Posts Tagged ‘Assistant Attorney General’

The Black Agenda Report article opposing Sotomayor

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Sonia Maria Sotomayor — She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either

By Bruce A. Dixon
Created 06/03/2009 – 10:36
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

sotomayor_biden_obama.jpg

What is and what should be the story around the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the high court? Is the main story a celebration of how humble origins and hard work won out? Should we spend all our time and energy refuting the racism of Republican talking heads, and none examining her record, and how she arrived at the door of the Supreme Court? Is this a good time to explore what a just and democratic society must demand from its courts — more nonwhite faces in high places? More rights for corporations? Or more justice for people? And if this isn’t a good time, is that time ever coming?

Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The bubble of false reality corporate media blow around the nomination of Sonia Maria Sotomayor begins with the racist rants of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and a host of Republican senators and talking heads. It encompasses a torrent of righteous air and ink denouncing the racists, along with an inspiring story of humble origins, hard work and determination to succeed. It feeds the ongoing narrative of America’s ultimate triumph over old fashioned racism by allowing highly qualified and carefully vetted minorities to join its ruling elite. And it includes the view of places like Business Week, which designate the nominee “centrist” and a “moderate, [1]” a view that corporate media revealingly agree is nonpolitical,” which means that the prerogatives of America’s business elite are not now and never will be up for discussion.
Absent from the conversation around the Sotomayor nomination are all but the most cursory review of her legal career before being appointed a federal judge by George Bush — a mere twelve years of legal experience, five as a prosecutor for the D.A.’s office in Manhattan, and another seven as partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt. Summaries [2] of her decisions are hard to find. Although much is made of the fact that she will be only the fifth judge not a white man to sit on the high court, few detailed comparisons are made between her legal career and those of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Finally there are no attempts to discuss the unique, and not always positive role that the US Supreme Court plays or ought to play in the life of the country.
All these concerns are outside the bubble, not only for corporate media, but for the blogs and commentators who allow corporate media to draw the limits of their universe.
Sotomayor’s first job out of law school was as a prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. Her time as a prosecutor roughly coincides with the end of the first decade of New York’s infamous Rockerfeller drug laws [3], a time when our nation’s historically discriminatory law enforcement apparatus began locking up larger percentages of black and Latinos than anywhere else on the planet. From there she moved on to a spot as associate, then partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt [4], and international law firm offering “…a full range of legal services to companies, individuals, and Italian and French governmental organizations and agencies… who do business in the United States as well as American clients who do business in the U.S. and abroad.”
Among Pavia & Harcourt’s areas of special focus are the enforcement of intellectual property laws, and obtaining writs of confiscation and seizure of goods believed to be in violation of such laws. In this selection from Ed Shanahan’s IP Law & Business he assembles quotes from the Wall Street Journal, the National Journal and the New York Times that paint a picture of Sotomayor’s passionate involvement on behalf of her corporate clients:
“…as the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog further explains in this colorful post [5]
, the “peak” of her career at the firm “came in representing Fendi in trademark actions against makers and sellers of counterfeit handbags and other items, according to George Pavia, the firm’s managing partner.”
“Sotomayor, the WSJ reports, didn’t just fight for her clients in court.
“Firm founder George Pavia told the paper that when the firm would get a tip about suspect cargo, investigators “would trace where the shipment had gone—for example, to a warehouse or a store. Then, working with police, the firm would seek a warrant to view and attach the items. Often, the lawyers learned through experience, such visits would prompt angry responses from the merchants involved. But Sotomayor, who became a high-profile defender of the brand, seemed to enjoy going along. ‘On several occasions,’ Pavia said, ‘she went in wearing a Kevlar vest and seized the goods.’
“(In this profile [6]
of Sotomayor, The New York Times adds to the judge’s legend: “One incident that figures largely in firm lore was a seizure in Chinatown, where the counterfeiters ran away, and Ms. Sotomayor got on a motorcycle and gave chase.”)
“The Journal also reports that Sotomayor played an integral role in what might be termed an IP publicity stunt aimed at calling attention to the then-growing problem of high-fashion knockoffs:
“With Sotomayor in charge, the firm decided in 1986 to stage a bonfire —to be known as the ‘Fendi Burn’—in the parking lot of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. There was a catch, however: the New York Fire Department refused to permit it.
“So the firm decided on the next best thing, crushing the items in garbage trucks, in an event that came to be known as the ‘Fendi Crush.’
“‘In the presence of the press…we threw masses and masses of handbags, shoes, and other items into these garbage trucks,’ Pavia said. ‘It was the pinnacle of our achievement, and Sonia was the principal doer.’”
No place on earth has more lawyers than the U.S., and in the late 80s, early 90s, New York City had more lawyers than anywhere in the country. This is how a young former prosecutor gets noticed and considered for the federal bench. Maybe Democratic senators and the White House of George H.W. Bush took note of her on their own. Maybe lobbyists and campaign contributors affiliated with her clients recommended her as someone who would look out for their interests. Take your pick. Either way, Bush put her on the federal bench in 1992.
