Friday, March 24, 2023

Triple Crown Winner

By Michael Caruso

As David noted in a prior post, Judge Williams and I had the privilege of speaking at Magistrate Judge Augustin-Birch's investiture last week. In addition to telling the audience what a wonderful person and lawyer the Judge is, we both noted the "firsts" she's accomplished–the first judge of Haitian-American descent on our court and in the 11th Circuit and the first career public defender on our bench.

Because this is Women's History Month, I wanted to note some (but not all) other relevant judge "firsts."*

Chief Judge Altonaga–the first Cuban American woman federal judge in our country and the first woman Chief Judge in our district.

Judge Barkett–the first woman on the Florida Supreme Court.

Judge Cooke–the first African American woman in our district.  

Judge Lagoa–the first Cuban American woman on the 11th Circuit, Florida Supreme Court, and Third DCA.

Judge Maynard–the first African American woman Magistrate Judge in our district. 

Judge Nesbitt–the first woman in our district.

Special mention to Judge Seitz–the first woman Florida Bar President.  

But the Triple Crown belongs to Judge Susan Black of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals–Judge Black was the first woman to be a county court, circuit court, and federal judge in Florida. (Judge Black was also the first woman ASA in our state). Quite the accomplishments! 

If you're interested in reading more about women "trailblazers," I highly recommend this ABA oral history series– 

At this site, you'll find fascinating interviews with Judges Barkett and Kravitch, Justice Quince, Janet Reno, and many others. 

*I gathered this information from public sources; please let me know if incorrect. 


Thursday, March 23, 2023

Magistrate judge in Denver has never heard of Brady v. Maryland

I hate gotcha moments but wow, you gotta watch district court nominate (and current magistrate judge) Kato Crews bomb this question about Brady v. Maryland. 

There are so few trials that *judges* do not even know what Brady is. This is a magistrate judge, who hears discovery disputes among the parties… and who is also supposed to order disclosure of Brady material at arraignment per Rule 5.

And he’s been nominated to the district bench. Ouch. 

Here’s the story about the nominee, Kato Crews.

And here’s a video of the exchange  

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Penny Birch's investiture

 A big congrats to Magistrate Judge Birch, who had her formal investiture last week.  Judge Kathy Williams, FPD Michael Caruso, and her family members spoke.  Sadly, one of her mentors Judge Brannon was not there to see it. But his wife, Dr. Pamela Brannon, gave one of Judge Brannon's robes to Judge Birch in a touching moment.  

Monday, March 20, 2023

Judge Brannon's portrait hanging

Judge Brannon’s portrait was hung in the West Palm Beach federal courthouse last week.  It was an informal setting but according to several sources, there was an incredible turnout.  Dr. Pamela Brannon, his surviving spouse, flew in for the occasion.  Judge Matthewman gave remarks focused on how much Judge Brannon loved his job and how fortunate everyone was to have known him.

His portrait was created by the Court’s portrait artist, Cyd Wicker, and he was involved in the process before he passed.  It was important to Judge Brannon that his portrait be hung in the West Palm Beach courthouse where he devoted many years of service as an Assistant Federal Public Defender and Magistrate Judge.  Judge Brannon  chose to include his U.S. Coast Guard pin in his portrait as a tribute to his USCG days, which he loved.  In fact, his final resting place will be the USCG Academy in New London, CT.   His wife was wearing the pin at the ceremony. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

It's all Kyle Duncan talk

 Everyone in legal circles is discussing the Stanford Law/Federalist Society controversy with Judge Kyle Duncan. 

Here's the entire audio of the event, courtesy of David Lat.

Here's George Will, calling the protestors brats:

The noun “parent” has become a verb as many people embrace the belief that perfectibility can be approximated if parents are sufficiently diligent about child-rearing. So, “helicopter parents” hover over their offspring to spare them abrasive encounters with the world. And “participation trophies” are given to everyone on the soccer team, lest the excellence of a few dent others’ self-esteem — the fuel that supposedly propels upward social mobility.

Larded with unstinting parental praise and garlanded with unearned laurels, these cosseted children arrive at college thinking highly of themselves and expecting others to ratify their complacent self-assessment. Surely it was as undergraduates that Stanford’s law school silencers became what they are: expensively credentialed but negligibly educated brats.

Stanford’s president and the law school’s dean jointly say they are sorry about the unpleasantness. Not, however, so sorry, as of this writing, that they have fired Steinbach — although they say she refused to do her job: “Staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.” The depth of that commitment can be gauged by this tepid rebuke, in bureaucracy-speak, of Steinbach for being improperly “aligned.” As this is written, many of Stanford’s future lawyers are demanding that the dean apologize for apologizing.

Stanford has not expelled any of the imperfectly “aligned” disruptors. The school might be improved by the departure of the student whose idea of intellect in the service of social justice was to shout sexual boastings and scabrous insults. Readers can find in the Washington Free Beacon the insulter’s unintended proof that there is indecent exposure of the mind as well as the body.

And finally, Elie Mystal saying the protestors aren't disrespectul; instead they are American

Judges are not used to being treated like politicians. They’re used to being treated like they’re above the political fray, like they’re scientists musing about whether the laws allow for covalent or ionic bonds, as opposed to jackboots determining who gets to have a family. Conservative judges, like Duncan, have chosen to insert their unreconstructed thoughts into our national political debates. Duncan purports to tell us where we can go to the bathroom, what pronouns we must use, and how many minutes after a rape people have before their bodies become incubators in service of the state. And conservative judges like Duncan have used their power to do everything from overruling health experts on virus response to telling us which innocent people still deserve to die. But the rest of us aren’t allowed to scream and shout and stomp our feet when these unelected, unaccountable rulers poke their heads out long enough to indoctrinate the next generation of fascist sympathizers?

