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DOJ Still Claiming Its Kid Glove Oversight of Prosecutors Is Adequate

During the uproar over Jim Comey’s role in the Hillary email investigation, a lot of commentators figured it’d all come out in an Inspector General report. But as I noted, DOJ exempts its lawyers from normal kind of oversight, subjecting them instead to Office of Professional Responsibility investigations without statutory independence. The problem has been debated at least since 2007, but Congress squelched efforts to change it in 2008. That, helped by the interference of the now-deceased David Margolis, was how John Yoo got off after writing shoddy memos authorizing torture.

Last month, DOJ’s IG released its yearly review of top management challenges. And, as Michael Horowitz’s predecessor Glenn Fine had done before him, he made a bid for being able to review the conduct of DOJ’s lawyers. The report argues that the oversight for lawyers should be the same as it is for agents.

The OIG, however, does not have authority to investigate allegations of misconduct against Department attorneys when the allegations are related to their work as lawyers. Those allegations fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The OIG has long believed that there is no principled basis for this continued limitation on our jurisdiction, and no reason to treat the investigation of misconduct by prosecutors differently than misconduct by agents. Under the current system, misconduct allegations against agents are handled by a statutorily independent OIG, while misconduct allegations against prosecutors are handled by a Department component that lacks statutory independence and whose leadership is both appointed by and removable by the Department’s leadership.

As Horowitz has done with IG statutory independence with respect to accessing evidence, the report focuses on bills to address the problem.

Bipartisan bills pending in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate would remove this limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction. The legislation, as now proposed, would allow the OIG to investigate these important matters, where appropriate, with the independence and transparency that is the touchstone of all of the OIG’s work, thereby providing the public with confidence regarding the handling of these matters. The Department’s attorneys should be held to the same standards of oversight as other Department components, and the OIG should have oversight over all Department employees, just like every other OIG.

Most interesting, however, is the way that DOJ claimed this long-established problem doesn’t exist. Unbelievably, “the Department” claimed that OPR has the same independence as OIG.

In response to a draft of this report, the Department questioned our position that the OIG should have the same authority as every other federal Inspector General to review allegations of misconduct by Department attorneys in connection with their work as lawyers. Among other things, the Department took issue with our description of OPR’s relative lack of independence as compared to the OIG by asserting that (1) OPR’s Counsel “remains unchanged with successive Attorneys General and presidential administrations,” (2) the OIG has not “criticized OPR’s work, the thoroughness of its investigations, or the soundness of its findings,” and (3) the OIG has not “identified a single OPR investigation that failed to appropriately hold accountable . . . Department attorneys.”

The report calls bullshit on the claim that the department hasn’t replaced OPR officials, noting that Holder did replace OPR Counsel Marshall Jarret in 2009 in the midst of the Ted Stevens scandal (Jarret was also backing off promises he would make the results of the Yoo investigation with Congress).

On the first point, the same could be said of supervisory attorneys throughout the Department and, in fact, contrary to the Department’s claim with regard to OPR, in April 2009, less than 4 months after the last change in presidential administrations, the new Attorney General replaced the OPR Counsel without any public explanation.

Holder actually replaced the OPR Counsel one more time, in 2011.

The report goes on to note that we can’t assess OPR’s work because, unlike most IG Reports, it is not public.

On the second and third points, neither the OIG nor the public are in a position to fully assess the thoroughness and soundness of OPR’s work precisely because OPR does not disclose sufficient information to allow for such an assessment.

The report then lists off a bunch of people — including the judge in the Ted Stevens case, Emmet Sullivan — who have complained about OPR’s work.

However, federal judges, the American Bar Association, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have all questioned the level of independence, transparency, and accountability of OPR. See, e.g., Order by Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan Appointing Henry F. Schuelke Special Counsel in United States v. Stevens, No. 08-cr-231 (Apr. 7, 2009), p. 46. (“the events and allegations in this case are too serious and too numerous to be left to an internal investigation that has no outside accountability”) ; “Criminal Law 2.0,” by Hon. Alex Kozinski, 44 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. iii (2015); ABA Recommendation urging the Department of Justice to release “as much information regarding individual investigations as possible,” Aug. 9-10, 2010, available here; “Hundreds of Justice Department Attorneys Violated Professional Rules, Laws, or Ethical Standards: Administration Won’t Name Offending Prosecutors,” Report by POGO, March 13, 2014, available here.

