2013: The Office’s Year in Review


Happy New Year, everyone, and congratulations on surviving another twelve-month in this brutal, beautiful world. As always, I’m hopeful that 2014 is an even better year than the last – though all in all, 2013 was a pretty good year for the Law Office.

I was privileged last spring to be accepted to the Eastern District of North Carolina’s Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel, the list of private attorneys appointed by federal courts to represent indigent criminal defendants. This privilege has since also led to a CJA appointment in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, to challenge a client’s trial conviction.

Besides this new admission to the Fourth Circuit, I was also admitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota. So in addition to the many pro hac vice (“for this matter”) appearances I’ve made around the country, this Office is now fully admitted to practice in two States, two U.S. Courts of Appeal, and four U.S. District Courts.

I was also honored by my colleagues and Martindale-Hubbell, who rated me as an “AV Preeminent” attorney in criminal law.

And we can’t forget the reason this Office exists, of course – the clients. And I’ve been pleased with many of our outcomes, despite some difficult situations.

For example, the first local CJA client taken to sentencing received 137 months for drugs trafficking, despite a proposed Sentencing Guidelines range of 324-360 months. In the Eastern District of Louisiana, a public corruption client’s otherwise positive character combined with Government improprieties to create the perfect storm, and a sentence to five years of probation (the Government had asked for four years of prison). In the Middle District of Tennessee, a fraud client’s terminal medical conditions led to a probationary sentence of five years — that client now remains at home, receiving advanced medical care that the Bureau of Prisons cannot provide.

Not all sentencings wind up so well, of course – even granting that it’s sometimes hard to think of a 137-month prison term as “winding up well.” The work with BOP inmates has also stayed very tough, mostly because of the Bureau of Prisons’ largely unfettered discretion in how it treats inmates. Still, we have helped with successful prison placements, transfer requests, and posturing clients during inmate administrative remedies (the “Long, Slow No”) for eventual court actions. And our suit against the Federal Correctional Complex Butner, North Carolina, on behalf of a former inmate who lost his penis after the BOP failed to get him cancer care, has finally survived the Government’s procedural attacks. We have moved into the discovery phase and, barring settlement, the case is scheduled for trial this fall.

We have heard Attorney General Holder and Congress talk about finally relieving the insane overcrowding in the BOP. The System averages 39 percent more inmates than the BOP says the prisons can safely provide for (the “rated capacity,” which is usually already more inmates than the facility was designed to imprison). High-security prisons hold more than 150 percent of inmates than the BOP says is safe. Changes have been “suggested” in both charging mandatory-minimum sentence crimes, and BOP reduction-in-sentence (“compassionate release”) motions, but only time will tell whether this is just more Government lip service, or if serious sentencing reform is finally on the table.

This isn’t everything that’s happened in the past year, of course, but I’m grateful you’ve read even this far. So with 2013 in the books, I wish everyone good tidings and safe passage through 2014.