The SDFLA Blog is dedicated to providing news and notes regarding federal practice in the Southern District of Florida. The New Times calls the blog "the definitive source on South Florida's federal court system." All tips on court happenings are welcome and will remain anonymous. Please email David Markus at email@example.com
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Last post of the year
Monday, December 28, 2020
It's a quiet week in courthouses around the country. But that didn't stop Rumpole from going after the Florida Supreme Court for doing away with Times New Roman in this order. It's a really strange order that goes into effect at 12:03 January 1. 12:03?? It also requires two awful fonts -- Arial or Bookman Old Style. Weird.
But Times New Roman is a bad font for legal documents. The U.S. Supreme Court uses Century Schoolbook, and that's the font that should be the default for all legal pleadings. There's lots out there explaining why Times New Roman is terrible (here, here, here, and here for example).
Anyway, this is what you get when it's a slow court week.
Thursday, December 24, 2020
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.
It's been an absolutely crazy year. One of the issues that has come up is whether local governments can set curfews during the pandemic. Judge Raag Singhal heard a challenge from some Broward bars and restaurants to the Broward midnight curfew, and they won. From the Sun-Sentinel:
A federal court has rejected Broward County’s curfew on bars and restaurants, raising the possibility that nightclubs in much of Florida could operate through the night as COVID-19 rages.
The court specifically cited Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order in September that removed all restrictions on bars and restaurants as the state moved to Phase 3 of the coronavirus recovery.
Broward County’s rules, prohibiting the sale or alcohol between midnight and 5 a.m., violate the governor’s order and are “speculative and arbitrary,” wrote U.S. District Judge Raag Singhal of the Southern District of Florida.
Since DeSantis reopened the economy, COVID-19 cases have soared around the state, particularly in South Florida. Crowds of maskless partiers have become common in the region’s popular entertainment districts.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
A holiday miracle (UPDATED 12/24)
President Trump commuted Phillip Esformes' 20 year sentence today:
Philip Esformes – Today, President Trump commuted the term of imprisonment of Philip Esformes, while leaving the remaining aspects of his sentence, including supervised release and restitution, intact. This commutation is supported by former Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Michael Mukasey, as well as former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. In addition, former Attorneys General Edwin Meese, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzalez, as well as other notable legal figures such as Ken Starr, have filed in support of his appeal challenging his conviction on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct related to violating attorney-client privilege.
While in prison, Mr. Esformes, who is 52, has been devoted to prayer and repentance and is in declining health.
Fascinating. Some open questions -- does the appeal continue because he is still on supervised release? Does this apply to the hung count as well or is that still alive? In any event, this is HUGE news in a case that the government touted at the time as the largest health care fraud case in history and one in which he was serving a 20 year sentence.
12/24 UPDATE -- Trump issued more pardons, including for Mary McCarty, Cesar Lozada, and James Batmasian. From the press release:
Mary McCarty — President Trump granted Mary McCarty a full pardon. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Christopher Ruddy are among those supportive of Ms. McCarty. Ms. McCarty was a longtime public servant in Palm Beach, Florida, serving as one of its County Commissioners. In 2009, she pled guilty to one count of honest services fraud. The Supreme Court has since interpreted that statute more narrowly, meaning that Ms. McCarty’s conduct might not be criminally prosecuted today.
Cesar Lozada — President Trump granted a full pardon to Cesar Lozada. This act of clemency is supported by U.S. Representative-elect Maria Elvira Salazar and members of Mr. Lozada’s community. Mr. Lozada, an immigrant from Cuba, started a small business cleaning and servicing pools in Miami-Dade County. Since then, his business, now a pool equipment company, has grown and employs dozens of people. Today’s pardon addresses a mistake Mr. Lozada made in 2004 of conspiring to distribute marijuana, for which Mr. Lozada took full responsibility, served his sentence of 14 months in prison and 3 years supervised release, and paid a $10,000 fine. Mr. Lozada volunteers on weekends at a charity mission and serves food to the poor.
James Batmasian — President Trump granted a full pardon to James Batmasian. Mr. Batmasian’s pardon is supported by Representative Brian Mast, Alice Johnson, and former Masters Champion Bernhard Langer, among many others from the South Florida community that Mr. Batmasian has done so much to serve through his extensive charitable works.
