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


The Martoma Trial and Character Evidence in White-Collar Trials

Former SAC manager Mathew Martoma

Former SAC manager Mathew Martoma

In the trial of former SAC hedge fund manager Mathew Martoma, the dispute over getting kicked out of Harvard Law School  is worth noting for what evidence we have juries consider at white-collar trials and what we don’t:

In 1999, Mr. Martoma was expelled from Harvard for creating a false transcript when he applied for a clerkship with a federal judge, court papers unsealed on Thursday showed. Mr. Martoma used a computer program to change several grades from B’s to A’s, including one in criminal law, and then sent the forged transcript to 23 judges as part of the application process.

Then, during a Harvard disciplinary hearing to determine whether he should be expelled, Mr. Martoma tried to cover his tracks by creating a fake paper trail that included fabricated emails and a counterfeit report from a computer forensics firm that Mr. Martoma had created to help conceal his activities.

After Harvard expelled him, Mr. Martoma, who at the time was known as Ajay Mathew Thomas, legally changed his name to Mathew Martoma.

The Government wishes to introduce this evidence, it says, not because it’s trying to paint Martoma as a bad guy but rather to prove that he has the computer-forensic capability to destroy real evidence, create bogus evidence and thus mislead the authorities:

The prosecution argues in court papers that Mr. Martoma’s deception is relevant to show that he has the technical knowledge to alter computer files. That could be relevant, prosecutors say, if Mr. Martoma’s lawyers seek to argue he never received a copy of a confidential report that discussed problems with a clinical trial for an experimental Alzheimer’s drug being developed by Elan and Wyeth.

Prosecutors charge that Mr. Martoma recommended that SAC sell its shares in Elan and Wyeth after receiving the report from a key cooperating witness in the case, Dr. Sidney Gilman, and then flying to Ann Arbor, Mich., to discuss the results of the trial with him.

Mr. Martoma’s lawyers at Goodwin Procter, in the run-up to the trial, have raised questions about the government’s failure to find any email evidence that Dr. Gilman sent Mr. Martoma a copy of the report. Dr. Gilman, 81, who received a nonprosecution agreement from the government, is expected to testify that he sent the report to Mr. Martoma and discussed the findings both on the phone and when the two men met a few days before SAC began selling the companies’ shares.

Prosecutors have conceded they have not found any email evidence to support Dr. Gilman’s contention that he sent a copy of the report to Mr. Martoma. But they said Mr. Martoma’s pattern of deception at Harvard is “evidence of the defendant’s capacity to destroy or fabricate electronic forensic evidence.”

In other words, the Government lacks evidence (other than the testimony of the cooperating email-sender) that the report was actually sent to or received by the defendant.

You hit "Send," you never know what happens.

You hit “Send,” you never know what happens.

Essentially, the Government wants jurors to conclude that the defendant could have received the report; could have destroyed it; and could have hidden the fact of destruction from investigators because of his (unsuccessful) attempts to do something similar in law school.

This is over-reaching.

First, such questions are usually handled at trial by each side offering computer-forensic experts.  The expert offers an opinion on which he or she can be cross-examined, then jurors decide whom to believe.  (Of course, if there is nothing an expert can opine on — if old servers are simply gone, for example — then experts are of little help.)

Second, this is “character evidence.”  Rule 404 provides:

(a) Character Evidence.

(1)Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.

(2)Exceptions for a Defendant or Victim in a Criminal Case. The following exceptions apply in a criminal case:

(A) a defendant may offer evidence of the defendant’s pertinent trait, and if the evidence is admitted, the prosecutor may offer evidence to rebut it;

(B) subject to the limitations in Rule 412, a defendant may offer evidence of an alleged victim’s pertinent trait, and if the evidence is admitted, the prosecutor may:

(i) offer evidence to rebut it; and

(ii) offer evidence of the defendant’s same trait; and

(C) in a homicide case, the prosecutor may offer evidence of the alleged victim’s trait of peacefulness to rebut evidence that the victim was the first aggressor.

(3)Exceptions for a Witness. Evidence of a witness’s character may be admitted under Rules 607, 608, and 609.

(b) Crimes, Wrongs, or Other Acts.

(1) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.

(2) Permitted Uses; Notice in a Criminal Case. This evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. On request by a defendant in a criminal case, the prosecutor must:

(A) provide reasonable notice of the general nature of any such evidence that the prosecutor intends to offer at trial; and

(B) do so before trial — or during trial if the court, for good cause, excuses lack of pretrial notice.

Rule 608 is also pertinent:

(a) Reputation or Opinion Evidence. A witness’s credibility may be attacked or supported by testimony about the witness’s reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, or by testimony in the form of an opinion about that character. But evidence of truthful character is admissible only after the witness’s character for truthfulness has been attacked.

(b) Specific Instances of Conduct. Except for a criminal conviction under Rule 609, extrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove specific instances of a witness’s conduct in order to attack or support the witness’s character for truthfulness. But the court may, on cross-examination, allow them to be inquired into if they are probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of:

(1) the witness; or

(2) another witness whose character the witness being cross-examined has testified about.

By testifying on another matter, a witness does not waive any privilege against self-incrimination for testimony that relates only to the witness’s character for truthfulness.

