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Archive for the ‘Federal Spotlight’ Category

Informant v Defendant

Posted by pbsweeney on May 22, 2007

Say you’re a criminal defense lawyer with a client facing charges as a result of information provided by an informant who has agreed to work with law enforcement as part of his own plea arrangement in a criminal case. Naturally, you want to know something about this informant in preparing a defense for your client. Armed with the informant’s name and criminal record, you start researching the disposition of his previous arrests. With the ready availability of court records online, wading through files is made somewhat easier. But imagine for a minute, if details of the informant’s plea arrangements were sealed or unavailable – where does that leave you?

The New York Times reports today that “…the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.”

Could we please solve this problem in a manner that does not trample the civil rights of the entire citizenry by denying access to public record? And by the way, we really wish the Justice Department was as interested in protecting the privacy of the rest of us.


Posted in Ethics, Federal Spotlight, Law, News, Practice Management, Research | Leave a Comment »

Does the 2nd Amendment Prevent Gun Control?

Posted by pbsweeney on April 18, 2007

Thought provoking discussion on the challenges faced in our collective response and urgency to act, in the aftermath of this week’s nightmare at Virginia Tech, on the excellent legal/political blog Balkinization.

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The 100 Million Dollar Screw Up

Posted by pbsweeney on March 28, 2007

So you think you screw up sometimes? I bet you never screwed up to the tune of 100 million dollars by citing the wrong statute. And I bet it was not during the biggest federal tax prosecution EVER. This one goes under the dual categories of “I’m glad that wasn’t me,” and “damn it!”

Here it is from AP & MSNBC: WASHINGTON – Poorly written Justice Department documents cost the federal government more than $100 million in what was supposed to have been the crowning moment of the biggest tax prosecution ever.

Walter Anderson, the telecommunications entrepreneur who admitted hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from the IRS and District of Columbia tax collectors, was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison and ordered to repay about $23 million to the city.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said he couldn’t order Anderson to repay the federal government $100 million to $175 million because the Justice Department’s binding plea agreement with Anderson listed the wrong statute. Read more…

Posted in Federal Spotlight, Law, News | Leave a Comment »

H2-B Visa Cap Reached for 2nd Half 2007

Posted by pbsweeney on March 27, 2007

USCIS announced on March 23 that the H2-B visa cap for the second half of 2007 has been reached. If your petition is dated after March 16, 2007, you are out of luck. To read the full press release, click here.

Posted in Business, Federal Spotlight, Immigration, Law, Practice Management | Leave a Comment »

Bong Hits for Jesus Case Oral Arguments

Posted by pbsweeney on March 14, 2007

We can’t wait for Monday, March 19, when Morse v. Frederick oral arguments will be heard in Supreme Court, starring pro bono attorney for the plaintiff Ken Starr. (Glad you’ve found something to occupy yourself with, Ken.) In case you haven’t heard of this case, the following digest from Cornell is required reading:

Morse v. Frederick (06-278)
Oral argument: March 19, 2007

“Joseph Frederick, an 18-year-old high school student,
displayed a banner with the message “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”
across the street from his school, during the Olympic torch
relay in Juneau, Alaska. School administrators had released
students to watch the Olympic torch, and Frederick’s banner
was in plain view of the students. Deborah Morse, the high
school principal, suspended him for violating the school’s
policy against displaying offensive materials promoting
illegal drug use. Frederick and Morse disagree on the
issues of whether Frederick had First Amendment protection
(because he was not on school premises) and whether, if he
did, Morse’s judgment to the contrary was reasonable and
should thereby entitle her to qualified immunity from

For the entire digest and discussion, click here…

Posted in Federal Spotlight, Humor, Law, Life, News | Leave a Comment »

Supreme Lit Clinics Hungry for Cases

Posted by pbsweeney on March 6, 2007

Here’s an interesting bit of information gleaned from the popular Legal Times column “Courtside” that sometimes reads like a Supreme court gossip column but most often provides interesting sidebars on all things Supreme. Three years ago Stanford Law opened the first Supreme Court Litigation Clinic and the idea was so hot that Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, and others are quickly following suit. Last week alone saw three cases before the court with clinic participation, and the list is growing. Already the very popular litigation clinics have to fight harder to find cert-worthy cases, and have been filing more amicus briefs as a result.

