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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Transgender Boy Scouts And The Right Of Association

A developing controversy, about an alleged transgender "boy" kicked out by a New Jersey Cub Scout pack, has serious, serious implications for the basic core constitutional right of privacy and the related rights of association most Americans take for granted.

On one level, my cynicism tells me this emerging discrimination claim -- a lawsuit is where this is headed, for sure, count on it -- may just be one big scam.

The objectives are unclear (that's by design) and there could be several. This could be designed to pressure the Boy Scouts of America, perhaps the most renowned boys' organization in the nation for generations, into "progressive change." (To support that theory, check out this petition drive to force the Boy Scouts to change its policy.)  Or drive it out of existence altogether. Or extract a high penalty, maybe civil fines or a settlement to pay off the family. Or all of the above -- and maybe the greater the damage, the better (as that is the point of all this, I suspect).

On the basic level, Monday's Gannett-owned Record of Hackensack reported on an eight year old Secaucus, NJ child, biologically female but identifying as male (so the story goes) and who was allegedly just kicked out of a Secaucus, NJ Cub Scout group because of objections from other parents. The Record's story shockingly identified both child and parent as eight year old "Joey" Maldonado and the mother as Kristie Maldonado.

The story's identification of the principals alarmed me. Naming family members in sensitive stories is, to me, a practice which is unnecessary and of no news value to the audience. Sometimes, I feel it is done as an overtly innocuous but secretly vindictive act to shame or pressure the person named. Here, it is clear the parties wanted to be named; this means the mother wanted to "out" her own child. That decision is reckless, if not depraved, for it creates the risk of damage to an eight year old child. It also indicates the child is just a pawn in this adult powerplay. 

UPDATE 12/29/16: As if on cue, the morning after this article was published, both mother and child appeared live in studio on CNN. The video is embedded in this article

Now, the story makes no mention of gender reassignment surgery or hormonal treatment. Those absences support the inference that the child was born female and is still anatomically female.

The worst thing about the Record's salacious, click-bait-pursuing story, is that it names the child by the "male" name, Joey.  The child is exposed publicly. But as my ongoing investigation reveals, the mother hasn't been shy about revealing details about her child, not in social media and not in the conventional media. Quite the opposite. In fact, the child's identity has been publicized widely, almost as if the intent were to cause even greater harm. To the child. To her child. 

The mother claims her "son" started identifying as male several years ago. Yet social media tells a different tale. On the mother's Facebook page an August 5, 2015 post shows a photo of the child, who looks just like the same child pictured in the Record story. That post refers to the family members starting with "Jodi," then "Kristie" and "Jorge." 

(And if the page has been taken down, an archived version of the page is available through at this link.)
There's more evidence that the mother was parading around her child in the press. In May 2015, the same woman and her child were quoted in a different local publication. That story referred to the child as a seven year old named "Jodi" Maldonado.

It is pretty clear that "Joey" is really "Jodi," and this seems to be quite the sudden transformation, no? So what's motivating this change?

Maybe the mother is trying to set up a big lawsuit, a big payday. Because she was just recently on the other end of a lawsuit, as a defendant in an automobile accident personal injury case which settled before trial. The case was titled Leyva v. Morris, NJ-HUD-L-Civ. 5857-13. And when did the case settle? Mid 2015. (Settlement details are confidential.)

Just about the same time it seems the compliant or gullible news media organization wants you to believe this child started identifying as a

And perhaps the same time that a perhaps-financially-strapped family needed money and could have fallen prey to political activists with cash to burn and scruples to abandon. 

As for the Cub Scouts, what about them? Maybe they're the perfect politically correct target, being all-male and traditional values and such, and better yet, one with deep pockets. A juicy target, a "get" is what the Boy Scouts are. 

But the larger constitutional issues revolve around attacks on a private organization. It is possible the Boy Scouts may be forced, under threat of either ruinous litigation or even state regulatory or prosecutorial action, to abandon any membership criteria. 

But then, you have the issue of who can join, and who can select members. 

When every organization is open to all, when there are no standards, when everyone can be a member, then in reality, no one is a member.

I am afraid that the larger, hidden agenda here is an assault on the right of association, the right of groups to privately associate, and thus an implicit attack on every cultural institution. The message: No institution is safe from assault, no group may enjoy a right to associate as it wishes.

The case of this one child in New Jersey is merely the sympathy-inducing deception, to distract observers from recognizing the deeper principles at risk. 

Eric Dixon is a New York City based corporate and investigative lawyer. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

NJ Attorney General Tries To Control Newspaper

A five year old in Trenton, NJ brought heroin and crack cocaine to his preschool on two occasions earlier this year, prompting his placement in foster care.

But when newspaper reporters from The Trentonian got their hands on the court complaint, which in family court matters is normally sealed, New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie sprang to action.

The State Attorney General, appointed by Christie, got a temporary injunction preventing the newspaper from publishing more articles on the story, and offered to agree not to oppose the newspaper's argument against a permanent injunction.

But there's a catch: The Attorney General's Office gets to approve the next article! And if they don't like it, they said they would seek a permanent injunction.

This case, set to be heard Wednesday down in Trenton at the Mercer County Courthouse, shows state government is willing to use its power to restrict press freedom. After Bridgegate, this is just the latest abuse of power.

When a right is conditioned on the permission, the judgment or the abusable discretion of the government, your right no longer exists. It becomes a license, to be granted by and withheld by the State for any reason or no reason.

Many in Hudson County just celebrated the passing of the Cuban Maximum Leader, the despot Fidel Castro. Yet this Christie Administration move on the press evokes the playbook of the totalitarian regimes that once comprised the Soviet Evil Empire.

Even worse, Christie is simultaneously pursuing a change in state law for the benefit of one person - himself. That's because he wants to write and profit from a book deal (assuming people would actually pay to read it), while remaining nominally in office for the last year of his term and collecting a full salary for writing his book on our dime.

Is this Chris Christie's First Amendment? Where he gets to change the law (with the Legislature's help) to benefit himself, while using his power to restrict press freedoms essential for the public's right to know?

A county court hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Wednesday. But this hearing should not even be necessary.

The First Amendment is clear that the people are to be free from any abridgment of the press, and our Supreme Court has reaffirmed this right. Freedom of the press is, in fact, not just a constitutional right, but a "core" constitutional right.

There are over 40,000 lawyers living and working in New Jersey (many others live there but practice in New York or Pennsylvania). Where are the principled men and women in the Attorney General's Office who would and should resign in protest, rather than violate the spirit, or letter, of our Bill of Rights?

Why aren't Christie appointees throughout our judicial system doing the same?

Chris Christie is a lame duck governor who still wields the power of our State Executive Branch. If Bridgegate wasn't enough of a warning, this case of legal intimidation of the press is a warning to us to beware of a man who is no longer accountable to voters and who just might think he can get away with Fidel Castro style repression.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Can IRS Use Coinbase Order To Harass Bitcoin Owners?

The federal government might have a new tool to discourage Bitcoin investment and acceptance by retail merchants.

That's because a federal judge recently authorized an Internal Revenue Service summons on the digital currency exchange and wallet provider Coinbase for its transaction history for the three years prior to December 31, 2015.

This means that the granular information of those transactions, all investment purchases and sales as well as each merchant transaction, will be accessible to the IRS.

The summons itself does not change any tax liability or responsibility of American taxpayers, because digital currencies have been ruled to be currency since an early 2014 agency ruling.

