Archive for May, 2010

Echoes of Injustice: Second Department Sends Cop Back to Prison in Racially-Charged Case from the 90s

Friday, May 28th, 2010

diguglielmo

When we first moved to NYC in 1997, we thought we knew what racial tension was. After all, we’d grown up in various parts of the South and out West, and had seen and heard quite a lot of invidious prejudice. But we hadn’t seen anything, by comparison. We’d seen dislike and resentment out there, but the vitriolic race relations of the 50s and 60s had died down by our childhood in the 70s and 80s. We weren’t prepared at all for the outright hatred various groups expressed for each other in the grand metropolis. That first year here in the Manhattan DA’s office was an eye-opener. The city, especially the outer boroughs, seemed less like a melting pot than a petri dish, with virulent strains of hatred all fighting each other. Many working-class whites routinely used epithets one almost never heard in the South any more, and openly despised black people. Lots of black people hated white people right back, and seemed to have a bizarre animus towards jewish people, who we’d always thought of as champions of civil rights. African immigrants hated African-Americans, who they saw as lazy and as giving them a bad name. Every ethnic group seemed to have a derogatory name that everyone else used.

And this internecine feuding was still turning to violence in the ’90s. We’d never heard about the Howard Beach or Bensonhurst dramas of the late ‘80s, but here in the city that tension was still high. Al Sharpton hadn’t yet faded into irrelevance, and it seemed like he and his protestors spent half their time marching in circles somewhere or other. Right before we started at the DA’s office, the Abner Louima case happened, leading not only to renewed distrust of the NYPD, but even more racial tension. And just when that started to die down, the Amadou Diallo shooting flared it up again.

It was shocking to us. But to our friends who’d grown up here, it was just normal background. It was just the way things were.

So that’s what the culture was like in 1996, when a fight between some Italian men and a black man over a parking spot turned violent, the black man swung a baseball bat at an older Italian man, whose son — an off-duty cop — shot the black man to death.

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On October 3, 1996, in the suburb of Dobbs Ferry just north of the city, a black man named Charles Campbell parked his Corvette at a deli, in a spot reserved for deli customers. But he went into a different store across the street. When he came back, he saw the owner of the deli placing a sticker on the Corvette. Campbell got angry and started a fight. The deli owner, his son Richard DiGuglielmo (the off-duty cop), and a third man (Robert Errico, the cop’s brother-in-law) wound up fighting with Campbell.

The fight ended, and Campbell walked back to his Corvette. During the fight, his shirt had come off, and the deli owner brought it over to him while his son and the other man went back towards the deli. But then Campbell opened the back of the Corvette, grabbed a metal baseball bat, and kneecapped the old man with (more…)

New Trend: Lawyers as White-Collar Defendants

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

businessman arrested

What’s with all the lawyers getting arrested these days, being charged with financial frauds, Ponzi schemes and the like?  Is this a new trend?  It sure seems like one.

The latest news is the announcement about an hour ago that the SDNY is charging one Kenneth Starr (no, not that one, this one), money manager for a bunch of celebrities, with yet another Ponzi scheme, funnelling $30 million of investors’ money into his own pockets.  He’s a lawyer in New York.  (You can read the complaint here.)

Then there’s the former law firm partner Michael Margulies, charged the other day with embezzling $2 million from his firm and clients in Minneapolis over the past 16 years.  Coincidentally-named lawyer James Margulies of Cleveland was charged the other day in a $60 million stock swindle.  A couple of weeks ago, two lawyers were charged with a mortgage-rescue fraud involving stripping $3 million in equity.   A lawyer went to prison a little before that for rigging tax-lien auctions.

That’s just a handful of headlines from this month alone.  But it’s been going on for several months now.  We’ve been noticing lawyers getting charged with increasing frequency ever since last July when Marc Dreier got sentenced to 20 years for hedge fund swindles totaling God knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars.  It really kicked into high gear, however, in December, after Scott Rothstein was arrested for a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.  And now there are several cases being announced every month.

What’s going on here?

Sure, these kinds of schemes tend to get noticed all at once, when the economy goes south, and the market’s gains no longer mask the fraud.  So we’re not wondering why all of a sudden there’s a bunch of financial-fraud arrests.  Our question is how come so many of these cases involve lawyers.

Has the profession changed?  Is it something new about how lawyers are getting more involved as investment managers and financial advisors?  Or is there a new focus by law enforcement?  We really don’t know.

But it sure looks like something’s going on out there.  What do you think?

Be Very Afraid: “New Era” of White-Collar Prosecution at the DOJ

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

corporate crime

Lanny Breuer, the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, gave a speech today announcing a “new era of heightened white-collar crime enforcement — an era marked by increased resources, increased information-sharing, increased cooperation and coordination, and tough penalties for corporations and individuals alike.”

You can read his prepared remarks here.  We did, and we find them very troubling.

