Court Denies Scott Bloch & DOJ Collusive Attempt To Withdraw Plea

As you will recall, former former Bush/Cheney Administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch destroyed evidence by wiping government computers clean, lied to Congress about it and conspired with the DOJ to minimize the conduct and slough it off with a sweetheart plea deal. Then, outrageously, when the court indicated it was inclined to impose the mandatory minimum month in jail, which was mandated by the statute Bloch pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011. Subsequent to that post, the court also found questions with the attempt to withdraw the plea and ordered Bloch to file a reply supporting the attempt.

Seeing the specious nature of Bloch’s reply filed on March 3, 2011, the Emptywheel blog got involved and initiated a formal filing with the court. We combined much of the material from the previous blog post on March 1 with new argument directly responsive to Bloch’s Reply, and additional general argument, into a formal sentencing recommendation and filed it with the court. The document was lodged on March 4.

Late last night, after consideration of the various pleadings related to the attempt to withdraw Bloch’s plea, the court filed its decision on PACER. Scott Bloch’s motion to withdraw from his plea, despite the collusive help from the DOJ, is DENIED!

For all of the foregoing reasons, the court finds that Defendant, at the time he pled guilty to a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, was well aware that he could have been sentenced to a period of incarceration of up to one year. His assertion, through his affidavit, that he would not have pled guilty had he “been informed” that he would not receive probation is, simply put, not entitled to credence. This court–like the Circuit, when confronted with a comparable contradiction between the defendant’s answers under oath during the Rule 11 colloquy and the affidavit in support of his motion – finds that “[Defendant’s] argument – if not his affidavit – amounts to a claim that the defect in the taking of the plea consisted of his committing perjury, when, under oath, he acknowledged the truth of the factual recitals in the plea agreement and in the government’s proffer. Lying to a court is not a ‘fair and just reason,’ Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(d)(2)(B), for allowing a plea to be withdrawn.” (emphasis added)

The entire ruling by the court is 20 pages long and takes apart every argument Bloch makes limb by limb. As it should have been. Perhaps the best line of Judge Robinson’s decision, and a point we argued strongly, is:

Confidence in the fair and orderly administration of justice is undermined by the suggestion that the court should participate in a process by which a sentence is first determined by Defendant and the government, and then an offense expected to guarantee such sentence is alleged.

Boy, the court sure got that right. Not to mention that confidence in fair and honest government is undermined when the DOJ is willing to not prosecute and/or minimize clear crimes committed by other Executive Branch officers. They tried to soft walk Scott Bloch out of this, and it is still awfully small punishment considering Bloch’s crimes, but at least they did not get away with further obfuscation and frustration of justice. Now let’s get the Obama DOJ to get some more prosecutions for all the other egregious Executive Branch crimes of the previous administration going. It is about time.

Bloch’s sentencing is set for this afternoon at 2:30 pm at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.

DOJ Bigfoots Over A Bridge Too Far On Loughner Indictment

Friday, at 12 noon local time, the Arizona United States Attorneys Office held a press conference to announce new charges against Jared Loughner in the Gabby Giffords shooting spree. From the official press release:

“This was an attack on Congresswoman Giffords, her constituents, and her staff,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “We will seek justice for the federal officials, Judge Roll and Gabriel M. Zimmerman, and for Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard, and C-T G. These final four Arizonans’ lives were extinguished while exercising one of the most precious rights of American citizens, the right to meet freely and openly with their Member of Congress. The deceased are not the only ones whose rights are being defended. Those citizens who were peaceably assembled to speak to their Member of Congress are also named victims in this indictment. This indictment involves potential death-penalty charges, and Department rules require us to pursue a deliberate and thorough process. That process is ongoing, and we will continue to

work diligently to see that justice is done.”

The press release, at the end, contains a nice summary chart of the various crimes charged and potential sentences. What is notable is that the new superseding indictment, although the press release is somewhat vague about it, is that the federal government has effectively seized jurisdiction of the entire case, including on the presumptively state law victims. As the Washington Post describes it:

But, employing a novel legal argument, prosecutors persuaded a federal grand jury to indict him on 46 new charges, on the theory that the shootings occurred on protected federal ground, as if it happened in Congress. Six people, including a chief federal district judge, were killed, and 13 – including Giffords – were injured.