The clinics are an amazing resource! To read more click here…

Links to a few of the clinics are as follows: Stanford, Harvard Supreme & Appellate clinics scheduled to open in the fall of 2007, and Yale which openly invites representation inquiries on the site.

Posted in Federal Spotlight, Law, News, Practice Management | Leave a Comment »

AOL Fraud Trial Finale

Posted by pbsweeney on January 31, 2007

The vastly under-reported AOL fraud trial in federal court is finally drawing to an end, with closing arguments begining yesterday, and arguments for the defendants set for today.

As the dot-com economy collapsed in 2001, executives at America Online allegedly conspired with a now-defunct technology firm in Las Vegas to inflate revenue, using secret side deals and backdated contracts to deceive investors, prosecutors said.

The government made its closing argument Tuesday at the trial of two midlevel AOL executives and a senior officer at Las Vegas-based PurchasePro. The trial has stretched more than three months, one of the longest trials in the history of the federal courthouse in Alexandria, known as the “rocket docket” for its dispatch in handling cases. For a great trial notebook 101 story filed by Matthe Barakat, click here… A fascinating tale of the mind boggling mechanics of corporate fraud.

Posted in blogging, Business, Ethics, Federal Spotlight, internet, Law, News | 1 Comment »

Will the Supremes Go Live?

Posted by pbsweeney on January 30, 2007

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that will require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of open Supreme Court proceedings, unless a majority of the Justices determine that the due process rights of one or more litigant would be violated.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Russell Feingold (D-Wiss.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

This is Spector’s third attempt at getting this legislation through. In 2005 his bill never made it to the floor for a vote. At the time he was quoted as saying: “In the context where the Supreme Court decides, really, the cutting-edge questions of our day, it’s very much, in my view, in our interest to have the Supreme Court televised.” In 2000 the Senator co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) that went nowhere as well.

With more than half the Justices on the record opposing the idea, it should be interesting to see how the debate unfolds, particularly surrounding questions on the separation of power between the the Legislative & Judicial branches of government.

Posted in blogging, Ethics, Federal Spotlight, Law, News, Politics | Leave a Comment »

H-2B Visa Cap Update

Posted by pbsweeney on December 8, 2006

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that it has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the congressionally mandated 33,000 H-2B visa cap for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2007. According to the USCIS, petitions for H-2B workers who enter after April 1, 2007, will continue to be processed, until a “final receipt date” is announced. To read the USCIS announcement in its entirety, click here.
Companies who need to bring workers in before April are out of luck unless they are returning workers. It’s extremely important to motivate clients to start early and use premium processing!

Posted in Business, Federal Spotlight, Immigration, Law, Practice Management | Leave a Comment »

New Federal Electronic Discovery Rules

Posted by pbsweeney on December 1, 2006

Major revisions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure take effect today, Dec. 1, 2006, including rules regarding discovery of electronically stored information. Highlights include early notice of potential electronic discovery, protection of the parties from undue burden of associated costs of EDD, privilege and work product protection, authorization of subpoenas to include electronically stored information and more. To read the full revised rules click here…

The impact for businesses also is clear regarding storage of electronically produced information. Purging of company emails on a routine basis or those companies who use a tape back up system in which tapes are written over periodically, will be committing in effect, virtual shredding. A big no-no.

Posted in Business, Federal Spotlight, Law, News, Practice Management | Leave a Comment »

Is the Constitution Dead in Southampton?

Posted by pbsweeney on November 25, 2006

Last week’s Southampton Press carried a front page story that proudly announced that the Village would adopt a resolution to permit groups involved as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the Village, to march in future Fourth of July parades without issue. The suit came about because various local groups opposed to the war in Iraq had not been issued permits to march in the 2006 parade. The committee that runs the parade for the Village had decided that peace banners were inappropriate to the spirit of the day, a puzzling decision for a celebration of our independence and constitutionally provided freedoms.

The groups, with the help of attorney Jim Henry of Sag Harbor, rushed to the courthouse at the end of the day on the Friday before the parade and managed to get a federal judge to consider that the issue was serious enough to open the court for a special session on July third. After a hastily convened teleconference between the parties, the judge issued an order that basically reaffirmed the groups’ constitutional rights, permitting them to march with their banners in the parade. What a concept!

The lawsuit continues. In an end run move, the Village has adopted the above-mentioned resolution, but in doing so has once again attempted to define who may participate in the parade and with what kind of speech. The guarantee of free speech and participation only applies to the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, not to the rest of us, thus creating a special class of people with a pre-determined “privilege” to a constitutional right.