Mr. Batmasian runs an extensive property management business in South Florida. Over a three-year period from 2001 to 2003, Mr. Batmasian made overtime payments without withholding for income taxes or FICA contributions. While illegal, Mr. Batmasian recorded all of these payments and made no attempt to hide them when confronted by IRS investigators. In 2008, Mr. Batmasian pled guilty to willful failure to collect and remit payroll taxes. Mr. Batmasian accepted full responsibility for his actions, fully repaid the IRS the money he owed, and served his 8-month sentence.
Bonus episode of For the Defense: Hank Asbill for Gov. Bob McDonnell
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Compassionate release for man serving life, by Mikayla Espinosa
Mr. Cano, who suffers from severe hypertension and thus is at an increased risk from COVID-19 complications, was sentenced twenty-four years ago under the continuing criminal enterprise statute. He was serving his sentence at USP Terre Haute, a BOP facility experiencing a massive COVID outbreak.
In September, Mr. Cano filed a pro se motion for compassionate release, which Judge Altonaga denied in a lengthy order. Andrea Lopez and Sam Rabin then took on the case with the unenviable task of filing a motion for reconsideration.
They were successful: Judge Altonaga found that potential legal flaws with Mr. Cano’s sentence, disparities in sentencing, the BOP’s failure to provide adequate medical treatment for Mr. Cano, and the 3553a sentencing factors all supported Mr. Cano’s release. She also found that her earlier denial of Mr. Cano’s pro se motion had resulted in manifest injustice that justified granting the motion for consideration.
As a central part of her analysis, Judge Altonaga revisited her earlier ruling and determined that the First Step Act allows courts to consider whatever grounds for release they deem extraordinary and compelling, regardless of whether those grounds were identified by the Sentencing Commission. Although the Eleventh Circuit has not yet decided the issue, Judge Altonaga was moved by the decisions and reasoning of other circuits. This significant opinion gives real power to the First Step Act by empowering courts to go beyond limitations previously imposed on compassionate release by both the Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons.
Andrea and Sam did exceptional work. Their brief (which Judge Altonaga acknowledged to be cogent and well supported) is a goldmine for any defense attorney advancing an argument for compassionate relief.
The case is United States v. Cano, 95-00481-CR-ALTONAGA.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Don't shush opposing counsel during depos.
And definitely do NOT insert bad haikus into pleadings.
If you do, the 11th Circuit will affirm sanctions against you:
Peter, a member of the Florida bar who holds himself out as a bankruptcy attorney, argues that the district court abused its discretion in sanctioning him. The conduct that led to the sanctions included, among other things, his repeated “shushing” of opposing counsel during a deposition; his submission of lengthy and superfluous filings, one in which he wrote a nonsensical haiku; his argument that the bankruptcy court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to preside over a dispute explicitly provided for in the Bankruptcy Code; and his assertion that he did not know what a privilege log was despite being a barred attorney.
I mean, it might be nonsensical to you, 11th Circuit, but come on... art is in the eye of the beholder:
Peter then filed a 153-page motion for reconsideration of the bankruptcy court’s order denying him summary judgment, including in it accusations of domestic violence against Howard, as well as other immaterial details about family life. The filing concluded with what the bankruptcy court would later describe as “pointless poetry”—the haiku, which read: “All know: talk is cheap; Liars can claim anything; No evidence?! Balk!” The bankruptcy court denied the motion for reconsideration.
How dare you!
Here's a New York Times article explaining what "art" is and whether it's "good."
Meantime... it's not easy to write 153 pages that includes poetry...
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
SDFLA to start live-streaming hearings
In announcing Tuesday it will give the public access to noteworthy cases via audio livestream, the federal court system will move a few rungs closer to the 21st century — at least in 13 districts.
These livestreams will be available on the courts’ designated YouTube channels in real-time, the U.S. Courts said Tuesday.
“While the pilot temporarily suspends a prohibition on broadcasting federal court proceedings in the designated courts, the livestreams may not be recorded or rebroadcast,” the federal judiciary said. The Judicial Conference of the United States adopted a prohibition against “broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and areas immediately adjacent thereto” in 1972 for both criminal and civil cases.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig chairs the courts’ national policy-making body, which authorized the test program earlier this year. Its purpose, she said in a statement, is to study the livestreaming civil proceeding audio from policy, technical, operational, budgetary and administrative perspectives.