But without Coinbase issuing detailed records of transactions to its customers, the granular information to the IRS means the agency may obtain the aggregate sale proceeds to customers and force the customers to rebut the agency position that those gross proceed amounts are not income. Unfortunately, that means customers and merchants would be compelled to go through the trouble of documenting (i.e., proving) their purchase price (their "basis" for tax purposes) in the digital assets, lest the IRS assume a zero basis and that the entire sale price is taxable gain! This is patently unfair.

Imagine a supermarket (to take a low-margin industry as an example) buying milk wholesale for $2.50 per gallon, selling it at retail for $3.29, but being taxed as if the entire sale price were profit?  Well, if you're a bitcoin investor or merchant who takes bitcoin as payment, that could be the unstated, de facto policy of the IRS. And that would be a hidden, unofficial, unspoken way for some government officials to discourage the use of digital currencies.

Yet all is not lost. Any smart merchant or investor should keep meticulous records. All customers will need their records of the purchases. This will establish the basis of the taxpayer.

Now I will explain why that is not necessarily bad. Indeed, with the long period of Bitcoin's price decline from its $1200-plus peak in late 2013 to its trough below $200 in late 2014, many sales in the covered three year period (Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2015) may have been at a loss, where taxpayers bought at a higher price than the sale. Bitcoin still is several hundred dollars below its peak. Many Coinbase users may have taxable losses on Bitcoin, and can use $3,000 of losses to offset other income, and losses over that amount to offset any capital gains.

The uncertainty about the IRS implementation of its enforcement powers, and whether Coinbase will issue the tax statements customary for securities broker dealers or mutual funds, means that taxpayers may have significant tax reporting burdens for which they are unprepared.

If Coinbase starts -- or is required -- to issue tax statements to customers like other financial institutions, Coinbase will need to be prepared for a new level of compliance and the resulting costs. Those costs naturally get passed down to customers. You could see annual account charges or higher transaction fees, and plenty of business moving to extraterritorial (outside the United States) exchanges.

Taxpayers with Coinbase accounts face a documentation problem and should strongly consider hiring a legal or tax professional knowledgeable in digital currency to help establish the evidence needed to prove their tax basis in Bitcoin and other digital assets.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, blockchain enterpreneur and all-around fixer. Reach him at

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Election Fraud Claims Miss Opportunity For Voter Registration Fraud

The weekend brings a new allegation from President-elect Donald Trump about voting fraud resulting in "millions" of illegal votes.

The allegation was swiftly denounced as, among other things, a "fringe conspiracy theory" in the very lead of this Politico article.

But the possibility and opportunity for fraud remains largely unexplored and uninvestigated, curious circumstances indeed. At a minimum, the overeager dismissal of voter fraud claims suggests those doing the dismissing, are aware of systemic mischief and uneager to do anything to force its disclosure and their obligation to do something about it.

Election-related fraud can take two forms. Both have the potential for major mischief.

The first involves the misreporting of valid votes anywhere in the election process between the time the voter interacts with a polling machine, and the final tabulation of vote results. 

The trend of replacing old mechanical-lever machines with electronic touch-screen or scanners has not eliminated the basic problem of trust nor the opportunity for hyper-partisan poll workers to misreport numbers or otherwise make mistakes. (Some poll workers pull a 16-hour day which ends with the reporting of machine tallies, surely a common sense element to introduce at least the potential for mistakes, never mind much worse.)

One potential solution is presented by a blockchain-reliant electronic voting system (which is subject to a patent now in allowance and pending grant) using an electronic interface to report votes onto a decentralized, consensus-based public ledger (called the blockchain) which also allows for paper reports and an audit trail. 

When you consider all the individuals involved at the ground level of any election, it requires suspension of disbelief to be asked to believe (or assume) that everyone gets the numbers right. On a wide scale, the possibility for error only grows. Whether it is really possible to distort the outcome of any election is a different story, since both sides tend to be equally overzealous and opportunistic and one might credibly think the error or fudging the results may be roughly equal on both sides. (Or not.) 

Certainly, organized, clandestine efforts to rig the results would require the  involvement of many people and the silence or complicity of yet another large set of people, and the continued silence of all of these people (which is unlikely). Effective result-rigging would require misreporting and the absence of an audit trail or other verification mechanism, to permit the misreport from eventually being discovered, but this is the problem with electronic machines which do not print out a paper record. 

Now, to the second form of election fraud. This can distort (or throw) an election outcome as a result of the dilution of the legal voter pool by illegal or otherwise ineligible voters. Now this may be what Trump -- and others -- have in mind, but are not effectively communicating. (Amazingly, Trump & Co. also botched their explanation of the I-didn't-pay-taxes-one-year controversy.) While many non-citizens dutifully and eagerly report their ineligibility to vote when they are asked to "come out and vote on Election Day," anecdotal reports persist about plenty of other non-citizens who are clueless and sign whatever they are told to sign. They are signing voter registration forms, and have no idea what they are doing, but they are registered. (This can impact small races where a handful of votes does represent the margin of victory. Think your local party county committee races or local school board district, that type of thing, more than larger races like Congressional races.)

The potential for abuse exists, because observers know that our voter registration system operates on the honor system: We trust people to be truthful when asked if they are citizens.

But in a time where the hysteria was about possible deportations of legal immigrants, must the reasonable observer be forced to ignore at least the real possibility that there were scared-of-deportation immigrant non-citizens who signed up to vote?

Should we have a level of educated discourse on this topic that requires unanimity that, no, never, it is impossible that this could have happened, so impossible in fact, that we should not even explore the question? 

Across the country, these ineligible registered voters do add up. It may not be a big amount, may not be statistically significant, may not have any bearing on any election, but isn't it funny that this is a topic just about everyone is eager to cover up with a bulldozer so it never sees the light of day?

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who has represented dozens of candidates including presidential candidates in ballot access matters. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why Entertainers Should Not Discuss Politics or Social Issues

The recent Hamilton controversy raises several issues that range far beyond the stated content of the post-show monologue directed at the Vice President Elect.

One of the issues is the wisdom of entertainers, in any field, opining on political or social matters of the day.

The classic entertainment rule was that public declarations on anything in politics or culture was not merely considered unwise; in fact, many talent agents, producers and other "gatekeepers" for performers made it clear (officially or unofficially, in written contracts or with the stern talking-to) that such comments were forbidden, off limits, verboten.

Back then (and still true in a large regard today), the reason was pretty clear: Such opinions rarely, if ever, helped the bottom line. It's pure good business, pure good show business.

Why is that the case? Wouldn't affinity with a star, agreement or sympathy with his or her positions, help drive ticket sales, record sales, licensing revenue and so on?

Yes, potentially -- but the opposite is true too. 

The best example is demonstrated by the relatively new trend towards identifying the sexual identities of comic book heroes. (Full disclosure: I am not a comic book fan, never was, so the field is rather alien to me; the advantage is that I can discuss this issue unemotionally.)

Prior to the last twenty years or so, comic books and their derivative cartoons, movies, etc., rarely delved into the personal lives of their characters. Even with characters whose superhero identity and storylines often involved their "mortal" alter ego and attempts to hide their "real" identity (think: Peter Parker and Spider-Man), the personal lives and intimate exploits were typically rarely or never explored in plot lines. (The more recent cinematic iterations of characters are a sharp departure from this classic treatment.)

