Dear Colleagues All: University Discipline, Sexual Assault and The Department of Education

It's the new campus thing.

It’s the new campus thing.

Title IX. Crime. Sexual assault. University disciplinary procedures. Civil litigation. Enormous amounts of money. The Fifth Amendment.

And that’s all before you hire a lawyer.

This is a perilous time for university disciplinary systems and those who administer them, especially with regard to claims of sexual assault.  A college or university can find itself in the midst of – indeed, at the helm of – a set of quasi-criminal parallel proceedings that can make the school liable to student complainants, student respondents and federal enforcement authorities.

How does this happen, and what are the factors to keep in mind to minimize that exposure?

Disciplinary systems and educational missions have been uncomfortable fellow travelers going back at least to Tom Brown’s Schooldays:

As the concept of in loco parentis came in and out and back into fashion, the nature of university disciplinary systems changed accordingly.

What remained unchanged, however, are the two broad areas that most collegiate disciplinary systems address:  “conduct” and “ethics” (or sometimes “honor”).  The latter involves cheating, plagiarism and the like.   The former involves infractions of nonacademic policies – drinking, destruction of property, and violations of civil or criminal law.

Not so many pranks today.

Not so many pranks today.

Not surprisingly, most universities have proven themselves more adept at dealing with “academic” infractions then with “conduct” issues.  With the advent of coeducation and then a more culturally diverse (and potentially more fractious) student, faculty and staff composition, the proficiency gap between academic-related discipline and conduct-related discipline, in many instances, grew more pronounced.

Back in 2011, the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter on the subject of campus sexual assault and how, under Title IX, OCR expects colleges and universities to handle claims of sexual assault. More recently, a White House summit on campus sexual assault; a number of high-profile lawsuits and OCR investigations; and new congressional legislative interest have all conspired to mean that colleges and universities ignore the “Dear Colleague” situation to their peril.

So, my Lightfoot law partner William King (who runs our NCAA practice); summer associate Caitlin Looney; and I (the white-collar guy) prepared a memo.  (Truthfully, Caitlin wrote it.  All we did was read it and change the date):

On Wednesday, July 30, 2014, a bipartisan group of eight senators introduced legislation aimed at curbing on-campus rape. “The Campus Safety and Accountability Act” would require colleges to assign campus “Confidential Advisors” to act as a resource to victims of sexual assault. The Act would also require a uniform process for disciplinary proceedings and require colleges to coordinate investigations with law enforcement. Penalties for noncompliance could include up to 1% of their total operating budget and a $150,000 fine per violation. The Act would also include annual surveys of students, the results of which would be posted online for the benefit of parents and prospective students. The proposed Act represents the latest development in a flurry of governmental involvement in recent years on issue of sexual assault in schools.

Here is the entire paper: University Disciplinary Procedures and the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Assault.

The Senate solution.

The Senate solution.

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act, the bill proposed in the Senate, relies in part on a Scarlet Letter approach driven by disclosure of sexual assault (as self-reported by students, rather than administrators or law enforcement), and hefty fines for non-disclosure.  As reported by the New York Times:

Every college would be required to participate in the survey and publish results online, and the penalty for colleges that don’t report sexual assault crimes, as required by the Clery Act, would increase to $150,000 from $35,000 per violation.

The new bill proposes fines of up to 1 percent of a college’s operating budget. If Harvard were found responsible, for example, the university would be on the line for $42 million — a sizable fine, but one that would probably not hurt the university’s students. [Harvard’s trustees might differ, but that is another issue. – Ed.]

Colleges would be required to supply confidential advisers to victims and train counselors. Athletic departments would not be allowed to handle sexual assault complaints. Colleges would need to coordinate a uniform plan with local law enforcement agencies. And the bill would provide federal funding to create and distribute an inexpensive, anonymous annual survey that asks all undergraduate students about experiences with sexual violence. Parents and students would be able to see the data, which may influence their decisions when applying to college.

Whether deserved or not in any particular circumstance, college athletic departments are a particular focus, as noted here.

Awaiting the parallel proceedings.

Awaiting the parallel proceedings.

Unlike the disciplinary process for a cheating scandal, a university’s investigation, adjudication and resolution of a sexual assault case is a classic parallel-proceedings scenario.  At any moment there may be simultaneously ongoing (1) an administrative proceeding (run by the university); (2) a criminal investigation (run by external law enforcement, sometimes in concert with internal university security and sometimes not); and (3) potential civil lawsuits by either the accuser or the respondent.

Even in the “normal” scenario, parallel proceedings raise thorny issues. In the university disciplinary context, however, they raise at least two special issues, issues often troubling and sometimes disastrous.