U.S Attorney Dennis K. Burke told reporters in Phoenix that he wants to seek justice for all the victims and make no distinction between those who were federal employees and those who were merely attending the congresswoman’s event.

“These victims were exercising one of the most precious and fundamental rights of American citizens: the right to meet freely, openly and peaceably with their member of Congress,” Burke said. “It is a civil right. And their safety in participating in this federal activity is protected by federal law.”

“Novel legal argument” is one of the larger understatements of this still young century. A better description would be overreaching rubbish. This is something you are not likely to see often, but I am in complete agreement with Andrew McCarthy, who opined at the NRP Corner:

I think the Justice Department’s strategy in the Loughner case is legally suspect (to say the least) and tactically foolish. There are federal charges that apply to the shootings of the federal officials. That’s the federal case here. To the contrary, shooting people who are not federal officials in a mall is not a federal offense — such shootings are state crimes, for which Arizona provides very severe sentences, including death if death has resulted.

Justice is hanging its jurisdictional hat on the “federally protected activity” aspect of the civil rights laws. The purpose of this provision is to give the feds a vehicle to go after people who purposely try to stop someone from enjoying the benefits of a federal program. So if some misguided soul tried to vent his disagreement with, say, the “cash for clunkers” program by standing outside the car dealership and intimidating would be participants, he would be interfering with a federally protected activity even though this sort of menacing, ordinarily, would be a state offense, not a federal offense. The idea is to protect obvious federal interests. The idea is not to create federal cases whenever the commission of a state crime has some incidental, attenuated federal consequence.

That is exactly correct although, again, it is somewhat of an understatement. What is going on here is Read more

Court Should Deny DOJ & Scott Bloch Collusion to Avoid Accountability

As you will recall, Scott Bloch is the senior governmental attorney who formerly served as head of the United States Office of Special Counsel:

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In short, it is an unique, but quite important, entity in the federal government, and is entrusted with protecting the sanctity of whistleblowers, who are one of the last checks on an increasingly imperious federal government, and especially the Executive Branch thereof. Mr. Bloch refused to do his job appropriately under the Bush/Cheney Administration and, when members of his own staff, including attorneys, attempted to blow the whistle on Bloch, the man entrusted with protecting whistleblowers unconscionably retaliated against them and blatantly destroyed governmental property and statutorily protected electronic files evidencing his acts.

Once informed of the questionable, inappropriate and/or patently illegal acts by Bloch, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee instigated a formal Congressional investigation of Bloch. On March 4, 2008, in the course of formal interviews with Oversight Committee staff, Bloch withheld critical information and lied. (See Bloch’s signed Stipulation of Facts dated 4/27/2010). Bloch entered into a plea agreement with the government and has been awaiting sentencing by Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson of the District of Columbia District Court.

As Marcy Wheeler and I previously explained, the Obama Department of Justice is furiously colluding with the defendant they are supposed to be prosecuting, Scott Bloch, to ensure that he never does a day in jail for his crimes, and there appears to be no credible reason they are doing so:

The Department of Justice has literally teamed up with Scott Bloch-who previously plead guilty to blowing off Congress–to try to help him avoid any jail time, at any cost to credibility, for that crime. The extent of this collusion first became apparent in a ruling dated February 2, 2011 by Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, who is handling the matter.

Now, there’s more than a chance that what is going on here is DOJ scrambling to prevent Bloch from doing jail time because they–part of the Executive Branch–like it that people like Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling and John Yoo have managed to avoid almost all Congressional oversight. And, now with Darrell Issa cranking up the not-so-way back investigatory machine, they really do not want a precedent made that executive branch officials who lie to Congress have to – gasp – actually serve jail time.

Then, the willingness of the government prosecutors to fight to keep the criminal Bloch from serving one lousy second in jail goes from the absurd to the ridiculous. A mere four days after having filed the whiny Motion to Reconsider, and before it was substantively ruled on, the government, by and through the ever ethical DOJ, suddenly files a pleading encaptioned “Governments Motion To Withdraw Its Motion To Reconsider The Court’s February 2, 2011 Memorandum Opinion“. In this pleading, the government suddenly, and literally, admits their February 2 Motion to Reconsider was without merit.

