Crime in the Suites: An Analyis of Current Issues in White Collar Defense
Archive for the ‘State Criminal’ Category
Oct 09
2013

Court Dismisses Loss Recovery Case, in Big Win For Fantasy Sports Industry

Today, in a closely watched case in Illinois, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought under the Illinois Loss Recovery Act (ILRA) against daily fantasy sports site FanDuel, Inc. and daily fantasy sports player Patrick Kaiser, finding that the plaintiff lacked subject matter jurisdiction to bring the suit. This is one of several lawsuits that have been brought in Illinois courts against daily fantasy sports companies and individual winners.

If a person has lost more than $50 gambling, the ILRA, like a number of state loss recovery acts, allows that person who lost money or something of value to sue the winner to recover the money that was lost. The ILRA also provides that if a suit is not brought by the loser within six months, “any person” may bring an action against the winner and is entitled to recover three times the amount of money lost gambling. The plaintiff in this case, Christopher Langone, is that “any person” who brought the suit against Patrick Kaiser and FanDuel.

The complaint alleged that Kaiser won several hundred thousand dollars playing on daily fantasy sports sites including FanDuel.

The court dismissed the complaint because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to insufficient allegations in the complaint. The court noted that there was not even a bare assertion that there was a sufficient amount of money lost for a federal court to have the jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also noted that the complaint failed to identify a specific loser who lost a certain amount and failed to bring a claim as required under the ILRA.

A very interesting point in the decision is that the court held that FanDuel was not a “winner” in the context of the Illinois Loss Recovery Act. The plaintiff had alleged that the defendants were winners because they take a commission from the entry fees paid by participants in the games, but the court rejected that argument. The court noted that, “FanDuel does not place any ‘wagers’ with particular participants by which it could lose money based on the happening of a future events (i.e., the performance of certain athletes), but merely provides a forum for the participants to engage each other in fantasy sports games.”

The plaintiff alleged in the complaint that daily fantasy sports games are not a game of skill, but instead “a form of ‘exotic’ sports wagering subject to change.” The court in this case did not address the issue because it did not have to after it found that there was a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Although the court did not address all of the issues relevant to the daily fantasy sports industry in the case, this decision is a huge win for the industry. Loss recovery act cases will be harder to bring against daily fantasy sports companies that are not assuming risk in their games. Daily fantasy sports continue to grow rapidly and today’s decision helps to partially remove one roadblock to its growth.

posted in:
State Criminal
Oct 08
2013

Appeals Court: Forced Rectal Search of Suspect Violates 4th Amendment

In a recent opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit addressed whether it was constitutionally reasonable for police to use a doctor – in this case, a doctor “who is known to conduct unconsented intrusive procedures when suspects are presented by the police” – to forcibly recover drugs from a man’s rectum. Judge Julia Smith Gibbons’ dissent notwithstanding, the 6th Circuit found that it was not reasonable, opining that the doctor’s behavior “shocks the conscience at least as much as the stomach pumping that the Supreme Court long ago held to violate due process.”

The case, United States v. Felix Booker, came to the appeals court from the Eastern District of Tennessee. It began just before noon on August 12, 2010, when K-9 officer Daniel Steakley pulled Booker over for expired plates. The stop quickly escalated into a drug search. Steakley had arrested Booker earlier the previous year. Although Steakley’s drug-sniffing dog and a physical patdown yielded less than a gram of marijuana, Steakley called for backup and immediately arrested Booker for felony possession of marijuana. Tennessee law designates anything less than 14.175 grams a misdemeanor, worthy of only a citation.

Apparently the arrest was based on the officer’s suspicion that Booker was hiding contraband on his person. According to the officers, Booker fidgeted with the back of his pants during the traffic stop and at the police station following his arrest. They subjected Booker to an even more intrusive patdown in the interrogation room and to a strip search at the detention facility. No contraband was retrieved from either, but the officers weren’t done with Booker. They transported him – naked, shackled, and covered only in a blanket – to a local emergency room. There they presented him Dr. Michael LaPaglia, the attending physician.

LaPaglia told Booker that he needed to examine his rectum and extract any items found there. Booker refused. LaPaglia informed Booker that he had little choice in the matter, injected Booker with muscle relaxants and probed his rectum, manually. When that search failed to produce any contraband, LaPaglia ordered general anesthesia and had Booker intubated for nearly an hour. LaPaglia then paralyzed Booker and successfully extracted what previous probes had failed to retrieve, five ounces of crack cocaine.