First, there is a fourth parallel overlay – the Department of Education’s OCR – that is not present in the usual parallel proceedings situation. The threatened loss of Title IX funds is a near-nuclear scenario for many institutions. (The closest but still imperfect parallel in the business world would be a federal indictment of a company).  A Title IX investigation is unpleasant but survivable. The actual loss of Title IX funding may not be.

Second, the due process and Fifth Amendment implications for the student respondent/defendant are exacerbated in ways that are foreign to customary practice and procedure.

Why is this so?

Put yourself in the chair of a defense lawyer whose new client is a student.  A complaint has been launched in the university disciplinary system against your client, alleging rape or other serious sexual assault.  Consistent with the “Dear Colleague” letter, the university process unfolds swiftly, and your client will soon be offered an opportunity to “tell his side of the story” to a panel of university administrators and faculty.  The local police investigators have requested an interview of your client. You have received an email from a lawyer representing the alleged victim who demands that your client preserve all electronic information on his phone such as photos and texts.

Just a few questions.

Just a few questions.

At this stage, the defense lawyer may not know much, but she or he knows two things.

First, the lawyer knows that the client is not talking to anybody until counsel is quite certain of the legal landscape generally and, in particular, the client’s status in the criminal investigation.

Second, the lawyer may try a “real world” fix: for Fifth Amendment reasons, stay the civil proceedings pending resolution of the criminal investigation and potential prosecution.  Taking the “Dear Colleague” letter at face value, however, and given the prevailing sentiment in this area, a Title IX-compliant university will not be staying much of anything. Although a very short pause in the disciplinary proceedings – on the order of days – is clearly permissible for law enforcement to conduct basic investigative tasks, the kind of stays we in the external world — months and months — is unlikely.  Or, as OCR says:

Police investigations may be useful for fact-gathering; but because the standards for criminal investigations are different, police investigations or reports are not determinative of whether sexual harassment or violence violates Title IX. Conduct may constitute unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX even if the police do not have sufficient evidence of a criminal violation. In addition, a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.

A school should notify a complainant of the right to file a criminal complaint, and should not dissuade a victim from doing so either during or after the school’s internal Title IX investigation. For instance, if a complainant wants to file a police report, the school should not tell the complainant that it is working toward a solution and instruct, or ask, the complainant to wait to file the report.

Schools should not wait for the conclusion of a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding to begin their own Title IX investigation and, if needed, must take immediate steps to protect the student in the educational setting. For example, a school should not delay conducting its own investigation or taking steps to protect the complainant because it wants to see whether the alleged perpetrator will be found guilty of a crime. Any agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a local police department must allow the school to meet its Title IX obligation to resolve complaints promptly and equitably. Although a school may need to delay temporarily the fact-finding portion of a Title IX investigation while the police are gathering evidence, once notified that the police department has completed its gathering of evidence (not the ultimate outcome of the investigation or the filing of any charges), the school must promptly resume and complete its fact-finding for the Title IX investigation.

Thus, the respondent/defendant is in a crucible.  Does he fight the charge in the university’s disciplinary proceeding, or decline to participate in the proceeding so as to avoid statements that the government could use, fairly or unfairly, in a criminal prosecution?

Each situation is different, but rock breaks scissors, and prison trumps college.  The respondent/defendant may sue the university on due process grounds, as a Duke student recently did with success, but that is a temporary solution:

Some students who have been expelled or suspended pursuant to a university policy on sexual assault are suing those schools, claiming their rights to a fair hearing were violated. Schools currently involved in litigation with students under these circumstances include: Vassar College, the University of Michigan, Duke University, Occidental College, Columbia University, Xavier University, Swarthmore College, and Delaware State University, among others. Most of these claims have centered on the argument that the hearing processes under new, more stringent standards are unfair. Some of the accused have claimed that the discipline system is now skewed against them because of their male gender and should likewise be considered a violation of Title IX. The likely success of these lawsuits for the accused remains undetermined, but there has been at least one instance in which a judge intervened to keep a school from expelling a student using its internal procedure.

On May 29, 2014, a judge in North Carolina put the expulsion of a Duke University student on hold. Duke determined the student, Lewis McLeod, had committed a sexual assault and should be expelled before spring finals during his senior year of college.Judge W. Osmond Smith III ruled that McLeod would likely suffer irreparable harm if expelled. His ruling blocked Duke from expelling McLeod pending a final determination on the merits.

OCR is not a party to these lawsuits, but the “Dear Colleague” letter makes its position clear, were it required to take one:

Public and state-supported schools must provide due process to the alleged perpetrator. However, schools should ensure that steps taken to accord due process rights to the alleged perpetrator do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the Title IX protections for the complainant.

Quite a burden.

Quite a burden.

