The Russell Report

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The Russell Building has a new tenant.  B.J. Pak is the new United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.  Pak was confirmed a month ago.  As I read back through the press coverage of Pak’s nomination this summer, I found one memorable zinger.  When Trump nominated Pak in July, he proclaimed that Pak shared his own vision for “Making America Safe Again.”  Sigh.  This begs the question, of course, safe for whom?  In a recent interview with Robin McDonald of the Daily Report, we learned this:

Pak said that, once he settles in, he wants prosecutors to focus on two U.S. Justice Department priorities: violent crime and opioid addiction. He said he hopes to step up enforcement and prosecution of large drug-trafficking cartels. Cybercrime and white-collar crime prosecutions also are on his radar. To that end, he wants to begin meeting with federal law enforcement agencies, whom he says he views, along with crime victims, as “clients” of his new office.

In recent years, Pak’s clients were not DEA agents, but defendants in our own federal courthouse.  And he did a terrific job.  As late as August, a full month after his nomination, Pak penned a spirited and down-for-the-cause sentencing memorandum in a fraud case: United States v. Alleca, No. 1:15-CR-458-LMM.  Check it out on PACER.  I bet you’ll find a declaration (or two or three) from our new U.S. Attorney that will fit nicely into your own cases.  Just saying.

Trump’s pair of judicial nominees to our district court bench continue to wait.  In a press release issued three months ago, entitled “Fifth Wave of Judicial Candidates,” Trump nominated Mike Brown, a former AUSA in our district, and Billy Ray II, a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.  You’ll find Brown’s biography here on his firm’s website.  And you may click here for Robin McDonald’s terrific story on both nominees.  (May we take a moment to reflect on the White House’s choice of words here?  A judicial nominee is not a “candidate” at all.  He is, we hope, an apolitical person who will not run for election through some pitched political campaign, but will instead serve as a neutral check and balance on politicians, and Presidents, who do run for office.)  You may follow the progress of Brown’s nomination on his Ballotpedia.org page and Ray’s nomination on his Ballotpedia.org page.

Of Brown’s recent confirmation hearing, Robin McDonald wrote this:

In response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who, like Brown, is a former prosecutor, Brown suggested that his experience as a former federal prosecutor, followed by 15 years largely handling defense work, “gives me a fairly good view of both sides of the aisle.”

“Having seen some of the pressures and the problems that prosecutors face, as well as some of the pressures and problems defense lawyers face, I think that would give me a leg up on how I would handle my courtroom in trying cases,” he said.

Ray received resistance from Senators during the same confirmation hearing.  He was asked about an opinion he authored on the Georgia Court of Appeals, an opinion that proved hostile to indigent litigants.  Ray responded by pointing to a trial he conducted as state court judge, a trial in which, he says, he showed great sympathy for indigent defendants (and the lawyers who represent them):

Ray said his decision to halt that trial prompted the General Assembly to appropriate emergency funds for Georgia’s Capital Defender Program. “As a district court judge, I would ensure that folks were represented,” he said. “I obviously think it was important that all sides have a seat at the table, and that means a skilled advocate presenting those arguments.”

Speaking of skilled advocates, in the last ten days, three of our local defenders won jury trials in the Russell Building.  This week, Colin Garrett of the FDP won an acquittal in front of Judge Eleanor L. Ross.  His man was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and faced a steep ACCA sentence of fifteen years to life imprisonment.  Susan Miller, the FDP’s indomitable investigator, found a police CAD report that allowed Colin to embarrass (and shame) the government in closing argument.  (Hint: the police on the scene described the suspect as white, but Colin’s client is African-American.)  My favorite line from the court docket: “The jurors began deliberations at 11:45 a.m.  The jurors returned a verdict at 12:35 p.m.”  Say, Colin, why bother with the endless heartache of challenging ACCA predicate offenses at sentencing, on direct appeal, and in a § 2255 motion?  Just win the trial.

And early last week, Don Samuel and John Garland, of Garland, Samuel & Loeb, won a jury trial in front of Judge Steve C. Jones.  The client was accused of importing millions of dollars worth of Chinese paper, while falsely reporting to customs that the paper came from Taiwan.  Wait a minute, doesn’t China insist that Taiwan is, in fact, China?  And didn’t President Trump loudly proclaim support for this “One China” policy after a February meeting with Xi Jinping?  Well, Don’s and John’s defense surely worked much better than mine would have.  Their client lived the last five years of her life under suffocating bond conditions, including house arrest.  And she endured a deadlocked jury and a mistrial one year ago.  But who says the government always fares better the second time around?  Not this time.  Her marvelous legal team won the retrial.

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