.”
Louisiana also sees no conflict between the purpose of the Sixth Amendment and a rule that jury verdicts do not have to be unanimous. The purpose of the jury trial clause, the state stresses, is to ensure that a defendant is convicted by members of the community, who have looked at the evidence and independently concluded that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That purpose is served, the state insists, whether the vote is unanimous or is instead 11-1 or 10-2 – as demonstrated by the fact that most countries (including England) that use jury trials do not require unanimous verdicts. Eliminating the unanimity requirement also significantly reduces the likelihood of a deadlocked jury, the state notes, which in turn reduces burdens on court systems.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Breaking — Jared Strauss is your new Magistrate Judge

Strauss has been an AUSA in Broward. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2005.

Congratulations to Jared Strauss!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Rudy G. hires Jon Sale

Yours truly is quoted in the Herald article praising Rudy for the hire.  It's a smart move.

A former Watergate prosecutor based in Miami may have a big say in whether Rudy Giuliani complies with a subpoena from lawmakers conducting impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.

Giuliani has tapped Miami-based veteran attorney Jon A. Sale, of counsel with Nelson Mullins, to represent him before the congressional inquiry into whether President Donald Trump improperly pressured Ukraine’s president for a political favor.

“This subpoena is very complex because it raises a lot of issues — including privilege and constitutional issues — so it requires serious analysis,” Sale said in a brief telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “There’s a lot of work involved here.”

A former New York University law school classmate of Giuliani, Sale was a junior prosecutor during the Watergate probe and is often described as the dean of the white-collar defense bar in South Florida.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Your new chair of the Committee on Audits and Administrative Office Accountability .... is .....

Drumroll please...

Chief Judge K. Michael Moore.

Congrats on the appointment by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Other appointments are listed here, including Judge Kethledge as the Chair on the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, which is celebrated yesterday and today. Schools and state courts were closed yesterday. But the feds were open. And the 11th Circuit issued this opinion regarding Scott Rothstein, affirming his 50 year sentence. They couldn’t have waited a few days to issue the opinion?

In other news, there’s a new baseball smuggling case. The last one, a trial in front of Judge Kathleen Williams, is on appeal. The Sun-Sentinel has the details on the new matter:
A Cuban national in South Florida is accused of running a smuggling operation that moved Cuban baseball players through Mexico and into the major leagues in exchange for a large percentage of their contracts.
After being deported from Mexico in June, Tomas Valle Valdivia, 44, faces new smuggling charges in Miami. Prosecutors say he is part of a criminal enterprise that has profited for years off the black market for Cuban ballplayers.
Valdivia, also known as “Tomasito,” is accused of using go-fast boats to smuggle one player off the island in October 2013 and another at an undetermined time. Neither player is identified in court documents, but the first appears to be Cincinnati Reds pitcher Raisel Iglesias.
Court documents claim the agreed-upon price for the player’s smuggling was 20% of his $27 million contract. Iglesias was the Reds’ only Cuban defector in 2013, according to the website He signed a $27 million contract in 2014.
RELATED: White Sox's Jose Abreu says he ate fake passport, washed it down with beer on plane to U.S. »
In addition, Tomasito’s Lawyer, Joaquin Perez, said the player is “not doing so well for Cincinnati.” Iglesias finished last season with a 3-12 won-lost record.
Perez made the comments Thursday in Miami federal court, where he argued unsuccessfully for Tomasito’s release from custody.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

“We don’t go about our work in a political manner.”

That was Chief Justice Roberts at a speech earlier this week.  More from The NY Times:

But he added that the outside criticism did not affect the court’s independence. “A lot of the criticism is based on a misperception,” he said.

People often note that the court is made up of five Republican appointees and four Democratic ones, he said, and they expect predictable 5-to-4 decisions along those lines.

“Last year,” he said, “we had 19 5-to-4 decisions, and seven of them were divided with the five justices appointed by Republican presidents in the majority and the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents in dissent.”

“That shouldn’t come as a surprise because we don’t go about our work in a political manner,” he said.

The last term’s two biggest decisions, on partisan gerrymandering and adding a question on citizenship to the census, both featured controlling opinions written by the chief justice, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Both were closely divided. In the gerrymandering case, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the other Republican appointees. In the key part of the census decision, he voted with the four Democratic appointees.
This was a funny exchange:

And, of course, Justice Ginsburg brings her experience as a rock star,” he said.