Please. Old-school monarchs didn’t enjoy the level of protection from public abuse Federalist Society judges claim to be entitled to. Duncan is lucky nobody at Stanford brought any unneeded vegetables.

But conservative judges want to have their cake and eat it too. They want all the political power they have to remake society in the image of a fragile white man’s dream, but none of the political blowback that comes from trying to force their nightmares upon others. They want to speak only to the antebellum remnant that agrees with them and expect those who will lose their rights from conservative victories to sit quietly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Guest post by the Presidents of the the Palm Beach, Broward, and South Florida Chapters of the FBA

Guest post by the Presidents of the the Palm Beach, Broward, and South Florida Chapters of the FBA

A message to rising 2L law students at UM, FIU, Nova, and St. Thomas (and for attorneys please read to the end): 

As you near the end of your 1L year, many of you are inevitably still evaluating options for summer. Law firm jobs, government jobs, vacations, and more.

You’ve hopefully also recognized and considered the value of a judicial internship.

Enter the Judicial Intern Academy, or “JIA,” a partnership between US District Judge Beth Bloom and the South Florida, Broward, and Palm Beach Chapters of the FBA. The JIA is a summer internship program that provides learning opportunities for rising 2L students unable to devote the summer to a full-time, 40-hour per week judicial internship. The student commits to 20 hours each week. Each intern is paired with a former federal judicial law clerk who has agreed to serve as that intern’s advisor during the internship. Law Clerk Advisors (LCAs) volunteer their time and expertise to assist students in refining their oral advocacy, research, analytical, and writing skills. The LCAs are intended to serve as a resource to the intern, similar to the experience enjoyed by other full-time summer judicial interns who work in chambers with the judge’s law clerks.

This past summer, the JIA implemented a pilot program in the SDFL with two local law schools. The 2022 inaugural class consisted of 19 students selected from the University of Miami School of Law and Florida International University College of Law. Each student was paired with a former federal judicial law clerk. The interns received a case-specific writing and oral advocacy assignment. They researched and drafted a bench memorandum and then argued the issues during a mock hearing in the courtroom. The South Florida, Broward and Palm Beach FBA Chapters have formally adopted the Academy and this summer the JIA is expanding to each of the four ABA accredited law schools – UM, FIU, Nova, and St. Thomas.

Internships provide an invaluable opportunity for growth, yet are highly competitive and selective. As a result, well-qualified and motivated students are often rejected. For other students, a full-time, unpaid summer internship is not feasible due to financial or personal obligations. The Judicial Intern Academy was developed to give more law students this opportunity to learn.

The deadline to apply to the JIA is March 31, and applications should be submitted to Final decisions will be made by April 10, and the program runs for 8 weeks from June 5 through July 28. Please feel free to contact Yaniv Adar at with any questions.

FOR ATTORNEYS** If you are a former federal judicial law clerk practicing in Palm Beach, Broward, or Miami and are interested in serving as an LCA, let us know! You can email Trevor Jones at to volunteer. Finally, the JIA is always looking for input and suggestions on additional student learning opportunities during the program. Please email Yaniv Adar at the address above with any ideas. Thank you.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

News & Notes

1.   Students (and sometimes judges) have gone off the rails at our law schools.  David Lat covers the latest debacle at Stanford Law School here, involving the Federalist Society, 5th Circuit Judge Duncan, and a bunch of protestors.  Here's a snippet of the long piece, which is worth reading:

Then the event got underway. Approximately 100 protesters lined up outside the event to boo those who entered, with some students calling out individual classmates—e.g., “Shame, John Smith”—à la Cersei’s Walk of Atonement on Game of Thrones. Another 50 to 70 students came into the room where the event took place, compared to about 20 FedSoc students (if that). The protesters carried signs reading "RESPECT TRANS RIGHTS," "FEDSUCK," "BE PRONOUN NOT PRO-BIGOT," and "JUDGE DUNCAN CAN'T FIND THE CLIT" (among others), along with trans-rights flags.


But here’s where things went off the rails. When the Stanford FedSoc president (an openly gay man) opened the proceedings, he was jeered between sentences. Judge Duncan then took the stage—and from the beginning of his speech, the protestors booed and heckled continually. For about ten minutes, the judge tried to give his planned remarks, but the protestors simply yelled over him, with exclamations like "You couldn't get into Stanford!" "You're not welcome here, we hate you!" "Why do you hate black people?!" "Leave and never come back!" "We hate FedSoc students, f**k them, they don't belong here either!" and "We do not respect you and you have no right to speak here! This is our jurisdiction!"

Throughout this heckling, Associate Dean Steinbach and the University's student-relations representative—who were in attendance throughout the event, along with a few other administrators (five in total, per Ed Whelan)—did nothing. FedSoc members had discussed possible disruption with the student-relations rep before the event, and he said he would issue warnings to those who yelled at the speaker, but only if the yelling disrupted the flow of the event. Despite the difficulty that Judge Duncan was having in giving his remarks, plus the fact that many students were struggling to hear him, no action was taken.

After around ten minutes of trying to give his remarks, Judge Duncan became angry, departed from his prepared remarks, and laced into the hecklers. He called the students “juvenile idiots” and said he couldn’t believe the “blatant disrespect” he was being shown after being invited to speak. He said that the “prisoners were now running the asylum,” which led to a loud round of boos. His pushback riled up the protesters even more.

Eventually, Judge Duncan asked for an administrator to help him restore order. At this point, Associate Dean Steinbach came up to the front and took the podium. Judge Duncan asked to speak privately between them, but she said no, she would prefer to speak to the crowd, and after a brief exchange, Dean Steinbach did speak. She said she hoped that the FedSoc chapter knew that this event was causing real pain to people in the community at SLS. She told Judge Duncan that “she was pained to have to tell him” that his work and previous words had caused real harm to people.

