Category: Corruption

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Five Reasons to Cheer for Starr v. United States (AIG Nationalization Case)

AIG coverYesterday, the US Federal Court of Claims ruled that the US government and its leaders acted illegally in nationalizing AIG during the 2008 financial crisis, in a shareholder suit led by Hank Greenberg, the man who built AIG until his departure in 2005. But the judge (Wheeler) also ruled against awarding any damages, saying AIG shareholders were not harmed.

A top journalist at a major financial magazine asked me the following five questions, and I gave the answers indicated–being five reasons you should celebrate the ruling. Please note that I wrote the book, The AIG Story (Wiley 2013), with Greenberg, where we laid out the legal basis for Wheeler’s ruling on illegality.

1) Is this a moral victory for Hank Greenberg? Do you think he sees it that way? 
Yes, it is a moral victory for Greenberg and for everyone else who cares about the rule of law.  I can’t speak for Hank other than to say he cares deeply about the rule of law.

2) Andrew Ross Sorkin calls this a split decision in today’s New York Times. Is that true and if not who won?
It is a Solomonic split decision but designed to invite an appeal by Greenberg and not by the government, so Hank gets a second bite at the apple on appeal.

3) Given the collateral calls that were pending and the certainty of an AIG bankruptcy, did Greenberg ever have a real chance to recover $40 billion?
No, but given the possibility of hiving off the insurance companies outside of bankruptcy, Judge Wheeler’s conclusion on no damages is vulnerable to reversal on appeal.

4) What will this ruling mean for government intervention in future financial crises? Is that good or bad?
No more violating the law or the rule of law by government officials, whatever they may think at the time. Very good–a win for justice and true American legal values.

5) The judge says that government broke the law in taking over AIG. Do you agree with that assessment?
Yes. Virtually every major figure in the takeover violated the law, certainly fiscal authorities such as Bernanke and Geithner, and maybe cabinet secretaries such as Paulson, and many of their bankers and lawyers, including those from Davis Polk, Goldman Sachs and Sullivan & Cromwell. They should all feel disgraced.

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FAN 56.1 (First Amendment News) Constitutional & Criminal Law Experts File Brief Defending Gov. Rick Perry — First Amend. & Other Defenses Raised

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This morning an amicus brief was filed in the case of Ex Parte James Richard “Rick Perry” (App. Ct., 3rd Jud. Dist.); this is how it opens:

Amici are an ideologically diverse coalition of experts in the fields of constitutional and criminal law—including former judges, solicitors general, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional litigators, and professors on both sides of the aisle. They represent virtually the entire political spectrum and have no personal or political stake in this case. They submit this brief for one simple reason: They are committed to the rule of law, and do not wish to see the law tarnished or distorted for purely partisan political purposes.

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

The case, recall, involves Texas Governor Rick Perry and his threat to veto a bill if a state political official did not do what he asked. He then vetoed the bill. A grand jury thereafter indicted the Governor and charged him with two felonies.

One count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law when he vetoed a bill that would have funded the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

The other count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign her post (this in connection with his call  for the resignation of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, who had been convicted of drunk driving).

 See here re video of Gov. Perry’s Aug. 16, 2014 press conference

See here re Feb. 23, 2015 Defense’s objections to bill of particulars & amended indictment

Counsel for Gov. Perry on appeal: Tony BuzbeeDavid Botsford & Thomas R. Phillips (Appellant’s brief here)

Now, 18 noted constitutional and criminal law experts are rallying to Gov. Perry’s defense in an amicus brief filed  in a Texas appellate court by James C. Ho, Prerak Shah, Bradley G. Hubbard and Eugene Volokh. The brief in support of an application for a writ of habeas corpus makes two basic arguments:

  1. “Count I of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it is Both Unconstitutional and Barred by Legislative Immunity,”
  2. “Count II of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it Criminalizes Speech Protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 18 who signed onto the amicus brief are:

