Matt Kaiser

Matt Kaiser is a lawyer at The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, which handles complex civil litigation, white collar investigations, and federal criminal cases. On his blog, The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog, he writes about published opinions in criminal cases in the federal circuits where the defendant wins. He can be reached at mattkaiser@thekaiserlawfirm.

Posts by Matt Kaiser

It’s tricky to be a lawyer these days.

You have to get clients. You have to know how to help them with their legal needs.

You have to know the law, and know how to work appropriately with other lawyers (the ones who have interests aligned with your clients, adverse to your clients, and in that funny other space where you aren’t really sure yet).

And, at some point in your career, you also have to figure out how to get someone to pay you for doing this work for your clients.

If you’re trying to build a white-collar practice, it can be daunting to figure out how to do these things. Happily, there are a few places that can help (with the knowing the law, helping clients with their legal needs, and knowing how to work with other lawyers problems – the getting clients and getting paid problems less so).

Perhaps you also have a strong pressing need to go out of town where you can have all the fun of both missing your family and increasing the chance that you’ll be attacked by bedbugs.

If so, you’re in luck! The white-collar world has not one, but two great conferences (and one of them is coming up soon).

My take on which are the must-attend conferences of the white-collar world is after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The White-Collar World: A Tale of Two Conferences”

It’s a lamentable fact that very few white-collar cases in federal court go to trial. Most plead. Many of those that plead also involve someone providing evidence to the government against someone else; the people involved cooperate (or flip, or snitch, depending on who is talking about what happened).

White-collar cases, at least after an indictment, are often litigated with an eye toward the sentence that will come out at the end. And, with significant sentences in white-collar cases, that makes sense.

Most people plead rather than go to trial because a plea generally locks in some certainty about what will happen at sentencing. (True, in a world where the sentencing guidelines are discretionary, a judge may have a lot of power to decide a sentence that defeats a party’s expectations, but, generally, either by creative use of a statutory maximum — the government agreeing to make certain recommendations — or the simple fact that pleading guilty is a recognition that you aren’t going to spend a lot of the judge’s time sitting in trial, a plea can give a reason to think that the sentence at the end of the case will be lower. Though, of course, there’s always a Madoff exception.)

The flip side, of course, is that there’s a penalty for folks who decide that they would like to go to trial. Indeed, a recent report said that it’s a huge problem in drug cases.

And, on the trial penalty, there is some very interesting litigation in the federal courthouse in DC right now.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Unsealing The Trial Penalty?”

Probably the most interesting question in white-collar crime these days is why there were no prosecutions arising out of the financial meltdown a few years ago.

As with most interesting questions, there are two polarized sides — one side wants to take up pitchforks and torches and head to Wall Street now, and the other side thinks that perhaps we should be a bit more circumspect about throwing people in prison (from that description, you can probably guess which side I’m on).

Judge Rakoff — a man we should all listen to one almost any subject — has weighed in with a thoughtful piece in the New York Review of Books called “The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

How does Judge Rakoff answer the question?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge Rakoff On Prosecutors’ Motives, DOJ’s Explanations, And The Lack Of High-Level Prosecutions Following The Financial Meltdown”

The Wolf of Wall Street, by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is out, and is the story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who, if the movie is to be believed (and maybe it mainly should be, including the dwarf tossing) built a fabulously successful and fundamentally corrupt trading firm, then was indicted, then went to federal prison and cooperated against two dozen of his friends and co-conspirators.

The film has been criticized for glorifying fraud and being dangerous — a “reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining” — in a letter by the daughter of someone who went to prison for the stuff in the movie. Apparently traders love it in a creepy and not good way.

DiCaprio responded, saying that Scorsese’s vision is to show characters as they really are and ask “Who am I to judge anybody?” Apparently Pope Francis is contagious.

I don’t think the movie glorifies fraud any more than, say, Macbeth glorifies ambition. It seems like there are some pretty awesome parts to fraud, like you can use fraud to get a lot of money, which you can use to buy cool things. The movie is also frank that there are some serious downsides, like you can go to prison for committing it.

The film is also a largely accurate portrayal of the reality of a lot of white-collar practice.

Here’s how . . 

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Christmas came early for folks who are skeptical about the Department of Justice and how it does business.

Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General at the Department of Justice, issued a memorandum to the Attorney General listing his office’s view of the “Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice.”

Whether you’re someone with a political axe to grind against a Department of Justice run under a Democratic President, a libertarian who simply doesn’t like the government doing much of anything, or someone in the trenches of the criminal justice system who wants to see the guts of the Department of Justice on display, there’s something for everyone to like in the IG’s memo.

And, of course, the IG’s memo is, institutionally, a bit odd. One would think that Eric Holder, the Attorney General, would be the guy issuing memos about the top issues facing the Department of Justice. But, happily, we have the IG — pulling up the dark parts of the Department and bringing them to the public eye.