For the twelve years she was a prosecutor and in private practice, right up until her appointment to the U.S. District Court, Sotomayor spent evenings, weekends and personal time, as an active board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Committee. During those years PRLDEF publicly opposed police brutality, the death penalty, felony disenfranchisement, and discrimination in housing and employment. It filed lawsuits to protect the voting rights of minorities in New York and the human rights of migrant workers. PRLDEF even sued an official of the Reagan administration for defamation over his public statement that most Puerto Ricans were on food stamps. No reports we have seen say that she personally filed those suits or that she ever appeared in court on behalf of litigants in discrimination and other lawsuits. As a board member she was reportedly involved in the planning and overall supervision of these activities.
After his graduation from Yale Law School in 1974, Clarence Thomas attached himself directly to the Republican party as a black man squarely against equal rights under the law. He became assistant attorney general in Missouri in 1974, chief counsel for Senator Sam Brownback in 1978, and in 1982, chairman of the Office of Economic Opportunity under Ronald Reagan, where he publicly defied the Congress by sitting on thousands of age and race discrimination complaints till the statute of limitations ran out on them. After only fourteen years as an attorney, Thomas had earned his appointment to the federal bench in 1989, and shortly after that to the Supreme Court.
The only other nonwhite person to serve on the US Supreme Court in two centuries has been Thurgood Marshall. Marshall’ graduated Howard University law school in 1933, where he was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston [7]. Houston was the architect of a decades-long crusade to use the courts to overthrow America’s Jim Crow segregation laws. After less than a year of private practice, Marshall joined Houston at the NAACP, where he spent the next quarter century crisscrossing the country, sometimes at the risk of his own life [8], defending African Americans in court who were falsely accused of murder and rape. Marshall took their cases, along with those of black people who directly challenged Jim Crow laws all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a phenomenal 29 out of 32 cases, including the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate school systems for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.
After 28 years of legal practice, far longer than either Thomas or Sotomayor, Marshall was named to the US Court of Appeals in 1961, US Solicitor General in 1965, and in 1967 was nominated to the Supreme Court by Lyndon Baines Johnson. Before donning the black robe Marshall had already fundamentally changed the American legal landscape. He had directly represented the poor and disenfranchised in the courts of dozens of states, raised money and public support for their legal defense. By the 1950s, Marshall was known around the country as “Mr. Civil Rights.” He is said to have taken a dim view of civil disobedience and many of the tactics of the Freedom Movement in the 1950s and 60s, but generally refrained from publicly voicing those sentiments, and defended some of them in court.
The comparative pre-judicial careers of these three seem to indicate that the speedy road to the federal bench is to be a useful right wing political operative like Thomas or a zealous advocate of multinational business, like Sotomayor. Defending the poor and changing history seems to be a longer and much less certain way to get a federal judgeship.
Sonia Sotomayor is no Clarence Thomas, to be sure. The PRLDEF did great work during the years she served on its board, but she can hardly claim sole credit for it. In any case, PRLDEF wasn’t her full time job, and certainly not what got her on the federal bench. She is no Thurgood Marshall either, not by a long shot. There are still lawyers who devote most of their practice to defending the poor and disenfranchised, and an even larger number who file suits against giant corporations on behalf of ordinary people. No matter their legal brilliance, those attorneys rarely get judicial appointments. Why? No Supreme Court Justice since Marshall has represented a defendant in a criminal case, let alone a death penalty case. Why? No Supreme Court Justices sued wealthy and powerful corporations on behalf of ordinary working and poor people either. Why?
Why should representing poor people as defendants in a court of law, or suing wealthy corporations on behalf of the ordinary people whose rights these powerful and immortal institutions trample upon every day rule a judgeship out of any lawyer’s future? Was that the founding fathers’ intent? More importantly, should it be ours?
A frank discussion of what a democratic society should expect from its court system is also long overdue. For the last generation, the courts have squatted squarely on the necks of working class Americans, relentlessly affirming the unearned privileges of a wealthy corporate elite over the rest of us, often in ways no governor, president or legislature would dare attempt. To name just a few instances, the courts have ruled that equal funding of public schools between wealthy and poor neighborhoods cannot be accomplished, even when state constitutions require it. Judges have affirmed that the First Amendment gives corporations the right to lie to and deceive the public for commercial gain, that patent laws allow US corporations to claim exclusive rights to crops grown by farmers for dozens of centuries in various parts of the world. The Supreme Court recently ruled that money, in the form of campaign contributions, is free speech, setting major roadblocks in the path of campaign finance reform.
We need to take note of the historic significance of the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Like the embrace of a black president by most of the nation’s ruling elite, it does signify a departure from a kind of old fashioned nineteenth and twentieth century racism, at least insofar as the admittance of carefully vetted and well-qualified minorities to that elite goes. But the advancement of a few is not necessarily the advancement of democracy, or of the many.
The easy out for progressives around the Sotomayor nomination is to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism. While this is important, it mustn’t be allowed to take all the air from the room. If we really want more than a change in the color of the faces at the top of American society, we’ll have to spend a lot more energy evaluating their corporate connections of our judges on every level, and determining who they and our courts really serve.