This is, of course, part of a larger trend back towards more white-collar enforcement. For much of the post-WWII era, through the early 1990s, white-collar cases didn’t get much attention. They were hard to spot in the first place, taking place behind closed doors in boardrooms and offices, not really part of any policeman’s beat. And allegations were challenging to investigate, and ever harder to prove to a jury. Agents and prosecutors lacked the knowhow and the tools to do the job.

And white-collar crime just wasn’t worth the effort — the law classified these crimes at the less-serious end of the spectrum. This wasn’t murder, it was just money. The crooks weren’t burglars or muggers, they were college-educated productive members of the community, involved in charities and otherwise living “normal” lives. Their crimes weren’t violent; they were almost administrative. Victims weren’t in your face, with visceral injuries and tangible losses; they were anonymous and diffuse. Devoting a lot of resources to prove minor offenses you didn’t really understand, with hard-to-identify-with victims, with easy-to-identify-with defendants, just wasn’t a big priority.

This all started to change in the mid-90s. By then, we’d gone through the junk-bond crisis and S&L meltdown of the (more…)

Getting Particular

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

clarity

There’s a great post today on the New York Criminal Defense blog, explaining the history and proper use of the Bill of Particulars in NY criminal practice.  Our readers are encouraged to check it out here.

This has long been a pet peeve of ours.  An astounding number of prosecutors just don’t get the concept of a Bill of Particulars in this state.  And far too few defense attorneys and judges hold the People to their obligations here.

Which is bizarre, because it’s really quite simple.  All the Bill needs to do is specify what facts the People intend to prove which make out the elements of the crimes charged in the indictment, without explaining how the People intend to prove those facts.

For example, a buy-and-bust with stash and cash might have a Bill that states, at such-and-such time and place, “the defendant handed to an undercover police officer two bags containing crack cocaine in exchange for money.  Twenty-four bags containing crack cocaine were recovered from the ground where the defendant threw them.”  That’s all that’s needed.  No mention is required of how the People will prove the stuff is crack, or anything about the money that was recovered, or anything else.

And yet prosecutors keep doing it wrong.  We routinely get Bills of Particular that contain nothing more than bare conclusions of law, such as “the defendant sold crack cocaine to a police officer and possessed crack cocaine with the intent to sell it.”  Or worse than that, just a recitation of the time, date and location, and an assurance that the indictment contains all the information that is needed.

Failure to provide a sufficient Bill renders the indictment defective.  We’re amazed that more defense counsel don’t pursue this aggressively, and educate their judges who may be a little complacent given the lack of rigor by many attorneys.

Once again, we highly recommend this article to our readers.  It was written, by the way, by Jill Paperno of the Monroe County Public Defender’s office, so kudos to Jill.

Federal Sentencing: A Long Way to Go

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

guidelines

Tonight, we attended a panel discussion on federal sentencing that was actually worth commenting on. Usually, these things are either so basic or insubstantial as to be a waste of time. But this one had a few choice moments we’d thought we’d share with our readers.

The panelists included John Conyers (Chairman of the House judiciary committee), William Sessions (Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Chief Judge of the District of Vermont), Jonathan Wroblewski (policy director for the DOJ, among other things), Alan Vinegrad (former US Atty for the EDNY and now a white-collar partner at Covington), Tony Ricco (mainstay of the federal defense bar), and Rachel Barkow (NYU professor, didn’t speak much). It was moderated by Judge John Gleeson of the EDNY, and we recognized in the standing-room-only audience a number of distinguished jurists and counsel.

Everyone seems to agree that the Guidelines are in need of a major overhaul. As Judge Gleeson put it, “when even the prosecutors are saying that sentences are too severe… the sentences are too severe.”

But not everyone agrees on what changes ought to be made, how drastic the changes ought to be, or even what’s causing the problems in federal sentencing.

Here’s the take-away: Everyone knows what the right thing to do is. Judges want to do the right thing, regardless of what the Guidelines say. The DOJ forces its prosecutors to do what the Guidelines say, regardless of what they think is just. Congress is incapable of doing the right thing, in its efforts to pander and blame rather than solve. And the Sentencing Commission is afraid to be independent of Congress, preferring instead to make baby steps toward eventually maybe doing the right thing.

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“Unnecessary cruelty”

For as long as we’ve been practicing law, everyone has been complaining bitterly about (more…)

“Cruel and Unusual” to Sentence Juveniles to Life without Parole

Monday, May 17th, 2010

 

The Supreme Court today decided Graham v. Florida (opinion here), ruling 6-3 that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without parole, for a non-homicide crime. This is a hugely significant decision, creating a new precedent in sentencing law (and also forcing Florida to make some law of its own, as it did away with parole a while back).

(Companion case Sullivan v. Florida was dismissed, as certiorari was improvidently granted in light of the Graham decision.)

