WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Attorney-Client Privilege and Work-Product Doctrine

FrisbyGuest Commentary

Larson Frisby, American Bar Association*

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

For more than a decade, the American Bar Association (ABA) has worked closely with the Washington Legal Foundation and other prominent business and legal groups to reverse or modify federal agency policies that have been eroding the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. As shown by the WLF’s new chart, “Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties, great progress has been achieved in preserving these important legal protections, but much still needs to be done.

The attorney-client privilege, which protects confidential communications between a client and a lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal assistance, is a bedrock legal principle of our free society. It enables both individual and corporate clients to communicate with their lawyers in confidence, which is essential to preserving the client’s fundamental right to effective counsel. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Mens Rea, Public Welfare Offenses, and Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine

matt_kaiser300Guest Commentary

Matthew G. Kaiser, Partner, Kaiser, LeGrand & Dillon PLLC

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.

To commit a crime, normally you have to have met two requirements. First, you have to have done something bad. Second, you have to have done the bad thing with a bad intent.

Take mortgage fraud. If you write on your mortgage application that you earn $1,000,000 a year, but you only earn $100,000, you’ve committed mortgage fraud if that’s what you intended to submit and you knew it was false. If, though, you’re using an online application and the “0” key on your keyboard was stuck so an extra zero appeared, you haven’t committed mortgage fraud, you’ve just made a mistake; you have no bad intent. Continue reading

WLF Overcriminalization Timeline: Proliferation of Criminal Laws/Sentencing Developments

DDebold-pressGuest Commentary

David Debold, Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties.

Two developments identified in WLF’s helpful Timeline—the proliferation of new criminal laws affecting businesses, and the evolution of federal sentencing law over time—would be topics of significant interest if either had unfolded without the other. The combination of the two, however, has posed a serious threat to the civil liberties of the American business community. Not only have vastly greater categories of conduct become eligible for criminal prosecution, the stakes in such prosecutions—for businesses, their owners, and their leadership—have increased substantially. As a result, conduct that had long been either lawful or merely the basis for a civil or administrative proceeding can now trigger a criminal investigation and prosecution ending with very substantial fines and lengthy prison terms. Continue reading

WLF’s Timeline, Third Edition: Keeping Track of the Overcriminalization Problem

2015-wlf-timeline-coverEd. Note: This morning at a press conference (the video on-demand for which can be accessed here), Washington Legal Foundation released the third edition of its Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. Joining the author of this post, WLF General Counsel Mark Chenoweth, at the briefing were former Associate Attorney General of the U.S. Jay Stephens and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Executive Director Norman Reimer.  Over the next six days, the WLF Legal Pulse will be featuring commentary by leading white-collar criminal law voices on each of the six topics covered in the Timeline.

Overcriminalization is a term that came into vogue about ten or so years ago as a catch-all phrase to describe several interrelated legal policy problems. Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) has been at the forefront of the debate on overcriminalization, helping to popularize the term and offering thought leadership to policymakers, judges, and other participants in the criminal justice system. One concrete manifestation of this leadership is the new third edition of WLF’s Overcriminalization Timeline, which tracks the federal erosion of business civil liberties. Continue reading

Eleventh Circuit Has Opportunity in “U.S. v. Clay” to Reshape Prosecutors’ & Courts’ Approach on Criminal Intent

11th CircuitOn Friday, October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will hear oral arguments in a closely followed criminal health-care fraud case, U.S. v. Clay. Earlier this year, Washington Legal Foundation published a Legal Backgrounder on the case and its broader ramifications, Clay v. United States: When Executives Receive Jail Time for Ordinary Business Decisions.

In Clay, federal prosecutors converted a contract dispute between a medical services provider, WellCare Health Plans, and the State of Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) into a criminal action. The company had interpreted a complex state law regarding the repayment of Medicaid premiums to the state in a manner that was contrary to AHCA’s interpretation. AHCA’s interpretation was not memorialized in a state regulation or guidance document. Despite this lack of guidance, federal prosecutors indicted WellCare and its executives for health care fraud. The company entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement, leaving the executives to fend for themselves. Continue reading

SCOTUS Fishing for a Way to Overturn Conviction in “Yates” without Tossing Law Overboard

supreme courtIt is notoriously difficult—if not foolish—to predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case from the questions the justices pose at oral argument. The case of Yates v. U.S., concerning a commercial fisherman who was convicted and sentenced under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, is no exception.

And yet, after today’s argument (transcript here), it appears that some members of the Court are grappling for a way to overturn Yates’s conviction without completely rewriting the statute.

Three years after Mr. Yates received an administrative fine for harvesting undersized fish, the U.S. Attorney indicted him for destroying a “record, document, or tangible thing” under the “anti-shredding” provision of Sarbanes-Oxley. The “tangible things” at issue, the government insisted, were undersized red grouper Yates evidently ordered crew members to throw overboard.

Although the government seemingly got the better of the statutory interpretation argument today, a number of justices appeared uncomfortable with the breadth of the government’s application of the statute. While conceding that the government made some good arguments, Justice Alito nevertheless told the government’s attorney, “[Y]ou are really asking the Court to swallow something that is pretty hard to swallow.” Many justices were concerned that the statute contains a 20-year maximum sentence and applies to any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States.

red grouper

red grouper

Even more troubling, the government attorney informed the Court that once a decision is made to prosecute, the U.S. Attorney’s Manual recommends that the “prosecutor should charge the offense that’s the most severe under the law.” That assertion drew concern from many justices, including Justice Scalia, who responded that if that is the DOJ’s position, then the Court would need to be much more careful about how extensively and broadly it construes severe statutes in the future. Justice Kennedy even went so far as to question whether the Court should even mention the concept of prosecutorial discretion ever again.

For his part, Justice Breyer exhibited keen interest in void-for-vagueness objections to the statute, expressing his concern that the language of the anti-shredding provision is so broad that it encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Although counsel for Yates did not devote very much space to that issue in his merits briefs, that was precisely the issue that WLF focused on as amicus curiae.

Also published by Forbes.com on WLF’s contributor site

Eleventh Circuit Ruling a Welcome Judicial Pushback against Criminal Enforcement of Regulations

strickly skillz

On a balmy late August day in Orlando, Florida, nearly a dozen Orange County police officers, some dressed in ballistic vests and masked helmets, swept into Strictly Skillz barbershop with their guns drawn. As their colleagues blocked off the parking lot entrances and exits, the officers declared that the shop was closed and ordered its patrons to leave, depriving the shop of business and perhaps deterring future patrons. Two barbers and the owner were handcuffed. A plain-clothed member of the raiding party demanded to see the barbershop’s business license.

Yes, you read that correctly. On August 21, 2010, a veritable SWAT team of heavily armed police conducted a warrantless inspection to check for barbers’ licensing violations. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) inspector soon determined that Strictly Skillz barbers were properly licensed (which, as you’ll learn below, they already knew), so the police uncuffed the detained barbers and owner and left the shop.

The owner and three barbers sued a number of the officers involved for violating their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, and a federal district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. On September 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a strongly worded opinion affirming the lower court (Berry v. Leslie). The ruling provides a forceful reminder that the Fourth Amendment protects businesses (and their employees) from overzealous regulatory inspections. Continue reading