Big Win in the 11th Circuit

January 19, 2012 Appeals

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Big win for Roy Black in the 11th Circuit

The case is USA v. Ignasiak, and the 11th Circuit per Judge Martin vacates the convictions of this doctor in a pill mill prosecution:

After carefully reviewing the record and having the benefit of oral argument, we reverse Ignasiak’s convictions because the admission of autopsy reports and testimony about those reports, without live in-court testimony from the medical examiners who actually performed the autopsies (and where no evidence was presented to show that the coroners who performed the autopsies were unavailable and the accused had a prior opportunity to cross examine that witness), violated the Confrontation Clause under the facts of this case. Because we conclude that the fourth issue is dispositive, we decline to address the other issues raised in Ignasiak’s merits appeal, except for the sufficiency 2 of the evidence claim.3 While we ultimately conclude that the evidence was sufficient, the degree to which we view the government’s case as less than overwhelming compels our conclusion that the Confrontation Clause violation was not harmless in this case. To give our harmful error determination sufficient context, it is necessary to describe the evidence in some detail.

The Court also has a very interesting discussion of the government’s expert witness at pgs. 43-48 in which the government claims that it was not Brady material that its expert had previously committed federal crimes and that the information should remain under seal:

The Notice revealed for the first time that Dr. Jordan engaged in criminal conduct beginning at an unspecified time up to and continuing until 2006. Specifically, Dr. Jordan had, on nine separate occasions, used a counterfeit badge and his United States Marshal credentials to pose as an on-duty U.S. Marshal in order to carry firearms on commercial airplanes while on personal travel. On the ninth flight, a Transportation and Security Administration (“TSA”) agent discovered Dr. Jordan’s ploy, and seized the weapons, counterfeit badge, and Marshal Service credentials. The South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office opened an investigation of Dr. Jordan. Although Dr. Jordan had engaged in similar criminal conduct at least eight times before, thereby committing multiple violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 912 and 1001 and 49 U.S.C. § 46505, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney allowed Dr. Jordan to enter into a “pre-trial diversion agreement” in which Dr. Jordan paid $2,000 and agreed not to carry any concealed weapons except while on official business.

The government filed this information under seal and asked for it not to be made public because of the expert’s right to privacy.  I kid you not:

Thus, while it is true that Dr. Jordan’s privacy interests sit on one side of the balance, it is “the interest of the public in accessing the information” that rests on the other. Id. And, in this case, the public has a great interest in learning the contents of the Notice—namely, learning the highly material fact that Dr. Jordan, a repeat government expert witness, abused his government authority and committed acts which could have been charged as felonies. To say that the defense would have preferred to use this information to discredit Dr. Jordan’s testimony is almost certainly an understatement. Perhaps ironically, by arguing that there was no Brady violation in this case because the AUSA prosecuting Ignasiak was unaware of Dr. Jordan’s history, it is actually the government that most persuasively highlights the value in unsealing the Notice. Indeed, should the Notice remain sealed, the significant likelihood is that in the next CSA prosecution in which Dr. Jordan testifies as an expert, both the prosecuting AUSA and the defense counsel will again be unaware of the highly relevant impeachment evidence contained in the Notice. And in that case, as in this one, should the truth ever come to light, the government could again point to its own ignorance and claim immunity from Brady error. Stated this way, we would have expected the government to condemn, rather than condone, such a problematic outcome. But instead the government asserts that Dr. Jordan’s privacy interest outweighs the public’s right to know the extent of Dr. Jordan’s involvement with the government. To be sure, in some cases a party may overcome the presumption of openness if it can show “an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California, 464 U.S. 501, 510, 104 S. Ct. 819, 824 (1984). Indeed, the government correctly points to two categories of witnesses whose privacy interests are understandably paramount: victims in sex crime cases and criminal informants. Dr. Jordan is neither. Rather, he is an expert witness who, at a rate of $300/hour, voluntarily accepted employment which required him to testify against Ignasiak. Indeed, Dr. Jordan testified that he has been paid “around” $30,000 for his service as the government’s expert in this and other cases. While the fact of his paid status does not make him amenable to any sort of unfair or immaterial character attack, it does greatly reduce, if not altogether eviscerate, his expectation to keep impeachment evidence private. The government is thus right that courts should protect witnesses like Dr. Jordan from “unwarranted invasion” into their privacy. But we cannot agree that impeachment evidence concerning a highly compensated and voluntarily appearing expert witness is either “unwarranted” or an “invasion” into that witness’s privacy.

Congrats to Roy Black, Richard Strafer, Jackie Perczek and the whole team over there for this great win.

To see the opinion, click here.