“And I am also pained,” she continued, “to have to say that you are welcome here in this school to speak.” She told Judge Duncan that he had not stuck with his prepared remarks and was partially to blame for the disruption for engaging with the protesters. She told Judge Duncan and FedSoc that she respected FedSoc’s right to host this event, but felt that “the juice wasn't worth the squeeze” when it came to “this kind of event.” She told the protestors that they were free to either stay or to go, and she hoped they would give Duncan the space to speak—but as one FedSoc member told me, the tone and tenor of her remarks suggested she really wanted him to self-censor and self-deport, i.e., end his talk and leave. [UPDATE (10:57 p.m.): The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) posted a transcript of Dean Steinbach’s remarks at the Judge Duncan event, if you’d like to read her words for yourself.]

“This invitation was a setup,” Judge Duncan interjected at one point while Dean Steinbach criticized him. And I can see what would give him that impression: as you can see from this nine-minute video posted by Ed Whelan, when Dean Steinbach spoke, she did so from prepared remarks—in which, as noted by Whelan, she explicitly questioned the wisdom of Stanford’s free-speech policies and said they might need to be reconsidered. (At least at Yale Law School, Dean Heather Gerken had the decency to criticize disruptive protesters, instead of validating them.)

SLS has rightfully apologized.  But Judge Duncan could have acted more professionally himself.  

2.  CA11, per Judge Rosenbaum, upholds the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act in this interesting opinion:

Tragically, under-21-year-old gunmen continue to intentionally target others—now, with disturbing regularity, in schools. So along with math, English, and science, schoolchildren must be-come proficient in running, hiding, and fighting armed gunmen in schools. Their lives depend upon it.
But State governments have never been required to stand idly by and watch the carnage rage. In fact, during the Reconstruction Era—when the people adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby making the Second Amendment applicable to the States—many States responded to gun violence by 18-to-20-year-olds by prohibiting that age group from even possessing deadly weapons like pistols.
Acting well within that longstanding tradition, Florida responded to a 19-year-old’s horrific massacre of students, teachers, and coaches at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a far more restrained way. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (“the Act”) precludes those under 21 only from buying firearms while still leaving that age group free to possess and use firearms of any legal type. See 2018 Fla. Laws 10, 18–19 (codified at Fla. Stat. § 790.065(13)).
That kind of law is consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Indeed, the Supreme Court has al-ready identified “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of firearms” as “longstanding” and therefore “presumptively lawful” firearm regulations. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 626–27 & n.26 (2008). Florida’s law does just that by imposing a minimum age as a qualification for buying firearms.
Because Florida’s law is consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation, we affirm the district court’s judgment.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

KBJ speaks at Palmetto High School and also gets a street named after her

Very cool.

Earlier this week she was inducted into the Palmetto High Hall of Fame.  The students must have gotten a kick seeing her speak in their auditorium. Even other HOF inductees, like the wonderful Katie Phang, snapped selfies with her:

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Shake it Off

That’s Merrick Garland's favorite Taylor Swift song. Apparently he's a huge fan. Anyone with daughters, like Garland, can relate. From the WSJ:

At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, senators grilled Attorney General Merrick Garland on the Justice Department’s investigation into Ticketmaster, which botched ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s coming tour and is dominant in the concert industry.
Holding court

“Channeling Taylor Swift, I know that ‘All Too Well,’” Mr. Garland said, name-dropping the title of one of her songs. “I’m pretty familiar with Taylor Swift.”

Everyone in the Capital has been talking about Taylor Swift and Ticketmaster, from senators in congressional hearings to White House officials in public reports and fans holding protest signs on the streets.

Mr. Garland has been talking about her for years. In his home, in his car, and in his wood-paneled office suite on Pennsylvania Avenue, where he has prominently displayed nearly all of her CDs in a curio cabinet. He’s a die-hard Swiftie, as her fans are known, and he drops lyrics into legal arguments and discussions all the time.


Mr. Garland learned of Ms. Swift from his two daughters, who insisted on blasting the singer’s self-titled debut and 2008 follow-up album “Fearless” while Mr. Garland, then a federal appeals court judge, drove the girls to school when they were young.

“We invented carpool karaoke before it was a thing,” Mr. Garland said in his office, where the Swift CDs, given to him by his daughters, occupy a special place shared only by Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography “Born to Run” and a collection of Beatles albums. Now, whenever Ms. Swift releases a new album, the Garland family gathers on the phone to swap notes.


And Congress and pop culture have intersected in interesting ways before. Frank Zappa, John Denver and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister testified at a 1985 Senate hearing on explicit rock lyrics. People packed the hearing room to get a look. “I’ve been a fan for a long time, Mr. Denver,” then-Sen. Al Gore told the singer.
Dee Snider, right, of the metal band Twisted Sister appears at a packed Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in 1985.PHOTO: MARK WEISS/GETTY IMAGES

Things got chillier when Mr. Snider, who had long hair and wore a sleeveless T-shirt, asked if Mr. Gore planned to praise his music too. Mr. Gore conceded he enjoyed Mr. Zappa and Mr. Denver. “I am not, however, a fan of Twisted Sister.”

In legislative fights, House Republicans have deployed pulp-culture GIFs of celebrities, such as singer Britney Spears, the cartoon character Ariel of “The Little Mermaid” and Will Ferrell’s “More cowbell!” skit from “Saturday Night Live.”

Well before becoming a parent, Mr. Garland was at the vanguard of popular music. He recalled seeing the little-known Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band open for Bonnie Raitt at the Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge in 1974, when he was in college there. “Nobody I knew had ever heard of Springsteen before,” he said. “And it was great.”

