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Texas Judge Calls for Investigation of Prosecutor

Michael Morton is the latest of 45 Texas inmates exonerated of murder convictions based on new DNA evidence.  But Morton’s case may finally draw some lines against prosecutorial misconduct in the criminal justice system.  According to The New York Times:

What is unprecedented is the move planned by lawyers for the man, Michael Morton: they are expected to file a request for a special hearing to determine whether the prosecutor broke state laws or ethics rules by withholding evidence that could have led to Mr. Morton’s acquittal 25 years ago.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” said Bennet L. Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct at Pace University in New York. “It’s an extraordinary legal event.”

In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Mrs. Morton’s blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Mr. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

What’s striking about the case is that more prosecutors are held responsible for withholding evidence which may help free a defendant.  In this case, the trial judge ordered the prosecutors to turn over any evidence that might favor Mr. Morton’s innocence to his lawyers.  But Ken Anderson, then the prosecutor, now a state judge, handed only a small fraction of what his office had collected in its investigation.

Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.

Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.

The current judge is allowing Morton’s lawyers investigate whether Anderson can be criminally charged with malfeasance.  But here’s the clinker:

Experts, however, are skeptical that Judge Anderson could face serious punishment or disbarment, even if the court were to decide that he had committed malfeasance. Susan R. Klein, a professor at the University of Texas Law School who specializes in criminal issues and prosecutorial ethics, said that such actions would be “incredibly unusual,” particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision this year dismissing a $14 million civil jury award against a Louisiana prosecutor, Harry Connick Sr., for his failure to turn over evidence that ultimately led to an exoneration.

Any lawyers out there? Why aren’t more prosecutors charged in these types of cases?

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Judge Overturns S.E.C. Deal

Judge Jed Rakoff is furious. He should be. We all should be. On Monday, the Federal District Court judge rightly rejected a plan by the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle a securities fraud case against Citigroup, saying that the $285 million dealwas “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.”It’s not only that the money was not enough, though it certainly seems puny compared with the damage done. The S.E.C. charged that Citigroup had not adequately disclosed to investors its role and interest in creating and selling — and betting against — a mortgage-backed investment that was intended to fail. When the investment did, indeed, tank, the bank made $160 million, according to the S.E.C., while investors lost $700 million. – New York Times

The Judge found that the deal did not properly disclose what Citigroup did.  The SEC routinely allows banks and other financial institutions to pay a fine while admitting no wrong-doing.  And the puny fine of $250 million is a drop in the bucket for Citigroup, certainly far below the punishment needed to keep them from withholding information from investors again.

Banks mostly fear consumer/investor lawsuits

For too long the SEC has said it does not have the money or staff to go forward with trials involving complicated financial dealings, especially since the financial institutions being sued have big pockets that can hire a phalanx of lawyers.

This is the problem with the government and Congress.  Congress could either allocate more money to these cases or allow Federal prosecutors to ‘hire’ big law firms on a contingency basis.  Or the SEC could detail their investigations to meet Judge Rakoff’s standards (at least).

The SEC isn’t going to take the chance.  A ruling that finds Citigroup engaged in fraud would be a savior for investors who lost money on a deal full of secret agreements and want to sue Citibank themselves.

Obviously, a negative SEC finding could cause a run on Citibank’s money or incur so many liabilities that the company falls into bankruptcy. The financial institutions have effectively neutered regulation that is supposed to prevent malpractice and fraud in the financial sector.

Or maybe it’s another example of Citigroup being ‘to big to fail’.  If so, it is too big to be in business.

 

 

 

 

 

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Police Departments Use Drones

Over 300 certificates of use have been awarded to domestic police departments, allowing police officers to train in the use of high-tech drones (unmanned ariel vehicles) for policing.  The FAA decides who and when will be able to use the drones in active duty.   The drone, widely used in Afghanistan in anti-terrorist raids, cost about a fifth of what police helicopters cost/year to stay in the air.  They carry night-vision equipment and other enhancements.

Although the Department of Homeland Security says the drones will only be used in special circumstances (highway traffic accidents, missing persons), who doubts that soon or later, drones will be on regular patrol over population centers, able to record our every move.

Although the imminent use of drones on domestic police forces is startling and creepy, it seems possible they could be used to reduce crime in high-crime, high-drug sales areas.  As always, the technology is neutral: it could be used for the good or against populations.

 

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Cain: What’s With the National Restaurant Association?