I contend that part of the mystique and allure of superheroes, or many fictional characters, is the mystery of the unknown. Since the fans don't know much about a certain character, they can imagine those traits, those realities, and project their own values onto their character. This type of fan identification, the projection, the daydreaming if you will, might seem juvenile to some, but it is the fuel behind a lot of the fan interest behind certain stars and shows. It is the kindling wood underneath a lot of the chatter, the water cooler talk, that in turn spurs audience interest in existing fans and drives new interest. (Because ratings, book sales, etc., matter; it's all about metrics, and revenues.)

Answer these questions, and I'd argue you are sucking the oxygen out of the room. Out goes the fire. Isn't that what the new comic book writers are doing, when they declare that a certain superhero has a particular sexual identity, or religion, or whatever?

While such decisions are currently trendy, I contend they play to the affinity of one group -- typically a small group -- but do so at the expense of diminishing or destroying the imagination of the rest of the audience, and as a result experience a net loss.

In show business, folks, numbers matter. See above: it's all about metrics, and revenues. 

For additional fuel to this fire, consider the now-iconic ending in 2007 of the final episode of the HBO mob/family drama "The Sopranos," best characterized by a series of answered questions in the last episode (i.e., shootings of various characters) and some totally unanswered hanging questions regarding the main family characters (e.g., everyone in the Soprano nuclear family). While the show was undoubtedly wildly popular and even considered a cult classic during its run, the series' ending likely enhanced its stature above its prior heights. 

Returning to the original topic of stars interjecting politics or social commentary into their show business characters, their performances or even just interviews with the entertainment media, I would argue it simply is not good business.  I believe the most successful entertainers know that.

Before you conclude I am wrong, ask yourself this: When was the last time you ever heard anyone in the Kardashian daughters -- the offspring of a famous Hollywood lawyer -- discuss politics?

That's exactly the point. Those daughters know better, have been taught to know better. For once, follow the Kardashians' example!

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who runs his own independent law practice as well as a consulting practice on blockchain technology, media and political / policy matters. 

The Hamilton Controversy: When An Audience Member Becomes The Show

Many misconceptions about the weekend controversy involving the Broadway show "Hamilton"'s cast's shoutout and shaming of audience member, Vice President Elect Mike Pence.

This does not involve the First Amendment. The First Amendment restricts government interference with speech. It has nothing to do with personal or corporate restrictions on speech. The Hamilton cast was perfectly within its rights to do the monologue. The Hamilton producers, owners, sponsors, etc. are within their respective rights to respond, as are prospective audience members entitled to boycott the show (which has been suggested in some corners).

Now, here is a link to a Canadian telecast story (Canadian Broadcasting Company), including video of the actor Brandon Dixon's monologue:

The issue here is not one of rights. It is one of culture.

Is it appropriate -- not whether it is legal -- for an audience member to become "the show" by design of the cast?

Do we -- as patrons, as customers, as the audience -- want our entertainers to possibly call us out, in public, for whatever views we might hold, or even the views we might be presumed to hold?

Finally, the reality may be that the intent of the end-of-show monologue was to deliver not the "stated" message, but this alternate, thinly veiled message: Since we disagree with you (and impute the worst attributes to your character),you will be a target anytime you step out into public, you will never be safe, and you will be made to suffer until and unless you repent. 

The "legal" views of this controversy should be instructed by this important, and universally overlooked, distinction.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Free Speech and Election Protests

The political climate and low level of discourse among most protestors, regardless of whom they're supporting and whom they're opposing, is leading to "disinformation" and widely-held misconceptions (no, flat out errors) about Americans' First Amendment.

The First Amendment, the beginning of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, binds and restricts government power. It, just like the rest of the Constitution, restricts what the government can do to the people. 

People can protest other people. That is not a First Amendment violation. In fact, private employers can restrict political speech by employees while in the workplace; that is not a government restriction nor is it a restriction on the "freedom" of the employee. The employee has a right to freedom from interference by the government regarding his or her speech -- but the employer has the right to its freedom of association, plus any de facto requirement to accept the speech of others is compulsion by any other name. That is antithetical to freedom. So we have freedom of speech (meaning, again, freedom from government restriction). We just don't have the freedom to compel others to allow us to speak, to dominate or to have a monopoly on speech, on opinions, or on reactions to speech. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How Hillary Can Block Email Production In Election Eve Controversy

There are reports that Anthony Weiner, the still-married husband of Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, has produced to the Federal Bureau of Investigation a laptop (and who knows what else) containing a lot of emails. 

[SIDEBAR: Check out my 2013 commentary on Huma Abedin's grace under pressure when Weiner's problems with technology resurfaced.]

There are a lot of known unknowns and even unknown unknowns here. We don't know what's on the laptop or even what's the focus of the particular investigation (there could be more than one) which prompts interest in whatever's on the computer, laptop or other computing device. We don't know the subject or target (that is, any particular person) of the investigation.

[PRIOR ANALYSIS: What are the Justice Department guidelines regarding investigations of active candidates for public office? Read more here.]

But I surmise that Huma Abedin, if interested in helping Hillary Clinton, would have opportunities to at least delay the process. I am not saying the run-out-the-clock strategy would work, and I am taking a politically agnostic view of this topic (so all of you can share an anger at me!). But politics is causing one heck of a rush to judgment. If we were back in colonial times, the chickens would be squawking and the tar would be boiling.

First, there are spousal privileges that can bar both testimony by one spouse against another, and the introduction through testimony of marital communications during the marriage. (For what it's worth, here's a Justice Department memorandum, mostly pertaining to immigration matters such as sham marriages, which discusses the issue and at the very end, lists five ways the privilege can be waived or challenged by the government.) There is no ironclad privilege, and I am sure plenty of people will want (for political reasons) the privileges to be defeated, but my point here is that an objection could be raised and there might be some interesting issues.

Second, I would be wondering whether Weiner was properly authorized to turn over anything as to which his ownership or control cannot be undisputed. Were these objects really his? Were these objects shared possessions? All of these possible hurdles must be overcome.

I believe that even if the facts are overwhelmingly in support of production, each obstacle presents several questions of law and of fact. That means there are hearings, briefs, more briefs and  rearguments. All of that can delay the ultimate resolution. That's because we have due process and Huma will be entitled to her day(s) in court to fight as hard as she wants, whether on her own behalf or as proxy for Hillary Clinton.

The only thing you can be assured of? There will be no quick resolution on this and definitely not before Election Day.

Eric Dixon is a veteran corporate and investigative lawyer whose analysis and keen judgment is relied upon by business and political leaders in sensitive situations. Mr. Dixon is also a co-inventor of blockchain technology improvements which are covered by two allowed and soon-to-be-granted patents. For inquiries, reach out to him at

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Independent contractor and freelancer worker protection in New York City

Certain workplace protections typical for employees will be extended to independent contractors and "freelance" workers for New York City businesses, under a new bill passed by the New York City Council today and expected to be signed into law by the Mayor, Bill deBlasio, soon.  But oppressed and exploited workers shouldn't rejoice too much, and may need to get a lawyer anyway to protect them.

Here's why. The bill could be onerous on businesses, which risks the unintended consequence of discouraging businesses from using independent contractors and instead (perhaps) prompt them to "hire" them as "employees." 

On the other hand, the bill requires written contracts for any "gig" with a value of $800 or more, and provides for damages and legal fees to be paid to the prevailing plaintiff. Court actions can be brought in state court (Supreme Court of each borough).