The report ends with a reassertion that the Inspector General Act requires far more of inspectors general than OPR provides.

Moreover, whatever the soundness of OPR’s work, the Department’s efforts to equate OPR’s independence and transparency with that of the OIG flies directly in the face of the Inspector General Act, which fundamentally exists to create entities with an enhanced degree of independence and transparency so that they can credibly conduct investigations and reviews where there would be an expectation that more independent and transparent oversight is required. That is the very reason why Attorney General Ashcroft expanded the OIG’s jurisdiction in 2001 to include the FBI and the DEA, and there simply is no reason why Department attorneys continue to be protected from the possibility that their conduct may warrant independent review by the OIG in appropriate cases.

Frankly, there is evidence that OPR’s investigation has been inadequate, starting with both the Yoo and the Stevens investigations.

But there have also been a slew of cases of prosecutors withholding evidence from defendants, cases that ought to merit some real review (to say nothing of the Clinton email case). For example, just this week, Ross Ulbricht’s lawyers revealed they had discovered evidence of a third corrupt agent, the evidence of which had been withheld from the defense team.

There’s no hint of why Horowitz is making this point now. But there sure are a number of cases that might elicit actual independent review.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Sally Yates Doth Protest Too Much

Some months ago Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote an important piece talking about the many way criminal prosecutions are not fair. A lot of it focused on the imperfect process behind key ingredients of prosecutions — eye witness testimony, fingerprint analysis, plea deals. But he also reprised his argument that we’ve seen an epidemic of Brady violations in recent years.

The Supreme Court has told us in no uncertain terms that a prosecutor’s duty is to do justice, not merely to obtain a conviction.38 It has also laid down some specific rules about how prosecutors, and the people who work for them, must behave—principal among them that the prosecution turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence in the possession of the prosecution and the police.39 There is reason to doubt that prosecutors comply with these obligations fully. The U.S. Justice Department, for example, takes the position that exculpatory evidence must be produced only if it is material.40 This puts prosecutors in the position of deciding whether tidbits that could be helpful to the defense are significant enough that a reviewing court will find it to be material, which runs contrary to the philosophy of the Brady/Giglio line of cases and increases the risk that highly exculpatory evidence will be suppressed. Beyond that, we have what I have described elsewhere as an “epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land,”41 a phrase that has caused much controversy but brought about little change in the way prosecutors operate in the United States.

As Zoe Tillman writes, the DOJ is rolling out an effort to tell itself that the mean things said by a top Appellate judge aren’t true. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is going to give a speech telling prosecutors not to listen to that mean bully.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on Tuesday is expected to deliver a rallying speech to a meeting of prosecutors that is a further response—albeit indirect—to Kozinski’s article.

Yates will say that the “overwhelming majority” of prosecutors honor their legal and ethical obligations, including the requirement that they turn over potentially favorable information to defense lawyers, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.

Yates’ planned remarks criticize defense lawyers who make allegations of prosecutorial misconduct “a standard litigation strategy,” and others who “irresponsibly” make misconduct allegations.

“Prosecutors are in these jobs because we care about our solemn obligation to seek justice, and when someone unfairly impugns that commitment, it strikes at the core of who we are,” Yates, who will speak at the National Prosecution Summit in Washington, is expected to say.

And the Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew Goldsmith and U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado wrote this letter, attempting to rebut that mean bully.

On its face, the entire effort is farcical. In recent years, DOJ has rewarded lawyers who helped it get away with misconduct. It failed, for years to give proper notice of Section 702 surveillance to defendants, and still hasn’t corrected the record with the Supreme Court about its false claim that it had been doing so. And until this summer, David Margolis served as an unwavering shield against DOJ actually disciplining its own.

But the funniest part of DOJ’s pushback is this paragraph from Goldsmith and Walsh’s letter.