This was the third time in three years that officers from the sheriff’s department had sought LaPaglia’s assistance in extracting evidence from a suspect. This time, however, Booker appealed his conviction and the 6th Circuit reversed — on the grounds that LaPaglia in conjunction with the Oak Ridge Sheriff’s department had violated Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

After addressing why the doctor’s conduct was attributable to the police, the Court examined the reasonableness of the search by weighing the following three factors: (1) the extent to which the procedure may threaten the safety or health of the individual, (2) the extent of intrusion upon the individual’s dignitary interests in personal privacy and bodily integrity, and (3) the community’s interest in fairly and accurately determining guilt or innocence. In its analysis, the court highlighted the doctor’s failure to employ the less intrusive means used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection: an x-ray to confirm the presence of contraband, monitored bowel, and only engaging in an involuntary body cavity search after obtaining a court order.

The line between zealous police work and the violation of civil liberties can be fine. In Booker’s case, however, that line was egregiously and recklessly crossed with the help of a doctor, all too willing to set aside his oath: “First, do no harm.”

posted in:
State Criminal
Sep 18
2013

Colorado Defense Attorney Charged With Felony – Why?

A recent indictment in a state court in La Plata County, Colorado, has ruffled feathers in the defense bar. The accused was one of our own, criminal defense attorney Brian Schowalter. The charge was based on Schowalter’s refusal to turn over evidence he ostensibly held for a client. The evidence, an original letter, was apparently relevant to a homicide investigation involving the attorney’s client (though it appears that this material was not protected by attorney-client privilege).

This is the kind of scenario that keeps defense lawyers awake at night: might you someday face criminal charges for aggressively protecting the interests of your client? So when Schowalter appeared in court to be formally advised of the felony charge against him, it was not too surprising that 10 criminal defense lawyers sat behind him in an apparent show of solidarity, and to signal to prosecutors that they will not buckle easily to pressure.

While few facts about the matter have been publicized, the central question for many is why would the prosecutor choose such a drastic approach?

The indictment charges Schowalter with unlawfully tampering with physical evidence in a homicide investigation. The prosecutor in the matter argues that he used every means available to obtain the evidence. (It would be nice to know exactly what procedural steps the prosecutor undertook before unleashing the proverbial nuclear bomb.) When the prosecutor subpoenaed the letter, Schowalter asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.

It is not clear from the facts currently available, but it is possible that Schowalter’s actions would support a disciplinary proceeding for potential ethics violations. Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct provide that a lawyer shall not “unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or unlawfully . . . conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value.” So why didn’t the prosecutor report Schowalter’s alleged misconduct to the Colorado bar? That would be a more typical – and arguably more appropriate – response to potential issues of professional misconduct.

Did the prosecutor take such a heavy-handed approach because of Schowalter’s decision to assert his Fifth Amendment rights? It seems a bit unusual for a defense attorney to plead the Fifth in response to a demand for client documents. Schowalter’s response implies an admission that his previous action of withholding the letter could lead to more serious charges, an action that may have invited an already-irritated prosecutor to pursue criminal charges rather than a state bar action.

The lesson from this case may be: if you believe that client documents in your possession are legally protectable, fight vigorously by employing the procedural mechanisms available (e.g., a motion to quash). But don’t invite a bigger battle through obstinacy. Of course, if the defense bar continues to hold its line in the matter, there may be a lesson or two for the prosecutor, starting with a road map to a more appropriate legal action – based on ethics sanctions as opposed to criminal penalties.

posted in:
State Criminal
Sep 17
2013

Divided Appeals Court Overturns N.J. Sports Betting Law: Is Supreme Court Next Stop?

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court decision from New Jersey invalidating New Jersey’s sports betting law. The decision marks a setback in New Jersey’s efforts to implement sports betting in the state, but the case is very likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court where it could meet a different fate. Also, to the extent that online gaming, including poker, appears to be expanding on a state by state basis, the Third Circuit decision may be a setback to the approach for sports betting, and may be an invitation for federal legislators to revisit the federal statute held to bar New Jersey’s desire to permit sports betting. The full text of the opinion is available here.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992 (PASPA), prohibits any state from offering sports betting unless that state had a sports betting scheme in place between 1976 and 1990. Under the law Delaware, Oregon and Montana were granted limited sports betting schemes and Nevada is the only state authorized to offer single-game sports betting. Under the terms of the statute, New Jersey had an option at that time to seek to offer sports betting, but declined to do so.

In 2011, New Jersey revisited the issue and voters approved a referendum by a 2-1 margin to amend the state constitution to allow for sports betting in the state’s casinos and racetracks. The state legislature then passed a bill legalizing sports betting in the state and it was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R). The New Jersey law would allow wagering on all major professional and collegiate sporting events, except collegiate sporting events involving New Jersey colleges, and all sporting events, professional or collegiate, taking place in the state.