The foregoing is the background that brings us to where we are today, with a DOJ unconscionably, and with at least questionable ethics, literally fighting tooth and nail to help Scott Bloch get out of his pleas deal because he might actually have to serve 30 days in jail for his crimes. What, as the remainder of Read more

The New Obama Policy On Constitutionality Of DOMA & Boies/Olson Reaction

Liberty & Justice by Mirko Ilic

As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, the Obama Administration this morning made an abrupt and seismic shift in its legal policy and position on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). There are two documents of note in this regard, the Attorney General’s press announcement and the detailed letter to speaker John Boehner announcing the change in policy and describing the legal foundation therefore.

Marc Ambinder explains what this means to the two key cases in question:

The decision means the Justice Department will cease to defend two suits brought against the law. The first was a summary judgment issued in Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services last May by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the law’s definition of “marriage” as a legal union between a man and a woman.

District Judge Joseph Louis Tauro ruled Section 3 of the act unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated states’ rights to set their own marriage policies and violated the rights of same-sex couples in the states that permitted marriages. But the president felt compelled to defend the law, reasoning that Congress had the ability to overturn it. The Justice Department entered into an appeal process on October 12, 2010. Tauro stayed implementation of his own ruling pending the appeal. The department filed its defense in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on January 14.

The second lawsuit, involving the cases of Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management and Windsor v. United States, would have been appealed in the Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit, which has no established standard for how to treat laws concerning sexual orientation.

I would like to say this is not only a welcome, but extremely strong position that has been taken by President Obama, Attorney General Holder and the Administration. You can say they are late to the dance, that it is political opportunism because the boat was already sailing, or that it is a “bone to the base” with an election looming. To varying degrees, all would have some validity. However, the bottom Read more

Our DOJ Refuses to Send Officials to Jail – Scott Bloch Edition

This is getting ridiculous.

The Department of Justice has literally teamed up with Scott Bloch-who previously plead guilty to blowing off Congress–to try to help him avoid any jail time, at any cost to credibility, for that crime. The extent of this collusion first became apparent in a ruling dated February 2, 2011 by Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, who is handling the matter.

In a nice touch, DOJ cited the case of Elliott Abrams–a quintessential example of lack of accountability–for their argument that lying to Congress didn’t require jail time. And why not? He’s among the many criminals Obama now regularly takes advice from.

Now, there’s more than a chance that what is going on here is DOJ scrambling to prevent Bloch from doing jail time because they–part of the Executive Branch–like it that people like Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling and John Yoo have managed to avoid almost all Congressional oversight. And, now with Darrell Issa cranking up the not-so-way back investigatory machine, they really do not want a precedent made that executive branch officials who lie to Congress have to – gasp – actually serve jail time. In spite of the fact that is exactly what the law clearly specifies on its face. Again, from Judge Robinson:

In 1857, Congress enacted a statutory criminal contempt procedure, largely in response to a proceeding in the House of Representatives that year. CRS Report RL34114, Congress’s Contempt Power: A Sketch, by Morton Rosenberg and Todd B. Tatelman at 7. In the enactment, Congress provided for trial of the contemnor before a court, rather than a trial at the bar of the House or Senate. Id. “It is clear from the floor debates and the subsequent practice of both Houses that the legislation was intended as an alternative to the inherent contempt procedure, not as a substitute for it.” Id. (emphasis supplied). In a discussion of the legislative history of the statute, the Supreme Court observed that “[t]his statute was passed . . . as a direct result of an incident which caused the Congress to feel that it needed more severe sanctions to compel disclosures than were available in the historical procedure of summoning the . . . witness before the bar of either House of Congress . . .” Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 207 n.45 (1957) (emphasis supplied). Thus, Congress’s intent was to make the penalty for violating the statute punitive. See Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 755 (1962) (“In enacting the criminal statute . . . Congress invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct.”) (quoting Watkins, 354 U.S. at 207). With respect to sentencing, the statute, as enacted in 1857, provided that “on conviction,” a person “shall” pay a fine and “suffer imprisonment in the common jail not less than one month nor more than twelve months.” Act of January 24, 1857, ch. 19, 11 Stat. 155 (emphasis

supplied).