On several occasions, Judge Kozinski referenced the prosecution of former senator Ted Stevens. The Stevens case, as others have noted, involved significant discovery failures and deserves to be held up as an object lesson to prosecutors. But the Department’s efforts in the aftermath of that case also deserve discussion. One of Eric Holder’s first acts after his swearing in as Attorney General was to seek dismissal of the conviction. In the months that followed, the Department undertook a sweeping review of its discovery-related procedures and instituted a string of new policies. All federal prosecutors, regardless of experience level, are now required to attend annual discovery trainings, while new prosecutors must attend rigorous, multi-day “discovery boot camps.” The Department developed a series of new policies governing the collection and disclosure of electronically stored information. And the Department established an extensive infrastructure of experienced prosecutors to focus on discovery issues, including a full-time national criminal discovery coordinator (who reports directly to the Deputy Attorney General, second only to the Attorney General herself at the Department of Justice) and discovery coordinators at each of the 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country.

That mean bully Alex Kozinski was wrong to bring up the time DOJ engaged in willful prosecutorial misconduct even of one of the most powerful men in the country, they say, because when caught doing so DOJ rolled out a system to try to prevent that from happening again.

Except that’s not all DOJ did. First, it went to great lengths to hide the independent review of its actions — a review which showed fairly rampant abuse. Then, when it conducted its own discipline of those who engaged in that abuse, it not only focused on the lower level prosecutors, but it also did nothing more than slap their wrists.

A Justice Department internal investigation of the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens concluded two prosecutors committed reckless professional misconduct and should be sanctioned through forced time off without pay.

DOJ officials recommended Joseph Bottini be suspended without pay for 40 days and James Goeke be suspended for 15 days without pay. DOJ did not find that either prosecutor acted intentionally to violate ethics rules, a finding that is contrary to a parallel criminal investigation.

Again, the Stevens case is a picture of what happens when prosecutorial misconduct is wielded against a very powerful white man — someone far more protected from abuse than the average federal defendant — and this is how things ended up, with a wrist-slap.

Maybe under her tenure, Yates plans to change this. Or maybe she just wants prosecutors not to worry too much about that bully in the Ninth.

But she needs to prove her intent through actions, not words, and thus far there’s little sign of those actions.

Update: Patrick Toomey also reminds me that DOJ the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has been trying to get DOJ to share its guidelines on Brady, but thus far they’ve refused to give it over. NACDL has now appealed that to the DC Circuit.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

John Bates Gets Slapped Down for Speaking Out of Turn, Again

A few weeks back, I pointed to 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s criticism of John Bates’ presumption to speak for the judiciary in his August 5 letter complaining about some aspects of USA Freedom Act. Kozinski was pretty obviously pissed.

But compared to the op-ed from retired District Court Judge Nancy Gertner — who effectively scolds Bates, as the Administrative staff, speaking out of turn — Kozinski was reserved.

[W]hatever the merits of Bates’ concerns—and other judges have dissented from it—he most assuredly does not speak for the Third Branch.

[snip]

Bates has been appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts to serve as director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the body that administers the federal courts. It was created in 1939 to take the administration of the judiciary out of the Department of Justice. Its principal tasks were data collection and the creation of budgets and, while its duties have grown over the years, they remain administrative (dealing with such things as court reporters, interpreters, judicial pay, maintenance of judicial buildings, staffing etc.).

When members of Congress solicit the “judiciary’s” opinion they may write to the office’s director, but he has no authority to make policy for the federal judiciary. It is the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts, to which the AO director is only the “secretary,” that has that responsibility.

I’m very supportive of Gertner’s defense of judicial independence and her concern about the operation of the FISA Court.

But her critique goes off the rails when she points to DOJ’s purported support of USA Freedom Act as a better indication of the Executive’s views than Bates’ comments.

Moreover, a great deal of Bates’ letter focuses on the Senate proposals’ impact on the executive branch and the intelligence community. The Senate bill would burden the executive with more work and even delay the FISA court’s proceedings, he suggests. Worse yet, the executive may be reluctant to share information with an independent advocate—a troubling claim.

Bates’ concerns are belied by the support voiced by the Department of Justice and the president for the Senate proposal. Surely, the executive branch understands its own needs better than does Bates. Surely, the executive branch has confidence in the procedures that the FISA court would have in place for dealing with classified information, just as the courts that have dealt with other national security issues have had.

And surely, the executive would abide by what the law requires, notwithstanding Bates’ predictions about its “reluctance” to share information with a special advocate.