The opinions are a stirring read. Chief Justice Roberts, in the majority, was in strong opposition against his fellow conservatives Alito, Thomas and Scalia, who dissented. During oral argument, it was clear to observers that Roberts wanted to bring them into the fold and get a unanimous decision that youth deserves a second chance at some point.

Roberts couldn’t get them to agree, which must have been a disappointment to the Chief, who openly aspires to as much unanimity and consensus as possible on his Court. It moved him enough to write a scathing concurring opinion, taking to task the arguments of his conservative brethren.

Kennedy doesn’t let any of the conflict or disappointment show in his majority opinion, which is a balanced and philosophical treatise of the evolution of Cruel and Unusual Punishment law, and well worth reading.

(Had it been up to us, we’d have preferred for the Chief to write an opinion that stays above the fray, and leave it to others to write the criticisms of the dissents. That would free it of any taint of personal feeling.)

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This was really an unexplored territory in American jurisprudence. The Supreme Court has long carved out exceptional (more…)

Our Inhuman Response to Domestic Violence

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

witnessed abuse

Last night, we attended a domestic violence forum sponsored by the Children’s Aid Society here in Manhattan. We’ve been involved with the CAS for many years, and they do some pretty awesome things for kids in intense situations. And domestic violence is a deep and complex social issue we come across plenty. So we figured it might be worth checking out, and maybe come away with some new insights.

It was, and we did, but not in the way we’d expected. There was very little discussion of the causes of domestic violence, the various patterns of behavior of abusers and victims, what actions work to stop it and what doesn’t work, and challenges to be overcome in reducing the incidence of domestic violence. Those are sort of the kinds of topics we expected a domestic violence forum to get into, but unfortunately the talks were pretty much surface discussions of what the speakers do in their jobs, and the kinds of things they deal with.

That’s okay, we guess. The speakers were social workers, and most of the audience seemed to be social workers. So it’s probably nice that they got to hear what others in their field are seeing. But for anyone with a passing familiarity with domestic violence issues, there wasn’t much we’d consider enlightening.

Except for one thing. (more…)

Holder’s Wrong. Terrorism’s No Reason to Relax Miranda

Monday, May 10th, 2010

terrorist lineup

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration wants Congress to change the Miranda rule, so that in terrorism cases law enforcement will be able to interrogate longer before having to give suspected terrorists their Miranda warnings.

This is stupid, and unnecessary.

The general idea is to expand the “public safety exception” to the rule. The way that exception works, cops don’t have to Mirandize someone when there’s an immediate danger, and they’re trying to get information so they can deal with it right away. The second the threat stops being imminent, the exception no longer applies.

Attorney General Eric Holder now says that this isn’t enough in terrorism cases, because it doesn’t give investigators enough leeway. Last week’s Times Square bombing suspect was questioned for three or four whole hours before being Mirandized, and last Christmas’ underwear bomber was questioned for (egads!) nearly fifty minutes before the warnings were given. And these delays, Holder says, are already “stretching the traditional limits of how long suspects may be questioned.”

The Obama administration wants to keep terrorism suspects in the civilian criminal justice system, rather than putting them in the military system or designating them as enemy combatants. The Miranda rule is a cornerstone of the civilian criminal justice system, precluding the use at trial of a defendant’s statements made in response to questioning while in custody, unless first informed of the right to remain silent and to a lawyer, and then waiving those rights before speaking. So if the administration is going to keep terrorists in the civilian system, but still wants to get useful intelligence, they’re going to need time to interrogate first before the defendant gets Mirandized and shuts up. That’s what Holder’s saying, anyway.

But that’s complete bullshit, and anyone with any actual experience in the criminal justice system knows it.

First of all, nobody — and we mean nobody — shuts up just because (more…)

Lie-Detecting MRI to be Used at Trial?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

brain scan

We’ve written about the lie-detector uses of fMRI exams before (see here and here).

Now it looks like Brooklyn attorney David Zevin is trying to get it introduced for the first time in a real life court case. (The previous attempt, aimed at using it during sentencing in a San Diego case, was later withdrawn.) It’s an employer-retaliation case, which has devolved into a “he-said/she-said stalemate.” Zevin’s client says she stopped getting good assignments after she complained about sexual harassment. A co-worker says he heard the supervisor give that order, and the supervisor says he never did. So at Zevin’s request, the co-worker underwent an fMRI to see if he’s telling the truth when he says he heard that order.

Needless to say, there is opposition to letting this kind of evidence come in. There’s a pretty good discussion of the whole thing, believe it or not, over at Wired.

(H/T Neatorama)

[P.S. - We were almost about to type something like "We find ourselves strangely attracted to these kinds of stories. But we understand if you may be repulsed." Fortunately, we have refrained from doing anything like that. You're welcome.]