But avoiding this crystal clear statutory mandate would be utterly consistent with one of the first things Read more

A New Judge For the Giffords Case and An Early Problem For Him

As you may know, every member of the Arizona Federal Judiciary has been recused in full from further participation in the criminal case against Jared Lee Loughner. This was inevitable in light of the fact the top line murder victim in the case was their friend, and Chief Judge, John Roll. We now know who has been appointed from outside of the Arizona District to handle all further proceedings in the matter. By Order of 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, that would be Judge Larry A. Burns of the California Southern District (CASD).

From Ginny LaRoe at The Reporter, comes the pertinent information:

Burns’ experience with the federal death penalty — both as a prosecutor and judge — factored into Burns’ selection, Kozinski said today.

“I wanted a judge who [was] well-respected, and had the reputation of being fair and well thought of by both sides,” Kozinski said, “and I wanted to have a judge who had some experience with the federal death penalty because that’s a possible situation here.”

As a practical matter, Kozinski said, he also considered proximity to Arizona, though a change of venue isn’t out of the question.

Burns is a 2003 Bush appointee who was a career prosecutor before ascending to the federal bench. He was an assistant U.S. attorney for California’s Southern District from 1985 to 1997 and before that was a deputy district attorney in San Diego. He became a magistrate before his promotion to an Article III spot.

Burns is, as you might expect from his prosecutorial background, a fairly no-nonsense law and order kind of judge. In addition to death penalty experience, Burns has big case experience in matters familiar to most readers here, the Duke Cunningham case and the Tommy “Special K” Kontogiannis case.

Judge Burns is out of San Diego as are, conveniently, the specially appointed Federal Public Defenders that have been assigned to Jared Loughner, Judy Clarke and Mark Fleming; they will be familiar with each other and that should makes things smoother than would be expected for such a cobbled together court process.

One other thing, as you can see from the above link regarding Kontogiannis, Judge Burns doesn’t take kindly to any gruff or shenanigans by the DOJ/US Attorneys appearing in front of him. Read more

Tim Griffin: Rove’s US Attorney Project Comes Full Circle

Remember the entire point of Karl Rove’s plot to fire a bunch of US Attorneys and replace them with partisan hacks? It was to advance the political career of the new USAs.

Perhaps his most prominent success on that measure is Chris Christie. Though Christie abandons his state even in the face of blizzards–and then blames the resulting chaos on New Jersey’s cities–he is still (implausibly) mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.

But the true measure of Rove’s success at politicizing the DOJ comes in the form of Tim Griffin.

Griffin, you’ll recall, has a history of leading the GOP’s vote caging operations in 2000 and 2004. Seemingly to reward Griffin for doing such important dirty work–and also to boost the career of such a loyal hack–Rove pushed hardest to make sure that Griffin got the US Attorney position he wanted in his native Arkansas. And though he only stayed on the job until it became clear the Republicans were trying to “gum [his appointment] to death”–to basically run out the clock on any confirmation–he was actually only US Attorney for a matter of months.

No matter, between that and solid GOP backing, Griffin won election to Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

And now, TPMM reports, Griffin has been placed by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, the committee that spent months investigating the politicization of justice for which Griffin was the most obvious symbol.

Well, we had the equally corrupt Hans Von Spakovsky at the FEC (not to mention as head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division), so I guess we’ll survive Tim Griffin’s “oversight” of the Judiciary Department. But if you were in any doubt about Republican’s goals to continue to politicize justice in this country, Griffin’s selection for HJC should answer that question.

Obama/Bush DOJ Update to OLC Christmas Carol

Earlier I linked to and posted the oh so hilarious (if you appreciate the humor in the supposed creme de la creme of government attorneys laughing about breaking the law and violating citizens’ rights) Christmas carol drafted by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) all the way back during the Carter Administration. It seems to be making a comeback through a post at Volokh Conspiracy.

Well, through what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, our very own Mary has “discovered” the new version, as updated by the Obama/Bush OLC:

You’d better watch out,
look up in the sky,
You’d better not doubt;
Better say your good bye.
Santa Claus is droning
Your home.

He’s paying out bounties,
For kids he pays five,
He’s razoring genitals
And burying alive.
Santa Claus is beating
the prone

He hears you in your cages,
Videotapes your screams and moans,
After sharing with Senate pages,
Then he’ll freeze you all alone

So–you mustn’t believe
In Justice tonight.
On Christmas Eve
She’s lost more than her sight
The OLC will help with hiding
Your bones.