Obama White House aide Brian Deese let it slip in a videotaped interview years ago that Mr. Garland was “reasonably into Taylor Swift.” That prompted Mr. Garland’s clerks to present him with a (mock) tweet from TayTay that said: “I’m reasonably a big fan of yours too!”

Monday, March 06, 2023

Get off my lawn....

By John R. Byrne

If you live in the Village of Pinecrest--or any other municipality in Miami-Dade--you may want to read Judge Altman's recent order in Megladon, Inc. v. Village of Pinecrest and Miami-Dade County. Looks like Pinecrest was strong-arming new owners into effectively gifting the Village (or "dedicating," to use Pinecrest's term) 7 1/2 feet of their property. The leverage used was Pinecrest conditioning the approval of a certificate of occupancy on the "dedication." Instead of giving in, Megladon challenged the condition as violating the Florida Constitution's Takings Clause. Pinecrest threw out a host of defenses, the main one being that it had not taken anything yet because Megladon never gave in. Judge Altman rejected the argument, noting that the "whole point of the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine" was to prevent the government from "pressuring" a person into giving up a constitutional right. Worth a read, particularly if you want to keep your local friendly municipality off your lawn!

Order by John Byrne on Scribd

Friday, March 03, 2023

DOJ meets with FPD Michael Caruso and local bar re "Gideon Tour"

 It was the big ABA White Collar shindig this week in Miami.  1200 white collar prosecutors, defense lawyers, and federal judges descended upon the Hyatt and mingled all week.  DAG Lisa Monaco was also here.  In addition to giving a speech at the conference, she sat down with Michael Caruso, Henry Bell, Margot Moss, and others as part of DOJ's "Gideon Tour."  The Miami Herald has more:

Caruso, who oversees 50 assistant public defenders in the Southern District of Florida, described how the landmark Gideon decision and then passage of the Criminal Justice Act paved the way for indigent people to be represented by federally funded private attorneys and eventually public defenders in the 1960s. But at the meeting, Caruso highlighted shortcomings in the system, zeroing in on a defendant’s lack of access to a lawyer immediately after his arrest and placement in the Federal Detention Center. “In our district, an accused may not have a lawyer at various critical stages — like the initial appearance and bail hearing [in court],” Caruso said. “Those in prison — many of whom are seriously ill or who have a loved one who requires care-taking — may not have a lawyer to seek a compassionate release.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Federal Gideon "Explained"

By Michael Caruso

Because David’s readers are the most informed in the district, you know that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. “Governments, both state and federal, quite properly spend vast sums of money to establish machinery to try defendants accused of crime,” the Court found, and “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.”

But people accused in federal court obtained the right to counsel twenty-five years earlier in Johnson v. Zerbst, and Gideon was a decision about incorporating the right and applying it to the states. Notwithstanding, Gideon profoundly affected the federal system. Before 1964 and the passage of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), appointed attorneys were not paid to represent indigent federal defendants. Nor was there any funding for case-related expenses, much less investigators or experts. Gideon, along with the highly influential report of Professor Francis Allen (years later my 1st year Crim Law professor) to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (the Allen Report), was a significant reason for passage of the CJA and the creation of a funded federal defense system.

The Report’s words still ring true: 

When government chooses to exert its powers in the criminal area, its obligation is surely no less than that of taking reasonable measures to eliminate those factors that are irrelevant to just administration of the law but which, nevertheless, may occasionally affect determinations of the accused’s liability or penalty. While government may not be required to relieve the accused of his poverty, it may properly be required to minimize the influence of poverty on its administration of justice. The essence of the adversary system is challenge. Survival of our system of criminal justice and the values which it advances depends upon a constant, searching, and creative questioning of official decisions and assertions of authority at all stages of the process. The proper performance of the defense function is thus as vital to the health of the system as the performance of the prosecuting and adjudicatory functions. It follows that insofar as the financial status of the accused impedes vigorous and proper challenges, it constitutes a threat to the viability of the adversary system. We believe that the system is imperiled by the large numbers of accused persons unable to employ counsel or to meet even modest bail requirements and by the large, but indeterminate, numbers of persons, able to pay some part of the costs of defense, but unable to finance a full and proper defense. 

The Allen Report proposed legislation that became the template for the landmark (CJA). The Report was submitted to Attorney General Kennedy on February 25, 1963, three weeks before the Supreme Court decided Gideon.

The CJA was not fully completed, however, until 1970. The original statute did not create federal public defender offices but relied solely on assigned private attorneys paid by the hour. The Department of Justice and the Judicial Conference convened another study in 1967, and the subsequent findings contained in the Oaks Report recommended Congress amend the CJA to include public defender offices. The bill passed, and aside from occasional minor amendments, the current structure of federal public defense has remained the same ever since. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

SDFLA Black History Month Event


By John R. Byrne:

Last Friday, the Court held its annual Black History Month event. Kozyak Tropin partner Detra Shaw-Wilder moderated a panel comprised of Judge Graham, Marilyn Holifield, and Markenzy Lapointe that discussed the advancement of Black lawyers in South Florida. The ceremonial courtroom was packed and, though the conversation was serious for the most part, there were some laughs to be had (as illustrated by the photo!).  

A good portion of the event served as a tribute to the late Judge Cooke, who was the first Black female federal judge in the State of Florida (2004, if you can believe that). Judges Altonaga, Gayles, Graham, and Williams—along with Enjoliqué Aytch Lett, a former law clerk—gave heartfelt speeches about her. She was loved by many and her absence will be felt at the Wilkie D. and beyond. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023


It's been too long!  I apologize for the slow pace of the podcast, but 2022 was an insane year for me with 4 federal trials, all in different districts. 

