U.S. Attorneys Offices

In Democracy in America (affiliate link), de Tocqueville observed that in America, every political problem becomes, at some point, a legal problem.

The modern version, is that, for a federal prosecutor, every legal problem becomes, at some point, a criminal case.

An AUSA in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is in a fight with his 82 year-old next door neighbor over where a fence dividing their property should be placed.

He’s an AUSA who has been previously mentioned here on Above the Law — Arlo Devlin-Brown, the chief of the public corruption unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for SDNY.

He’s also the guy who prosecuted his former law school classmate Matthew Martoma.

As it happens, he’s not only a fan of criminal charges for his law school classmates, but also for his neighbors.

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Mindy Kaling and Preet Bharara at the Harvard Law School commencement.

The legal world doesn’t have too many “crossover celebrities,” figures who are big enough to be known outside our little corner of the world. We can all think of a few — Alan Dershowitz, Judge Judy, Supreme Court justices (arguably) — and not all of them are awesome (cough cough, Nancy Grace).

One of the youngest crossover celebrities is Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He’s been on the cover of Time magazine. He’s attended the Vanity Fair Oscars party.

Bharara is best known for his crackdown on Wall Street abuses and insider trading, but he’s a fun person underneath the prosecutor’s dark suit. Yesterday the New York Times ran an interesting profile of Bharara. Here are some highlights….

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I’m a technology geek. I’m cognizant of the argument that a not entirely thought-out prosecution could lead to the suppression of ideas and technology, and I have no desire to do that.

Wesley Hsu, chief of the cybercrime unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, explaining his approach to prosecuting cases. You can check out Kashmir Hill’s interesting profile of Hsu over at Forbes.

Forfeiture law is insane.

There are lots of reasons to hate criminal forfeiture. You could dislike forfeiture because of the way law enforcement uses it to target poor people, the way law enforcement takes small sums of money that no reasonable person would fight over, the way some law man down south threatened parents with choosing between being arrested and having their kids put in foster care or forfeiting their cash, or even the way it creates insane incentives for cops to fund themselves by taking money from people whether they ought to or not. (For examples of this stuff, see either The New Yorker or The Daily Show, depending on whether you’re currently trying to impress someone).

Law enforcement wants that forfeiture money. And, as the examples above show, they’re going to do a lot to get it.

Though now, in Baltimore, a forfeiture case has led to an allegation that a federal prosecutor knowingly produced a forged document in a case.

If you believe a law enforcement officer’s testimony under oath.

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There are (many) legitimate criticisms of President Obama to be made, from both the right and the left. But reasonable people can agree that there are also many ridiculous ones.

He’s a Communist! He’s not a U.S. citizen! He’s a closet Muslim who wants to institute sharia law in the United States!

How about: he’s a plagiarist!

It’s true of Vice President Joe Biden. Is it true of President Obama?

(Please note the UPDATE added below.)

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Time Magazine cover boy Preet Bharara

In the federal criminal world, there are certain cases where the government almost always wins.

Illegal reentry for a previously deported person, for example, is pretty close to a lock for a government win — all the government has to show is that the person isn’t a citizen, was previously deported, and is in the United States again. If the dude’s in the courtroom, the government is a third of the way there. For example, in the last fiscal year, there were 20,840 folks charged with illegal reentry.  Four of them were acquitted at trial.

Similarly, bank robbery is a high-percentage game for the government. These days, most banks have amazing technology that lets them record pretty much everyone inside. Last fiscal year, 896 people were charged with bank robbery. One lucky guy was acquitted.

These days, federal law enforcement is using wiretaps and, according to the Wall Street Journal, old-school sting operations, to go build white-collar cases (it’s a pretty cool article — very cloak and dagger). The strategies that got the federal government the conviction rate it has in drug and gun cases are being applied to investment fraud and insider trading cases.

This is one reason that insider trading cases have looked like as much of a layup as a bank robbery case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York has secured a record of 85 convictions in either guilty pleas or trials without a single loss.

Until this week….

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Exploding courthouse toilet = products liability attorney’s dream.

* Funny that SCOTUS just struck down a law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, yet it heavily enforces its own buffer zone. Some call it “supreme irony.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* Despite the slacking demand for legal services — down by 8.8 percent in terms of billable hours — members of the Am Law 100 still managed to keep their heads above water. [Am Law Daily]

* Lorin Reisner, chief of the criminal division of S.D.N.Y.’s USAO and Preet Bharara’s right-hand man on Wall Street convictions, is leaving for greener pastures at Paul Weiss. Congrats! [Reuters]

* New York State’s highest court has rejected New York City’s ban on gigantic drinks that was previously proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Go on, have yourself a nice Quadruple Big Gulp. [Bloomberg]

* When the long arm of the law flushes the toilet, it sometimes explodes, raining down jagged shards of justice. But on a more serious note, we’re happy no one was hurt at this courthouse. [Billings Gazette]

Mindy Kaling and Preet Bharara at the Harvard Law School commencement (via Kaling’s Twitter feed).

Yesterday my colleague Staci Zaretsky wrote about Mindy Kaling’s hilarious Harvard Law School commencement speech. If you haven’t already read about or heard Kaling’s remarks, which have gone viral, check them out here.

But Kaling’s commencement speech wasn’t the only entertaining one delivered at HLS — or even the best one, in some people’s estimation. Another speaker managed to combine humor and wisdom, in magnificent fashion.

“Yo Mindy, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Preet Bharara had one of the best HLS commencement speeches of all time… of all time!”

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Andrew ‘Weev’ Auernheimer

PAY ME MY MONEY, YOU LYING SUBHUMAN GARBAGE. You also should resign from your posts, as you’ve shown yourselves to be collective disgraces to rule of law and enemies of the United States Constitution. Those of us who actually love this country should take your places.

Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, in an angry letter emailed to Judge Susan D. Wigenton, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater, and FBI Special Agent Christian Schorle, seeking compensation for his time spent behind bars after his conviction for hacking-related charges was vacated by the Third Circuit for improper venue (congrats to Orin Kerr on that).

(Keep reading to see Weev’s entertainingly trollish letter in full.)

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The indictment of Zachary Warren is troubling for a lot of lawyers because, well, he seems like one of us. His post-Dewey path to a great law school, two cool clerkships, and an offer from a great law firm, is something we, as lawyers, can identify with.

What’s most frustrating about Zachary Warren’s situation is that it looks like he was charged largely because he decided to talk to law enforcement without hiring a lawyer first.

Most of us would like to think that, as lawyers, we’re smart enough to make the right legal moves if we’re in a place where we need to. Yet Warren talked to law enforcement, when most of us know that’s the wrong move (and, if you don’t know that’s the wrong move, there’s a short video on my firm’s webpage explaining how we look at it). What’s up with that?

As Lat mentioned earlier this week, there’s a dispute about what happened. Some of Warren’s friends say he was essentially duped about his status or the nature of the interview he participated in. The Manhattan D.A. has pushed back, through spokeswoman Erin Duggan Kramer: “The facts [in this New York Times piece] are incorrect. The claim that an attorney with a federal clerkship could have any misunderstanding of what it means to speak with and agree to meet with the D.A.’s office is preposterous.”

Kramer’s point makes seems intuitively compelling. Why would a smart lawyer talk?

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