  • Floyd Abrams (First Amendment lawyer)
  • Michael Barone (Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute)
  • Ashutosh Bhagwat (UC Davis law professor)
  • Jeff Blackburn (Founder and Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas)
  • Paul Coggins (former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas)
  • Alan Dershowitz (Harvard law professor)
  • Raul A. Gonzalez (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • James C. Ho (Former Texas Solicitor General & former Chief Counsel to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution)
  • Daniel Lowenstein (Emeritus UCLA law professor)
  • Michael W. McConnell (Stanford law professor)
  • John T. Montford (Former District Attorney for Lubbock County, TX)
  • Michael Mukasey (Former U.S. Attorney General & former federal court judge)
  • Theodore B. Olson (Former Solicitor General of the United States)
  • Harriet O’Neill (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • Nathaniel Persily (Stanford law professor)
  • Kenneth W. Starr (Former U.S. Solicitor General & former federal court appellate judge)
  • Johnny Sutton (Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas), and
  • Eugene Volokh (UCLA law professor)

The two statutes under which Gov. Perry was indicted are reminiscent of the old Soviet Union — you know, abuse of authority. The idea of indicting him because he threatened to veto spending unless a district attorney who was caught drinking and driving resigned, that’s not anything for a criminal indictment. That’s a political issue. — Alan Dershowitz (Aug. 18, 2014)

Free Speech Claims

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

The amicus brief argues that Count II of the indictment — that Gov.Perry violated the law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign — violates his free speech rights under the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.  “[H]e has every right to do just that,” they contend.

Core Political Speech: “A political official,” they add, “has the right to threaten to perform an official act in order to persuade another government official to engage in some other official act. That is not a crime—it is core political speech. See, e.g., Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969) (‘What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.’).”

Parade of Horribles: “The consequences of allowing Governor Perry to be prosecuted under this law would be both far-reaching and devastating. The prosecution’s theory of the case would criminalize a vast swath of constitutionally protected—and exceedingly common—political speech.”

Facially Invalid: “The vast amount of protected speech that would be deemed criminal under the prosecution’s theory reveals another fundamental problem with this Count: the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad and therefore facially invalid.”

Government Speech?: “[T]he speech of elected officials at issue here is simply not government speech as defined by the Garcetti line of cases. Indeed, common sense demands that it not be government speech. Does the special prosecutor truly believe that the Legislature could, with a veto-proof majority, prevent the Governor from saying anything at all on particular topics? Of course not—yet that is precisely what the Legislature could do if Governor Perry’s speech were deemed government speech.”

 After offering various other free speech challenges, the authors of the amicus brief point out that

Last year, President Obama threatened to issue various executive orders if Congressional Republicans refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform. . . . The President later followed through on that threat. To be sure, those executive actions are highly controversial and are currently the subject of litigation. But no one could seriously argue that President Obama’s political statements regarding those actions are unprotected by the First Amendment and subject to potential criminal prosecution. So too here.

Mincing no words, the brief urges: “This Court should announce—right now—that it is unconstitutional to prosecute Governor Perry for his protected political speech.”

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Fed Officials Accused of Perjury in AIG Bailout Trial

In the financial trial of the century, the most important document is missing. The document is the term sheet that the government says it gave AIG’s board right before taking the company over in Sept. 2008.  The government says the AIG board thus approved the Draconian terms that benefited Goldman Sachs and other rivals. But other evidence, including  AIG’s contemporaneous securities filings, suggests the board was agreeing only to sell the government warrants not transfer 80% of the common stock to it for a song.  The missing document would prove which side is telling the truth.

That’s one of many amazing points of contention noted by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism in her relentless digging into what government really did during the financial crisis. Most recently, she alleges and documents perjury and obstruction of justice by top federal officials in the pending case of former AIG shareholders against the US. The case alleges that the government trampled on corporate law rights and that the Fed exceeded its authority—allegations that I document in my book, The AIG Story, written with Hank Greenberg, lead plaintiff in the case.

Smith lays out her claims in an extensive blog post at Naked Capitalism, accompanied by reams of additional documents and examples. For those looking for a skinny version, here is an abridged adaptation. Most examples concern Scott Alvarez, general counsel of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve; there is one with with Tom Baxter, general counsel of the New York Fed, who worked with Tim Geithner. The shareholders are represented by the noted trial lawyer, David Boies. The point about the term sheet is at the end.

Example 1

Boies: Would you agree as a general proposition that the market generally considers investment-grade debt securities safer than non-investment-grade debt securities?