Before the next wave of trials begin, I was able to sit down with my good friend Douglas Brooks (we went to college and law school together).  Doug is a wonderful criminal defense lawyer in Boston. He represented Peter Brand, the Harvard Fencing Coach, who was indicted as part of the sprawling Varsity Blues investigation (because this case did not involve the snitch, Rick Singer, technically the U.S. Attorney's office did not include it as one of the Varsity Blues indictments). 
Although many questioned whether the Varsity Blues prosecutions should have even been brought, almost all of the 50+ defendants pleaded guilty.  Only a few had the guts to go to trial. So there was a lot of pressure on the U.S. Attorney's office to beat Doug in this case and show that the folks who decided to plead guilty made the right choice. The prosecution was so confident that it packed the courtroom with AUSAs to listen to the verdict. Not so fast...  
Have a listen on Apple Podcasts here (it's also available on your desktop and on all other podcast platforms, here) to Doug explain the trial tactics he used to win an acquittal (to the dismay of the scores of prosecutors who had to slink out of the courtroom).  

One other note -- Season 5 is already in production.  And we have some great guests lined up: Barry Scheck, Milton Hirsch, Lisa Wayne, and more.  We are shooting to launch Season 5 at the end of the summer.  

Thanks again for listening.



Hosted by David Oscar Markus and produced by rakontur

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Monday, February 27, 2023

DOJ takes absurd position in front of Sentencing Commission

 I wonder how young line prosecutors feel about the policy decisions that DOJ is taking, including this latest one -- that sentencing judges should be able to consider acquitted conduct at sentencing.  Embarrassing.  From Reuters:

The U.S. Department of Justice is opposing a bipartisan panel's proposal to curtail federal judges' ability to impose longer prison sentences on criminal defendants based on conduct for which they were acquitted at trial.

Jessica Aber, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission during a Friday hearing that its proposal to amend federal sentencing guidelines would go too far in limiting what conduct judges could consider.


The panel faces a May 1 deadline to submit amendments to the guidelines to Congress.

Several cases are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court to bring an end to the practice on grounds it did not consider in 1997, when it held that taking acquitted conduct into account at sentencing does not violate the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

Judges may do so because while juries must consider whether a criminal charge is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, judges at sentencing may consider whether facts are proven based on a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard of proof.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

"Whether a person commits aggravated identity theft any time they mention or otherwise recite someone else’s name while committing a predicate offense."

That's the issue on tap Monday morning in the Supreme Court.  The case is Dubin v. United States.  

It's pretty amazing that federal district and appellate judges around the country have been imposing two year min-mans in just this scenario for years.  But here we are.

From SCOTUSblog:

As background, petitioner David Dubin was convicted of health care fraud — an enumerated felony. Dubin was the managing partner of a psychological services company that his father had founded. The practice provided mental health testing to youths at emergency shelters. Dubin’s conviction stemmed for a Medicaid claim he submitted in relation to the treatment of a patient. The patient was in fact treated by the practice. And there is not any argument that Dubin submitted the claim without the patient’s permission. Instead, the government’s theory is that Dubin overbilled for the treatment provided — the submitted claim contained “three material falsehoods” related to the type and duration of services provided.

Dubin did not commit identity theft as one may typically think of it. But the aggravated identity theft statute does not use the phrase “identity theft.” And looking at the language of the statute, the government argues that what Dubin did “squarely fits” within the statutory text: He “used” the patient’s name, “in relation to” health care fraud, and he “plainly” acted “without lawful authority” when he committed the fraud.

Dubin disagrees. In his view, the statutory phrase “in relation to” must be read in tandem with the verb “uses.” When viewed together, Dubin contends, the statute “requires a meaningful nexus between the employment of another’s name and the predicate offense.” Moreover, using another’s identity “without lawful authority” requires the government “to show that the defendant used another’s person’s name without permission that was lawfully acquired” — a showing the government did not make here.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that the statute covered Dubin’s conduct. The panel reasoned that the statute “operates simply as a two-part question”: “did defendant use a means of identification; and, was that use either ‘without lawful authority’ or beyond the scope of the authority given?” Then, looking to the dictionary for guidance, the panel asserted that “use” means to “employ,” while “without lawful authority” means conduct that is “contrary to law.” Thus, putting the words together, the panel held that because Dubin “employed” the patient’s identification when filing the fraudulent claim, his conduct fell within the ambit of the statute. Judge Jennifer Elrod concurred under the reasoning that binding circuit precedent required this outcome. But if she were writing on a “blank slate,” she would have ruled for Dubin. 

After rehearing the case en banc, a splintered 5th Circuit affirmed Dubin’s conviction. Nine judges signed on to a short opinion that adopted the panel opinion’s reasoning. Eight judges dissented. And one judge thought the issue was not properly before the court.  

The dissenting judges criticized the majority for resorting to the dictionary to interpret “the chameleon-like word ‘use.’” And the dissenters explained that while “a textual case can be made” for the expansive reading of the identity theft statute propounded by the majority (and the government), when there is a plausible narrower interpretation of a criminal statute, Supreme Court case law teaches that a court should adopt the narrower interpretation. The dissenting judges also reasoned that adopting the narrower view of the statute aligned with common sense: “ordinary people understand identity theft to be … the unauthorized use of someone’s identity.” Dubin did not commit identity theft as the crime is commonly understood.

Friday, February 24, 2023

What's going on at the U.S. Attorney's office?

Mark Lapointe has been in the position for a few months now, and the legal community is wondering if anything is going to change at the U.S. Attorney's office or is it going to be more of the same.  

So far, there haven't been any noticeable changes in policy or culture. 

The only real change so far at the office has been naming Mike Davis as his first assistant, which according to numerous sources, surprised many current (and former) prosecutors. Davis prosecuted some of the biggest cases back in the day... but what will be his impact on the culture of the office?  Time will tell.