DOJ’s “support” of the bill was expressed when Eric Holder co-signed a letter (which Gertner tellingly doesn’t mention, much less link) from James Clapper which, when read with attention, clearly indicated the Executive would interpret the bill to be fairly permissive on most of the issues on which the Senate bill would otherwise improve on the House one. Holder’s “support” of the bill strongly indicates that DOJ, with ODNI, plans to use the classification and privilege “protections” in the bill to refuse to share information with the special advocate.

And that’s precisely the part of the letter where Holder and Clapper invoke Bates.

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Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

James Clapper, Bates-Stamp, and Gutting the FISA Advocate

As I noted the other day, in his letter purportedly “supporting” Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, James Clapper had this to say about the special advocate amicus curiae position laid out by the law.

We note that, consistent with the President’s request, the bill estsablishes a process for the appointment of an amicus curiae to assist the FISA Court and FISA Court of Review in matters that present a novel or significant interpretation of the law. We believe that the appointment of an amicus in selected cases, as appropriate, need not interfere with important aspects of the FISA process, including the process of ex parte consultation between the Court and the government. We are also aware of the concerns that the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts expressed in a recent letter, and we look forward to working with you and your colleagues to address these concerns.

Clapper stretches the actual terms of all four provisions of the bill he discusses — he admits he’ll use selection terms outside those enumerated by the statute, he discusses collecting “metadata” rather than the much more limited “call detail records” laid out in the bill, and he facetiously claims FBI won’t count its back door searches because of technical rather than policy choices.

But I think Clapper’s comments about the FISC amicus curiae deserve particular attention, because the letter suggests strongly that Clapper will ignore the law on one of the key improvements in the bill.

Clapper claims, first of all, that Obama has called for the appointment of an amicus curiae.

That’s false.

Obama actually called for fully-independent advocates.

To ensure that the Court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

That may seem like semantics. But in his letter, Clapper signals he will make the amicus curiae something different. First, he emphasized this amicus will not interfere with ex parte communications between the court and the government. That may violate this passage of Leahy’s bill, which guarantees the special advocate have access to anything that is “relevant” to her duties.

(A) IN GENERAL.—If a court established under subsection (a) or (b) designates a special advocate to participate as an amicus curiae in a proceeding, the special advocate—

[snip]

(ii) shall have access to all relevant legal precedent, and any application, certification, petition, motion, or such other materials as are relevant to the duties of the special advocate;

Given that in other parts of 50 USC 1861, “relevant” has come to mean “all,” it’s pretty amazing that Clapper says the advocate won’t have access to all communication between the government and the court.

There are just two bases on which the advocate can be denied access to documents she would need.

(i) IN GENERAL.—A special advocate, experts appointed to assist a special advocate, or any other amicus or technical expert appointed by the court may have access to classified documents, information, and other materials or proceedings only if that individual is eligible for access to classified information and to the extent consistent with the national security of the United States.

(ii) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.— Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the Government to provide information to a special advocate, other amicus, or technical expert that is privileged from disclosure.

If we could believe that Clapper were operating on good faith, this language would be fairly innocuous. But given that Clapper has made it very explicit he wants to continue to conduct ex parte communication, and given that the Director of National Intelligence has a significant role in both need to know determinations and privilege claims, this language — and Clapper’s commitment to retain ex parte communications — is a pretty good indication he plans to deny access based on these two clauses.

And all that’s before Clapper says he plans to continue to work with Leahy to address some of John Bates purported concerns.

As a reminder, in Bates’ most recent letter, he claimed to be speaking “on behalf of the Judiciary” and used the royal “we” throughout. In response to the letter, Steve Vladeck raised real questions what basis Bates had to use that royal “we.”

Judge Bates’s latest missive … raises the question of why Judge Bates believes he’s entitled to speak “on behalf of the Judiciary”–especially when at least two former FISA judges have expressly endorsed reforms far more aggressive than those envisaged by the Senate bill, and when the substance of Judge Bates’s objections go principally to burdens on the Executive Branch, not the courts.

Then Senior 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski weighed in. While he professed not to have studied the matter, he made it quite clear that he

was not aware of Director Bates’s letter before it was sent, nor did [he] receive a copy afterwards.

