Sentencing

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court released opinions in two habeas cases, McQuiggin v. Perkins and Trevino v. Thaler. The holdings reek of liberal judicial activism, however well-intentioned.

In Perkins, my least favorite of Tuesday’s cases, the Court held that a showing of “actual innocence” is sufficient to circumvent the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) statute of limitations. In effect, a narrow majority decided to judicially amend a validly enacted statute, creating an exception that the majority admits that the statute itself does not contain. On top of that, this particular case may have been a pretty defective vehicle for addressing the limitations question anyway. There’s a pesky matter, discussed at oral argument, about the procedural posture of the case, making it pretty dubious whether the Court should have even gotten to the merits here.

(Cases like Perkins make me want to appropriate my own version of Dan Savage’s “DTMFA” — shorthand for “Dump the Mother-F*cker Already.” Too often, it would be useful to just be able to write “DTMFA” for “DIG the Mother-F*cker Already” for cases that I wish that SCOTUS would dismiss as improvidently granted. But, alas, you probably have to be a syndicated sex columnist for the privilege of coining long-but-useful acronyms.)

Dark days for the fair application of AEDPA….

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Andrew “weev” Auernheimer

A famed hacker, Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, was sentenced to 41 months in prison yesterday. A jury convicted Auernheimer of conspiracy and identity theft back in November stemming from his role in a scheme to snag the personal email addresses of over 114,000 iPad users, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Diane Sawyer, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

Auernheimer argued that he acted as an uninvited “gray hat” hacker, grabbing the email addresses of customers for the sole purpose of exposing the flaws in AT&T’s security.

The sentence, at the upper end of the Guidelines range, is a far cry from the non-custodial slap on the wrist Auernheimer’s attorneys sought. There are two broad categories of response to the sentence. First, that Auernheimer is a completely terrible human being, but that his being a dick does not justify the harsh sentence. Second, that Auernheimer did not commit a real crime because he never intended to steal anyone’s identity and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a bad law.

To these arguments, I reply “yes it does,” and “who cares?”

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Kevin Ring in happier times.

Full disclosure: Former Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, whose criminal conviction was recently upheld by the D.C. Circuit, is a friend of mine.  We grew up in the same town and have known one another for decades. In no way is what follows unbiased or objective in any sense.  That said, I know that I’m right and the case against Kevin Ring was simply, unambiguously wrong.  Not to say that there was no ambiguity as to whether he broke a law — there was a tiny bit of that. But under no sane system of justice would Kevin be going to federal prison. Though he almost certainly is, pending a request for en banc rehearing from the D.C. Circuit followed by a Hail Mary filing for a writ of certiorari.

We can all stipulate that Jack Abramoff is one of the sleaziest and most repellent characters to besmirch the legal profession in decades.  (My favorite Abramoff moment: the time he tried convince his rabbi to bestow upon him  a fake, back-datedScholar of Talmudic Studies” award, so he could get in the Cosmos Club.)

Anyway, Abramoff was Kevin’s boss for three and a half years, during the final period of which they were both partners at Greenberg Traurig.  In the words of the judge at his sentencing hearing, Kevin was a “cog” in the Abramoff operation, a “second-tier level” administrator of the firm’s lobbying team.  I won’t try to spin Kevin’s time as a lobbyist as some honorable endeavor.  I couldn’t. Generally speaking, lobbyists are regarded by most of us as only slightly less distasteful than the politicians whose favor they are trying to curry.  But that does not make them criminals….

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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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Today at the Supreme Court: Moving The Starting Point”

In the movie Malice, Jack Donaghy is asked during a deposition (by Sandy Cohen) if he has a “God Complex” and proceeds to deliver a classic meltdown: “I *AM* God.”

There’s a legal equivalent to Baldwin’s doctor, and it’s not a judge or even a senior partner. For the biggest “God Complexes” (“God Complii?”) look to your friendly neighborhood prosecutors. Imbued with extraordinary power through the charging process and the investigatory resources of the government, prosecutors can get used to getting their way and indifferent to the plight of defendants, witnesses, and counsel. And nothing can raise their ire more than someone unwilling to cooperate. “How dare they defy me?”

Take the case of Kevin Ring, a Jack Abramoff acolyte sentenced to almost two years of prison time, whose conviction was just upheld by the D.C. Circuit (opinion available here). I’m not a huge fan of lobbyists, but the transgressions proved at Ring’s trial look way too small to justify his sentence.

Instead, it looks like his primary crime was not cooperating with the almighty government….

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A critically acclaimed television drama, Breaking Bad, tells the story of a high school chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime: making and selling methamphetamine. The show’s premise suggests that criminals and drug dealers come from all walks of life.

That apparently includes the legal profession. Last night brought word of a promising young law student who just got sentenced to four years in federal prison after pleading guilty to selling meth. Better call Saul?

