Thursday, October 30, 2008

Common Sense Alert

The result in United States v. Levesque, 1st Cir. No. 08-1344, feels like it's right. A woman who drove marijuana shipments all over the Eastern seaboard was hit with a $3 million dollar forfeiture order because that's what the stuff she shipped was worth. The woman told the district court that she had made $37,000 on her illegal activities. The court said, in essence, that's great but you might do well in the future and be able to pay the government back.

The First Circuit reversed, in no small part based on the Magna Charta (!) and the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment (remember that?).

Just at a really basic level, didn't the First Circuit do the right thing? How can a person who made $37,000 on drug transactions worth $3 million be put on the hook for the whole $3 million?

This one could go all the way. The holding is based in no small part on a fractured Supreme Court decision where Justices Scalia and Breyer broke with their usual allies and did exactly the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would have them do. So as much as this blog has beaten the drum of result-based decision-making, there are exceptions out there. Not enough. Better not to be greedy, though.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Splitting The Difference

There's a fascinating instance of the First Circuit attempting to do something that all clients hate (until, that is, they benefit from it): split the baby. The case is Jensen v. Phillips Screw Co., First Cir. No. 07-2766.

The parties were fighting about a $9,000 sanction order imposed by the district court judge on plaintiffs' counsel in a class action. Now $9,000 isn't a lot of money. That's true. But getting sanctioned is a pretty big deal and will at the very least hurt the feelings of even the most thick-skinned table-thumper. So plaintiffs' counsel fought the ruling. And the First Circuit largely agreed with them, reversing the award.

The most interesting portion of the decision is the last paragraph. This is the kind of thing that every lawyer always suspects that a judge or arbitrator is thinking. It's rather momentous to see it actually committed to writing:
The battle that is presently being fought is obviously about principle, not money (experience suggests that each side has spent more than the dollar amount of the sanction in briefing and arguing this appeal). As a matter of mutual interest, the time may have come for the protagonists to call it quits. On the one hand, Phillips prevailed in the district court and can credibly claim a moral victory. On the other hand, SE&D has prevailed in large part on this appeal and, at that point, has erased the stain on its escutcheon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tales From The Cryptic

The Supreme Court has reversed the 6th Circuit's determination that the Secretary of State of Ohio had to match voter registration rolls with department of motor vehicles records under a federal statute. The case is Brunner v. Ohio Republican Party, No. 08A332. This makes Democrats happy, because it probably means more people will be able to vote. It makes Republicans less happy, because they think that more people being able to vote means a greater chance of voter fraud.*

The decision is short and a little bit cryptic. But its basis is that the Ohio Republican party, nor any private person, can file suit under the statute in question. Helpfully, the Supreme Court provided no guidance on who or what can file such a suit. Maybe the Department of Justice?

*Like wolf attacks on humans since 1900, Republicans can point to precious few (any?) instances of actual fraudulent votes being cast.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Decisions That Have Not Yet Been Made, Etc.

This seems slightly problematic. A question to think about: might this testimony "have a prejudicial effect on the administration of the business of the courts, including a substantial and widespread lowering of public confidence in the courts among reasonable people"? It just might.