[snip]

having given the matter little consideration, and having had no opportunity to deliberate with the other members of the Judicial Conference, I have serious doubts about the views expressed by Judge Bates. Insofar as Judge Bates’s August 5th letter may be understood as reflecting my views, I advise the Committee that this is not so.

In other words, Bates decided to speak for the Judiciary without consulting them.

And, as Vladeck correctly notes, what he said seemed to represent the views of the Executive, not the Judiciary. I think that conclusion is all the more compelling when you consider the 3 big opinions we know Bates wrote while serving on FISC:

  • Around July 2010: After noting that the Executive had violated the PRTT orders from 2004 until 2009 when it was shut down, including not disclosing that virtually every record collected included unauthorized collection, he reauthorized and expanded the program 11- to 24-fold, expanding both the types of data permitted and the breadth of the collection. Bates did prevent the government from using some of what it had illegally collected in the past, but told them if they didn’t know it was illegal they could use it.
  • October 3, 2011: The year after he had reauthorized PRTT in spite of the years of violation, the government informed him they had been illegally collecting US person content for 3 years. Bates authorized some of this collection prospectively (though more assertively required them to get rid of the past illegal collection). At the same time, Bates permitted NSA and CIA to conduct back door searches of US person PRISM content.
  • February 19, 2013: Bates unilaterally redefined the PATRIOT Act to permit the government to collect on US persons solely for their First Amendment activities, so long as the activities of their associates were not protected by the First Amendment.

In short, even though Bates knew better than anyone but perhaps Reggie Walton of the Executive’s persistent violations of FISA orders, he repeatedly expanded these programs in dangerous ways even as he found out about new violations.

That’s they guy lecturing Leahy on how the FISC needs to work, invoking the royal “we” he hasn’t gotten permission to use.

And consider the things Bates asked for in his most recent letter — which, by invocation, Clapper is suggesting he’ll demand from Leahy.

  • The advocate should not be mandated to speak for privacy and civil liberties.
  • The advocate should not be adversarial because that might lead the government to stop sharing information it is required to share.
  • The advocate should not be required to be consulted on all novel issues [I wonder now if Bates considers the First Amendment application a novel issue?] because that might take too long.

Basically, Bates says Leahy should replace his language with the House language.

In our view, the greater flexibility and control that the FISA courts would have under the amicus provision in H.R. 3361 make it a better fit for FISA court proceedings than the special advocate provision of S. 2685. As discussed above, the House bill would give the FISA courts substantial flexibility not only in deciding when to appoint an amicus in the first place, but also in tailoring the nature and scope of the assistance provided to the circumstances of a particular matter.

So the guy who Bates-stamped so many dangerous decisions wants FISC to retain the authority to continue doing so.

Again, Clapper is absolutely wrong when he claims this kind of thing — a role the FISC can sharply limit what advice it gets and the DNI can sustain ex parte proceedings by claiming privilege or need to know — is what President Obama endorsed 8 months ago.

Which raises the question: is the President going to tell his DNI to implement his own policy choices? Or is he going to let James Clapper and Bob Litt muddle up a democratic bill again?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Judge Cebull’s Smart Response To His Incredibly Stupid Act

I was going to delve deeper into the Cebull insult of Obama case after Friday’s events, but I now have something else I need to get to, so this is a shorter take. As you will recall, the intertoobz blew up at the end of last week, starting late Wednesday, with the story of Judge Richard Cebull, Chief Judge of Montana’s US District Court, and his email distributed slur on Barack Obama. The incident was first reported by a local paper, the Great Falls Tribune, but quickly hit the national wires.

I am not going to reprint the email, but it is fairly disgusting and very inappropriate (you can see it in the original form here). Numerous outraged individuals and organizations immediately called for Cebull’s resignation. David Dayen has a rundown on some of the loudest, as well as of Cebull’s “explanation/apology”, which has not been accepted to well by those calling for Cebull’s head. And, while Cebull’s statement is indeed less than exculpating, it is pretty much all he could say under the circumstances. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, at least Cebull had the guts to own up to the full weight of his act, even if concurrently inferring “heck I thought it was private”.

You can quibble about whether the “joke” was directly racist, or only indirectly racist in overtone, and I can see both sides of that argument; however, there is no denying that it was in unconscionably bad taste and completely inappropriate for a federal judge to be trafficking in. That’s a given. I am, at this point, far more interested in Cebull’s response which, all things considered, I find pretty crafty.