The pilot is also a nod to the federal judiciary’s commitment to transparency and increasing public access to court proceedings, Fleissig said, noting this is “an issue that has taken on even greater importance in the last year” as many courts have been forced to restrict in-person public access to courthouses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“At the same time, we want to develop the best practices for the process and ensure that any new practices do not compromise the integrity of federal court proceedings. That is why we are taking a measured and deliberative approach by working with volunteer pilot courts,” Fleissig said.
The move is a big one for reporters across the country who will have a much easier time covering high-profile cases, said Genelle Belmas, an associate journalism professor at the University of Kansas. The Kansas Federal Court is participating in the program.
“This is a big step in the right direction for making material available, making content available to reporters,” she said in a phone interview, adding that federal courts are just beginning to “dip a toe in the water” when it comes to expanding virtual proceedings in line with the appellate courts.
“Journalists complain a lot about not having sufficient access and this makes it so that there are fewer excuses,” Belmas said.
Monday, December 14, 2020
11th Circuit affirms dismissal of Parkland shooting case
Here's the opinion (which affirms Judge Bloom) by Chief Judge Pryor. The intro:
This appeal requires us to decide whether the district court erred when it dismissed a civil-rights action filed by students present at the Parkland school shooting. The students sued Broward County and five public officials on the theory that their response to the school shooting was so incompetent that it violated the students’ substantive rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The district court dismissed this claim with prejudice because it was an impermissible shotgun pleading and, in the alternative, because it failed to state a claim and leave to amend it would be futile. On the merits, the district court reasoned that because the students were not in a custodial relationship with the officials and failed to allege conduct by the officials that is “arbitrary” or “shocks the conscience,” the students could not maintain a claim that the officials violated their substantive right to due process of law. The students appeal this decision, but settled caselaw makes clear that official acts of negligence or even incompetence in this setting do not violate the right to due process of law.
Because we agree with the district court that the students failed to state a claim of a constitutional violation and that leave to amend would be futile, we affirm.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
“Social media is mightier than Gov. DeSantis's guns“
That’s the title of this piece I just wrote for The Hill. You can read the whole thing here: https://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/529939-social-media-is-mightier-than-gov-desantiss-guns
From the introduction:
You would think we’ve all gotten used to seeing crazy things caught on camera and posted to social media. But, no… it seems every day there’s something more outrageous and jaw-dropping than the day before. The insane video for this week shows law enforcement officers pointing guns at a scientist’s husband and two small children inside their home.
That’s right — a battery of police officers in bullet proof vests drew their guns at Rebekah Jones’s house on Monday morning while executing a search warrant to seize her electronics.
Jones, a former employee of Florida’s Department of Health, must have been suspected of some pretty bad stuff to necessitate this drastic action, right? Murder? RICO? Robbery?
She has been accused of sending an unauthorized email to the State Emergency Response Team that said: “Speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.” Jones denies sending the email. But even if there were irrefutable proof that she had, this “investigation” involved a non-violent “crime” and a non-violent “suspect.” I put those words in quotes because… come on. This doesn’t seem like a real investigation into a real crime. It seems a lot more like pay back (more of which in a moment). Even a high-ranking and life-long Republican stepped down from his political post because of this “case.”
Friday, December 11, 2020
Who will be the next U.S. Attorney in the SDFLA? (UPDATED)
The rumors are already swirling around town. But there doesn't seem to be any procedure in place for applying or for vetting. And it's unclear how Sens. Rubio and Scott will work with the Biden White House on the U.S. Attorney (and on judges for that matter). In any event, the names I've heard so far for for the next United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida:
1. Jackie Arango, partner at Akerman (former AUSA)
2. David Buckner, partner at Bucker + Miles (former AUSA).
3. Markenzy Lapointe, partner at Pillsbury (former AUSA).
4. Curt Miner, partner at Colson Hicks (former AUSA).
5. Andres Rivero, partner at Rivero Mestre (former AUSA).
6. Joan Silverstein, current AUSA (chief of the criminal division).
UPDATED -- 7. Marianne Curtis, partner at Berger Singerman (former AUSA).
I think that's a really good slate. All extremely smart, respected, and qualified, with lots of experience.
Have you heard any other names?