Herb Cain’s advances on women at the National Restaurant Association appear to have made them more than ‘uncomfortable’ or could be passed off as teasing’ one of the women about her height.  His absolute refusal to address the specific charges dooms whatever chance he ever had of making it out of the political minor leagues, if not his new career as a published author.
Karen Kraushaar, who quit her job over advances by Cain is the devastating finale.   I don’t know Ms. Kraushaar , but I do know that people in these types of Washington positions don’t accuse colleagues and leave jobs  over a minor incident.  Ms. Karushaar, a government relations representative for the Association, was one of two women who walked away with a settlement from the NRA.

Role of Trade Association?

Cain was the honorary President of the National Restaurant Association, and presumably a member of its board before that.   In most trade associations, the board and officers are chosen from the ranks of its members.  But day-t0-day operations are handled by a paid professional staff.

Although a bit far-fetched, it actually is possible that the executives of the National Restaurant Association sought to save Cain embarrassment and get rid of a couple of ‘problems’ without his full knowledge.  Either way, the question lingers: what culpability has the Association’s paid CEO or other executive staff?  At least one of the woman charging unfair treatment claimed the staff of the Association became hostile to her after she reported an incident with Cain.

While this is a secondary consideration in the Cain affair, by bailing him out twice, the Association points to a culture of acceptance for out-of-bounds behavior at NRA conventions and conferences where ‘wining and dining’ are plentiful.   Didn’t anyone of the other officers or legal counsel sit down with Cain and tell him to stop?

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MF Global: Lobbying on Eve of Vote

The New York Times runs a story this morning that – even after Lehman’s collapse, the economic melting, bail-outs, stimulus and assorted other happenings of the last 3 years – is shocking.

It reveals that, after taking leadership of MF Global, Jon Corzine, former CEO of Goldman-Sacks, former Senator, former Governor of New Jersey, lobbied intensely to keep the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, no stranger to back-slapping politics,  from passing a new rule prohibiting firms from using client money to trade for itself.

The agency proposing the rule, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, relented. Wall Street, which has been working to curb many financial regulations, won another battle.

The proposed rule would have restricted a complicated transaction that allowed MF Global in essence to borrow money from its own customers. Brokerage firms are allowed to use customers’ money to earn interest, not unlike banks, but this rule would have outlawed using customer funds for a loan to the firm itself.

MF Global financed these purchases through complex transactions known as repurchase agreements. In these, the bonds themselves were used as collateral for a loan to purchase them. The interest paid on that loan was less than the interest the bonds paid out, earning the firm a profit from the spread.

While that practice is quite common, the C.F.T.C. wanted to crack down on such lending in those instances when customer funds were used. The C.F.T.C. proposal would have also banned the use of client funds to buy foreign sovereign debt.

The article explains that MF Global not only hired lobbyists to block the enactment of the rule, but that Mr. Corzine himself personally lobbied the CFTC members themselves:

Mr. Corzine’s efforts culminated on July 20, as the agency was preparing for a vote on the proposal. That day, MF Global executives were on four different calls with the agency’s staff. Mr. Corzine himself was on two of those calls.

One of the calls was with Mr. Gensler. Both men are active Democrats, and served on financial panels together recently.

Shortly after the calls, Mr. Gensler, aware that he lacked the support to push the vote through, decided to delay the proposal indefinitely. He did so at the urging of Republican commissioners, according to people familiar with the matter.

But after MF Global’s blowup and the ensuing fallout from the missing funds, regulators said they were considering pushing again on the rule.

I think even The Times is under great pressure about what it writes concerning Corzine and MF Global.  The article makes clear that neither he nor anyone in his firm has been charged with a crime or done anything illegal.

I’m not sure that is true.  MF Global’s hyper lobbying campaign on the eve of a vote on the new rules may itself be a violation of federal transparency (sun-shine) rules.  The CFTC had to have open public hearings on the rule before the vote. This was the forum for the industry to fight for its views.  For a firm to then turn around and privately lobbying the commissioners immediately before the vote is highly irregular, maybe illegal.  Although it is common practice for CEOs to meet with elected official and regulators to explain his or her company’s interest in the rule, Mr. Corzine was not (as far as I can tell) a registered lobbyist.  He may have overstepped his bounds here as well.

Today, Corzine resigned.

 

BB

 

 

 

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Beware Attempts to Attach ‘Demands’ onto OWS

The beauty of OWS is that it’s name sums-up its goal: to stop a finance-dominated economic elite from gambling with the world’s wealth.  Simple.  Post-ideological.  People feel something’s wrong; OWS gives that voice. Beware of criticism that OWS is unfocused .  What is more focused than its name: OCCUPY WALL STREET?  Imposing more specific demands would narrow its appeal and kill it.