Alvarez: I don’t know.

 

Example 2

Boies: [Presents a copy of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report stating that the Fed had lowered the standards it applied for the quality of collateral for its loans under two programs then devised to support lending and asks] Do you see that?

Alvarez: I see that. . .

Boies: . . . [W]ould you agree that the Federal Reserve had lowered its standards regarding the quality of the collateral that investment banks and other primary dealers could use while borrowing. . . ?

Alvarez: No.

Boies: You would not agree with that?

Alvarez: Right.

 

Example 3 Read More

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Goliath aka Google aka No Surprises in Hollywood versus Silicon Valley

This just in: Hollywood hates/fears/plots against Google! The Sony security breach and following leaks have yielded many insights, sort of. If anyone thought Hollywood executives were discrete, that was naive and now debunked. If anyone thought most people knew not to use work email for personal business, that too is shown false. (I am continually amazed at how many law professors have thought it “odd” or “paranoid” that I use different emails for work and non-work communication). And yes, Hollywood aka the copyright industry is quite savvy and plots ways to go after its competitors and/or threats. The revealed emails do show the details of the plans and that there was a code word, Goliath, for Google (which I take as a place holder for Silicon Valley). All of which seems very Dr. Evil. But let’s be clear. Strategies to go after state attorneys general or legislators and to push negative news stories are endemic. They are endemic to Hollywood, telecoms, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, and really any major industry. I am not saying that these practices are great or that policy is well-made from them. But they are real and should be understood. And, for those interested in the open Internet debates there are some other lessons. If you thought SOPA was the end, think again.

Vigilance and support for many companies and groups that support your issue (regardless of what it is) matters. The game is afoot. It will not end. Disclosure moment: Yes, I worked at Google in the policy group, and I have also worked on a political campaign. And one thing that I know from my experience and research (check Jessica Litman’s work on the copyright industry for a great lesson in this industry’s ability to play the game) is that if ideas come from only one entity, they seem weak. For better or worse, trade groups, NGOs, etc. matter. I prefer those that are independent and offer some nuances, but overall the concerted voices of many can be powerful. No matter what issue you wish to see succeed, backing only one entity dilutes the power of the idea or makes it seem like one company or group is crying over its lot in life. Some other post may get into the public choice issues here. But for now, the Sony leaks show that nothing much has changed. “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” Ecclesiastes, 1:5-6.

Hollywood will always lobby for its interests and so will everyone else. “So it goes.”

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 61, Issue 4

Volume 61, Issue 4 (May 2014)
Articles

Expressive Enforcement Avlana Eisenberg 858
Insider Trading as Private Corruption Sung Hui Kim 928
Marriage Equality and Postracialism Russell K. Robinson 1010

 

Comments

Fast and Furious, or Slow and Steady? The Flow of Guns From the United States to Mexico Jessica A. Eby 1082
Parole Denial Habeas Corpus Petitions: Why the California Supreme Court Needs to Provide More Clarity on the Scope of Judicial Review Charlie Sarosy 1134

 

 

 

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Silence and Evil

Some of you may have read the story of the 55 bodies found at a reform school for boys in Florida. Although the national media is finally paying some attention (law professor Tim Wu deserves some credit for this), I cannot help but wonder the reasons that it isn’t considered true headline news. It is hard to identify a clearer example of a recent story exhibiting  such genuine evil and injustice.

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Of Wolfs, Wall Street, Art, and Poser Populists

I was not planning on seeing The Wolf of Wall Street but may have to after reading an op-ed by Christina McDowell, the daughter of Tom Prousalis who was a lawyer in the pump and dump schemes portrayed in the movie. She makes the argument that the film and especially the film makers, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Winters, have glorified these tactics:

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

On the one hand, I think McDowell is suggesting that these “liberal” film makers are what I like to call poser populists; lots of lip service to certain ideals but not much beyond that. Maybe that is so. Some artists and writers were horrible in private life but wrote works that capture and celebrate humanity. Do we stop reading them? No. When the opposite is true, however, we may indeed pass up the work. On the other hand, there is the film by itself. Is it that bad?

