Obstruction of justice

Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice for giving non-responsive answers to questions in a grand jury. As Judge Fletcher told the government in the oral argument in the 9th Circuit en banc challenge to his conviction, “I find your reading of the [obstruction of justice] statute absolutely alarming.” And for good reason — Judge Fletcher thinks that the government’s interpretation of obstruction of justice would mean that most civil lawyers are felons.

There are a lot of ways to violate federal laws that are related to obstruction of justice. You can lie to a federal agent who is coming to your house to interview you and violate 18 U.S.C. § 1001. You can commit perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1621. And there are a host of other false statement statutes specific to other regulatory schemes (like false statements in connection with a tax filing, or a health care request for payment, etc.).

All of those laws, though, require that the person who is being prosecuted make a false statement.

Obstruction of justice is different. Instead of having concrete elements like “making a false statement”, obstruction of justice criminalizes willfully “obstruct[ing], imped[ing], or interfer[ing] with” whatever is being allegedly obstructed.

Here, Barry Bonds didn’t make a false statement. Instead, he gave an answer that was non-responsive. The government’s theory was that Barry Bonds didn’t give a responsive answer to a question in order to throw the government off (because, apparently, having the temerity to force an AUSA to listen to questions in a grand jury and ask a follow-up question is the kind of thing that ought to brand you a felon).

And that was “obstructing” the federal law enforcement apparatus.

There are a lot of things wrong with this prosecution. The one I want to focus on is the lengths the federal government will go to in order to protect AUSAs from having to do the same basic work that the rest of the legal community does routinely.

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I find your reading of the [obstruction of justice] statute absolutely alarming.

– Judge William Fletcher, not exactly expressing confidence in federal prosecutors. The Ninth Circuit sat en banc to review Barry Bonds’s conviction for obstruction of justice, and all indications suggest the former slugger will have his conviction overturned.

If you’re interested in watching the entire oral argument, it’s available below…

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Reema Bajaj

* As “one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation,” Patricia Wald, the first woman appointed to the D.C. Circuit, was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Congrats! [Blog of Legal Times]

* Biglaw firms saw “anemic” growth in the first half of 2013, and according to the latest Wells Fargo survey, some “minor cuts” are expected in headcount. Well, that’s just great. [Am Law Daily]

* “It is a period of significant change for the firm. That requires some hard decisions.” Patton Boggs has already conducted layoffs, so what could possibly be next for the firm? [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Sorry guys, but it looks like Reema Bajaj’s bajayjay will be out of session for the foreseeable future. The attorney accused of exchanging sex for office supplies has agreed to a three-year suspension of her law license. [Chicago Tribune]

* Rather than be bought out by InfiLaw (it could “diminish the value of their degrees”), Charleston School of Law alumni are trying to organize a merger with a public school. Good luck with that. [Greenville News]

* Nebraska will offer a doctorate in space law, which makes sense because… f**kin’ magnets, how do they work? But really, we’re willing to bet it’s because of all of the crop circles in the state. [Miami Herald]

* No joke necessary: This law school claims its rights are being infringed upon because it has to disclose how many of its graduates — 7 percent at last count — have passed the bar. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Two of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends were indicted on obstruction of justice charges. If convicted, the pair will face up to 20 years in prison, and they don’t even have a Facebook fan page to show for it. [Bloomberg]


Steubenville, Ohio, the small town that taught (or at least, “should have taught”) Americans that rape cases are often the subject of powerful efforts to cover up the truth, has decided to reward the highest profile alleged cover-up artists. Because, ugh.

There are basically two related legal arguments for extending the contract of Steubenville head football coach Reno Saccoccia: (1) unless and until he is convicted of something, the school shouldn’t act on mere allegations; and, (2) if the school parted ways with the coach, it exposes itself to a later employment claim.

These arguments are stupid….

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A Shirvell Photoshopportunity?

* “I don’t think I should have to pay anything back, because I wasn’t part of the management that drove the firm into the ground.” Dewey know when it’s time to stop complaining, pay up, shut up, and move on? [DealBook / New York Times]

* Good news, everyone! According to the Citi Midyear Report, based on the first half of 2012, Biglaw firms may have trouble matching last year’s single-digit profit growth. You thought the worst was over? How embarrassing for you. [Am Law Daily]

* Apparently Andrew Shirvell didn’t do a very good job questioning himself on the stand, because the former Michigan AAG now has to shell out $4.5M in damages for defaming Chris Armstrong. [Detroit Free Press]

* Six of one, half a dozen of the other: Barry Bonds’s lawyers filed a reply brief in their appeal of his obstruction conviction, arguing that his statements were truthful but nonresponsive, as opposed to being misleading. [AP]

* “We’re crazy about sex in the United States. I call it ‘sexophrenia.’” The Millionaire Madam’s attorney had a nutty yesterday after a judge refused to dismiss a prostitution charge against his client. [New York Daily News]

* The opposite of a fluffer? Los Angeles officials seeking to enforce the city’s new adult film condom law are beginning a search for medical professionals to inspect porn shoots for compliance. [Los Angeles Times]

* Arizona’s immigration law is heading to the Supreme Court today. Meanwhile, former Senator Dennis DeConcini lobbed the worst insult ever against his state. How embarrassing for you, Arizona. [New York Times]

* Will Wal-Mart regret not disclosing its bribery investigation sooner? Not when the delay saved millions in criminal fines. What Wal-Mart will regret is being forced into disclosure by the NYT narcs. [Corporate Counsel]

* Delete all the oil from ocean, and then maybe we’ll care about this. A former BP employee was charged with obstruction of justice for deleting texts having to do with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. [Bloomberg]

* The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners has granted Duncan Law an extension on its bid for ABA accreditation. Woohoo, five more years of allowing students to “negligently enroll.” [Knoxville News Sentinel]

* “Once you cross the six-figure mark, you think, what’s a few thousand dollars more?” You’re doing it wrong: you’re supposed to be bragging about a six-figure salary, not a six-figure debt obligation. [Baltimore Sun]

* New Jersey residents don’t always have the great pleasure of nearly being killed by two high-speed Lamborghinis, but when they do, they prefer that police officers be suspended and sue over it. [ABC News]

After four days of deliberating over whether or not former baseball great Barry Bonds lied about his use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, the jury could not reach agreement on a number of charges the government made against Bonds.

But the feds nailed him on the obstruction of justice count. From ESPN:

The guilty verdict on obstruction of justice means the jury believed Bonds hindered a grand jury’s 2003 sports doping investigation by lying.

The judge, after speaking to the jury foreman, said she believes the mistrial is the proper decision given that the jury believes it has reached a crossroads.

Below are some instant reactions….

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