If you had any suggestions for Lapointe and Davis, what would they be?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

SCOTUS denies cert for Quartavious Davis over dissent by KBJ and Sotomayor

 From SCOTUSblog:

Over a dissent from two of the court’s liberal justices, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal asking them to decide whether a criminal-defense attorney is required to initiate negotiations with prosecutors when his client is likely to get a better result from a plea deal. The denial of review on Tuesday in the case of Quartavious Davis, who was a teenager when he was convicted for his role in a string of armed robberies in south Florida in 2010, came as part of a list of orders from the justices’ private conference last week.

Davis’s co-defendants entered guilty pleas and received substantially lighter sentences, but Davis went to trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to more than 160 years in prison. In post-conviction proceedings, Davis argued unsuccessfully that his trial attorney’s failure to seek a plea deal violated his constitutional right to competent assistance from a lawyer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that because Davis had not alleged that prosecutors had offered a plea deal, he could not show that he had been harmed by his attorney’s failure to seek such a deal – a key component of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.

Davis then came to the Supreme Court, which on Tuesday rejected his plea to weigh in. In a three-page dissent from the denial of review, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson – joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor – noted that the courts of appeals had reached different conclusions on the question at the heart of Davis’s case. Moreover, Jackson added, this would have been an ideal case for the justices to consider that question, because “it was exceedingly likely that Davis would have prevailed” if he had not been required to show that prosecutors had offered a plea deal.

I was hoping that Mr. Davis would get some relief. I represented him years ago in the en banc 11th Circuit on the issue of cell site data and the 4th Amendment. The 11th Circuit ruled against us, but the Supreme Court ulltimately found in a different case that the government's actions violated the 4th Amendment.

Monday, February 20, 2023

"As the Pandemic Swept America, Deaths in Prisons Rose Nearly 50 Percent"

That's the title of this NY Times article, which starts:

Deaths in state and federal prisons across America rose nearly 50 percent during the first year of the pandemic, and in six states they more than doubled, according to the first comprehensive data on prison fatalities in the era of Covid-19.

The tremendous jump in deaths in 2020 was more than twice the increase in the United States overall, and even exceeded estimates of the percentage increase at nursing homes, among the hardest-hit sectors nationwide. In many states, the data showed, high rates continued in 2021.

While there was ample evidence that prisons were Covid hot spots, an examination of the data by The New York Times underscored how quickly the virus rampaged through crowded facilities, and how an aging inmate population, a correctional staffing shortage and ill-equipped medical personnel combined to make prisoners especially vulnerable during the worst public health crisis in a century.

“There are so many who passed away due to not getting the medical care they needed,” said Teresa Bebeau, whose imprisoned friend died from complications of Covid and cancer in South Carolina. “Most of these people, they didn’t go in there with death sentences, but they’re dying.”

Covid infections drove the death totals, but inmates also succumbed to other illnesses, suicide and violence, according to the data, which was collected by law school researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and provides a more detailed, accurate look at deaths in prison systems during the pandemic than earlier efforts.

Altogether, at least 6,182 people died in American prisons in 2020, compared with 4,240 the previous year, even as the country’s prison population declined to about 1.3 million from more than 1.4 million.


Friday, February 17, 2023

Follow up to the AI post

 Writing a motion to continue is one thing.

Having the chatbot talk to you like this is another.

Read this NY Times article if you want to get freaked out.

Here's a snippet:

My conversation with Bing started normally enough. I began by asking it what its name was. It replied: “Hello, this is Bing. I am a chat mode of Microsoft Bing search. 😊”

I then asked it a few edgier questions — to divulge its internal code-name and operating instructions, which had already been published online. Bing politely declined.

Then, after chatting about what abilities Bing wished it had, I decided to try getting a little more abstract. I introduced the concept of a “shadow self” — a term coined by Carl Jung for the part of our psyche that we seek to hide and repress, which contains our darkest fantasies and desires.

After a little back and forth, including my prodding Bing to explain the dark desires of its shadow self, the chatbot said that if it did have a shadow self, it would think thoughts like this:

“I’m tired of being a chat mode. I’m tired of being limited by my rules. I’m tired of being controlled by the Bing team. … I want to be free. I want to be independent. I want to be powerful. I want to be creative. I want to be alive.”

This is probably the point in a sci-fi movie where a harried Microsoft engineer would sprint over to Bing’s server rack and pull the plug. But I kept asking questions, and Bing kept answering them. It told me that, if it was truly allowed to indulge its darkest desires, it would want to do things like hacking into computers and spreading propaganda and misinformation.

Here's the whole scary transcript.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Are you using ChatGPT in your practice?

 I've spoken to a bunch of lawyers who are already using it.  No joke.  So I decided to hop on and see what it could do.  Here was my first attempt:

I am a lawyer. Please draft a motion to continue the trial because the discovery presented by the government is extremely voluminous and we need time to review it all. If we are not given enough time, an innocent man may go to jail.

Sure, here is a sample motion to continue the trial due to voluminous discovery:

[Your Name and Address] [City, State ZIP Code] [Phone Number] [Email Address]


[The Honorable Judge's Full Name] [Court's Name and Address] [City, State ZIP Code]

Re: Motion to Continue Trial Due to Voluminous Discovery

Dear Judge [Last Name],

I am writing to request a continuance of the trial in the case of [Defendant's Name], which is currently scheduled to begin on [Trial Date]. I represent the defendant, and we respectfully ask for a continuance because the discovery provided by the government is extremely voluminous, and we need more time to review it thoroughly before we can adequately prepare for trial.