The System is Broken: NY Ct. of Appeals Allows Class Action over Indigent Counsel Failings

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

shattered

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) guarantees that criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer must be provided one by the state. In a groundbreaking decision today, New York’s highest court ruled that “serious questions have arisen in this and other jurisdictions as to whether Gideon‘s mandate is being met in practice.” And these questions are significant enough to warrant a class action against the State of New York by criminal defendants left to suffer the consequences.

In a lengthy opinion (viewable here), Chief Judge Lippman goes out of his way to point out that this is not a Strickland issue about whether defendants are getting ineffective assistance of counsel. The issue is whether the state is denying them counsel, period.

In order to allow the class action to go forward, the court had to find that there’s a basis for that suit, that looked at in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs they actually have a case. So what did the court see here?

Judges are deciding who is or is not “indigent” for the purposes of assigning counsel, and there are no standards for that determination. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no consistency. People who perhaps should be getting a public defender wind up never getting a lawyer at all. There’s a huge Due Process and Equal Protection violation right here.

Defendants are arraigned without having a lawyer present. Bail gets set in amounts they could never afford. And they wind up languishing in jail without representation, even for minor offenses. They lose their jobs in the meantime, and lose their homes when they can’t pay the rent, and their families suffer enormously.

Defendants appear in significant court appearances without counsel. They enter into pleas without a lawyer. This despite the clear language of CPL 180.10(5) forbidding a court from proceeding without counsel, unless the defendant has knowingly agreed to it.

In instances where lawyers do get appointed, they’re incompetent. They don’t confer with their clients. They don’t learn the case. There’s a different lawyer at each proceeding, just as unfamiliar with the case as the previous one. They don’t respond to client inquiries however urgent. They either miss court appearances, or if they do appear they’re unprepared to proceed.

The appointed lawyers waive important rights, without first conferring with their clients and getting authorization. They make “virtually no efforts on their nominal clients’ behalf,” as the opinion puts it.

“Actual representation assumes a certain basic representational relationship.” The facts here show the opposite, that there are “serious questions as to whether any such relationship may be really said to have existed.” In other words, counsel may have been appointed, but there was never any real attorney-client relationship. This is not ineffective representation — it is the absence of representation. (more…)

Dude, We Warned You

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

The Monitor reports that a 17-year-old Texas boy is now facing child porn charges, after getting a 16-year-old friend to send him a topless photo of herself from her cell phone.

Child porn is a very VERY serious charge. Even those who themselves would never commit a sex act against an actual child still go to prison for a long time just for downloading pictures that may be more than a decade old. You don’t ever want to get charged with it. We defend people charged with it, we know of what we speak. (Heck, we wrote the book on it.)

So when this whole “sexting” thing hit the news in ’09, we posted a warning that teens might unwittingly be exposing themselves [Ed.- Was that necessary?] to criminal charges that are in many ways life-ending.

Fortunately, there are prosecutors and judges out there with good judgment, who won’t go after teens for stupid teenage indiscretion with other teens. But there are also school administrators who can get themselves in trouble for possessing the photos during their own investigations.

Will this kid wind up getting prosecuted? Who can say. It’s up to that local DA’s office. The feds probably won’t touch it, but state prosecutors typically only go after (more…)

A Complete List of Goldman Sachs Crimes

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Update: New York Investigating CDS Brokers

The SEC and DOJ’s investigations of Goldman Sachs have been big news for a couple of weeks now. We tend not to post right away on stories like that, because we don’t want to be yet another one of those blogs that just tries to jump on the bandwagon, simply repeating news without adding anything of value to the conversation. So we like to wait until we have some analysis to add.

In the Goldman Sachs case, as pretty much everyone reading this is aware by now, the SEC says Goldman created a mortgage-based investment, sold it to investors, and then bet against it by shorting it themselves. They also say Goldman messed up by letting hedge fund manager John Paulson pick some of the assets, despite the fact that his fund was betting heavily against the housing bubble (and ultimately made a killing when it burst). The SEC filed its suit about 2 weeks ago. Then during this past week, they referred it to the DOJ for criminal investigation. The fine folks at the Southern District are now looking into whether any criminal acts took place.

We’re sure the SDNY is going to be a lot more careful than, say, the Eastern District was with the Bear Stearns case. [Full Disclosure: We represented one of the BSAM fund managers in that case, who was ultimately not indicted.] You know, maybe actually reading emails in context, actually figuring out how hedging is supposed to work, stuff like that?

Nevertheless, it’s a tough job. So as a good citizen, unaffiliated with the case in any way, we’d like to make their job easier. We’ve pored over the factual allegations that have been made, and delved into the facts that have been publicly disclosed so far. And after a great deal of legal analysis and number-crunching (yes, we do this for fun), here is a complete list of all criminal activity that we have been able to identify at Goldman Sachs here:

1).

You’re welcome, guys. Hope this helps!