The intended beneficiaries? Anyone -- everyone -- who is an independent contractor or freelancer. 

Who's not covered? Lawyers, doctors, nurses (the bill refers to "medical professionals") and salespeople. (That, by the way, is to the benefit of those professionals, because the burdens of the bill potentially could discourage New York employers from using freelancers in those professions. Keep reading.)

Who's required to comply? Any non-governmental entity. This doesn't just mean all businesses. It means religious institutions, educational institutions, nonprofits, political campaigns, just about anyone and everyone who pays $800 or more to anyone without making them an employee. 

What the bill does*:

(* - Assuming the present version is signed by Mayor DeBlasio)
  • It establishes and enhances protections for freelance workers (independent contractors / not employees) including the right to written contract, the right to be paid timely and in full, the right to be free of retaliation. 
  • It provides penalties for violations of these rights, including statutory damages, double damages, injunctive relief and attorney's fees. 
  • If you want to bring a court action, you do it in state court in the Supreme Court of each borough. 
  • The government (NYC) can get involved when it discovers or suspects there is evidence of a pattern or practice of violations, and go to court to seek penalties of up to $25,000. 
  • Complaints from the public would go to the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) which will have to set up a system to adjudicate these complaints. 
I am fielding inquiries from affected businesses, nonprofits and churches and may be reached at either 917-696-2442 or via email at

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Baseball Bat As Unlawful Weapon: Overcharging As Coercion

A New Jersey woman was arrested after a seemingly routine traffic stop, and charged with the unlawful possession of ... a baseball bat.

This seems like an over eager officer trying to overload a file, and overcharge a young woman, by throwing every conceivable charge.

Whether the charges are ultimately prosecuted by a municipal prosecutor is a different story, and municipal (town) judges also can dismiss the charge. However, prosecutors have government power and government resources behind them and the average private citizen facing even a minor criminal charge (misdemeanor) can be wiped out by the cost of hiring a competent lawyer.

One would hope that the imbalance in fighting ability is not encouraging police officers to meet quotas by overloading charges in order to overwhelm a hapless defendant and coerce, through the imbalance in resources, a guilty plea to at least one charge, regardless of the merits of any charge or whether any charge is furthering the protection of the public or deterrence of actual crime.

Here, we have a case of a woman basically arrested for charges including the possession of a baseball bat. So what objects these days risk being considered weapons?

In a day of the pressure cooker bomb, many everyday objects are conceivably dangerous -- if used for purposes clearly not intended by their manufacturers, wholesalers or retail sellers. But our authorities are entrusted with great power. It seems more discretion -- and basic common sense -- is in order.

Otherwise, such cases will weaken the legitimacy of the authorities and weaken the overall sense of justice. That would not further law and order; in fact, such cases risk justifying the meme that the authorities are out of control, that many prosecutions are illegitimate ab initio and that many people in government are crooked, corrupt or bent on violating basic civil rights.

It all starts with the discretion to use government power. Most of the time a scalpel will do, not a chain saw.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Rule of Law and Investigating Your Opponents

The rule of law is fundamental to our culture, and the bedrock of our society. It is the reason why people felt comfortable buying farmland and starting businesses. The rule of law gives people the sense of security, the comfort, that their property won't be seized by mobs or the government and that there is "legal redress" against such abuses.

The rule of law was -- perhaps inadvertently -- compromised and attacked by Republican Donald Trump in the Sunday night debate. The vow to investigate Democrat Hillary Clinton for various alleged misdeeds (crimes?) has a chilling undertone.

When Trump declared, "you'd be in jail!" he signaled that his "investigation" would already have the conclusion picked out. This just isn't how credible investigations are done. This isn't how justice is done, nor is it the way to get (or retain) the perception of legitimacy among the general population.

Our governments have awesome power. Whether it's the small stuff like a permit to install an appliance, a license to cut hair or a food inspection permit, governments can exercise quite a bit of control over our lives. When governments have the power to regulate, to investigate and then jail criminals, the power is obviously much greater. 

Our rule of law and economic system is based on the premise that our "system" is sound and fair. Our Constitution (see the 14th Amendment) calls for the "equal protection under the laws" as a bedrock principle.

Once our property, security and liberty become more dependent on the goodwill of men, we move from being a nation of laws and a nation where an economy can flourish, to a nation of men whose favor we must seek and receive in order to achieve, build and keep anything.

These sentiments must be of prime concern. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Social Media And First Amendment Rights

The more politically active users of social media websites tend to complain that those sites censor their views, postings and other communications and do so in violation of their rights.

I will tell you that is nonsense, but there's plenty you can do about it anyway.

First, stop blaming the sites. While they may have biases as a result of having to trust the judgment of their employees tasked with content monitoring, the facts remain that the sites are privately owned and have the right to police content. These are also sites for which almost every complainant pays nothing! I've yet to hear a credible account of censorship from anyone who is paying for ads or preferred placement. Isn't that interesting?

The phrase "First Amendment" gets thrown around a lot as well. The First Amendment prohibits government interference with free speech. Facebook, etc., is not the government. Private entities have their own rights of free expression. Notably, that right includes the right to police and control content. If private entities or citizens did not have the right, they would then be effectively obligated to allow and be associated with certain speech they found objectionable.

Remember this: there is a difference between the right to speak, and the "right" to compel someone else to hear you.

All Americans have a right to free speech. But none of us have a right to force others to be our audience, to clap when we want applause and to agree with whatever drivel we imagine to be wisdom.

If you don't like the content control policies of social media websites, join a different one. Take your business and eyeball metrics elsewhere. It's that simple.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Investigative work into Ahmad Khan Rahami

I do quite a bit of investigative work and there are similarities between investigative attorneys (of which I am one of the few), actual government investigators and the declining number of investigative journalists.

Here is the product of research done in the last 24 hours since the name of the New York bombing suspect was released.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bridgegate Prosecutors Say Christie Knew Of GWB Lane Shutdown As It Happened

Perhaps lost in the breaking news about New York City (#ChelseaNYC) bomb suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami being apprehended in central New Jersey...

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew about the lane closures leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as they were occurring, according to federal prosecutors making their opening statements in the trial of two former Christie aides which began this morning. The source, according to prosecutors, will be David Wildstein, Christie's former appointee to the Port Authority.

Wildstein's charge is not a surprise, given his claims (through counsel) virtually since the scandal broke and once New Jersey legislative committees began investigating and holding hearings in late 2013. Those investigations likely begat the federal prosecutors' investigation which led to the indictments of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly (who are the ones on trial) and to Wildstein's guilty plea, entered in court on the same day as Baroni and Kelly were arraigned in May 2015.

If the prosecutors' statements are proven, it raises the question of whether the statements will confirm or debunk Christie's possible statements to federal investigators who reportedly interviewed him about two years ago. It raises the thorny issue of what Christie said in that meeting. It is possible Christie took the Fifth Amendment on some questions, and that this information was not released. (That theory might explain why Christie may not be called as a witness, but we have to wait for the trial to unfold further.)

Christie has not been charged, but he may be on the list of unindicted co-conspirators which was kept sealed by a federal appellate court (Third Circuit) last month. 

The legal reason for deeming someone to be a co-conspirator may have little (or nothing) to do with that person's actual culpability. It goes to a method for prosecutors to expand their ability to use statements which otherwise might be excluded as hearsay. There is an exception to the hearsay rule when the alleged speaker is a co-conspirator, unindicted or indicted.