In reaction to the new law, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League sued in federal district to prevent the state from offering sports betting. The U.S. Department of Justice then intervened to defend the constitutionality of PASPA. After the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the NCAA and the professional league plaintiffs, the state appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 2-1 decision issued today, the Third Circuit found that the leagues had standing to bring the case and that PASPA is a constitutional exercise of federal power that barred New Jersey from proceeding with sports betting in the state. The Third Circuit found that the leagues were able to meet the constitutional standard for standing to assert a challenge to New Jersey’s law, but stated that it was “hesitant to conclude that the Leagues may rely solely on the existence of the Sports Wagering Law to show injury.” The decision also found that PASPA was constitutional and that the anti-commandeering principle did not apply because PASPA serves to invalidate contrary state laws and not to directly regulate the states. In doing so, the court relied on the Supremacy Clause in its reasoning that the New Jersey sports wagering law is invalid because it is in direct contravention with PASPA.

The Third Circuit decision was by no means by consensus. In a dissent containing powerful language, Judge Thomas Vanaskie noted that there is clear precedent that the federal government cannot direct state legislatures to enact legislation or state official to implement federal policy. The leagues and the Department of Justice had argued that in those cases required the state was required to take affirmative steps to enact legislation and PASPA does not. The dissent noted that nothing in those cases, “limited the principles of federalism upon which those cases relied to situations in which Congress directed affirmative activity on the part of the states.” The nature of the anti-commandeering principle and if it requires the state to take affirmative steps will be a key part of any appeal from New Jersey.

New Jersey will now likely either petition for an en banc review in the Third Circuit or file a petition to have the Supreme Court review the case. New Jersey has 45 days to seek an en banc review in the Third Circuit. If New Jersey files a petition with the Supreme Court it will have 90 days from today to appeal the decision. The Supreme Court hears a very small percentage of the cases appealed to it, but due to the interesting and complex constitutional issues raised in this case it seems relatively likely that this case will be heard. The Supreme Court has never addressed the constitutionality of PASPA.

Today’s decision from the Third Circuit marks a setback in New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting, but this case is far from over. The dissenting opinion on a key issue provides a very strong basis for review and shows that the court struggled in forming its opinion on the issue. In addition to the continuing fight in the courts, the Third Circuit decision may also spark new federal legislative efforts to permit some form of limited licensed sports betting beyond the few states now permitted to offer it. We will continue to follow this case and provide updates here.

posted in:
State Criminal
Aug 12
2013

Federal Judge Rejects NYPD’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ Policies

In a decision issued today that could potentially change the way police operate in the Big Apple, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) ruled that, for years, New York City police officers have been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect that they were engaged in any kind of wrongdoing. The 195-page decision, issued after a lengthy trial, accuses the NYPD of a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment – particularly as the “stop-and-frisk” episodes soared in number over the last decade. To address the issue, Judge Scheindlin said she planned to designate an independent private attorney as a monitor for the police department’s compliance with the Constitution.

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling is a brave rebuke to the department’s increasingly aggressive policing policies.During the two-month trial, the court heard testimony regarding some 4.3 million stops between 2004 and mid-2012. The U.S. Supreme Court has long sanctioned stopping and frisking an individual based upon reasonable suspicion that he or she is engaged in wrongdoing. But experts testified in the trial that in about 88 percent of the stops, police found no contraband or other evidence of illegal behavior – an incidence so high that it suggests that there was no credible basis on which to stop many of those individuals in the first place.

Given that the individuals in question were usually young minority men, a policing policy that essentially permitted police to treat as suspicious behavior that was perfectly innocent had the effect of watering down the Constitution’s protection against illegal searches and seizures. In her ruling, Judge Scheindlin rejected the testimony of numerous police officers and commanders who typically defended the legality of stops and said that they were made only when officers reasonably suspected criminal behavior.

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling in the case comes on the heels of what some have characterized as an effort by the administration of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to influence the judge or to create some kind of extrajudicial bias against her ruling in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which will doubtless be hearing an appeal of this decision). In June, the mayor’s office offered to a number a press outlets a “study” it had conducted that purported to show that Judge Scheindlin grants motions to suppress evidence for constitutional violations in a much higher percentage of criminal cases than do her colleagues in the Southern District of New York. Today’s decision certainly makes clear that Judge Scheindlin was not influenced by those communications in favor of the city, and it is left to be seen whether press reports on that study will have the unlikely consequence of influencing the appellate court.

Judge Scheindlin’s decision is important because it seeks to address constitutional violations on an institutional level and also because it addresses those violations that befall individuals who are not charged with any crime. In a case in which a person faces criminal charges, he or she usually can challenge the admission of physical evidence or his or her own statements based on a claimed violation of constitutional rights, and a favorable ruling will result in the exclusion of that evidence from any trial on those charges. But for a person whose civil rights are violated by an illegal search that results in no criminal charges, the recourse is less obvious.