As Mary noted, “Those jokers at OLC. At least they enjoy their work”. Indeed. With “wise men” like John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steve Bradbury, what could go wrong?

State Secrets Santa and SCOTUS

Amid all the holiday hustle, bustle and, on at least some of the lame duck session accomplishments, success of Barack Obama, it is good to keep in mind what a lump of coal his administration has been on civil liberties and privacy. Nothing has been more emblematic of the cancer they have been in this regard than the posture they have relentlessly fought for on unfettered and unilateral ability of the Executive Branch to impose the state secrets doctrine to shield the government from litigation, even when it is concealing blatant and wholesale government criminality.

Just three days ago, the final judgment in al-Haramain was entered by Judge Vaughn Walker, and it was a good one. But, lest it be forgotten, the government basically refused to defend in that case, belligerently asserting that they were entitled to dismissal on the states secrets doctrine. That will be the government’s hard nosed basis for appeal to the 9th Circuit and, eventually, presumably the Supreme Court. Recently in the 9th Circuit the horrid en banc decision in Mohamed v. Jeppesen was entered granting nearly unfettered state secrets powers to the Executive and which the ACLU filed a petition for certiorari earlier this month. Both of these cases will likely hit the Supreme Court in 2011, with Jeppesen obviously further ahead in the process.

So, 2011 is going to be a busy and critical year for state secrets litigation in the Supreme Court, but those are just the two cases you likely know about; there is another case, actually two related cases combined, already racked and ready in the queue when the Supremes return to work in January. The cases are General Dynamics v. US and Boeing Company v. US, and they are not classic state secrets cases, but may well be used as a back door by the government to advance their unrestrained use of the Read more

Vaughn Walker Issues Final al-Haramain Opinion on Damages and Attorney Fees

As you may recall, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California (NDCA), who has handled two of the most critical and transcendent litigations of the last decade, Perry v. Schwarzenegger and al-Haramain v. Bush/Obama, is retiring. Today, he has issued his last big opinion left on his table pre-retirement, the ruling on damages to be awarded Plaintiff in al-Haramain, assignment of attorney fees to Plaintiffs, and whether or not to impose punitive damages against the government for their offending illegal conduct.

The government, in its brief objecting to the Plaintiffs’ proposed form of judgment, basically poked the court in the eye with a stick by continuing their obstreperous refusal to accept the court’s jurisdiction over their assertion of state secrets, continued to argue there were no facts competently of record despite Walker’s crystal clear determinations to the contrary, and denied that Plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees or punitive damages. They just say NO. The Plaintiffs went on to properly lodge their calculation of damages, detailed request for attorney fees and affidavit in support thereof. Plaintiffs al-Haramain, separately, filed a very compelling brief on why the court should award them punitive damages against the government. The government, of course, objected some more.

As lead Plaintiffs counsel Jon Eisenberg stated in the punitive damages brief:

Defendants abused the extraordinary power of the Executive Branch by committing unlawful electronic surveillance of the plaintiffs with full knowledge of, and in flagrant disregard for, determinations by top officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the surveillance lacked constitutional or other legal support. Defendants sought to put themselves above the law, in the manner of a monarch. That is a profound abuse of America’s trust. It calls for strong medicine.

And thus it all comes down to today’s decision by Judge Walker, and here is the full text of his 47 page order.

In short, Walker has ordered that Plaintiffs Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor (a-Haramain’s attorneys wrongfully surveilled) receive $20,400.00 each in liquidated damages. Walker denied damages to al-Haramain itself. In regards to punitive damages, Judge Walker has denied in full Plaintiffs’ request. As to attorney fees, the court grants the motion as to Plaintiffs Ghafoor and Belew only (again, not as to al-Haramain itself, and awards attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $2,537,399.45.

There is a lot to chew on in this order, and both Marcy and I will be coming back to do just that after chewing and digesting it further. But so far, it is clear that the court sided completely with the plaintiffs on compensatory/liquidated damages, giving Belew and Ghafoor every penny they asked for and finding the government’s opposition meritless. This passage by the court is telling: Read more

image_print