Cebull immediately admitted his full involvement, did so publicly to the press, and took the affirmative step of immediately filing his own formal judicial complaint – against himself – over the matter, and asked for an inquiry by the judicial council of the 9th Circuit. He also immediately issued a formal written apology to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President:

I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself.

I can assure you that such action on my part will never happen again. I have requested that the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit review this matter.

Honestly, I don’t know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology.

Richard F. Cebull

It is brief and to the point and, frankly, there is not much more he can do to erase the stain he left. Which is where it gets interesting. As you can see by clicking on the link to Cebull’s self initiated complaint (there are others that will be later joined, but his was immediately self filed, that will count large), it is submitted to the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski. Not only Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Do Bloggers Suck or Does TradMed Just Suck More?

Above the Law, reporting on a speech 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski gave at Fordham Law, summarized his argument as, “A New Argument in Favor of Cameras in the Courtroom: Bloggers Suck.”

Now, for the record, I’m all in favor of cameras in the courtroom and have long been, particularly once I discovered that TradMed journalists look for different things at hearings than I do. And particularly today, as I’m deciding whether I have time to get to the closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, drink some beers with bmaz, and be back here in time to drive to Syracuse for my mom’s 70th, I’d love the option of sitting at home and streaming the trial (though beers with bmaz might still win the day).

But I wanted to look more closely at the argument Kozinski seems to be making (assuming, of course, that the blogger at Above the Law competently replicated it, because there’s always the possibility he’s just being loud and biased).

Kozinski started his talk by going over some of the arguments he has made before [PDF] in support of cameras (e.g., studies show cameras don’t affect the proceedings, quoting his “old boss” Warren Burger — “People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.”).

It wouldn’t be like the O.J. trial, which decidedly set the cameras-in-the-courtroom movement back. Kozinski advocates stationary cameras that would not zoom in, zoom out, or otherwise overly dramatize the courtroom events. Kozinski acknowledged that if you were to choose between a O.J. media circus or reports from informed journalists like Nina Totenberg or Linda Greenhouse, one might be happy to live without cameras.

But that’s not usually the choice one has. Kozinski pointed to the “long, slow decline of the newspaper industry” and the “rise of a much more diffuse style of coverage” as a major reason why cameras should be brought into courtrooms. Increasingly, the public is relying on “pseudo-journalists” (aka bloggers) for their instantaneous legal news.

“On the Internet, the loudest voice gets the most attention,” said Kozinski, who said that tends to lead to a distortion of the coverage of a case. He also raised the risks of relying on unknown bloggers, pointing to the case of “Dr. Flea.”

[snip]

“The days of obscurity for judges and reliable, informed journalists are gone and gone forever,” said Kozinski. “If courts don’t change with the times, change will be forced upon them.”

Kozinski’s arguing, apparently, that we need cameras in the courtroom because trials are no longer covered with the skill that Nina Totenberg and Linda Greenhouse bring to their work. Furthermore, Kozinski seems to be arguing, the public is fooled into following “loud” chroniclers of trials, rather than competent ones. And, it seems, Kozinski believes readers (the blogger here doesn’t specify what kind of reader) risk … something … if they rely on pseudonymous bloggers.

As some of you no doubt recall, a blog named “FireDogLake” actually once covered a trial–the Scooter Libby trial–also covered by Nina Totenberg. FDL’s coverage was undoubtedly biased and at times even delved into heavy snark (since then, in fact, one of the bloggers has developed a bit of a reputation for a potty mouth). Nevertheless, FDL’s liveblog–written under the pseudonyms “emptywheel,” “Swopa,” and “Pachacutec”– became the standard “instantaneous” news from the trial. Two of the TradMed journalists in the courtroom–including one whose beat was the Court–followed the stream, not to mention an unknown number of journalists who chose to stay away from the court house and follow along the thread. The General Counsel for the Washington Post chose to follow FDL’s liveblog, rather than the superb work of Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, because with five reporters testifying in the trial, he needed up-to-the-minute near transcription rather than twice-daily analysis of the events. When it was all said and done, Jay Rosen declared that in most categories of coverage “FDL was tops.” I assume Rosen even considered Nina Totenberg’s coverage of the trial when he said that.