Governor of Puerto Rico and Twelve Others Indicted for Election Related Crimes

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Note: Below is the news release from the Department of Justice that outlines the charges against Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and his associates.

—Angelo Falcon

U.S. Newswire (March 27, 2008)

WASHINGTON, March 27 – Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and 12 associates in Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and the Philadelphia-area have been charged in a 27-count indictment unsealed today and returned by a grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 24, 2008, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico announced today.

The defendants face charges ranging from conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud and tax crimes related to campaign financing for the governor’s 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaign for Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and subsequent 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate various Federal Election Campaign Act provisions by having Puerto Rico businessmen make illegal and unreported contributions to pay off large and unreported debts stemming from Acevedo Vila’s 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaigns for Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Payments were made principally to the public relations and media company for the campaigns. The illegal actions continued into 2003, due to the significant debt accumulated by the campaigns, some of which was also concealed from the FEC and the public.

Acevedo Vila and legal advisor, defendant Inclan Bird, solicited, accepted, and then reimbursed illegal conduit contributions from Acevedo Vila’s family members and staff. Conduit contributions are illegal campaign contributions made by one person in the name of another person. In addition, a group of Philadelphia-area businessmen solicited, accepted, and then reimbursed illegal conduit contributions from their own Philadelphia-area family members and staff for defendant Acevedo Vila. Acevedo Vila, in his official capacity, then personally assisted the businessmen in their attempts to obtain contracts from Puerto Rico government agencies for themselves or their clients.

The indictment also alleges a scheme to defraud the Puerto Rico Treasury Department of $7 million by fraudulently pledging to abide by a voluntary public funding law in defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 successful campaign for governor of Puerto Rico. The funding law required a cap on campaign spending and required full reporting of all contributions and expenditures. In exchange, the Treasury Department provided up to $7 million of public funds to the candidate’s campaign.

The indictment alleges that defendant Acevedo Vila and his associates conducted unreported fund-raising and made unrecorded vendor payments for the 2004 campaign in order to raise and spend far more than the limited amount to which they had agreed. According to the indictment, one significant aspect of this fraud was to have Puerto Rico businessmen (described as collaborators) use large amounts of money from their personal or corporate funds to pay for large and unreported debts to the campaign’s public relations and media company. Large sums of cash were also used to keep contributions and vendor payments concealed from the Treasury Department and the public.

As further alleged in the indictment, for many of the collaborator payments the media company created fake invoices to make the payments appear to be legitimate business expenses of the contributors’ companies. The indictment charges Jose Gonzalez Freyre, one of these contributors, with falsely claiming that a $50,000 invoice was real and that bona fide services had been provided to his company in exchange for the payment, when in fact, the invoice was fake and the $50,000 payment was part of the unrecorded fundraising and expenditure scheme.

In related illegal actions alleged in the indictment, Acevedo Vila, aided by Inclan Bird, accepted numerous forms of personal income from funds related to his campaigns or official position, which he failed to report as required on his income tax returns.