And this student didn’t turn to drug dealing because he was terrified about his post-graduation employment prospects. They were probably fairly bright, since he had an above-average GPA at a so-called top 14 or “T14″ law school….

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Where good decisions go to die.

I just got back from a weekend in New Orleans. Let’s just say that I’ve been freshly reminded of how alcohol can lead to some questionable decision making. Dear God, what a town.

Of course, I’m not the first person to wake up in a gutter on Bourbon Street thinking, “How did it come to this?,” and tracing it all to a drink of some kind, the “one drink too many.” All joking aside, only people who work for beer companies act like alcohol isn’t a huge factor in many serious crimes in this country. Assaults, domestic violence, rapes, even murders are often fueled by excessive consumption.

That said, very few people are abducted, unknowingly saturated with alcohol, and then set loose on an unsuspecting public. Lots of people consume alcohol responsibly. Many people consume alcohol irresponsibly without hurting anyone else, and a few irresponsible individuals consume to excess and then commit heinous acts. What are we going to do, sue the beer companies because some individuals get liquored up before they commit crimes?

Well, for some criminals in Idaho, that’s exactly what they’re doing….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inmates Claim Alcohol Forced Itself Down Their Throats, Seek Damages”

* Seven out of nine sitting Supreme Court justices were silent when it came to the passing of Robert Bork. Justice Antonin Scalia, of course, issued a public statement, as did liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (surprise!). [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* No one ever really doubted that it would take an army of Biglaw lawyers from the likes of Sullivan & Cromwell, Shearman & Sterling, and Wachtel Lipton to handle a monumental deal like the proposed $8.2 billion NYSE/ICE merger. [Am Law Daily]

* Can you coach with Nick Saban and be a Miller Canfield partner at the same time? No. But you can sue (and win!) when the firm allegedly forces you out due to its “culture of fear and intimidation.” [Detroit Free Press]

* Justice Rolando Acosta, who wrote the opinion upholding the dismissal of the class action case against NYLS, rates well among his peers as a nominee for the New York Court of Appeals. [New York Law Journal]

* Peter Madoff was sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but the judge will probably let him go to his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah before shipping him to the pokey. [Bloomberg]

* Merry Christmas, now go f**k yourself. A federal judge has given a woman in Louisiana free rein to display holiday lights on her roof in the form of an extended middle finger. God bless America. [CBS 3 Springfield]

* “As a lawyer, this is very sad for me.” Al Togut, the prominent attorney pulling all of the strings behind the curtain of the Dewey & LeBoeuf bankruptcy filings, wishes that there was some way that the firm could’ve been saved. [Am Law Daily]

* Guys at my law school used to break into the registrar’s office to steal transcript paper all the time; it was no big deal. No really, as far as sentencing goes, apparently doing such a thing isn’t that big of a deal in Virginia. [Daily Progress]

* That’s some nice lipstick you’ve got there, pig: Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law is still trying to get ABA accreditation by changing everything it can, including its lax admissions standards. [Knoxville News Sentinel]

* Even though Peter Madoff’s supporters showered the court with with letters filled with compliments ahead of his sentencing, the Ponzi victims aren’t exactly showing him the same kind of love. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* This law firm in Texas is trying to make getting divorced a more pleasurable experience, so they invented something called the “Divorce Resort” — because there’s nothing like a four-star train wreck. [Huffington Post]

* Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the fairest firm of them all? According to the 2012 Acritas Brand Index survey, the current leader of the Global 100 is the most powerful Biglaw brand for the fifth year in a row. [American Lawyer]

* But that might not last for long, considering the dilemma Baker & McKenzie is facing when it comes to joining the Shanghai Bar Association in China. The firm is one of the first to indicate that it’ll take the plunge. [Wall Street Journal]

* Thanks to the Second Circuit, Rajat Gupta will be a free man on bail pending the appeal of his insider trading conviction. We wonder what Benula Bensam would have to say about this new twist. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Jason Smiekel, the lawyer who pleaded guilty in a murder-for-hire plot involving a former client, was sentenced to eight and a half years in federal prison. The things men will do for HHHBs. [Chicago Tribune]

* Student loan payments: coming to a paycheck deduction near you! Congress is considering an overhaul of the country’s student debt collection practices, and Rep. Tom Petri has some interesting ideas. [Bloomberg]

* The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is the latest school to hop aboard the solo practice incubator train, but graduates will have to rent their office space from the school. Nice. /sarcasm [National Law Journal]

* “We didn’t file this complaint lightly.” Sorry, Judge Norman, but as it turns out, you can’t just sentence a teenager to attend church for 10 years as a condition of parole without pissing off the ACLU. [Tulsa World]

* When your alterations cost more than your wedding gown, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll have some problems — ones worth suing over, if you’re a true bridezilla (like moi). [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

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