Matt Kaiser

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.)

Justice O’Connor, Justice Stevens, Ted Olson, David Boies, Jeffrey Toobin.

All of them were at the Supreme Court today, eager to hear what the Court had to say. New gay-marriage crusading BFFs Olson and Boies sat together. Also in attendance were lots of other fancy folks — like Solicitor General Don Verrilli and Nina Totenberg — who are there more often.

There’s nothing like late June at One First Street.

At the start of the day, 11 cases remained to be decided, four of them blockbusters. The issues on deck: the Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, the Voting Rights Act, and the University of Texas’s use of a form of affirmative action. Today, one of the big cases was resolved; with five others coming out, there are only six remaining.

Today, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, addressed the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action. As the Chief Justice announced that Justice Kennedy had the opinion and would start reading it, a rush swept through the courtroom. People leaned forward. Papers rustled….

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Here are three true statements:

(1) Monopolies are generally illegal.
(2) Like baseball, patents make monopoly laws get a little funky.
(3) Courts really really really like to encourage settlements.

So, when two companies get together, and work out a settlement that makes a whole patent infringement lawsuit go away, and the only objection is that pesky Federal Trade Commission complaining that the settlement is anticompetitive, you can understand why a federal court could meditate on points (2) and (3) and dismiss that FTC complaint.

Yet, in FTC v. Actavis, the Supreme Court yesterday made it harder to settle some patent infringement suits, saying that sometimes a settlement of a lawsuit can be an antitrust problem.

How?

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If you’ve been arrested, and the police want to interrogate you, they will tell you that you have the right to remain silent.

How do you assert that right?

One way would be to say something like “I would like to remain silent.” Saying “I want a lawyer” should also stop the questioning.

But today, in Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court of the United States held that you do not assert your right to remain silent by remaining silent. If you want to remain silent, you’ll need to be prepared to talk about it.

No one will be surprised that this result came from the Justice least likely to be voted most beloved by those in our nation’s prison systems, Justice Alito.

Sort of….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Introverts And The Fifth Amendment: Or, Why You Should Go To Law School”

It used to be, back before 2005, that the federal sentencing guidelines were mandatory. If you were going to be checking into the United States Bureau of Prisons, the sentencing guidelines determined how long your reservation would be for.

And, it used to be, that if you committed a federal crime, and, between when you committed the crime and were sentenced, the sentencing guidelines went up, the judge had to apply the lower sentencing guidelines from when you committed the crime.

To do otherwise would violate the Ex Post Facto clause.

The sentencing guidelines changed, though, with Booker. Now they aren’t mandatory – they’re just something important that a federal judge has to look at and a federal judge may be risking reversal if she doesn’t follow them.

Got that? The guidelines are totally discretionary. But for the appellate review. Also most federal judges follow the guidelines almost every time. But that’s just a coincidence.

So, since the guidelines are no longer mandatory, but, rather, now just followed in the vast majority of cases, what happens to the Ex Post Facto clause?

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Justice Kennedy announced the majority opinion in a long anticipated case today. It was met with a blistering dissent by Justice Scalia.

Unfortunately for most Court watchers, it was not the opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, the latest in the Court’s attempts to resolve whether affirmative action in higher education is constitutional. Some observers expressed annoyance.

Instead, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Maryland v. King, which Justice Alito previously identified as potentially the most important law enforcement decision in decades. The Court held that the police can take your DNA any time you’ve been arrested for a “serious” crime.

But the real fun was in the dissent….

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Today, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, held that a citizen of a foreign country who is abused by a foreign corporation in a foreign country cannot sue in a U.S. Court under the Alien Tort Statute because, basically, multinational corporations are very different than pirates.

After Citizens United, we knew that corporations are people. We’re learning what kind of people they are (not pirates). Yet to be decided is whether you’d want to invite them to a dinner party. Or whether they’d accept.

How did we get here?

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Imagine you’re in a negotiation to buy a used car. You use the Blue Book — the Kelley Blue Book, not the legal Bluebook — to set the starting point on the price. You do your research at home based on the blue book that’s online, which says the starting point for the car you want is $10,000.

Then, when you get to the used car dealer, you find out that they have a new blue book, one that just came out that day. It says that the starting point for the car you want is really $12,000.

You’d probably be annoyed, maybe angry. The whole starting point for your conversation about the price of the car changed.

Yet, the dealer could tell you, and you could still agree with him to pay any amount you’d like for the car. The starting point doesn’t necessarily set the ending point.

This was, basically, the situation the Supreme Court was called in to referee in this morning’s oral argument in Peugh v. United States….

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The facts in today’s Supreme Court opinions read like a bloopers reel of our courts system. What do we do when judges are wrong on the law in a criminal case? What if a plaintiff decides, after losing, that he filed in a state court when the state court didn’t have jurisdiction? What if a lawyer doesn’t tell his client that by pleading guilty he’s going to be deported?

As Yakov Smirnoff would say, “What a country!

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Where is Oliver Stone when you need him?

It was a sparsely populated day today at the Supreme Court. The press box was depleted. The crowd was thin. Perhaps everyone else was still stuck in line waiting to vote?

Yet despite the low turnout, the Supreme Court made a spirited journey to the very heart of our nation’s federal conspiracy law.

To see the issue the Court wrestled with in Smith v. United States, let’s start with a hypothetical….

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