There is one other question to be raised, and it is less a legal question than a judgment and temperament question. Should the allegations be confirmed, they will make Christie look extraordinarily vindictive and prone to the abuse of power. These qualities will likely impair his attractiveness to an appointed position in a Republican presidential administration. However, they should also raise questions as to his fitness to serve as the United States Attorney, the position he held from 2002 to 2008 (appointed by President George W. Bush).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cyber bullying Conviction Reversed

A New Jersey appellate division last week reversed and vacated the felony conviction of a Rutgers University student in connection with cyber bullying alleged to have caused the suicide of another Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi.

I wrote about this travesty of justice several times over the past several years. The suicide itself is a tragedy. However, that tragedy did not justify the three acts of appallingly poor judgment which followed.

First, the Clementi family jumped on the victim bandwagon. Grief is understandable. Trying to ruin another's reputation to atone for one's guilt at fear of somehow missing the signals of a suicidal or self-harming mind is not acceptable.

Second, Middlesex County prosecutors used this case to demonstrate their virtue. This is an inappropriate use of prosecutorial resources and smacks of a political or social justice vendetta. The proper aim of prosecutors is to exercise the power of the state to deter and punish crime. Yet here, the crime was hardly discernible and indeed there is no ruled to be no crime. But even if there were a crime, prosecutors failed to exercise good judgment in blatantly overlooking the following core facts:

1. dorm mate Dharun Ravi recorded acts occurring within his own room,

2. The reasonable person understandably might have been upset or even revolted from an epidemological point of view, that being the reasonable point of view to anyone having to live in a shared space, and

3. In a shared space, the concept of privacy must adapt to the concept best described by the plural pronoun "our," not the singular pronoun "my."

This prosecution either ignored the concept of a shared space, or worse, it struck a chord for a preferential right for one student based upon his apparent sexual preference (demonstrated on only one occasion), and a disfavoring or subordination of the privacy and other rights of another student who, apparently, did not share the same preference.

It is hard to square this prosecution with a fundamental respect for equal rights under the law.

Finally, these same critiques must be laid at the feet of New Jersey legislators. They enacted a law but failed to consider (or counted on the liberal courts to uphold) the flawed constitutionality and legality of the statute. The legislative function when properly exercised, does not invite or encourage the abdication of its own judgment and "kick the can down the road" to the judiciary.

Here, it seems politics reigned supreme. Dharun Ravi spent some time in jail and got his reputation severely harmed, as he is collateral cannon fodder in this sordid social justice debate.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Are Smart Contracts Unamerican?

One of the in-vogue new tech phrases of the last year or two has been "smart contract."

This generally refers to some computer code effecting a self-executing contract that is supposed to dispense with the need for lawyers or the risk of lawsuits.

In other words, this is a tech unicorn.

Outside the United States, and in the fantasy utopia land between the ears of too many Americans, lawsuits and lawyers are considered a uniquely American hindrance interfering with commerce.

Inside the United States, lawyers and lawsuits are considered a vital and necessary deterrent to bad behavior. Sure, bad actors exploit their use as well, but litigation and access to your day in court provides a useful protection to those who believe they've been robbed, swindled or bamboozled. Plus, it's peace of mind.

Outside the United States, it's really tough being the victim of a predatory business practice. That's why many foreign entrepreneurs come to the United States. And when they go to other countries, guess what? They pick countries which have American-style legal protections and recognize American-style property rights and due process.

The smart contract as envisioned commonly today does not recognize or properly account for these rights. Circumstances change and disputes can arise during the course of performance. A smart contract may not be the best tool in those situations.

In short, today's smart contracts are often fatally flawed. They exchange the prospective and feared contingency (for example, someone trying to welch on a deal) for an actual and quantifiable loss (such as an inflexibility in seeking redress for a dispute arising during performance).

In any other situation, exchanging a possible harm for a second harm much more likely to occur, is sheer madness. So it is here.

If you are comfortable restricting the rights of parties to seek a neutral hearing in court over what they think are legitimate disputes, then the current brand of autocratic, rights-restricting smart contracts are for you.

However, that goes against the grain of the entire trend of foreign capital and innovation moving into the United States. Intellectual capital is the most protected in the United States. So why would our smart contracts pattern themselves after the autocratic solutions of less-free, less-hospitable countries?

Smart contracts have great potential. However, your smart contract must meet several requirements to work for you. It has to be written in conjunction and consultation with seasoned American corporate lawyers. This means someone who understand how contracts are supposed to work, how contracts are enforced in the American legal system and how litigation works. It also means the ideal smart contract lawyer understands how business and commerce works. Business and economic realities are critical to making any deal work.

Unless you have this smart living lawyer involved fully in the process, your smart contract will be nothing more than a lot of brilliant and expensive code, which will be even more expensive to fix the problem it fails to prevent in the first place.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

America's White Collar Professionals: Stagnation Without Adaptation?

Middle class professionals have been getting hammered by multiple economic headwinds over the last two decades.

Some blame technology. This is misguided. The world always changes and technology reflects changes. The assumptions of the past must continually be updated, revisited, challenged and where appropriate, discarded. 

Lawyers are among those professionals, and as this is a legal-oriented blog, let's look at some of the basic trends affecting the legal profession from a consumer point of view. The first installment in a series follows, at the link below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rule of Law: How Immigrants Can Teach Us Why America Is Great

Lost in the consternation about the immigration debate -- which comes from all sides, it seems, with some saying there's too much, others too little and too restrictive -- is a core reason for the immigration.

When spending much time in immigrant-heavy or newcomer-heavy areas and speaking with first-generation people, I am quickly struck by an industriousness and earnestness to learn and adapt our culture and become immersed in our values.

Particularly striking amongst those stated values is a respect for our institutions, especially the rule of law. 

Many newcomers arrive from countries where authority is dreaded and where institutions are suspect. American institutions are considered the best in the world, for various reasons. Our legal system gets a surprising mention. 

Our legal system, while flawed (and it's flawed because it's comprised of people who have flaws), nonetheless is considered a big improvement over countries abroad. People who feel victimized have a confidence that they will have their day in court here, even if the outcome is not ultimately favorable. 

Chalk one up for due process.

Those victimized also believe that our legal system is at least supposed to be impartial, and that this extends beyond the lip service (or outright doublespeak) so commonly expected abroad. 

Chalk one up for fairness.

Finally, newcomers have a virtually unshakeable confidence that our legal system, from our laws which set forth property rights to our courts which adjudicate all sorts of disputes, protects assets, protects achievement, protects wealth. In too many other countries, institutions are considered to exist to expropriate and then redistribute wealth. Newcomers believe (as a virtual article of faith) that in the United States, one can get rewarded for hard work and then be pretty secure it won't be stolen through what in other countries passes for legal means, i.e., legal plunder by means of manipulation of an unjust legal system.

The confidence that one's home, one's factory or one's intellectual property not only won't be seized and looted, but that there's a system in place to guard against such harms, is a big attraction to the immigrant merchant class which comes to America not just to "have a job," but to create wealth. 

Native-born Americans should ask themselves: What other country has a legal system where you say, wow, I wish we had courts like theirs? Or, I wish we had their laws? 

Foreigners ask those questions and universally answer - America. 

It's why capital flows here, why rich foreigners buy American real estate, and why immigrants seek to come here to build businesses. They feel secure with the lack of civic unrest, overt political upheaval and unofficial government corruption. 