Tuesday, December 08, 2020
11th Circuit makes quick work of election lawsuits
Here’s one that was published over the weekend. Judges that were appointed by three different Presidents (including Trump SCOTUS short-lister Barbara Lagoa) ruled unanimously. Chief Judge William Pryor, another previous Trump short-lister for SCOTUS) wrote the majority. It starts like this:
This appeal requires us to decide whether we have jurisdiction over an appeal from the denial of a request for emergency relief in a post-election lawsuit. Ten days after the presidential election, L. Lin Wood Jr., a Georgia voter, sued state election officials to enjoin certification of the general election results, to secure a new recount under different rules, and to establish new rules for an upcoming runoff election. Wood alleged that the extant absentee-ballot and recount procedures violated Georgia law and, as a result, his federal constitutional rights. After Wood moved for emergency relief, the district court denied his motion. We agree with the district court that Wood lacks standing to sue because he fails to allege a particularized injury. And because Georgia has already certified its election results and its slate of presidential electors, Wood’s requests for emergency relief are moot to the extent they concern the 2020 election. The Constitution makes clear that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, U.S. Const. art. III; we may not entertain post-election contests about garden-variety issues of vote counting and misconduct that may properly be filed in state courts. We affirm
Sunday, December 06, 2020
Greatest lineup ever
One of the fun parts of doing the podcast For the Defense is hearing follow-up stories about the lawyers and cases. I've received a lot of feedback on the Roy Black interview about the Luis Alvarez case.
Here's one bit of information I did not know before the interview -- there was a photo lineup conducted where witnesses were asked to identify the shooter (Officer Alvarez). Alvarez had a mustache, so the folks putting together the lineup got a bunch of pictures of police officers and others with mustaches. But they needed one more (Alvarez is #4) and couldn't find a usable picture. So they asked a familiar face to join the lineup in picture # 6 below:
Any guesses? I'll put the answer in the comments so it's not spoiled here.
Thursday, December 03, 2020
"Civility is overrated"
That's the title of this Atlantic article. And here's another article, this time by the N.Y. Times, about the traps of telling your opponent to be civil:
Mannered civility, in other words, can operate as a trap: order without justice, comity without commitment. It can pit you against an opponent who will happily fight dirty while insisting that you abide by Queensberry Rules.
Today's 11th Circuit en banc denial, in which Judges W. Pryor and Newsom attack Judge Rosenbaum's opinion for not being civil, reminded me of these articles. Judge Rosenbaum wrote a dissent in which she states her view, which was joined by three other judges (Wilson, Martin, and J. Pryor). She wasn't being personal, and she even feels the need to apologize to Judges Pryor & Newsom and says that her dissent isn't personal:
I am truly sorry that Chief Judge Pryor and Judge Newsom seem to have taken my concerns personally. I do not believe this dissent to be personal. I have great respect for all my colleagues, and I value this Court’s collegiality. But I also have great respect for the rule of law and the need for our Court to maintain its legitimacy. And I don’t agree that defending these things or pointing out what I think is wrong with Keohane and explaining why I view it as such a big problem makes me “[un]collegial” and “[un]charitable,” see Newsom Op. at 22, or is an “attack[ on] . . . the integrity of judges or their commitment to the rule of law . . . [or] the legitimacy of this Court,” W. Pryor Op. at 5. Nor do the labels and characterizations the W. Pryor and Newsom Opinions feel a need to impose provide a good enough reason to remain silent in the face of the threat Keohane represents to our judicial norms. I am aware of no other way to oppose what I see as the failure of our Court to require the Keohane panel to comply with the prior-precedent rule, other than by writing a dissent that candidly discusses that problem and its significance.I respect Judges Pryor and Newsom a great deal. They are two of the smartest judges in the country. And they are beautiful writers who often use colorful language. So I don't see why they are so upset that Judge Rosenbaum uses the very same words and arguments that they have used in numerous opinions. Do they feel the same way about Justice Scalia's opinions when he went after Justice Ginsburg or his other colleagues? Here are some examples from the L.A. Times of Scalia's opinions:
When the U.S. Supreme Court ended its term July 1, Justice Antonin Scalia was more vindictive and isolated than ever. As the court’s most publicly confrontational justice, he repeatedly berates his colleagues. “The court must be living in another world,” as he put it. “Day by day, case by case, it is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.”