The fact that the defendant points out the prosecution’s lack of evidence — that is,there’s apparently no evidence that Martoma received the email to which the report was attached — does not magically turn that same lack of evidence into admissible 404(b) evidence of “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”  

"From the Old Fields Must Spring the New Corn."

“From the Old Fields Must Spring the New Corn.”

Plus, the prejudicial effect of the evidence — here’s a guy who went to Harvard Law School, a fancy institution, where he cheated and tried to cover it up, then ended up at SAC, another fancy organization, and is nowaccused of cheating — would grossly outweigh any probative value.


Breaking Bad, All the Time: White Collar Crime for Business Lawyers

 

Trial Dot Com

The Network of Trial Law Firms is an excellent CLE vehicle.  Here’s a Sharman White Collar Panel Video of a Network panel about white-collar issues for civil lawyers — me, Jackie Arango of Akerman Senterfit (Miami), Joel Neckers of Wheeler Trigg (Denver) and Gerry Leone of Noxon Peabody (Boston).  Here’s the blurb from the Network program:

No one thinks of themselves, their employees or their company as “criminals.” On the other hand, Walter White was once just a chemistry teacher. The lines between what are business-crime problems and what are traditional corporate civil issues — compliance, due diligence, regulatory recordkeeping and permitting, whistleblowers, confidentiality, privilege and indemnification — have become blurred. Listen to an experienced panel highlight the most important events and insights from 2013 and what to expect in 2014.

Video camera

I know, I know.  The video is a bit long to just sit and watch unless you’ve previously gone to the “Cocktails” archive of this blog, but I find the most curious point to arrive at minute 25:22, where I play for the crowd a 140-second video of myself talking about search warrants.  A video within video.  They loved it.


Madoff’s Screw Sculpture, Bill Murray and Rule 403

The fact that Madoff’s Screw Sculpture Is Excluded From Evidence at Trial (tipped off by @WaltPavlo) is amusing to a non-party, reminiscient as it is of Bill Murray’s character (Frank Cross, the Ebenezer Scrooge character) in the movie Scrooged (1988), a remake of “A Christmas Carol.”

 

Frank Cross: We’re gonna need champagne for 250 people, and send the stuff that you send to me. Don’t send the stuff that I send to other people.

There are, however, some serious implications.

The sculpture was recovered from Madoff’s office after his 2008 arrest for masterminding a Ponzi scheme that cost investors about $17 billion in lost principal. Five former Madoff employees are facing trial in federal court in Manhattan for aiding the fraud. U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain yesterday granted a defense request and prohibited the government from showing jurors the sculpture or photographs of it, after defense lawyers complained of the artwork’s “colloquial inference.”

It’s not just the “colloquial inference.”  Under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the court

may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

The Advisory Committee notes go on to point out that

“Unfair prejudice” within its context means an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one.

An “emotional basis” was almost surely what the sculpture would have provided.


The Border, Searches and the Digital Devices of Executives and Employees

Here’s a story (via @nytimes) about how the border is a back door for device searches.

There is, of course, a “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment, a constitutional doctrine that came of age when national physical borders were also, usually, information-borders as well.  Although the discussion in the article takes place in the national-security context, it’s worth American companies giving more careful thought to how they address the way their executives and employees work and travel.  Employees usually love using their own devices and storing company data in ways that are readily accessible to and productive for them.

At the border, though, all that corporate data is free game.

As the article notes:

TECS is a computer system used to screen travelers at the border, and includes records from law enforcement, immigration and antiterrorism databases. A report from the Department of Homeland Security about border searches of electronic devices says a traveler may be searched “because he is the subject of, or person-of-interest-in, an ongoing law enforcement investigation and was flagged by a law enforcement ‘lookout’ ” in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement computer system.

For now, the law remains murky about any limits on intrusive border inspections, including how long travelers can be detained, whether they are required to provide passwords for their devices . . . and whether they must answer any question an agent asks. Responses may be recorded in a traveler’s TECS file and shared with other government agencies.

Detention is an inconvenience.  To answer (or not answer) an agent’s question is another matter entirely, one that implicates both the company’s legal exposure and the individual’s Fifth Amendment rights.

If you find yourself in a lawsuit or prosecution based on a seizure at the border, it’s worth asking for this document from ICE:

 


Civil Lessons From Criminal Trials (on YouTube)

Criminal Trials.  Civil Lessons.

This recent talk on Civil Lessons From Criminal Trials  is primarily directed to internal counsel; what they should think about when hiring outside counsel; and how they should review that lawyer’s plan to defend and resolve the case.  It may be of some interest, though, to outside counsel looking for a different perspective on handling his or her civil case.

Here is the (very short) written Handout.

 


Fifth Circuit: “[A] district court cannot authorize interception of cell phone calls when neither the phone nor the listening post is present within the court’s territorial jurisdiction.”

You use your cell phone for work?  In a potentially important Title III opinion, the Fifth Circuit limits the territorial reach of cellphone interception in United States v. Richard North.  In part: “[A] district court cannot authorize interception of cell phone calls when neither the phone nor the listening post is present within the court’s territorial jurisdiction.”