Americans seeking opportunities abroad hesitate most often because of their uncertainty over the local legal climate in their destination. Foreigners don't hesitate at all. They know America's legal system and respect for property rights is second to none. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

How Greenmail Is Used In The Political Arena

This article outlines a theory. It is only a theory. As such, however, it helps train the reader on how to analyze the various complex motives which may be at work in the public arena (lawsuits, business, etc.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Lesson on Accountability

Just published on

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Legal Advocacy: It's Your Campaign!

The word "campaign" has two common connotations, both somewhat negative.

One is the political type of campaign. If those 30-second ads have made you tempted to throw a brick at the tv screen, you know what I'm talking about. The second is a military campaign, one which conjures up images of a protracted, destructive march through the countryside. Think of the legendary (or infamous, depending on your perspective) campaign of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose march exacted purposeful devastation through the Georgia countryside to the Atlantic Ocean in order to demoralize the South's civilian population and destroy as much of the Confederacy's economic strength (and by extension, its ability to sustain a long war).

But when you need an advocate, you are engaging in a campaign. Your lawyer is your advocate, your general.
There are similar processes in other fields. Salesmanship and marketing are, in essence, nothing but campaigns. So is government lobbying.

In the advocacy sense, a campaign is about communicating your position with the goal of persuading your audience.

The essentials of a campaign are its weapons. The better weapons you have, the better your chances. And if your weapons are being used by a skilled communicator, that's just as good as having the shiniest new toy.

The weapons in the advocacy campaign are basic facts, the situation (do you need help? Are you looking to buy a car?) and, sometimes, the law (because persuading you to do one thing may involve convincing you that doing something different might be illegal).

The best campaigners assess a situation and amass as much information as possible. Information is the best currency.

But deploying that information, that knowledge, is a skill set of its own. This is where the experienced negotiator and advocate can make a difference for you.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Winning: Boost Your Odds With This One Trick

Any legal encounter has uncertainty, but there's one surefire way to increase your odds of fighting to a successful conclusion.

No matter what.

It's virtually free, too.

What is it?

Here's one clue. It helps you win the fact battle, the contest on the facts of the case or the negotiation.

It isn't enough to have the right facts. Even if the law, both statutes and court rulings confirming their meaning, is on your side.

You must be able to prove your facts. This almost always means you need documents or similar evidence, such as video or audio records or computer evidence (what is generally called electronic data).

The more information you have at the start, the less you will depend on discovery -- and the cooperation and honesty of the other side's lawyers -- to get the documents you need.

The biggest advantage is that you will know you have a strong case, well before the other side does. This can only help in negotiations. Some great court case victories are won this way, when you can spring favorable facts on your opponent and back them up with documents.

Your lawyer can help you go through your paperwork to pull out helpful or crucial information. But the real start is with yourself.

With the right discipline and organization, you may have a built in advantage in any legal situation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hillary's Server: Bad Judgment Is Not A Crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey announced earlier today the agency will recommend no indictment of Hillary Clinton be sought in connection with the apparently major lapses in judgment in handling certain classified information and the technology hosting it.

This is the legally sound -- and politically conservative -- position.

The handling of sensitive information is a serious matter, in an understatement. If it isn't a serious matter, perhaps the government ought not to be handling it.

If you have been alarmed by the decades long march towards overcriminalization and overregulation along with the gradual erosion of the mens rea (criminal intent) requirement for criminal culpability, today's statements reflect a reaffirmation of several positive core values in the classic American jurisprudence as it pertains to criminal law. It is a victory for due process, for the liberty-protecting and government-power-restraining principle that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and a victory for erring on the side of letting a guilty person go free over risking the liberty of the innocent. It is a victory for reason, over the passions of the street mob.

First, we see restraint in the use of government power. Haven't we seen far too many politically-driven or politically-suspect investigations and prosecutions in recent years? We should be thankful that we have a recognition of the value of restraint, whether you agree with the outcome and its political (for the moment) impacts. We should appreciate any time when the government acknowledges the ferocity of its fearsome prosecutorial powers and yet steps back -- and particularly when such power could rightfully be accused by a significant portion of the populace to either be politically driven or risking tipping the balance of a presidential election. (Note: It is useful to note that while the FBI and Justice Department work hand in hand and often effectively in tandem, the FBI's function is investigative and the Justice Department's function is prosecutorial, although one can be sure the FBI's recommendations carry great weight.)

Second, bad judgment is not a crime and neither is negligence. Director Comey criticized Clinton for being "extremely careless" but that is not a crime. The risks to the liberty of average Americans will be immense once we dispense with the criminal intent requirement. We don't prosecute people for mistakes -- not like Italy which started prosecuting geologists for failing to predict an earthquake in the last decade. That is a crucial point. Reasonable people can and do disagree on what is sound judgment, sound policy and so on.

We risk a great deal by rushing to criminalize policy differences and particularly when they are embodied by political opponents. This is most true, in a day when anti-intellectualism is on the march, when ignorance is celebrated and achievement often considered something that makes its holder suspect, when the Internet has emboldened the uninformed to delude themselves into believing and asserting that they are experts instead of fools.

Realize one point: these people, unaware of their foolishness, serve on juries!

But the prosecution of political enemies for subjective decisions should be the province of banana republics which pay lip service to sue process. Not of America.

Director Comey's remarks acknowledged bad judgment. And the judgment may even rise to egregious levels. You could even question whether such judgment warrants a candidate's disqualification (in the minds of voters), but that is a matter to be decided by voters and not by bureaucrats. Again, this is the federalist, restrained-government-power position.

The third and final point derives from the second. There are in some quarters the demand for a prosecution of Hillary based on who she is, what her role was. Again, this runs counter to the American legal tradition. We prosecute the act, not the man, nor the title.

When we start prosecuting people because of what they are, because they are business owners or elected officials and not really because of what they have allegedly done, we are again in despot territory where power exists to be abused and where men live at the mercy of the State.

Prosecuting Hillary because of her status, her achievements, is thusly wrong. Similarly, going after her in order to prove that "no one is above the law" also acts as a powerful and dangerous precedent, one which would surely embolden future reprisals and even more venal abuses of power.

Finally, the approaching election is and should be decided by the voters with as little government interference as possible. This again is the classic federalist position arising from the Bill of Rights and the enumerated powers of our Constitution, a document which stands for the limits of government power and the principle that the people must be protected from government overreach.

Yesterday we celebrated our independence. Lest we forget, the War for Independence began as the culmination of years if not decades of colonists' frustration with arbitrary and abusive government acts committed in the name of the Crown (the Kings of England).

So today's FBI decision should be hailed. Detractors may decry the perceived absolution of Hillary Clinton. But future Americans will be freer with this important Executive Branch decision affirming the value of the restraint of the State's prosecutorial power.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Idiots and Smart Contracts

[Author's Note: The author is a co-inventor of two patent pending innovations currently before the United States Patent and Trademark Office for improvements to blockchain technology which would facilitate smart contract applications.]

One of the major blockchain distributed asset organizations was disrupted this weekend, causing a temporary 30-50% decline (in 36 hours!) in the value of certain related "cryptocurrencies." (Note that I avoid the use of the word "hack.")