With regard to due process (and evidence presented in the process), another vexing issue for universities is the question of the appropriate “burden of proof” to apply in campus sexual-assault cases.  Historically, most schools seemed to use a standard that was lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement that criminal prosecutors must meet but something greater than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard customary in civil lawsuits.  It is unclear (at least to me) what the complete constitutional and evidentiary consequences are of making findings that are both civil and criminal using only a civil standard.

It is not unclear to OCR, however:

[I]n order for a school’s grievance procedures to be consistent with Title IX standards, the school must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred). The “clear and convincing” standard (i.e., it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred), currently used by some schools, is a higher standard of proof. Grievance procedures that use this higher standard are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX. Therefore, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.

OCR roots this principle not in Title IX but in the caselaw developed in civil race-discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The statutory foundations of this approach merit further thought, but it is noteworthy that while sexual assault and racial discrimination are both odious and unlawful, only the former is a crime (except for instances of federal deprivation-of-civil-rights situations).

The Crimson offense (or defense?)

The Crimson offense (or defense?)

In any event, the shift to the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard is occurring rapidly, as at Harvard:

The new policy, unveiled Wednesday, dramatically changes how cases of sexual assault are handled at Harvard. The new Office of Sexual and Gender Based Dispute Resolution will employ professional investigators and essentially remove investigative responsibility from individual disciplinary boards across schools. Based on the facts provided by the central office, those disciplinary boards will work with University Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides to issue sanctions.

The “preponderance of the evidence” standard that the office will employ is seen by many as a lower burden of proof than the “sufficiently persuaded” standard currently used by the College’s Administrative Board. The preponderance of the evidence standard, favored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, is generally understood to require more than 50 percent certainty to determine guilt.

Absent from the new policy is an affirmative consent requirement, under which partners must affirmatively communicate their willingness to participate in sexual activity. Activists on Harvard’s campus, such as those involved with the group Our Harvard Can Do Better, and across the country have lobbied for such a clause.

(The Crimson article attaches a copy of the new Harvard policy).

Damn committee reports.

Damn committee reports.

So, what are the takeaways for university administrators and others charged with development an oversight of university disciplinary systems, especially with regard to claims of sexual assault?

OCR-ready.

OCR-ready.

Bulk up on the skill.  You cannot delegate away “Dear Colleague” responsibility; nor can you simply add it as another part of the job description in Legal or Compliance; nor can you have your “Dear Colleague” program run by someone who is not sensitive to the legal, administrative and — bluntly — political issues that swirl around this effort.

Cut down on the windowdressing.  Some companies have magnificent paper compliance programs and codes of business ethics, policies that set lofty standards which, if not undergirded by the actual work, only make the situation worse in the midst of a compliance failure or white-collar criminal investigation.  (This is the “don’t write a check your body can’t cash” problem).  The university setting is no different.  Plus, colleges are thick with committees, panels, town halls, manifestos and missions.  Don’t write a policy without thinking through the process, and how defensible it is.  And do not confuse compliance with ethics.

Focus on high-visibility groups. Athletic teams and fraternities, fairly or unfairly, bear the brunt of criticism for undesirable campus conduct.  On the other hand, those groups are important to university life; have strong alumni support; are in many cases revenue generators (in the case of the athletic department, at least); and can be on–campus bellwethers.  Whatever your policy direction and compliance program, if you have these constituencies with you, the job will be much easier.

How to get sued.

How to get sued.

Don’t Nifong respondents.  We mentioned the Duke lawsuit above.  A prime example of how not to handle university disciplinary procedures was Duke’s process, actions and inactions during the false rape claims lodged against several of its lacrosse players against the backdrop of the misconduct of the now-disbarred criminal prosecutor, Mike Nifong.  (We have written about the Duke lacrosse case here. The definitive work on the case remains Taylor and Johnson’s Until Proven Innocent).

A university’s best defense in the “Dear Colleague” era is a combination of sound preparation; an honest approach in plain English; and a firm devotion to the integrity of process for the benefit of its students without regard to externalities (an unethical and unfit prosecutor, for example) or internal pressures (such as small groups of virulent ideologues).

 

 

 


How To Avoid Being GM’ed: The Wrongs and Rights of Clients and Lawyers

A general malaise?

A general malaise?

The GM internal-investigation report  about ignition-switch problems raises a host of issues, one of which is its unusually sharp criticism of GM internal lawyers.  Criticism of lawyers is nothing new, of course.  Lawyer-jokes always blame lawyers; lawyers’ spouses frequently blame lawyers; clients sometimes blame lawyers.

But public reports drafted by lawyers infrequently blame lawyers, so this one merits attention, most especially by internal lawyers in large organizations; by the outside counsel who serve them; and by the businesspeople who are the true clients.

 

What are the key takeaways?