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Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

SCOTUS Scuttles Prop 8 Video Coverage; The History Behind The Denial

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail1As you may have heard (See here and here), the Supreme Court has entered a last minute stay to put a hold on the video feed of the seminal Prop 8 trial in the Norther District of California (NDCA) to select other Federal courthouses in the country as well as the delayed release of video clips of the proceedings via YouTube.

This is the full text of the order issued by the Supremes:

Upon consideration of the application for stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, it is ordered that the order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, case No. 3:09-cv-02292, permitting real-time streaming is stayed except as it permits streaming to other rooms within the confines of the courthouse in which the trial is to be held. Any additional order permitting broadcast of the proceedings is also stayed pending further order of this Court. To permit further consideration in this Court, this order will remain in effect until Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 4 p.m. eastern time.

Justice Breyer, dissenting.

I agree with the Court that further consideration is warranted, and I am pleased that the stay is time limited. However, I would undertake that consideration without a temporary stay in place. This stay prohibits the transmission of proceedings to other federal courthouses. In my view, the Court’s standard for granting a stay is not met. See Conkright v. Frommert, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 1–2) (Ginsburg, J., in chambers). In particular, the papers filed, in my view, do not show a likelihood of “irreparable harm.” With respect, I dissent.

This is, to say the least, a disappointing ruling. It had been my guess that Anthony Kennedy would field the issue, which went directly to him as the hot judge for emergency matters from the 9th Circuit, and see it as a matter within the discretion of the 9 Circuit and let them make the call, which they had done in favor of video dissemination. For those not aware, this idea of video from the courtroom was not germinated from the Prop 8 trial, even though that has been the focal point. Instead, the pilot program was the brainchild of the 9th circuit Judicial Conference, as described in this LA Times article from late last year:

Federal courts in California and eight other Western states will allow video camera coverage of civil proceedings in an experiment aimed at increasing public understanding of the work of the courts, the chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday.

The decision by the court’s judicial council, headed by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, is in response to recommendations made to the court two years ago and ends a 1996 ban on the taking of photographs or transmitting of radio or video broadcasts.

“We hope that being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The DOMA Decisions In The 9th Circuit

I have had several people ask me off blog about the “opinions” on the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) that have surfaced recently in the 9th Circuit. I may write more later; but for now I want to lay out the sequence of facts and actions and start the discussion.

The current issue really took flight last month when 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski entered an order dated November 19, 2009 on the matter of Karen Golinski, a staff attorney for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judicial branch employees such as Golinski are Federal employees and therefore have their benefits administered by the Office of Personnel Management (the same folks Obama and Harry Reid want to administer their poor excuse of a substitute for the Public Option). Based upon the OPM’s stated position, the contracted benefits carrier (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) refused to provide health benefits for her same sex legal spouse, Amy Cunninghis.

From Judge Kosinski’s November 19 Order:

Karen Golinski has been denied a benefit of federal employment because she married a woman rather than a man. I previously determined that violates this court’s guarantee of equal employment opportunity. To avoid a difficult constitutional problem, I harmonized the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 USC §7; the statutes creating the benefit program at issue, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), 5 USC §8901 et seq.; and this court’s commitment to equal employment opportunity.

I then entered [an] order

No “party or individual aggrieved” by my decision appealed it.

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) complied with my order and submitted Ms. Golinski’s form 2089 to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Servie Benefit Plan, Ms. Golinski’s health insurance carrier. That’s as it should be; the AO is subject to the “supervision and direction” of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 28 USC §604(a), and I exercised authority delegated by the Judicial Conference when I ordered relief. After the AO submitted Ms. golinski’s form, I thought this matter had concluded.

The Executive Branch, acting through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), thought otherwise. It directed the insurance carrier not to process Ms. Golinski’s form 2089, thwarting the relief I had ordered. (citations omitted)

That is the basic tale of Golinski and Kozinski. Since the November 19 Order the above language was taken from, the situation has become even more exacerbated by the intransigence of the Obama Administration and its OPM which, either comically or tragically depending on one’s view, is headed by John Berry who the Administration made a big show of touting as its highest ranking openly gay official.

The irony just oozes. After further refusal and contempt of his clear order, which the Administration never appealed, Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.