Asked if he could best Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at push-ups, he said that would not be a fair fight.

“She has so much less to push up,” he said. “I can comfortably say that I can bench press her weight and she can’t bench press mine.”

Asked for his favorite classic rock band, Chief Justice Roberts, 64, picked the Byrds, saying he had seen them not long ago. “I’ve never been in a room with more 65-year-old men with ponytails,” he said.

He also endorsed the decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, an observation that was greeted by applause.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How fast is Robert Luck's star rising?

So fast that he had his Florida Supreme Court investiture today, weeks after he was nominated to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (that nomination is still working its way through the system). Amazing! Good for Justice (soon to be Judge) Luck. Here are some pictures from From a quick scroll of Facebook, it looks like it was an amazing turnout of Miami lawyers and judges (both state and federal). Pretty cool that so many people flew up.

Also in Tallahassee, Miami lawyers Tara Kawass and Chris DeCoste have started trial in State v. Katie Magbanua, one of the highest profile cases in the country right now. The co-defendant, Sigfredo Garcia, is represented by Sa'am Zangeneh. The State is seeking the death penalty against Garcia. More from This might be the first time the blog has cited that newspaper twice in one post.  (Full disclosure, I represent someone who has not been charged in the case.)

And let me be a proud dad for a minute and also post about my daughter Nicole, who has this op-ed in today's Sun-Sentinel. It's on climate change. The intro:
Protesting at last Friday’s global climate strike isn’t enough. Yes, it is amazing that you went. It is incredible that so many people care about the climate that they would miss their jobs, or an important school test, or anything else they may have had.

But if we do not continue to make our voices heard once the strike is over, all of it will be for nothing. Every day, we need to talk about solutions, lobby the government, and change easy habits that can help reduce our collective carbon footprint. When events happen in your community, go to them. When you can, spread awareness to your peers.

Because if the number of people showing up for the environment Sept. 20 showed up every day, we would not face this issue. We would have governments scrambling to keep up with the demands from young people, and old people, and everyone in between.

Monday, September 23, 2019


If I were her age and had suffered the health set backs that she has had, I would not have the energy to be on the speaker circuit.  (I don't have that energy now!).  But RBG is pretty amazing.  From USA Today:

Over her 86½ years on earth, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been lauded as a women's rights pioneer, a Supreme Court justice and a cultural icon. These days, she receives hearty ovations just for staying on the job.

To satisfy some of her liberal allies, she must do that for at least another 16 months.

Fresh off three weeks of radiation treatment for her fourth bout with cancer, the woman fondly known as the "Notorious RBG" is traveling the nation giving speeches, staging conversations and accepting awards and honorary degrees. By demonstrating her vitality before adoring audiences, she hopes to tamp down concerns about her longevity.

"As cancer survivors know, that dread disease is a challenge, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you. Now, it's not universal," she quipped Thursday night at the famed 92nd Street Y in New York City. She vowed to stay on the job "as long as I'm healthy and mentally agile."

The concerns are based on the political calendar. Ginsburg must remain on the nation's highest court at least until January 2021 to avoid giving President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate the opportunity to replace her. Such a doomsday scenario for liberals would give conservatives a 6-3 hold on the high court – solidifying their majority, perhaps for decades to come.

Ginsburg resumes her national hopscotching tour Monday at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., where she will appear before about 1,600 fans. The following week, she will be at Amherst College in western Massachusetts.

The court's 2019 term begins Oct. 7, briefly keeping Ginsburg in the nation's capital, where her latest accolade was a two-story mural unveiled Monday on a downtown D.C. building. When two weeks of oral arguments are completed, she is scheduled to travel cross country to California.

"It's a travel schedule that would exhaust the rest of us," says Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal group People for the American Way. “This is a statement that’s she’s making, and she seems to draw energy from it.”

For years, Ginsburg has traveled and spoken publicly more than most of her colleagues. Before Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's death in 2016, the two ideological opposites occasionally made joint appearances that called attention to their longtime friendship. Ginsburg has made more than 170 public appearances in the last five years; only Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor has done more.

"When I am active, I am much better than when I am just lying about feeling sorry for myself," Ginsburg said at the Yale Club event. "The necessity to get up and go is stimulating."