The Normal, Uneasy.   Skim the report.  (Just skim it — it’s too long to read cover to cover without heroin.  If you have heroin, you have other issues besides ignition recalls and attorney ethics).  On a practical, professional level, what’s your reaction?

One reaction is, Not much.  It is remarkable how normal the actions of GM’s outside counsel and internal lawyers seem, and how characteristic of the operation of large organizations that are at once diffuse, sprawling and “siloed” (to use the term du jour).  Anybody who works in or serves a large organization will recognize the course of events, the mis-allocation (or absence) of resources, the personal dynamics and the outcomes described the GM report.  Despite expressions of editorial shock and Congressional indignation, the lawyer-narrative laid out in the GM report is, in many important ways, more normal than aberrant.

 

Advising on this quarter's numbers.

Advising on this quarter’s numbers.

The Uneasy Normal, Uneasier.  Prepare for a change in the public perception — and, perhaps, in regulation — of commonplace concepts of attorney-client privilege and the general confidentiality of lawyers’ work.  Prepare also for a coordinate change in internal-lawyers’ reporting obligations within the corporation.  Perceptions of  lawyers are mixed, and we should generalize with caution, but jury consultants regularly note the suspicion and distrust with which lawyers are viewed —  especially lawyers for big companies.  Elsewhere, we have explained how laypeople see corporate counsel as mob lawyers.

 

 

Preparing for summer hearings.

Preparing for summer hearings.

Summertime, and the Congressional Livin’ Is Easy.  Congress is composed of laypersons who are political animals and who are no great respecters of privilege and confidentiality.  As a former oversight-and-investigations lawyer for a House committee, I can testify: summer is the high season for O&I hearings.  Nothing is going on legislatively, O&I hearings don’t require lobbyists or constituents, it is hot as hell but most House and Senate hearing rooms have good air-conditioning these days and, if you get some hearings under your belt in June and July, you’ll have plenty as a Member to talk about in your district or state.

It is by no means inconceivable that bills will be introduced seeking to impose, in GM-like situations, a Sarbanes-Oxley style “reporting” requirement on internal lawyers (or outside counsel, or both), coupled with a “private attorney general” concept and whistleblower bounties.  As in the SOX, internal-investigation world, if the matter is sufficiently serious, you may need two law firms: one firm that does an investigation and prepares a report that we all know will end up in the hands of the Government, and one firm that provides advice to the company (or the board, or a committee of the board) and over whose work we hope to maintain privilege.  We have addressed internal investigations and related problems before.

[Full disclosure moment: My law firm does a lot of products-liability work, all of it on the defense side (that is, on behalf of the people who make the products that allegedly cause the complained-of injury).  We are not involved in the matters described in the report, but we have in the past represented and continue today to represent automotive manufacturers.  I do little products work; the primary way I judge a car is by its air-conditioning.  Nevertheless, consider my biases as you read].

 

Doubts about who the client is?

Doubts about who the client is?

A change in the way we view lawyers and their roles.  We may be faced with an evolving re-definition of that law school chestnut: Who is the client?  Is the client now the Government?  This is a critical threshold question. In the narrative laid out in the GM report, the “client” of the internal lawyers and of the outside counsel is not the government, or a government agency or a regulator.  The client is not the buyer of a GM car or the passenger in a GM car.  The client is not a Member of Congress, an editorial writer or a blogger.  The lawyer — at least while she or he is acting as counsel — owes a duty only to the client, a client which, in this situation, is a non-natural person called a “corporation.”

Professor Peter Henning is generally right on the money with regard to white-collar matters, but he jumps the gun when he so quickly blames lawyers in this kind of situation:

 

In the aftermath of the savings and loan scandal, Judge Stanley Sporkin asked how a once-prominent financial institution could engage in a pattern of misconduct. “Where were the professionals when these clearly improper transactions were being consummated?” he asked.

For General Motors, the negligence and incompetence that resulted in at least 13 deaths and multiple injuries from a faulty ignition switch is equally troubling. Numerous lawyers were on the scene, but none took responsibility for making sure their client did not continue to keep defective cars on the road.

Most people, when they pay for a lawyer, want that lawyer to be their lawyer and not someone else’s.  Indeed, that concept of loyalty is a foundation of the conflict-of-interest rules (rules, by the way, far more demanding than what is considered normal in the marketplace).  Under current law and rules, and with few exceptions, lawyers internal and external have neither a duty nor a warrant to serve multiple masters simultaneously.  The most relevant provision is Rule 1.13  (“Organization As Client”) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which are restrictive about what a lawyer representing an organization may and may not reveal.