This writer does not get it. How is it that a municipality is able to imagine it may make such a determination? Village officials are concerned that anyone might then find a place in the parade, even neo-nazis for example. They claim that they are just trying to preserve the spirit of a family event. Again, this issue has been ruled upon in the courts ad nauseum. Here’s hoping that the lesson to our children on Independence Day will be one of true citizenship with constitutionally guaranteed rights for all, not just those whom the Village of Southampton deems appropriate and deserving.

Posted in Ethics, Federal Spotlight, Law, Local Cases of Interest, News, Outrage | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers Contemplate Paper Trail

Posted by pbsweeney on October 30, 2006

Catching up on our reading:

The Washington Post reports that “a computer glitch that alters the names of some candidates on electronic ballots in three Virginia cities helps prove the need to create a paper record of each vote cast, two state lawmakers said yesterday.” Read the whole story here… Applause to Virgina for waking up to smell the coffee about the voting debacle that is about to descend upon us. Applause too for our own County Executive Steve Levy on this issue, wherein Suffolk County is suing the State of New York, claiming that Suff. Co. residents are being forced to pay millions for electronic voting machines that we neither need nor want, all because of the way the State Legislature interpreted the new federal voting law. On this one, we gotta say – Go Steve!

Posted in Federal Spotlight, Law, Local Cases of Interest, News | Leave a Comment »

Update on Surveillance of Local Peace Groups

Posted by pbsweeney on October 28, 2006

The ACLU in Maine has retrieved documents using the Freedom of Information Act that detail how local Maine peace groups are under surveillance by the FBI. Read that story in its entirety here….

When I talk to friends about this story, there’s a bit of chuckling about “the good old days” of campus unrest over the Vietnam War and comments like “Feds will be Feds,” and then an odd gloom settles over the conversation. Somehow, Feds these days have a more sinister quality. I’m waiting for the first peace activist to be locked up and held incommunicado under some new, untested classification. But they wouldn’t do that, right? Well maybe not in the old days, but its a new day now. When I look at the peace demonstrators in our towns, mostly 60 plus with kindly faces, it’s hard to imagine new FBI or Pentagon files being opened as we speak, but hey, it’s happening. These are not like the extended campus network of demonstrators who occupied buildings, stopped traffic and chained themselves to federal sites in the late sixties and early seventies. We’re talking quiet, peaceful gatherings on village greens now. So what gives?

Has anyone out there made a FOIA request on behalf of our local groups?

Posted in Ethics, Federal Spotlight, Law, Local Cases of Interest, News, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Ginsburg Comes to Gotham

Posted by pbsweeney on October 21, 2006

ginsburg450.jpgNew York City: Next Thursday, Oct. 26, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will deliver the closing remarks at “Justice Brennan and the Living Constitution,” an NYU Law School symposium co-hosted by Brennan Center for Justice. The conference will have symposiums on freedom of religion and national security. The symposium begins at 10:00 a.m. — it’s free and open to the public.

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H-2B Visa Relief Extended

Posted by pbsweeney on October 19, 2006

AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 06100265

On 10/17/06, President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (H.R. 5122) into law. Section 1074 of the bill includes a one year extension of the returning worker exemption to the H-2B visa cap. H.R. 5122 provides for the extension to take effect beginning October 1, 2006.

Section 1074 reads as follows:


(a) In General- Section 214(g)(9) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)(9)) is amended–

(1) by amending the first sentence of subparagraph (A) to read as follows: `Subject to subparagraphs (B) and (C), an alien who has already been counted toward the numerical limitation of paragraph (1)(B) during fiscal year 2004, 2005, or 2006 shall not again be counted toward such limitation during fiscal year 2007.’; and

(2) in subparagraph (B), by striking `referred to in subparagraph (A)’ and inserting `to admit or otherwise provide status under section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b)’. (b) Deletion of Prior Sunset Provision- Section 402(b)(1) of the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005 (title IV of division B of Public Law 109-13; 119 Stat. 318; 8 U.S.C. 1184 note) is amended by striking `2004,’ and all that follows through the period at the end and inserting `2004.’.

(c) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall take effect on October 1, 2006. If this section is enacted after October 1, 2006, the amendments made by this section shall take effect as if enacted on such date.

Posted in Federal Spotlight, Immigration, Law, Practice Management | Leave a Comment »