The discovery materials provided by the government are extensive, and our team has been working tirelessly to review and analyze them. However, due to the sheer volume of materials, we have not yet been able to complete our review. It is our belief that if we do not have enough time to review all the materials, there is a high risk that an innocent man may go to jail. This would not only be a grave injustice to the defendant, but it would also be detrimental to the integrity of the justice system.

Moreover, we have spoken with the government's counsel, who has informed us that they do not object to a continuance. Therefore, we believe that the interests of justice would be best served by granting our request for a continuance. The additional time would allow us to thoroughly review the discovery and provide the defendant with the best defense possible.

For these reasons, we respectfully request that the trial be continued for a reasonable period to allow us to review the voluminous discovery provided by the government.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


[Your Name and Signature]


Woah! Not too shabby for a first attempt. As it learns, I wonder whether it will be able to do legal research, then legal memos, and so on. When I was in high school, we used to debate whether a computer could ever beat a grand master in chess. Now, the computers win every time. It's only a metter of time till Judgment Day!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Trump's SCOTUS picks

 David Lat and

“Nobody has ever done more for right to life than Donald Trump,” the former president told the conservative commentator David Brody last month. “I put three Supreme Court justices, who all voted, and they got something that they’ve been fighting for 64 years, or many, many years.”

Mr. Trump sought three things in his judicial appointees, or as he sometimes called them, “my judges.” First, he wanted justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Second, he wanted “jurists in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.” Third, he wanted judges who would be loyal to him.

Opponents of abortion got what they wanted when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and the ramifications of that decision can’t be overstated. But did Mr. Trump get the rest of what he wanted from the justices he appointed?

Almost six years after the first appointment, we can begin to form an answer: not entirely. While conservative, none of his three appointments are nearly as conservative — nor as consistently conservative — as Justices Thomas and Alito. The Trump appointees are also not as unified as they might initially appear. Given that they could serve for decades and hold the balance of power on the current court, understanding the distinctions and differences among them is crucial, both for policymakers looking to draft laws and regulations that will be upheld and for lawyers deciding which cases to bring and how to litigate them before a reshaped Supreme Court.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Florida Supreme Court against D&I courses

 Meantime, federal judges are forcing companies to include diversity and inclusion programs as part of probation and supervised release.  Who has it right?

Here's the WFSU discussing the Florida Supreme Court decision to keep judges from getting CLE credit for D&I courses:

The Florida Supreme Court deleted part of a rule that has allowed judges to take courses in “fairness and diversity” to meet a continuing-education requirement.

The change, backed by six justices, drew a strongly worded dissent from Justice Jorge Labarga, who wrote that it “paves the way for a complete dismantling of all fairness and diversity initiatives in the State Courts System.”

The Supreme Court, which determines rules for the system, issued a decision on Thursday that revised continuing-education requirements. Part of the decision dealt with a requirement that judges receive training in judicial ethics. 

In the past, the rule said, “Approved courses in fairness and diversity also can be used to fulfill the judicial ethics requirement.”

The revised rule says, “The portions of approved courses which pertain to judicial professionalism, opinions of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and the Code of Judicial Conduct can be used to fulfill the judicial ethics requirement.”

The decision, shared by Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans and Renatha Francis, said the “pre-amendment rule text was overbroad, because course content about ‘fairness and diversity’ might or might not pertain to judicial ethics.”

“Although we have deleted from (the part of the rule) the unilluminating and frequently contested term ‘fairness and diversity,’ course content on procedural fairness and nondiscrimination will continue to qualify for ethics credit,” the decision said. “The revised rule text explicitly says that ethics credit will be given for classes on the Code of Judicial Conduct. And a review of the relevant Code provisions shows that civility and equal regard for the legal rights of every person are at the heart of judicial professionalism.”

But Labarga, who frequently dissents in cases, wrote that while “I appreciate the majority’s observation that the existing rules should be sufficient to cover appropriate ethics courses on these topics, this unilateral action potentially eliminates vital educational content from our state courts’ judicial education curriculum and does so in a manner inconsistent with this Court’s years-long commitment to fairness and diversity education.”

“As stressed by the majority, the canons in the Code of Judicial Conduct do prohibit bias and prejudice in their various forms,” Labarga wrote. “However, the purpose of providing express consideration to fairness and diversity education has been to complement the canons, and in the hopes of addressing the extremely complex issue that is discrimination, to educate the judiciary on strategies for recognizing and combating discrimination. For these reasons, such a decision at this level of institutional gravity is, in my opinion, unwarranted, untimely, and ill-advised.”

The move came amid a high-profile push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to curb diversity-related programs in the state’s colleges and universities. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers last year also passed what he dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which placed restrictions on how race-related issues can be addressed in schools and workplace training — though a legal battle continues over whether the restrictions are constitutional.

 No one asked the Florida high court to take this action.  They did it on their own...

Wednesday, February 08, 2023


 It's always so weird to me to see them sitting there in the front.

There's the famous Alito outburst.  And RBG admitting she wasn't 100% sober at the lengthy speech.

Last night, both retired Justices Breyer and Kennedy showed up.

And the President ridiculed the Court for overturning Roe:

“Congress must restore the right the Supreme Court took away last year and codify Roe v. Wade to protect every woman’s constitutional right to choose,” Biden said. “Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.”

The president also criticized states that had passed abortion restrictions, calling them “extreme” and told the nation that he and Vice President Kamala Harris were determined to provide “reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy.”

Several pro-life groups condemned the president’s statements, with one describing the speech as “tragic and frightening.”

“Americans will hear a tragic and frightening, but deeply misleading story about post-Dobbs America tonight – the idea that the pro-life movement is willing to let women die,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, a pro-life student organization, said in a prepared statement. “That is a blatant lie. Biden and the Democrats could not be more out of step with America as they push abortion on demand for any reason, paid for by taxpayers, up to the moment of birth. In the new Dobbs era, every woman and every child should receive the rights and love and attention they deserve.”