Even the “reporting up” obligations, which are limited, are focused on the client:

If a lawyer for an organization knows that an officer, employee or other person associated with the organization is engaged in action, intends to act or refuses to act in a matter related to the representation that is a violation of a legal obligation to the organization, or a violation of law that reasonably might be imputed to the organization, and that is likely to result in substantial injury to the organization, then the lawyer shall proceed as is reasonably necessary in the best interest of the organization. Unless the lawyer reasonably believes that it is not necessary in the best interest of the organization to do so, the lawyer shall refer the matter to higher authority in the organization, including, if warranted by the circumstances to the highest authority that can act on behalf of the organization as determined by applicable law.

This question is distinct, of course, from what is wise, merciful or sane from a business or spiritual standpoint, and one could make an argument that losing track of the ignition problem was “likely to result in substantial injury to the organization.”  But if the question is, Where were the lawyers?, the answer is, They were right there.

 

A file too far.

A file too far.

A Forest-and-Trees Cliche.  In future litigation, if wholesale problems still get lost in the retail landscape, they will imperil your job.  If the GM report is accurate, there was never a genuine “visibility” problem about the ignition switch.  “Visibility” was not the problem.  “Irritability” was the problem.  Lawyers tend to deal with the irritant at hand; they put out the fire first that is closest and hottest.  They are trained to do so — first in law school, by “spotting issues” instead of looking at a scenario as a whole, and then in private practice, with the demarcation of work into mostly fenced-off fields (called “cases”) and of compensation into fractions of time (called “tenths of an hour”).  In addition, for internal lawyers, a combination of too many demands, insufficient resources and a corporate focus on the monthly or the quarterly has the same grinding effect.  An in-house friend, a accomplished lawyer at a large corporation with a good reputation, says that her only criticism of her job is that she never — ever — has time to actually think.

So what, as a practical matter, can we do — internal lawyers, outside counsel and businesspeople?

Grow Real Ethics.  There is no substitute for actual ethics, opposed to consultant-thick compliance programs and ever-muddied regulation.  We have written on the compliance versus ethics problem before.

Senior Citizens Unite.  Older lawyers – internally and externally — have to speak up.  Young lawyers lack professional and financial traction, as noted in at least one instance in the GM report.

 

Team A v. Team B

Team A v. Team B

Be A Spook.  When faced with “serial” litigation, try the CIA Team B approach of pitting two teams — one internal, one external – against each other on the same topic or issue.  (Outside law firms are useful for this exercise, if there is money in the budget).  As a way of addressing the Soviet strategic threat, Team B has had many critics, but alternative, competitive thought is always worth considering (and is always more expensive).

Misery Loves Company.  Outside lawyers are proficient at CYA.  Consider ways to put your outside law firms more firmly on the ethical hook.

 * * * *

Without the right budget and the right approach, none of this may matter, but give it some thought.  By itself, the fact that we all believe that we are serving our clients won’t keep us from getting “GM’ed.”


The Super Bowl, Jamie Casino and the Rights and Wrongs of White-Collar Defense

Contemplating the transition from the criminal-defense bar to the plaintiffs' bar.

Contemplating the transition from the criminal-defense bar to the plaintiffs’ bar.

As a football game, the Super Bowl was dreadful, at least in terms of entertainment value.  As a cultural petri dish, its television advertisements (and the reactions to the advertisements) were invaluable.  And the most mind-blowing bacillus in the dish, by consensus, had to be the commercial by Savannah plaintiffs’ lawyer Jamie Casino.  In the midst of the spot’s pageantry, if that is the word, most seemed to have missed a significant issue that Mr. Casino, inadvertently, raises for businesses and those white-collar or compliance lawyers who help them.

 

The more conventional approach.

The more conventional approach.

First, let’s take Mr. Casino at his word: he is a plaintiffs’ personal-injury lawyer with a predeliction for over-the-top advertisements, the kind on ones on local daytime television.

 

They told me this place was "perpetual care."

They told me this place was “perpetual care.”

Second, he tells a story in his Super Bowl ad.  What’s the story?  He was, he says, a “notorious criminal defense attorney.”  This work apparently brought him wads of cash and continued until his brother was killed (by notorious criminals).  He then decides to devote himself to helping the innocent and injured, rather than protecting the guilty and the criminal.

And there are some great scenes where he smashes his brother’s gravestone and then drags the sledgehammer (emblazoned with his brother’s name) along the ground, the furrow made then bursting into flame.  And, all to the tune of an old AC/DC song performed by Godsmack (according to the Esquire article).

One would applaud Mr. Casino for his creativity and then consign his video to the digital netherworld, but for the Manichaean dichotomies he sets up for us about “innocence” and “guilt.”

These issues are often fodder for lawyers’ family dinner-discussions; law school exams on ethics; and thrillers featuring lawyers (for example, Michael Connelly’s “Lincoln Lawyer,” L.A. criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller).