*** Besides biting personal rhetoric, Scalia’s opinions sound certain constant refrains. Positions he disagrees with are typically derided as “demonstrably false,” “incoherent” and “terminal silliness.” They are invariably debunked as acts “not of judicial judgment, but of political will.” He is just as likely as GOP presidential contenders Patrick J. Buchanan or Bob Dole to decry the Supreme Court’s “judicial dictatorship"--in spite of the fact that seven justices were appointed by Republican presidents.
Attacks against an opponent's writing style or arguing for civility is just a distraction from the merits.
Wednesday, December 02, 2020
Fighting for compassion, a guest post by Mikayla Espinosa
Fighting for Compassion
Guest Post by Mikayla Espinosa
In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal highlighted efforts by former federal judge John Gleeson and Marisa Taney—a former law clerk to Judge Kathleen Williams—to obtain compassionate release for certain individuals convicted of violating the federal firearm law, § 924(c).
The work is part of a national sentencing reform movement, designed in part to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The WSJ reports that “[a]bout 94% of the people convicted of multiple counts under section 924(c) in fiscal year 2016 were Black or Hispanic.”
Their strategy takes advantage of two provisions of the First Step Act, a 2018 law that itself was a major step in sentencing reform. First is a provision allowing inmates whose requests for compassionate release are denied by the BOP to appeal the decision to a federal judge. Second is the Act’s reduction of mandatory sentences for people convicted of multiple § 924(c) counts after the statute was passed.
Gleeson and Taney have filed motions on behalf of several inmates who were convicted before the statute’s passage, seeking compassionate release from their sentencing courts. As the WSJ puts it, they “began interpreting ‘extraordinary and compelling’”—the standard for granting compassionate relief—“in an expansive way: Harsh mandatory sentences, since eliminated, are a valid reason for compassionate release.” The novel interpretation has been uniformly opposed by the government, which views it as an end-run around Congress’s decision not to make the First Step Act retroactive.
One of Gleeson and Taney’s motions was filed in the Southern District of Florida before Judge Dimitrouleas earlier this year on behalf of William Kinsey (99-cr-08078). Kinsey and his co-defendant committed a series of armed robberies in which no one was harmed. His co-defendant was found to be “equally culpable” for the robberies. He pled guilty, testified against Kinsey, and ultimately received an adjusted sentence of 10 years. Kinsey was sentenced to 137 years. The discrepancy resulted in large part because the government dismissed most of the co-defendant’s counts and none of Kinsey’s. Thus, Kinsey received the mandatory, consecutive sentences imposed by the court.
At the time Gleeson filed the motion on Kinsey’s behalf, Kinsey had already served 20 years in prison and was a model inmate. Judge Dimitrouleas quickly denied the motion, concluding that Kinsey’s requested relief would be available only if Congress amended the First Act to apply retroactively to multiple § 924(c) convictions.
Gleeson and Taney have had better luck elsewhere: They’ve helped win the release of 11 inmates so far.
The full article is here:
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
Episode 6, For the Defense: F. Lee Bailey for Sam Sheppard
I'm really excited about this week's podcast episode of For the Defense. You'll hear legendary criminal defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey discuss his representation of Sam Sheppard (which includes going all the way to the Supreme Court and then for a new trial). At the time, there was no bigger case in the history of American criminal law -- it even inspired the TV show and movie, The Fugitive. These pictures show a young Bailey with Sheppard, and of course the picture at the bottom of this post is Bailey with O.J. Simpson and Johnnie Cochran as the verdict was read. You can catch this episode and all episodes on our podcast website here. The Apple platform is available here, and all other platforms can be accessed here.
This is the finale of Season 1 of the podcast. I have really enjoyed doing the interviews and speaking to such great lawyers. I've also enjoyed hearing from so many of you about your own trial experiences and other take-aways from the interviews.
Season 2 is already in the works and we plan on launching sometime in mid-January with the premiere episode with Alan Dershowitz. We will also have a bonus/holiday episode with Hank Asbill discussing the fascinating trial and appeal involving Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell that will likely air on December 22. I need your help to continue the momentum of the podcast, so please subscribe and leave comments!
Thank you again for your continued support! --David
Hosted by David Oscar Markus and produced by rakontur