The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted

A glass of ice water, please.

A glass of ice water, please.

The nice folks at the Birmingham Bar Association (and white-collar criminal defense lawyer Steve Shaw in particular) invited me to deliver a lunchtime CLE on a white-collar subject of my choice.  The topic ended up being “The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted.”

One could come up with more ways your client’s employees could get indicted, but life is short.

Hunting for 18 U.S.C. Section 1001.

Hunting for 18 U.S.C. Section 1001.

Here is the handout: The Five Best Ways for Your Client’s Employees to Get Indicted. Download it.  It’s not legal advice, but it has some fairly useful material about bribery, obstruction and honest-services fraud in the Eleventh Circuit, as well as quotes from Men In Black (1997).  We spent a fair amount of time on practical considerations in working with businesspeople involved in white-collar investigations, including this piece: Stalking Horses, Pitchfork Crowds, Narrow Neckties, Mr. Rogers’s Slippers and Indicted Employees: 6 Steps To Dodge Being Deweyed.

All about the ratings.

All about the ratings.

And, there was even a caution against the “Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome,” named after the star of the old television series The FBI.  Watch this 140-second video on the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome.


Barry Bonds, Ramblin’ Man

The federal appeals court in San Francisco recently reversed baseball player Barry Bonds’s conviction for obstruction of justice.

Grand jury slugfest.

Grand jury slugfest.

The criminal charge and conviction arose out of testimony that Bonds gave to a grand jury investigating the illegal provision and use of steroids in major league baseball.  As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals summarized it:

During a grand jury proceeding, defendant gave a rambling, nonresponsive answer to a simple question.  Because there is insufficient evidence that Statement C was material, defendant’s conviction for obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1503 is not supported by the record. Whatever section 1503’s scope may be in other circumstances, defendant’s conviction here must be reversed.

Why is this decision relevant to corporations, their employees and their lawyers?

Interview

In interviews by government agents, in grand jury testimony led by prosecutors or in testimony at trial, a witness gets a lot of bad questions and gives a lot of bad answers. “Bad” answers are not necessarily untruthful. They may be vague; or not responsive to the question; or simply an observation made into the air in order to fill the silence.

Even well-prepared witnesses fall victim to this syndrome. Invariably, they fail to (a) listen to the question; (b) answer the question; and (c) stop. If it’s incomprehensible question, they fail to ask for a new question.  If it’s a question they don’t like, they answer some other, unasked question.

This problem is particularly acute with business people. In general, business people are compensated for having answers to questions and solutions to problems. To respond “I just don’t know” or “I don’t get your question” is not well received in commerce. Business people are trying to do a deal and “get to yes.”  “Yes” is not the place that agents, prosecutors and regulators seek. (At least, not that kind of “yes.”)

Sharp haircuts, dull questions.

Sharp haircuts, dull questions.

We have discussed here and here  and here the do’s and don’t’s of interactions with government agents.  In particular, do not fall prey to the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. syndrome.

That lesson is worth repeating:

“Government Agents,” a Lightfoot140 by Jack Sharman. from LFW on Vimeo.