The cause was -- we think, because it's not certain yet -- a flaw in the blockchain code underlying one of these supposedly shiny, bright new things. Now, codes fail, because their creators are imperfect. Nothing new there. It's also possible the code worked as designed, in which case the code itself was bad, not in operation but in planning, and then the "contract" within the code was flawed. If the latter explanation holds true, then the problem is the bad contract. Which brings me to my point.

The contract is the issue, because we have been hearing more and more in the financial press about this supposedly wonderful new innovation called a "smart contract." I've heard supposedly brilliant innovators talk about "smart contracts" for at least three years. These are the two words that make you sound really smart, or hip. Just like putting "dot com" behind any rubbish made you money 20 years ago.


Underlying all this is an anti-intellectual arrogance. It's the arrogance bred from a disdain for the law, the rule of law, and lawyers, and the idea that non-lawyers can do contracts much better than lawyers -- who've been doing this for decades -- can do and have been. Now, you see the result.

The tragic flaw in the DAO, the subject of the attack? It might be the uncorrected confidence of people who have never done, that they know better -- and are better -- than those who have.

If you want a smart contract, you need to start with a strong understanding of a contract, how it is constructed, how it works, and what you're actually trying to do.

Until then, you're just a dreamer with a laptop and lots of unearned confidence, but no record of achievement to match. Ignorance is no substitute for knowledge.

Some more reading on this.

Eric Dixon has been a New York lawyer since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994. He works with and is a shareholder in several blockchain startups and seed-stage ventures.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When Should Unindicted Co-Conspirators Be Identified?

Do unindicted co-conspirators have a privacy right to keep their names secret from the public?

Do reputational or financial issues warrant this?

Does the unindicted co-conspirator's public employment (or other status) change the analysis? And should it? What about the Equal Protection Clause? Aren't we all equally subject to the law, and equally protected?

And what about the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause? (More on that later.)

These and other issues are going to be involved in. or affected by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' consideration Monday of a motion by a "John Doe" to keep his name secret.


Some other facts: first, John Doe is an unindicted co-conspirator as that term is used by the federal government. It means that prosecutors have labelled him as such.

Understandably, John Doe is upset over the characterization. And unless John Doe is indicted, and takes the case to a jury, John Doe will never get the chance to confront the government, its witnesses and its evidence to determine whether he has in fact committed a federal crime.

This means that John Doe could be impugned by the characterization AND have no way to "confront his accusers." John Doe is actually deprived of his Constitutional right, because he is not an "accused." He gets the right to confront, and clear his name, only if he is "accused," that is, charged with a crime.

For that, let's turn to the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides:
" . . . in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him."
To be simple, this means that you need a prosecution to trigger the right. No prosecution, no right. So anything short of being charged, and it sort of means the government gets to go open season on your reputation. Particularly since John Doe is not specifically identified. The rationale may be that any government action short of charging someone is not sufficiently injurious enough to implicate Constitutional rights. (A fascinating sidebar that should be explored more by the federal appellate and even the Supreme Court.)

Except that...

Except that John Doe is listed in court documents in the ongoing criminal cases of two other people as being a potential witness. This means that if those other two cases go to trial, the public may find out who John Doe is -- and John Doe could be a witness and testify and be subject to cross examination. It also means the testimony might be John Doe's way to "exonerate" himself, but it might also be a danger by showing things he might wish had never occurred or he had never said. He might never be charged but the revelations might be very damaging to his reputation and career.

One can also see how the government can use these considerations to bargain for the cooperation of people whom it could charge, but would agree not to, in exchange for witness testimony.

There are Justice Department guidelines on the naming of unindicted co-conspirators. See the following, straight from the United States Attorneys' Manual (with my emphasis in bold text):
In the absence of some significant justification, federal prosecutors generally should not identify unindicted co-conspirators in conspiracy indictments. The practice of naming individuals as unindicted co-conspirators in an indictment charging a criminal conspiracy has been severely criticized in United States v. Briggs, 514 F.2d 794 (5th Cir. 1975). 
Ordinarily, there is no need to name a person as an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment in order to fulfill any legitimate prosecutorial interest or duty. For purposes of indictment itself, it is sufficient, for example, to allege that the defendant conspired with "another person or persons known." In any indictment where an allegation that the defendant conspired with "another person or persons known" is insufficient, some other generic reference should be used, such as "Employee 1" or "Company 2". The use of non-generic descriptors, like a person's actual initials, is usually an unnecessarily-specific description and should not be used. 
If identification of the person is required, it can be supplied, upon request, in a bill of particulars. See USAM 9-27.760. With respect to the trial, the person's identity and status as a co-conspirator can be established, for evidentiary purposes, through the introduction of proof sufficient to invoke the co-conspirator hearsay exception without subjecting the person to the burden of a formal accusation by a grand jury. 
In the absence of some significant justification, federal prosecutors generally should not identify unindicted co-conspirators in conspiracy indictments. 

Perhaps the solution is to have the Department of Justice further revise its guidelines governing how its prosecutors refer to unindicted co-conspirators. One way is to standardize how they are identified so that their identities cannot be ascertained, not even by investigative lawyers like the author.

The above guideline is overtly critical of certain practices. (The same United States Attorney's Office in New Jersey handling the Bridgegate investigation and related criminal cases, when under the auspices of possible current co-conspirator Governor Chris Christie as U.S. Attorney, used to identify co-conspirators with initials and residence hometowns, for example.) Clearly, there are ways to identify the players. For instance, if an indictment referred to a certain white former basketball player with curly blonde hair, you'd be pretty certain we're talking about Larry Bird.

Sometimes the opaque "CC-1" is used (CC for co-conspirator). But other times an acronym or phrase is used, often in conjunction with additional narrative detail as to the person's job, title, age or residence (any of which might serve absolutely no purpose for the purposes of a charging document relating to someone else) and it allows for good educated guesses. The problem is that the descriptions can and do allow for the identification of uncharged persons, who never get a chance to clear their names. This is not only unfair to the unindicted co-conspirator, who may never be charged and thus may suffer permanent and irreparable harm (basically, this is the "John Doe" situation), but his very safety may be jeopardized.

And it is quite possible that this reputational damage is done, quite on purpose, whether to pressure the uncharged and unindicted into cooperation (an exchange of testimony for a promise not to reveal or damage the person's reputation). A cynic could argue that this is exactly the type of psychological coercion designed to induce an investigative target to "agree to cooperate," essentially to safeguard his own safety. But then again, anyone who testifies -- and in open court, it's all public -- loses any anonymity or secrecy hopes anyway.

This was the case years ago in a high profile public corruption case where the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote up a charging indictment that referred to an unindicted co-conspirator as "State Official 1." Everyone quickly figured out who the Governor was. And that Governor -- now out of public life -- was never charged.

And never able to exonerate himself either.  Indeed, the "cloud" still hovers over that ex-Governor (whom by now you've probably been able to identify).

Let's remember these important issues and the need for reasoned balancing of the considerations at stake here. Perhaps this is a judgment to eventually be made by Congress.

A good news source to follow this emerging saga is the Record of Hackensack, which will be updating this story over the next few days. A link to their current story is here:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Should Unindicted Co-Conspirators Be Identified?

Is it fair to publicly identify unindicted co-conspirators in a criminal investigation?

The attorney for one such person involved in the Bridgegate - George Washington Bridge lane closing federal investigation argues it is not fair, because such identification deprives the identified co-conspirator of due process and brands him (or her) as a potential criminal suspect (or felon).

There are several issues here.