The Gods of Guilt (2013)

The Gods of Guilt (2013)

Haller is constantly conflicted about his role as a lawyer who defends unsavory people, as we see here in the Gods of Guilt trailer.

At the cocktail party or the dinner table, the question usually takes the form of “How can you defend someone who’s guilty?”

(“Because they pay” is not a suitable answer).

Strikingly, the question is often posed by corporate executives, officers, directors or employees who understandably see the world as one in which there are “good” non-criminal persons (including themselves, their loved ones, their golfing and hunting friends) and there are “bad” criminal persons (a group that excludes themselves, their loved ones and at least most of their golfing and hunting friends).  The situation is striking because those corporate exemplars are the very people whom men and women who can pull on the levers of power — Mr. Casino and his colleagues at the plaintiffs’ bar, for example, as well as Assistant United States Attorneys, FBI agents and federal regulators — will be first to label as “bad”; as criminal; as deeply suspect.

Thus, the dramatic flair of Mr. Casino’s commercial, a flair that disguises the dramatic ease with which one shifts from a mindset of “Everyone I represent is guilty” to “Everyone I represent is innocent.”

Here is why the seamlessness of Mr. Casino’s transition from “notorious” criminal-defense lawyer to “noted” plaintiffs’ personal-injury lawyer is relevant to how we think about white-collar criminal defense; compliance; and business ethics.

The nuclear option.

The nuclear option.

Consider two civil personal-injury cases.  In the first, we see a claim for a crushed leg arising from an accident involving a forklift.  In the second, we have a claim by the neighbors of an industrial facility for miscelleanous illnesses caused, they say, by air pollution from the plant.  Call them the “Leg” and “Pollution” cases.

Smokin' good-looking.

Smokin’ good-looking.

Then, consider two criminal cases.  The first involves the operation of a meth lab. 

Damned if I'll leave a tip for housekeeping.

Damned if I’ll leave a tip for housekeeping.

The second involves payment of money to third parties, payments which the prosecution characterizes as illegal “kickbacks” and the corporate defendant characterizes as unlawful “commissions.”  Call them the “Lab” and “Payment” cases.

And how did the Vietnamese dong do today?

And how did the Vietnamese dong do today?

 

 

 

 

Setting aside differences in the identities of the respective prosecuting parties (private versus sovereign) and differences in the burden of proof (preponderance-of-the-evidence versus beyond-a-reasonable-doubt), which cases are most alike?  Which “feel” the same?

Lawyers being lawyers, there are doubtless many idiosyncratic answers, but the consensus answer should be “Leg” and “Lab” are alike, and “Pollution” and “Payment” are alike.  In “Leg/Lab,” there will be little or no dispute that an undesirable harm (leg crushed) or prohibited act (meth lab operated) has occurred.  The defendant in each case may have factual or legal defenses to liability or guilt, and the jury must weigh the sufficiency of the evidence, but no one in the courtroom will argue that a crushed leg is a not a harm, or that a meth lab is lawful.  The leg is destroyed; there is no lawful purpose for a meth lab.  An injury occurred; a crime took place.

In “Pollution/Payment,” in contrast, there is a preliminary — and murkier — question to ask:  Has a harm or a crime occurred at all?  In “Pollution,” the defendant will concede that its operations caused emissions into the air.  Before offering, however, legal or factual defenses (the plant operated within its air permit; the statute-of-limitations has run; the plaintiff moved out of the neighborhood fifty years ago, or into it last month, etc.), the defendant will argue that there is no “general causation” — that even if the emissions of the plant are as the plaintiffs say, and even if their illnesses are as the plaintiffs say, those emissions cannot as a matter of medicine and science cause those illnesses.  Thus, no harm (or at least, no compensable harm).  In “Payment,” the defendant will concede, as the Government alleges, that a check was issued and a payment made, but will argue that there is no evidence of wrongful intent.   Thus, no crime.

It is easier for Mr. Casino — and for all of us — to move from the undisputed criminality of street crime to the undisputed harm of a product-liability or workplace-injury case.  (See Mr. Casino’s certainty of the guilt of his former clients and the innocence of his current ones.  Zealous advocacy is commendable, but individuals, not classes, are eventually determined guilty or innocent).  Lawyers, judges, juries, media, spectators — we all enjoy it when things are obvious and sure, a certitude that is as much emotional, even theological, as anything else.  In a white-collar case, internal investigation or compliance review, “intent” is the crux.  We cannot avoid the irritating question: “Has a crime occurred at all?”  In the aftermath of undesirable events, or to gain votes, Congress has a bad habit of criminalizing conduct that theretofore was innocent, commonly-accepted behavior in the American economy.  We do the same in our daily lives: How loosely do we use the word “criminal,” even when we should know better?  Conduct may be unethical, unseemly, a too-sharp business practice or a violation of our company policy, but those conclusions are more confounding and less satisfying than a criminal conviction.  Because white-collar offenses are mostly or wholly intent-based, though, “crime in the suite” really is different than “crime in street.”  White-collar crimes can cause great harm and should be prosecuted.  Let us be sure, however, that what we see is a crime, rather than unfortunate conduct and unlikable people distorted by the fun-house mirrors of our own indignation, anger and fear.  