OWS doesn’t need to do much more than it already is doing.  It’s purpose is summed up in its name.  It differentiates from the Tea Party by the target, Wall Street, of its protest.  It implicitly condemns the government – not for being too big or small or activist – but for allowing Wall Street to run amuck while neither Democrats or Republicans lift a finger to stop the assualt on homes and jobs  Other groups can try to claim the sentiment and energy of OWS as long as they don’t try to steer OWS itself into specific reforms that will inevitably bogg it down in debate and division.

Look at it this way.   The ‘right’ has wedge issues to confuse, divide and conquer.  The ‘left’ plague is the single-issue advocacy arising out of the ’60s but irrelevant to today’s problems.  Both draw extremes.  Neither is effective.  Together they’ve made a mess of things.

OWS rises above wedge issues and single-issue advocacy by not addressing them.  It’s not OWS’s mission to propose solutions. Many are on the table already. OWS’ single purpose is building enough pressure to force reforms on the institutions that run our lives.  The greater the pressure, the deeper the reform.

The American system desperately needs a shaking up.  Limp and atrophied, it’s been brought to its knees by the political posturing of career politicians.  OWS could become a massive counter force against cronyism, fraud and greed.  If OWS continues to breath and absorb people, each of whom may have their own agendas, into a super-movement targeting Wall Street miscreants and their Washington enablers, it will earn a place in history.  Beware of attempts to pigeon hole it into anything else.

 

 

 

 

Under that large umbrella, other groups can figure out legislative agendas.  But don’t A lot of people ridicule OWS as being disorganized and having not agenda.  Nonsense!  The agenda is as clear as daylight.  Stop a finance-dominated economic elite that gambles with the world’s wealth.  ‘You can no longer hide’ is the message.

It’s an open message

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The Iranian Plot

Yesterday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the arrest of an Iranian American citizen, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, as the central character in a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington.  Arbabsiar was the go between a member of the Al Quds division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and what he thought was a Mexican drug cartel which was to supply to assassins.  However, Arbabsiar was actually dealing with an FBI informant and not the Mexican cartel.  The plot was disrupted after the Al Quds member wired $1oo,ooo to a US bank account.

Immediately, independent national security and Iranian experts raised doubts about this plot being carried out by the Iranian government.  First, Iranian intelligence services are highly professional and almost always use proxies so black ops can’t be traced back to the government.  Second, any Iranian spy would know that transferring $100,000 as a ‘down payment’ for the assassination to a US bank account raises an immediate red flag.  Third, using a drug cartel would again be counter to how Iran normally operates.  Fourth, why on US soil?

However, according to Bloomberg:

After he was arrested, Arbabsiar agreed to phone Shakuri in Iran in calls that were monitored, the U.S. said in the criminal complaint. During the calls, Shakuri told Arbabsiar to move forward with the plot “as quickly as possible.”

Shakuri also told Arbabsiar during the call that he would consult with his superiors about whether they would be willing to pay additional money for the hit men.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in regional rivalry with much animosity between them.  But killing the Saudi Ambassador on US soil is not in Iran’s interest – or so it would seem.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government denounced the charges as fabrications made by the US.  Ayatollah Khamenie charged ‘“the corrupted capitalist system shows no mercy to any nation, including the American people.”

UN Ambassador Rice is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the plot today.  There is speculation among those who study Iran that the plot may have been set in motion by a rogue groups in Al Quds acting as a drug cartel within Iran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Scientists Challenge Antrax Investigation – Again!

The antrax drama continues.  Three leading antrax scientists, long critical of the FBI investigation into who made and mailed deadly antrax spores in 2001, have written a new paper that calls for reopening the case.

Both the chairwoman of a National Academy of Science panel that spent a year and a half reviewing the F.B.I.’s scientific work and the director of a new review by the Government Accountability Office said the paper raised important questions that should be addressed.

Other antrax scientists disputed the new claims.  Yet it remains unclear why the FBI dropped any reference to  tin after calling it ‘an element of interest’ early on in investigation.  The question is whether the tin was used as part of the antrax production, meaning the process was too sophisticated to be carried out by suspect Bruce Ivins alone or was an incidental contaminant from another source.

Scientists have criticized the FBI since day one of the antrax scare.  In its most high-profile misstep, the FBI hounded former Army scientist, Steven Hatfill, for years seeking to bring a case against him as the murderer.  When Bruce Ivins was named the perpetrator shortly after committing suicide in anticipation of being accused, Dr. Hatfill was exonerated and paid $4.5. million in compensation.

This is the first bioterrorism case pursued by the FBI in the United States.  The continuing dispute over the science and methods used in the investigation reflects its importance as a prototype of bioterrorism forensic work.

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