“This indictment demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Candidates for office and elected officials will be held accountable for corrupting the electoral process by disregarding campaign financing laws. Electoral fraud undermines the essence of our representative form of government, and operates to the detriment of every Puerto Rican,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez.

“The Department of Justice will continue to enforce public corruption laws which are designed to protect citizens’ right to honest and fair government representation,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher.

“Our democratic system cannot function when public officials act as though they are above the law. Public officials must comply with the law and those who do not comply will be held accountable,” said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.

“Today’s indictment is a reminder that the tax laws apply equally to everyone. No one is above the law. It is the responsibility of every taxpayer to file correct and accurate income tax returns,” said Michael E. Yasofsky, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Miami Field Office.

The defendants and their individual charges are as follows:

(1) Anibal Acevedo Vila, 48, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud, and tax crimes. Defendant Acevedo Vila was Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 through 2005, and has been the Governor of Puerto Rico since 2005;

(2) Candido Negron Mella, 41, of Glenn Mills, Penn., is charged with conspiracy and false statements. Negron Mella is a Philadelphia businessman and was designated by defendant Acevedo Vila as his U.S. deputy campaign finance chairman (Resident Commissioner campaign) in 2002;

(3) Salvatore Avanzato, 69, of Boothwyn, Penn., is charged with conspiracy. Avanzato is a Philadelphia-area businessman;

(4) Jorge Velasco Mella, 38, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy and false statements. Velasco Mella, a cousin of Negron Mella, received a job in defendant Acevedo Vila’s San Juan Resident Commissioner office and assisted in the handling of campaign contributions;

(5) Robert M. Feldman, 60, of Gladwyne, Penn., is charged with conspiracy. Feldman is a Philadelphia-area political and business consultant and was designated by defendant Acevedo Vila as his U.S. campaign finance chairman (Resident Commissioner campaign) in 2002;

(6) Marvin I. Block, 74, of Philadelphia is charged with conspiracy. Block is a Philadelphia-area businessman and lawyer;

(7) Ramon Velasco Escardille, 49, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, false statements and wire fraud. Velasco Escardille was defendant Acevedo Vila’s Resident Commissioner campaign treasurer;

(8) Edwin Colon Rodriguez, 35, of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy and false statements. He is also charged with embezzlement in a separate indictment unsealed today. Colon Rodriguez was defendant Acevedo Vila’s Resident Commissioner campaign assistant treasurer;

(9) Eneidy Coreano Salgado, 40, of Rockville, Md., is charged with conspiracy. Coreano Salgado was defendant Acevedo Vila’s administrative director in his Washington, D.C. Resident Commissioner office;

(10) Luisa Inclan Bird, 47, of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and federal program fraud. Inclan Bird was a legal advisor for defendant Acevedo Vila’s San Juan office and volunteered in his 2004 gubernatorial campaign’s finance department. Currently, she is a senior advisor for Governor Acevedo Vila;

(11) Miguel Nazario Franco, 60, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud and federal program fraud. Nazario Franco volunteered in defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign finance department, and is currently a businessman in Puerto Rico.

(12) Ricardo Colon Padilla, 39, of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud, federal program fraud and false statements. Colon Padilla was the finance director for defendant Acevedo Vila’s political party during his 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

(13) Jose Gonzalez Freyre, 56, of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud and false statements. Gonzalez Freyre is the owner of Pan American Grain, a Puerto Rico agricultural company, which contributed at least $50,000 to defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

Each count carries the following maximum prison terms and fines, along with terms of supervised release:

Count one (conspiracy): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts two through nine (false statements to the FEC and federal agents): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 10 through 21 (wire fraud): 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Count 22 (program fraud – obtaining money by fraud): 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 23 and 24 (false statements to the FBI and IRS: five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Count 25 (conspiracy to defraud the IRS): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 26 and 27 (filing false tax return): three years in prison and a $100,000 fine;

This case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria A. Dominguez of the District of Puerto Rico and Trial Attorney Daniel A. Schwager of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The Public Integrity Section is headed by Chief William M. Welch, II. The case is being investigated by the FBI and IRS, with assistance and cooperation from the Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico.

The investigation into related corruption and other crimes is ongoing in the District of Puerto Rico. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Contact: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, +1-202-514-2007, or TDD, +1-202-514-1888