Martoma and Harvard Law School (Again)

Forgery and bad-movie posters.

Forgery and bad-movie posters.

We recently addressed the ongoing Mathew Martoma trial “Harvard Law School fraud” story: The Martoma Trial and Character Evidence in White-Collar Trials

From Professor Susan Brenner, who blogs at Cyb3rCrim3, here’s a detailed analysis of the Court’s ruling not on the substantive issue — whether the government can discuss his HLS misdeeds at trial — but rather on Martoma’s motion to seal the discussion: The Law Student, Forgery and the Motion in Limine


McKinsey, General Lee and the Culture of Compliance

Except perhaps for “paradigm” and “silo,” the word “culture” is one of the most abused in the vocabulary of compliance, ethics and consultants.  (I once heard a consultant say that he needed “a high hover over the silos.”  I thought it an ironic mash-up about drones and agriculture; it was not).  Yet, “culture” has a meaning in the broader world; in commerce; and in compliance.  “Culture” represents a gear-shift in compliance and ethics, and can be smooth or bone-rattling.

McKinsey

McKinsey

Consider this story about  McKinsey’s culture in the wake of insider-trading scandals:

For a quarter of a century, except for a brief stint as a currency analyst at Rothschild, Mr. Barton has worked at McKinsey, the consulting firm with more than 1,400 partners and 18,500 employees around the world. And that is why he is facing the most daunting task of his career: as McKinsey’s global managing director, he is trying to change the culture of the firm that shaped him.

There are two reasons that Mr. Barton is on this mission: Anil Kumar and Rajat K. Gupta. Mr. Kumar was a McKinsey director who, in 2010, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges and publicly acknowledged giving corporate secrets gleaned on the job to Raj Rajaratnam, a founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund, in return for cash. Never in the history of the firm had a partner been charged with violating securities laws.

A year after the Kumar scandal, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint accusing Mr. Gupta, a Goldman Sachs board member and former McKinsey managing director, of telling Mr. Rajaratnam about a $5 billion investment in Goldman by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway at the height of the financial crisis. Mr. Gupta, a revered former partner who had been elected managing director three times in a row, serving at the helm for a decade, was ultimately convicted of criminal charges of leaking boardroom business. He awaits the outcome of his appeal, even as insider trading charges continue to occupy prosecutors. The trial of Mathew Martoma, a former trader at SAC Capital Advisors, run by Steven A. Cohen, started last week in Manhattan, not long after another SAC trader, Michael S. Steinberg, was convicted of trading on corporate secrets. SAC itself pleaded guilty in November to violating insider trading laws.

So where does that lead Mr. Barton?

At McKinsey, Mr. Barton has been trying to prevent another disgrace: a “third man,” as some have put it. McKinsey is known for what it calls its culture based on values and trust — a culture that was created and nurtured by Marvin Bower, its longtime managing director. The values that Mr. Bower instilled included putting the clients’ interests above the firm’s, providing independent advice and keeping confidences. These ideas were imparted from one generation to the next, mentor to apprentice. But after Mr. Kumar’s arrest in late 2009, Mr. Barton, who had been elected to head the firm just months earlier, decided that the honor-driven, values-based system was not enough. What the firm needed was some rules.

“We needed more safety moats around the castle,” he says. “We have this values/trust culture. I get that. Now we have a little more edge.”

The rest of the article details why some in the firm think this a great idea while others pan it.

Multiple rules in the compliance handbook.

Multiple rules in the compliance handbook.

Given the size and diversity of his organization, I applaud Mr. Barton.  For better or for worse, if there is no more “values/trust culture” to be poured in from the top, then the only reasonable thing to do is add “a little more edge.”  Like edging your lawn: it seems to grow luxuriantly by itself, but you don’t want grass clogging the sidewalk.

On the other hand, rules — especially rules that are applied to thousands or tens of thousands of employees, perhaps in dozens of countries — are blunt instruments.  They hack at the lawn, rather than trim it.  In addition, people sometimes revolt against the governing values, but they always revolt against the governing rules.  Finally, the rules do a much better job of describing how you transgress than how you non-transgress.

The Collonade.

