White-Collar Crime

* Law student sends naked selfie to her father. Hilarity ensues. [Inside Edition]

* “Is insider trading bad?” Asking for a friend. [The Atlantic]

* Judge catches law firm cheating on the page limit. Apparently, Judge Carl Barbier was well-versed in the “slightly less than double-spaced” trick. [NPR]

* What’s the matter with (statutory interpretation in) Kansas? [KSN]

* You may have heard that technology is going to gut the market for low-level lawyering. If not, here’s a wakeup call. [Forbes]

* This year’s MacArthur genius grant recipients. Is your name on the list? SPOILER: No. But a William Mitchell Law professor is. [New York Times]

* Steve Klepper’s fair-minded and favorable review of Lat’s forthcoming book, Supreme Ambitions (affiliate link). [Maryland Appellate Blog]

Jordan Belfort

Last night, I attended a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y featuring some very interesting individuals — including two lawyers. Thane Rosenbaum, the law professor and novelist, moderated a panel featuring former federal prosecutor Daniel Alonso, CNBC anchor Kelly Evans, and the “star” of the evening, Jordan Belfort — the disgraced stockbroker turned convicted felon turned bestselling author who served as the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street.

So what was the evening like? One attendee described it as “cringeworthy” — and I have to agree….

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One often hears lawyers, especially at large firms, say something like “if I were a client, I couldn’t afford to hire me.”

The reason is obvious; billable hour rates are high and quality legal work, especially in a tricky area, takes time. Legal fees for middle-class or even upper-middle-class people can easily outpace a client’s ability to pay.

This is a problem in a lot of areas of law, from divorce to employment to routine consumer litigation. In some cases, fee shifting or contingency fees can help make hiring a lawyer more affordable. Still, even for lawyers who aren’t in big firms, clients are often unable to afford the lawyer they need.

Federal employees caught up in Congressional or inspector general investigations are another sad example; they can be hit with massive fees for something they have no control over.

The political climate in Washington is hard on federal employees. Darryl Issa’s Committee on Government Reform and Oversight in the House has been bringing down a reign of terror on executive branch agencies — and the employees who work at them — for years now.

For example, think about Lois Lerner….

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As you’ve likely heard, there’s a Southern governor on trial for public corruption.

Shockingly, he’s not from Louisiana.

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are on trial for, in essence, taking gifts from a guy named Johnnie Williams in exchange for doing things in the governor’s mansion (there are also some bank fraud charges and obstruction charges, but frankly, in comparison to the public corruption stuff the bank fraud is terribly dreary). After five weeks of trial and testimony, the case just went to the jury.

UPDATE (5:40 p.m.): And the McDonnells got convicted.

There has been a lot of commentary on the McDonnell trial (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). One thing that hasn’t been talked about during the trial much: the defense severance motion that was denied at the very start.

And, as the trial has continued, that motion looks more and more important in hindsight….

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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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If you’re going to steal millions from clients, at least make a good story out of it. Like blowing hefty sums on luxurious private air travel and wiring millions to casinos to cover gambling debts. Make it a rock star story right up until the very end.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a lawyer successfully stealing millions. There are just too many checks in place to let it get that far. It felt like the only thing anyone needed to know to pass professional responsibility was to respect escrow accounts. You just make sure all the money you’re watching for your customers, consumers, lenders and employees is always accounted for. There’s inevitably more than one person handling the bank statements. It’s just hard to lose millions.

Nonetheless, one law firm with offices around the country thinks it’s discovered more than a minor problem in its accounts. In fact, it just filed a lawsuit against its former managing partner, alleging that he siphoned off a cool $30 million from client escrow accounts to live like a proverbial rock star….

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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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On Friday, special prosecutor Michael McCrum secured an indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry, whose 2012 campaign is the first abortion Republicans have celebrated in years, is accused of coercion and abusing his office when he threatened to, and subsequently did, revoke funding for the Public Integrity Unit. That unit is charged with rooting out government corruption, and Perry took away its budget because the district attorney in charge of the unit — a Texas Democrat — was convicted of drunk driving and wouldn’t step down. Perry thought she should leave her post because she had lost the public trust over her conviction and not at all because she had been investigating possible corruption related to Perry’s signature project, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

If you don’t think this is shady and improper, you’re a hyperpartisan for Perry. Entirely obliterating the agency charged with protecting citizens from official corruption because you don’t like the person in charge — for whatever reason — smacks of overreach. Imagine Congress and the President zero-funding the Supreme Court because they wanted one justice to resign. It’s just cockroach hunting with a bazooka.

Still, is it criminal as opposed to just shady? That’s a different question. Law professors weigh in….

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When I was in law school, I went to hear Chief Justice Rehnquist speak. He told a story of going to visit Finland, and meeting with their attorney general. The Chief Justice asked the attorney general whether the highest court in Finland could overturn an act of its parliament. She didn’t know the answer. She huddled with her staff for a few minutes, then told Rehnquist that they think their Supreme Court could, but the issue had never come up, because their high court had never tried.

Rehnquist told the audience that he thought this was just straight up freaky (not his words). And then began to wonder why he thought this was so strange. He concluded that there is something in the American psyche — especially in the part of the American psyche that lawyers seem to embrace — that feels compelled to push power to its outer limits.

This is a dangerous thing to think about if you think that our law enforcement community — from the lowly beat cops to an FBI forensic accountant — shares this disposition.

It’s an idea perhaps best explored by The Onion in Insecure, Frustrated Bully With Something To Prove Considering Career In Law Enforcement.

Friends and family confirmed that [the frustrated insecure bully], an unpredictable, petty individual who frequently loses his temper when he feels he is being threatened or disrespected, has in recent months been inquiring into joining the ranks of the Raleigh Police Department. In this role, the man with a massive chip on his shoulder and no visible sense of empathy would be tasked with peacefully resolving disputes and evenhandedly administering justice to members of the community over whom he would have official power.

And it’s a problem in the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent protests. And police response to protests. And violence in response to the police response.

There’s a cultural shift happening in our law enforcement communities, and that shift matters to folks doing white-collar criminal work as much as blue-collar criminal work.

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Americans are obsessed with taxes.

Maybe it’s our libertarian streak. Maybe an anti-tax bias is in our DNA from the Boston Tea Party. In any event, no real American likes paying taxes.

And some people don’t like paying them even more than the rest of us. Like Donna Marie Kozak.

In Omaha Nebraska this week, Kozak was convicted of a number of tax crimes. She is a member of the “sovereign citizen group ‘Republic for the united States of America.’”

According to DOJ’s press release about the case,

since the late 1990s, Kozak has engaged in a long series of fraudulent schemes to obstruct the internal revenue laws. These included placing her property in sham trusts, establishing a sham charitable foundation, sending harassing correspondence to IRS employees and filing bogus tax returns, trust returns, private-foundation returns and other false documents with the IRS. In 2008, she filed a tax return based on fictitious income and tax withholdings on Form 1099-OID statements that claimed a refund of $660,000.

At trial, in addition to the questionable tax filings, she also seems to have filed a $19 million tax lien against a federal judge who oversaw the tax fraud prosecution against two of her friends. She also filed other multi-million dollar tax liens against the federal prosecutors who brought her friends’ case.

It seems Kozak did not have a legitimate claim to $19 million from that judge. And self-help to a fake tax lien is not how one should address a suspicion of prosecutorial overreach.

Like the folks who believe that the limits on maritime jurisdiction, explained by a talking salamander, holds the key to beating a federal criminal charge, the full tapestry of wacko tax fraud theories is a lovely thing to behold….

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