So here, just so you don’t have to read it, are the most interesting parts of the Inspector General’s memo for folks in the white-collar world.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Prison, Federalizing State Crime, And Drones — All That And More In The Inspector General’s Year-End Memo”

A Washington Post article this past weekend gave me the willies.  It was about SIGTARP – the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Leave aside that the article hits the tired drum that more people should have gone to prison after the financial crisis – because, of course, the only thing that causes an economic downturn is crime.

Instead, check out how SIGTARP shows us that they’re doing good work as a law enforcement agency.

[Special Inspector General Christy] Romero noted that the average prison sentence imposed by courts for crimes investigated by SIGTARP is five years and nine months — nearly twice the national average for white-collar fraud.

Right – SIGTARP is a serious player because it’s getting serious prison time…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Putting People In Prison To Get To The Cool Kids’ Table”

Ed. note: Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the second installment of his new column.

Suppose you’re a fourth-year associate in a litigation department in a large firm on one of the coasts. You’ve worked on a lot of different matters — you’ve done document review for commercial litigation. You put together a privilege log for some patent litigation (who says patent litigation is specialized?). You waded through documents in an FCPA case. You even got to do some deposition digesting for a reinsurance lawsuit!

You really liked your work on the FCPA document review. You noticed that the documents related to a foreign country, which sounded exotic. You could sit in your office, staring at the brick wall on the other side of the alley, and imagine that you were an extra in Casablanca, with a view toward how the world really works overseas.

Perhaps most importantly, you loved how your friends from law school reacted when you told them you were working on an FCPA matter. Cocktail parties became more interesting when people thought of you as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, rather than the reinsurance guy. You resolved that you’d do more white-collar work and perhaps make this noble practice area the focus of your career.

But how?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “4 Ways To Break Into White-Collar Criminal Defense Work”

Ed. note: Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the first installment of his new column.

When I meet non-lawyers — a rare and jolting occurrence -– or talk to lawyers who don’t practice in the white-collar criminal space, I’m frequently surprised at how few of them know what “white-collar criminal defense” means.

Yet, whatever it is, white-collar work is seen as sexy. Just about any fifth-year associate who has reviewed documents as a part of an FCPA investigation has “white-collar criminal defense” listed as a practice area on his firm bio. Fewer, I suspect, have a clear understanding of what white-collar work is.

There are clear cases. The prosecution of John Edwards is classically a white-collar case: it involved campaign finance, was in federal court, was litigated like a civil case, and Abbe Lowell represented the defendant (any case involving Abbe Lowell is per se white-collar).

Then there are the less-clear cases….

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The front of the Supreme Court building: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ (Click to enlarge.)

The Supreme Court was called to order at 10:00 a.m. sharp. The Chief Justice announced, “Justice Kennedy has our first opinion of the day in case number 12-307, United States v. Windsor. Everyone, in the bar members section at least, knew that this was the Defense of Marriage Act case.

That Justice Kennedy was announcing the opinion was significant; he wrote Lawrence v. Texas. Still, no one knew if the Court would reach the merits, since the Solicitor General had announced that the Executive Branch would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA.

Justice Kennedy is an orderly man. He set out the procedural background – Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married legally in Canada, then came home to New York. Their same-sex marriage is lawful where it was performed and where they lived. Spyer died and left her estate to Windsor. Windsor sought to claim an estate tax exemption for the death of a spouse. DOMA prevented the IRS from recognizing Spyer as Windsor’s spouse. Windsor paid the tax, then challenged DOMA. She won in the district court and the Second Circuit. Justice Kennedy explained how a bipartisan committee found counsel to defend DOMA, and how DOMA was defended ably in the Supreme Court.

(As an aside, Paul Clement took heat for defending DOMA for Congress. When you think about it, if he hadn’t defended it well, the Supreme Court may not have thought it could reach the issue. Paul Clement may be the unsung hero of the DOMA decision.)

So, Kennedy concluded, the Court could reach the merits of whether DOMA is constitutional.

Though a hopeful sign for those who would cheer the demise of DOMA, the decision wasn’t entirely clear….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Supreme Court Holds That It Is Unconstitutional For The Government To Hate Gay People”

If I’m ever euthanized, it hope it’s as gentle as the way Chief Justice John Roberts put down the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement.

Not the whole act, mind you. The prohibition on any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” is still constitutionally permissible. And folks can sue to enforce that.

But the preclearance requbirement is now effectively gone. That’s the rule that the federal government has to approve changes to voting laws in certain jurisdictions that haven’t been so great about race – in that folks registering black people to vote had been murdered in there, or, they’d had really bad records of African-American voter turnout in the past.

Strictly speaking, the preclearance requirement is not gone — it just no longer applies to any jurisdiction in the country any longer. The Court invalidated the method by which it is determined which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, rather than preclearance itself. So, now no jurisdiction is subject to preclearance — the preclearance formula is gone.

Many people who are concerned about whether black people are allowed to vote think that the preclearance requirement has been an important tool to make sure black people enjoy the right to vote.

Including, it seems, the Chief Justice himself….

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