The Colonade at W&L

Consider the example of my alma mater, Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and the Honor System created by President (formerly General) Lee:

The mid-1800s saw the development of honor systems at many colleges. Lee replaced the elaborate disciplinary rules of Washington College by a single standard: “Every student must be a gentleman.” He intended for the young men under his charge to acquire a sense of responsibility based on truth, honor, and courtesy. Lee also placed a premium on civility and spoke to each student as he passed him on campus, encouraging by his example the same show of respect between students.

Today’s honor system, administered by students, has been a unique feature of Washington and Lee University for well over a century. It is based on the fundamental principle of mutual trust among students, faculty, and staff that students attending Washington and Lee will not lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise act dishonorably. With the rule of civility, exemplified by the W&L “speaking tradition,” Lee’s legacy of honor continues to permeate academic and social life at Washington and Lee University and serves as a model nationwide.

 

An Honor System works well at W&L and poorly at many other universities for several reasons.  Some of those reasons illumine the strengths and weaknesses of many corporate compliance programs.

Robert Edward Lee

Robert Edward Lee

First, as implied above, it is a system, not a code:

Young gentleman, we have no printed rules here.  We have but one rule and that is that every student must be a gentleman.

— Robert E. Lee to student Wallace E. Colyar (1866)

Although there are more rules and regulations today in Lexington than there were formerly, the Honor System coalesces around a concept (‘honor”) rather than dividing between thou shalts and thou shalt nots.  Despite lip-service to soft concepts in compliance programs, most come down to crypto-Scriptural commands.

Second, the Honor System is single-sanction.  There is one penalty — dismissal — without regard to the severity of the offense.  In other words, it does not seek proportional justice.  Most corporate compliance officers who tried a single-sanction system would get fired.

Third, it marries two starchy concepts: “honor” and “duty.”  President Lee cherished the latter as much as the former:

The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the men in a plain light.

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled when he cannot help humbling others.

“Duty,” for many employees in highly-diversified, extremely large global organizations is a term roughly co-extensive with “pay.”

Fourth,Washington & Lee is a liberal-arts college, not the org-chart Tower of Babel that many large-company compliance officers must deal with.  Coalescing around a concept (like “honor” or “duty”) rather than submitting to a rule or a checklist is easier when at least a core group is composed of individuals who possess more experiences, taboos, creeds and rituals that unite them than divide them.  (Or, at a minimum, they perceive such to be the case).

Corporate compliance programs cannot readily have the grace of the Washington & Lee Honor System — much as (a biased alumnus says) the corporate officer, director or employee without the benefit of a W&L education cannot readily have the grace of a W&L alum.  Both require work; both produce imperfection.  But, as the effort of McKinsey’s Mr. Barton demonstrates, both are commendable.

 



Fourth Circuit Rips United States Attorney’s Office For Brady Non-Disclosure

As noted by the White Collar Law Prof blog, here — Fourth Circuit Rebukes United States Attorney’s Office — this criticism of a United States Attorney’s Office for repeated Brady-disclosure problems is unusual.  If nothing else, the Fourth Circuit is generally a law-and-order bench, which lends the criticism greater force.  Here are some highlights:

A cursory review of this Court’s opinions reveals recent consideration of at least three cases involving discovery abuse by government counsel in this district.

 

Mistakes happen. Flawless trials are desirable but rarely attainable. Nevertheless, the frequency of the “flubs” committed by this office raises questions regarding whether the errors are fairly characterized as unintentional.

 

Remedies elude defendants because discovery violations ultimately prove immaterial to the verdict. But that is not the true problem. The problem is that the government appears to be betting on the probability that reams of condemning evidence will shield defendants’ convictions on appeal such that at the trial stage, it can permissibly withhold discoverable materials and ignore false testimony. Make no mistake, however. We may find such practices “harmless” as to a specific defendant’s verdict, but as to litigants in the Eastern District of North Carolina and our justice system at large, they are anything but harmless. “No [one] in this country is so high that [she or] he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity. All the officers of the government, from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law and are bound to obey it.” United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 220 (1882). The law of this country promises defendants due process, U.S. Const. amend. V, and the professional code to which attorneys are subject mandates candor to the court, see Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.3., and fairness to opposing parties, see id. R. 3.4. Yet the United States Attorney’s office in this district seems unfazed by the fact that discovery abuses violate constitutional guarantees and misrepresentations erode faith that justice is achievable. Something must be done.

 

To underscore our seriousness about this matter, and to ensure that the problems are addressed, we direct the Clerk of Court to serve a copy of this opinion upon the Attorney General of the United States and the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Department of Justice. The transmittal letter should call attention to this section of the opinion.

 

 

Brady requires the Government  to disclose to the defendant materially exculpatory evidence in the Government’s possession. For a refresher on the Brady rule, look here:  The Brady Rule