With McDowell’s critique, I find I may have to see the blasted thing to determine whether it is as lacking substance as it seems. The trailers made the film seem pretty much as McDowell describes. And I happen to find the Scorsese and DiCaprio combo flat film-making. But these images and perspectives of how to conduct one’s life come up in both business associations and professional responsibility. While I believe people should make what they wish for film, T.V., books, etc., if those works become popular, I find I want to know them so I can counter-punch the message or give some context to what students see. Thus I agree with McDowell that creators can exercise judgment in what they make, but once the thing is done, blast it all, I may have to dive in if I want to say “Not for me” and back it up with why.

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The Invention of “Classic” Quid Pro Quo Corruption

Next week in oral argument on McCutcheon v. FEC, you may hear the justices asking counsel to explain why aggregate limits on contributions serves a governmental interest in quid pro quo corruption. Quid pro quo is mentioned 14 times in McCutcheon’s brief, and 5 times in the response.

In Citizens United, Justice Kennedy used the phrase quid pro quo fourteen times. Justice Kennedy believes that the governmental interest in regulating corruption only includes regulating “what we can call the ‘quids’ in the quid pro quo formulation.” The phrase quid pro quo came to serve as a kind of redundant definitional phrase attached to the word, describing what corruption constitutes, or reinforcing that description.

Justice Thomas has scolded others for trying to separate “‘corruption’ from its quid pro quo roots.”

In Wisconsin Right to Life, Chief Justice Roberts’ announced that “the quid-pro-quo corruption interest cannot justify regulating [issue ads].”As  for any other efforts to define it, he writes, with frustration, that “enough is enough.”

Here’s the rub: quid pro quo didn’t become part of definitions of corrupt, corruption, or corruptly until the 1970s, and in many states it is still not part of the definition of any bribery, extortion, or other corruption statute. Just to take one example–I could do this with many states– the first mention of quid quo pro in the New York bribery context was in 1972, and it has been mentioned only a handful of times after that. When the elements of bribery are listed, quid pro quo is not one of them.

So while it is true that Buckley mentions quid pro quo corruption, but in doing so, it wasn’t consolidating and describing an understanding, it was creating one.

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How to Win Friends & Influence People

The ambitious might wonder: what does it take to succeed in China? Finance appears to have an answer:

U.S. authorities have opened an investigation into whether JPMorgan Chase & Co hired the children of powerful Chinese officials to help it win business in China. . . . Investment banks have a long history of employing the children of China’s politically connected. While close ties to top government officials is a boon to any banking franchise across the world, it’s especially beneficial in China, where relationships and personal connections play a critical role in business decisions.

Poor JP Morgan. Just as newspapers offer definitive lists of its legal troubles, another one pops up.

Documentary on Indonesian War Crimes Strikes a Chord

TalkShowThe documentary “The Act of Killing” appears to be an extraordinary commentary on the violent anti-communism of Suharto‘s Indonesia. As Francine Prose notes, “the country’s right-wing leaders recruited gangs of thugs to wipe out suspected Communists with messy, improvisatory, but astonishing efficiency; estimates of the number killed during this period range from 500,000 to a million or more.” As in Vietnam, it appears that extremism in the defense of liberty was no vice.

As gangs become a tool of the prison industry in the US (or vice versa), the following observations from participants in the documentary are a striking commentary on the relativity of law in extreme scenarios:

On screen, one unrepentant murderer mocks the notion of human rights: “The Geneva conventions may be today’s morality,” he says, “but tomorrow we’ll have the Jakarta Conventions and dump the Geneva Conventions. War crimes are defined by the winners. I’m a winner. So I can make my own definition.”

When some of “the most important figures in organized crime are employees of multinational companies, politicians and bureaucrats,” the definition of the “criminal” leaves ordinary rule of law principles behind. The problem affects far more countries than the obvious targets of, say, Indonesia, Italy, and India. The “officialization of the criminal” and “criminalization of the official” may well be one of the darkest trends of our already troubled times.

Image: From The Act of Killing (directed by Joshua Oppenheimer), video still of an Indonesian talk show, where the audience applauded the “homicidal exploits” of a “self-described gangsters who” engaged in “brutal campaigns against Communists, ethnic Chinese and critics of the military government.”