Monday, April 16, 2018

Judge Kimba Wood Considers Special Master

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood rejected President Trump’s request to unilaterally determine what material seized last week from his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is privileged. However, she may appoint a Special Master in the form of an outside attorney or retired judge to assess the records in an effort to carefully navigate the case, and asked each side for four names. Under Federal Rule 53, consent is not necessary. Subsection (a)(1) provides that non-consensual referrals may be justified by exceptional conditions that cannot be addressed effectively and timely by an available District Judge or Magistrate Judge. Notwithstanding Article III of the U.S. Constitution, non-consensual referrals to Special Masters have been sustained against constitutional attack where duties were performed under the total control and jurisdiction of the District Court. Lawyers for Cohen and Trump argued the seizure could lead to violations of attorney-client privilege. The investigation of Cohen, pitting the President against his own Justice Department, took another unexpected turn today with the courtroom revelation that one of Cohen’s legal clients was Fox News commentator, Sean Hannity. In considering appointing a Special Master, Judge Wood commented that it was not because of legal precedent, but in the interest of avoiding the appearance of bias in the politically charged case. Judge Wood said she wanted more information before ruling. Reportedly, to address concerns about “fairness” raised by Trump and Cohen’s attorneys, she said “a Special Master might have a role here. Maybe not the complete role, but some role.” It is unusual but not unprecedented for criminal investigators to seize documents from a lawyer, and there is a policy in place designed to shield information covered by attorney-client privilege using a “taint team” to review all the material and separate what is covered by the privilege. A lawyer’s communications with a client are not covered by the privilege if they did not involve legal advice or were used to further a crime or fraud. Judge Wood asked the government to make digital copies of all the material it had seized and share those files with Cohen’s lawyers, who would in turn share relevant information with lawyers for Trump. The goal, Judge Wood said, would be to have a sense of how much work would be required of a Special Master and, therefore, how long that process might take. Cohen, who is under criminal investigation for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his efforts to tamp down negative stories about Trump. In late 2016, he paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her agreement not to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Last week, it was revealed that Cohen had helped RNC Finance Chair, Elliott Broidy, negotiate a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model who got pregnant after they had an affair. See full article here--

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Important Posts Need Appointees

The Florida Dispute Resolution Center or DRC is currently accepting applications for new member appointments to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy Committee and the Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee, known as MEAC.
The ADR Rules and Policy committee provides the Supreme Court of Florida with recommendations relating to ADR legislation, and all aspects of ADR policy and rules including, but not limited to, model ADR practices, mediator certification and renewal requirements, continuing education requirements, and mediation training program requirements. MEAC is a nine member body that issues written advisory ethics opinions for mediators subject to the Florida Rules for Certified and CourtAppointed Mediators. The DRC is currently accepting applications for the appointment of three certified mediators who hold any type of certification. Please submit a letter of interest and current résumé to: Florida Dispute Resolution Center Supreme Court Building 500 S. Duval Street Tallahassee, Florida 32399 Fax: (850) 922-9290 Email: Deadline: April 23, 2018. See more information at links here-- and and see MEAC opinions link here--

Friday, April 6, 2018

Judge Denies Sealing Confidential O'Reilly Settlements

This week, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who is presiding over a federal defamation suit filed last year in New York refused to seal the confidential settlements reached between Bill O’Reilly and three women who accused the former Fox News host of misconduct. She rejected O’Reilly’s request to keep the agreements private, finding there is a long-established “general presumption in favor of public access to judicial documents.” She wrote that his concerns about disclosing “embarrassing conduct with no public ramifications” are not sufficient to trump the public’s right to view documents the court relies on to reach its decision in a case. “A possibility of future adverse impact on employment or the celebrity status of a party is not a ‘higher value’ sufficient to overcome the presumption of access to judicial documents,” Batts wrote. The judge noted, O’Reilly “asks the court to resolve a dispute by relying on the very documents he seeks to shield from public view.” Reportedly, the judge’s ruling creates an opening for attorneys to file the confidential agreements reached with the women who had accused O’Reilly of misconduct, and are now suing him for defamation for publicly dismissing their allegations as “politically and financially motivated” and part of a “smear campaign.” A former producer on The O’Reilly Factor who received a $9 million settlement was required to forfeit all audio recordings and written material — including notes, diaries, photographs, video recordings, letters and emails-- and to delete any computer files. She agreed to keep even the existence of such evidence confidential. Should the materials later become public, she was to disclaim them as counterfeit or forgeries and strict and complete confidentiality was the essence of this agreement. “The parties agree that the nature and terms of this settlement and agreement, including the existence of this agreement and the fact and amounts of any payments are to remain completely confidential.” A former Fox Business News host received a $3.25 million settlement from O’Reilly, a payout not previously disclosed. Under that settlement's terms, she could only disclose the amount of the payout to her tax advisers after the accountant signed a confidentiality agreement. The only person she told about the settlement was her husband. She, too, agreed to turn over any notes, recordings, emails, computer files or other documents dealing with any conversation she ever had with O’Reilly. The last woman received a settlement of about $100,000 as a junior producer at Fox News, in exchange for her silence. If anyone should ask what happened, she was to respond: “The matter has been resolved (or settled).” She also agreed not to disparage Fox News or any of its employees, including O’Reilly. The court opined that public would have no way to make sense of the its analysis of these claims with only partial or limited access to the settlement agreements. Just as with a Common Law right, she says, the First Amendment protects access to judicial documents if the documents “are necessary to understand the merits” of the proceeding. See full story here-- and link to ruling refusing to seal agreements here--