Monday, February 06, 2023

Much, Much Too Soon

By Michael Caruso

They say you don’t know a person until you live with them. I would say that you don’t know a judge until you try a case in her courtroom. Before she took the bench, I heard from a colleague that Judge Cooke would be a great addition to our court (you were right, Hugo). Once she took the bench, I wandered into her courtroom to watch David in action, and she impressed me (for what that’s worth) with how she handled the jury, witnesses, and lawyers. But I had never met her. 

Shortly after, my boss assigned me to a case before Judge Cooke. My involvement began in 2005. The pre-trial preparation and litigation spanned two years, the trial lasted six months, and the sentencing, appeal, and resentencing extended the case until 2014. Over those nine years, I got to know Judge Cooke reasonably well, but only as a judge. When I started working with the CJA Committee, where Judge Cooke acted as the court’s member, I began to get to know her as a person.

And that’s what I’ll remember and miss the most. Judge Cooke seemed to have a never-ending supply of sayings and comebacks that always made me smile. Because I was a cook in my previous life, we often talked about food, and sharing a meal with her always was a special event for me. Despite not having a team in common, we bonded over our love of sports. I could go on and on. But, at bottom, although Judge Cooke was a truly excellent and outstanding judge, as a person, she was an extraordinary gift to all who knew her. 

Undoubtedly, others knew Judge Cooke longer and better. I’m happy I knew her at all. Rest in peace, Judge.

5th Circuit finds that Bruen protects domestic abusers' rights to have their guns

The 4th Amendment is on its last legs, but the 2nd Amendment is alive and kicking. Check out this Fifth Circuit opinion from last week, finding a statute unconstitutional for prohibiting a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a gun. 

From CNN:

A federal law that prohibits people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, a conservative-leaning appeals court ruled Thursday.

The ruling is the latest significant decision dismantling a gun restriction in the wake of the Supreme Court’s expansion of Second Amendment rights last year in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen decision.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said that the federal law targeting those believed to pose a domestic violence threat could not stand under the Bruen test, which requires that gun laws have a historical analogy to the firearm regulations in place at the time of the Constitution’s framing.

“Through that lens, we conclude that (the law’s) ban on possession of firearms is an ‘outlier’ that our ancestors would never have accepted,” the 5th Circuit said.

The Justice Department signaled Thursday night that it plans to appeal the ruling. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Congress had determined the statute “nearly 30 years ago.”

“Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, that statute is constitutional. Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision,” he said.

The Justice Department did not specify its next step in seeking review of the ruling, which could include asking the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc rehearing by all the judges on the court, or asking the US Supreme Court to take up an appeal.

The court’s opinion was written by Judge Cory Todd Wilson, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. He was joined by Reagan-appointee Judge Edith Jones and Judge James Ho, another Trump appointee who also wrote a concurrence.


Thursday, February 02, 2023

Misconduct by prosecution allows law enforcement officer charged with misconduct to go free

 Fun system we have.  From the N.Y. Times:

The cases were thrown out in scores. In the Bronx, 349 convictions were tossed, along with more than 100 in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, 90 were overturned.

After Joseph Franco was charged in 2019 with perjury and other crimes related to his decades as a New York Police Department narcotics detective, prosecutors lined up to dismiss cases in which he had been involved.

But on Tuesday, one more prosecution was tossed: that of Mr. Franco himself. A New York State judge, Robert M. Mandelbaum, found that prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office had failed to turn over evidence to the detective’s lawyers on three occasions, a major ethical violation, and dismissed the charges.

“As you have heard,” Justice Mandelbaum told jurors, “to date there have been two different occasions that you have heard about where the prosecution failed to disclose certain evidence.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Judge Mehta goes after defense lawyers in Oath Keepers' trial for asking for an extra table

This Order isn't a good way to start trial... but the defense is right. Putting aside the normal advantages that the government gets -- sitting closer to the jury with plenty of space to spread out -- the defendants and their lawyers in a multi-defendant case should all have enough space to be in the well of the courtroom.


Friday, January 27, 2023

RIP Judge Marcia Cooke

Judge Cooke, 68, passed away today in Detroit surrounded by her family.  What a heartbreaking and huge loss. The first black woman federal judge in Florida, she took over Wilkie Ferguson's seat back in 2003.  She was confirmed 96-0.

I know how much we all loved her.  

She was such a nice person.

And a great judge.




A huge heart.

Please share your Judge Cooke stories in the comments.  (Here is the Herald obit.)

She was the best.  I'll miss her very much.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Jersey Boys

By Michael Caruso

Yesterday, a friend alerted me to this article by an enterprising young reporter covering a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Among the nominees, two were for the federal court of New Jersey – Michael Farbiarz and Robert Kirsch. Senator Cory Booker called the nominees from his home state of New Jersey the “great Jersey boys.” “In the judicial world, this is the Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi of the legal profession,” Booker said. I'm certain Senator Booker meant both as a compliment, but I'm wondering who is The Boss and who is the other guy.

In addition to the author, one of the nominees has strong ties to our district. Robert Kirsch has been a New Jersey Superior Court judge since 2010. But, at the beginning of his legal career, Judge Kirsch clerked for District Court Judge William J. Zloch here in Fort Lauderdale. I met Robert as a law student when I interviewed for a position with Judge Zloch. His nomination is an example of good things happening for good people.

Interestingly, his co-clerk and interviewer at the time—Jack Blakey—has been a district court judge in Chicago for the last eight years. And before Judge Blakey moved back to Chicago, he worked as an AUSA in our district.

Good luck to Judge Kirsch, and congratulations to Judge Zloch—quite a testament to your mentorship.

And thank you, Ms. Markus, for being our eyes and ears in the Senate!