First, can the unindicted co-conspirator be identified? It is one thing if the authorities use opaque descriptions like "CC-1." (The CC stands for co-conspirator.) It is quite another if the authorities use a pretty defined term like "Public Official 1," which term was used once to refer to a certain former state governor and which led in short order to press suspicions and a confirmation from said governor that, yes, he was the person referred to in the criminal information (the charging document issued when a defendant enters a guilty plea to avoid a formal indictment). There are actually formal guidelines for the identification of suspects who have not been charged and the authorities generally try (or at least the guidelines give the impression of the effort) to avoid impugning the reputation of uncharged individuals.

That's because of the second issue. If the identifiable unindicted co-conspirator is never charged but only suspected, his reputation may be seriously harmed.

Most critically, the third issue: The suspect, who is "outed" as a suspect, may never be charged. The good news is avoiding an indictment and surely the greater reputational damage (assuming the suspect is in fact innocent and ultimately exonerated or cleared by a judge or jury) of the indictment, perp walk and pre-trial drama. 

The bad news? 

The suspect co-conspirator never "gets his day in court" to answer, oppose and refute the suspicions. 

The suspect never gets to see (or debunk) the purported evidence against him. 

The suspect never gets to confront his witnesses.

The result?

The suspect gets outed as a suspect, suffers the reputational harm (or at least the prospect of it), and is denied any opportunity at rehabilitating his reputation or establishing his actual innocence.

It's like calling the batter out on strikes, without even letting the batter get to the plate.

Is this fair? What do you think?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cults of Personality And Manipulation: The Foundation For Fraud

A main tactic of manipulators seeking to control others and exert their will is to remove the moral authority of their targets to object or resist. This tactic is employed because the most effective tactic, the use of brute force, is too often considered a felony.

The control strategy is deployed by thoroughly researching a target to discover flaws, weaknesses or facts the revelation of which would be likely to cause serious emotional, financial, reputational or even physical harm. The threatened harm would have to be serious enough to induce the target to respond to the threat with acquiescence instead of defiance. Once the target's will to resist has been compromised, the target can be controlled for an indefinite period of time.

A certain charismatic leader is presently deploying this strategy on classic American conservatives -- today. (Tomorrow it may be a different target.) He has fashioned himself as the white middle class Toxic Avenger, in so doing, making himself a veritable pariah in many circles. More significantly, he is making his followers equally toxic. Yet he does not care, because he can and will destroy the reputations of anyone associated with or supporting him. Worst of all, he can benefit, offloading the consequences of misguided loyalty, ignorance or naïveté upon his lessers. Once those hapless supporters discover the plot, their reputations may be ruined for good. Only then will the final part of the plan unfold. These victims of their own ambition will then be left without reputations and in some cases without friends or livelihoods. In their reduced state, they will grow ever more dependent on the Boardwalk Emperor who in turn can continue to exploit them and profit from the ever-declining cost to him of the favors he feels like providing.

This is how the Maximum Leader can become like the drug dealer who profits more and more from the deepening addiction of his customers. Power is reinforced. So is dependence, as the victims fall into a reputational quicksand.

Surely these nefarious strategies are practiced by many, in business, politics and civic life, and even in some families. Criminals use this manipulation to deceive and then to embarrass those who might reveal a fraud. Darker hues of the human behavior know no boundaries except for those set, and then reinforced, by those who resist. Is this the fate which awaits those who embrace the charismatic leaders of cults of personality? You decide.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In Defense Of The Bomb: Rethinking Hiroshima

Western civilization apologists and others who simply hate "the West" love to insist on the United States apologizing and seeking redemption for using the atomic bomb to end World War II.

These criticisms are either ill-informed given the evidence that existed at the time, or willingly ignore the lack of a suitable alternative course of action.

The horrors of the atomic bomb, no matter its target, are manifest.

However, there were many other factors which played into President Harry Truman's decision to use this weapon of mass destruction.

As a historian of sorts whose college thesis nearly became a doctoral thesis (before law school interfered), I did the original research needed to offer this compelling competing viewpoint. Here are some inconvenient facts:

First: Japan remained in the war despite the surrender of its European theater allies of convenience, Italy and Nazi Germany, in April 1945.

Second: There was concern in both the European and Pacific theaters that the Soviet Union would try to permanently occupy any and all territories which its military controlled. Hence the race in Germany to reach Berlin. And thus the United States sought to proactively end the war with Japan instead of, say, bleeding them through a protracted air war and bombing the cities into utter ruin (which course of action might have produced even greater civilian casualties).

Third: The Japanese had earned a reputation for particular fierce and brutal fighting. The mentality which bred the kamikaze pilot was also expected to infuse its infantry. Indeed, such ferocity was encountered by American troops as they engaged in their successful, yet arduous, campaign of "island hopping" in the Pacific as they closed in on the mainland. There was no reason not to expect the same type of last ditch intense defense of the Japanese homeland if and when an invasion was launched. Furthermore, military intelligence reported that the Japanese had implemented a complex civil defense system. The result was the expectation that American soldiers would encounter hand to hand, street by street combat throughout Japan, and likely sustain significant casualties along with civilian casualties.

Fourth: Sustained air bombings of the mainland in 1945 did not induce surrender and supported the belief that an invasion would be needed to end the war. As explained above, an invasion was believed necessary but also was not preferred.

One must understand these factors in order to see how the decision to use the atomic bomb could be made for humanitarian purposes with a legitimate strategic objective of ending the war as quickly as possible, minimizing civilian and military casualties to both sides and maximizing the chance of preventing a Soviet invasion and later subjugation of the Japanese home islands.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How Convention Delegates Can Be Conscientious Objectors To Trump

This is why people love to hate lawyers.
There is a conscientious objector "out clause" for Republican national convention delegates who get elected to those party positions this year.
This is how Donald Trump may not become the Republican nominee, no matter how many delegates he wins.
An example is from one of the remaining few states whose voters have not voted in a primary or caucus. Let's look at New Jersey.
The New Jersey Republican State Committee, basically run by acolytes or allies of that state's Governor, Chris Christie (who is the highest-ranking elected official anywhere to endorse Trump), adopted delegate selection rules last September. Those rules provide as follows:
First, look at Rule 6 which states: 
"All delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention once a allocated and/or committed to a particular candidate by virtue of the June primary election shall be obligated and required to cast their vote for that candidate at the first vote to select the Republican Party's nominee for the office of President of the United States at the Republican National Convention."

But a rule is only as effective as its ability to be enforced, or the ability to punish noncompliance. Now read Rule 7.
 "Any delegate or alternate allocated and/or committed to a particular candidate by virtue of the results of the June primary election who fails or refuses to act in accordance with their allocation and/or commitment to that candidate as set forth herein shall be subject to censure by the New Jersey Republican State Committee and/or the County Republican Committees. Censure may include, among other things, being permanently barred from acting as a delegate or alternate to any future National Convention of the Republican Party."
The operation of these Rules allows for conscientious delegates-elect to exercise their judgment at the convention. This is, after all, how republics work. America is not a direct democracy, it never has been, and the Founding Fathers actually recognized the dangers of direct democracy. (A careful reading of The Federalist Papers is in order, if you wish.) While you can dial in the objections of opposing candidates, these rules are posted and explained so readers can understand that delegates who vote for Trump this summer, and hide behind the explanation that they were "required" to do so, are simply using an excuse to avoid criticism.