Author Archive

AGs redefine climate dissent as “fraud”

I joined guest host Steve Simpson on Blog Talk Radio’s Yaron Brook Show, along with guests Sam Kazman (CEI) and Alex Epstein (“The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”) to discuss the free speech threat of attorney general climate denial investigations (“AGs United for Clean Power”). Related, and recent: “Is Eric Schneiderman colluding with other AGs in an illicit war on Exxon?” [New York Post editorial) Investigation “a flatly unconstitutional assault on speech the state dislikes. I find something terrifying in the notion” [Stephen Carter, Bloomberg View] “While I think that climate change is both human-caused to a significant extent and likely to be a problem, I would warn my environmentalist friends about the dangerous precedent the attack on CEI sets.” [Eli Lehrer, Washington Examiner] “The Climate Police Escalate” [WSJ editorial]

Court strikes down Seattle snoop-in-residents’-garbage law

“A judge has ruled that snooping trash collectors in Seattle cannot simply go through garbage bins without any sort of warrant to determine whether its citizens are putting food in the wrong place. It’s a win for the property-rights-focused lawyers of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF).” [Scott Shackford, earlier] While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in California v. Greenwood that an expectation of privacy does not apply to garbage, the Supreme Court of Washington has ruled that a provision in its own state’s constitution provides privacy protection that extends beyond the federal guarantee. [Eugene Volokh]

D.C. Circuit: Don’t second-guess DPAs

Deferred prosecution agreements and their close relatives non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have become a major tool of white-collar prosecution in recent years. Typically, a business defendant in exchange for escape from the costs and perils of trial agrees to some combination of cash payment, non-monetary steps such as a shakeup of its board or manager training, and submission to future oversight by DoJ or other monitors. Not unlike plea bargains in more conventional criminal prosecution, these deals dispense with the high cost of a trial; they also dispense with the need for the government to prove its allegations in the first place. DPAs may also pledge a defendant to future behavior that a court would never have ordered, or conversely fail to include remedies that a court would probably have ordered. And they may be drawn up with the aim of shielding from harm — or, in some other cases, undermining — the interests of third parties, such as customers, employees, or business associates of the targeted defendant, or foreign governments.

So there was a flurry of interest last year when federal district judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., declined to approve a waiver, necessary under the Speedy Trial Act, for a DPA settling charges that Fokker Services, a Dutch aerospace company, sold U.S.-origin aircraft systems to foreign governments on the U.S. sanctions list, including Iran, Sudan, and Burma. While acknowledging that under principles of prosecutorial discretion the Department of Justice did not have to charge Fokker at all, Judge Leon said given that it had, the judiciary could appropriately scrutinize whether the penalties were too low.

Now a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit has unanimously overruled Judge Leon. It pointed out that under well settled law, charging decisions are entrusted to the DoJ or other executive branch prosecutors, not the judiciary, and that judges may not intervene to insist that additional or more stringent charges be filed – and that is what the pattern in this case amounted to, in the appeals panel’s view.

So far so good, you might think. But the language of the appellate ruling in places might be read to suggest that courts should simply defer to the Justice Department’s judgment and green-light the DPAs it may negotiate, period. And that would be disturbing, since over-lenience is only one of the possible problems with these devices. Noting the rule-of-law concerns that scholars have voiced about DPAs, Michael Greve writes that the new Fokker Services decision “in sharp contrast, oozes with ‘trust your friendly prosecutor’ language” and speaks of dispensing with “seeking a conviction that the prosecution may believe would be difficult to obtain or would have undesirable collateral consequences.” Greve adds: “Inquiring minds might want to know whether the conviction would be ‘difficult to obtain’ for practical reasons — or because the charges are preposterous and brought for reasons bordering on extortion. …No judicial scrutiny means more than boundless prosecutorial discretion. It means mobilizing the courts to create a due process façade for highly suspect bargains.” Let’s hope the ruling isn’t read that way.

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

“Paramount Copyright Claim on Klingon Language Challenged in Klingon Language”

“The Language Creation Society has filed an amicus brief challenging Paramount’s claim of copyright over the Klingon language in its lawsuit against Axanar, a fan-produced film set in the Star Trek universe….The amicus brief is peppered with Klingon words and phrases.” [Ed Krayewski, Reason] More: Ken White, Popehat.

Police and prosecution roundup

  • Teacher killed in the crosswalk, with the light. NYPD: “The victim behaved recklessly by crossing the street.” [StreetsBlog]
  • North Carolina not among the 13 states in which legal standards require prosecutors to turn over evidence of innocence that they learn of after a conviction [Radley Balko, AP]
  • Fail to stop daughter’s 20 year old boyfriend from raiding beer in fridge, go to jail [Washington Post on Maryland lawmakers’ enactment of criminal penalties following car-crash injuries for parents who tolerated alcohol consumption]
  • “First, only terrorists had to hand over their phones. Now it’s people involved in traffic accidents, too” [@reuvenim on the proposed New York law discussed here] “In a bid to get around the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, the textalyzer allegedly would… ” [ArsTechnica] But see Scott Greenfield (law “not a particularly effective one” in helping to fix blame, but “just not that big a deal.”)
  • Inmates’ contact with family is revenue source for prison, sky-high phone rates just the start [Scott Greenfield]
  • Federal oversight of local departments enables weak, reform-averse local pols: “Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing” [Tim Lynch, Cato]

Environment roundup

  • Richard Pipes: “Private Property Sets the Boundary of the State” [Istituto Bruno Leoni video via Arnold Kling and Alberto Mingardi; my 1999 review of Pipes on property]
  • “‘Housing is a human right,’ says [L.A.] group founded for the sole purpose of preventing new housing from being built” [@MarketUrbanism]
  • “EPA Putting Red Light on Amateur Car Racing” [Kenric Ward, Reason]
  • Publicity stunts in our time: “Gov. Rick Snyder target of RICO lawsuit over Flint water crisis” [Flint Journal]
  • Speaking of which: lawsuit “on behalf of the future” in Oregon federal court seeks to represent youth against the federal government and major energy companies [Eugene Register-Guard]
  • Some things to expect as autonomous vehicles take over, including the freeing up of a lot of expensive stuff and space urban areas [Johnny Sanfilippo, Market Urbanism]

“The dubious business of investing in mass torts”

“Elite personal-injury lawyers tell stories about having been pursued by litigation financiers offering tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to buy a piece of their mass torts dockets.” But for unwary investors it can be a shark-eat-shark world. Nor is it free of hazards for plaintiff’s counsel, even when sophisticated: “AkinMears, the Texas plaintiffs’ firm that allegedly spent $45 million to acquire a huge docket of mesh cases last summer, subsequently told me and my reporting partner Jessica Dye that it was unaware some of those cases had originated at offshore call centers. The firm also told us that an unexpected significant percentage of clients opted not to proceed or not to use AkinMears as counsel when their cases were transferred.” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]