While there are circumstances in which an individual could sue individual police officers based on an illegal search, the burdens of litigation and the proof required usually are high enough that few if any people pursue such cases. Indeed, a police department policy that encouraged officers to engage in searches of questionable legality appears to rely on those disincentives to protect the officers and the department from liability and scrutiny. By finding an institution-wide set of violations, and by imposing a requirement that an independent monitor ensure compliance, Judge Scheindlin’s ruling (if upheld on appeal) has the potential to provide a more reliable guarantee of constitutional rights to New Yorkers.

If some will decry the decision as threatening the ability of police to control crime, they have forgotten the historical lessons about the importance of safeguarding the rights of minorities in our country, and the important role that the Constitution plays in protecting the rights of the innocent.

posted in:
State Criminal
Aug 08
2013

Did Florida Accidentally Outlaw All Smartphones?

A lawsuit recently filed by Incredible Investments, LLC, owned by entrepreneur Consuelo Zapata, alleges that the language in a recently enacted Florida law that was intended to shut down Internet cafes and slot machines has actually outlawed all mobile devices that are capable of accessing the Internet. The complaint, which seeks to have the new law declared unconstitutional, alleges that in the process of hastily passing the bill, the legislators crafted language that could include any smartphone or computer in Florida. The complaint, a copy of which is available here, asks the court to throw out the law, which was purportedly passed “in a frenzy fueled by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the lieutenant governor’s resignation.”

The law in question was signed into law on April 10, 2012, by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Zapata, whose clientele is primarily migrant workers seeking to access the Internet, owns one of the approximately 1,000 internet cafés that was shut down as a result of the law.

The bill was introduced in the aftermath of a state investigation which found that a purported charity earned $290 million from an Internet gambling effort but donated only $5.8 million of those funds to charity. The investigation resulted in 57 arrests on racketeering and money laundering charges. Former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who has ties to the charity but has not been accused of wrongdoing, resigned in the wake of the investigation.

The problem with the law that was noted in the lawsuit is that it amended the definition of a slot machine to include “any machine or device or system or network of devices” that can be used to play games of skill or chance, which can be activated by “money, coin, account number, code, or other object or information.” The lawsuit alleges that with such a broad definition of a slot machine, any smartphone or computer is effectively banned in Florida because it could be used to access the Internet to play an illegal game.

It is unclear what the result of the lawsuit will be. The court may agree with the plaintiff that this law has effectively banned mobile devices and should be struck down. However, courts often attempt to avoid constitutional issues when interpreting laws and could find that another reading of the statute in this case would be more appropriate.

Whichever way the court does decide on the law, this lawsuit shows the dangers of a swift reaction from a legislature after a high profile incident occurs. The unintended consequences of legislation can be quite serious, as is alleged to be the case here, and a thorough examination of the problems and the best way to address them could have avoided the confusion that has resulted from this law.

posted in:
State Criminal
Aug 05
2013

Fla. Prosecutor Gets 2 Years’ Suspension for Improper Contacts With Judge

Florida judges acknowledge that “justice requires the appearance of justice.” And given some of the controversial verdicts coming out of the Sunshine State — Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman come to mind — it seems more important than ever for the Florida judiciary to protect its institutional integrity. That might explain why the Florida Supreme Court doubled the recommended suspension of a state prosecutor who failed to disclose numerous ex parte contacts with a sitting judge.

On June 20, that court upheld a finding that Howard Scheinberg engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice. The disciplinary action against Scheinberg pertained to the prosecution of Omar Loureiro. In 2007, Scheinberg was the lead prosecutor in a capital murder trial against Loureiro. Former Judge Ana Gardiner was the presiding judge. As a result of that trial, Loureiro was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Months after the trial concluded, evidence surfaced that Scheinberg had been romantically involved with the judge. During the five months between the jury verdict and sentencing hearing, Scheinberg and Gardiner had exchanged more than 900 phone calls and more than 400 text messages. On average, Scheinberg had communicated with the judge almost 10 times a day during that time but had never disclosed the contacts to opposing counsel.

When the Broward State Attorney’s office learned of the misconduct, it promptly agreed to retry Loureiro: only a second trial could dispel public perceptions that Loureiro had been denied due process.

When the Florida State Bar learned of the misconduct, it promptly initiated disciplinary action. After the complaint was filed, a referee was appointed. She conducted a hearing and issued a report with her findings and recommendations. First, the referee found that Scheinberg’s ex parte contacts and his failure to disclose them prejudiced the judicial system in violation of Florida’s ethics rules. Based on her findings of aggravating and mitigating factors, she recommended a one-year suspension from the practice of law.

Scheinberg challenged the referee’s recommendation as to guilt and the one-year suspension, but received no relief. Instead, the Supreme Court agreed that Scheinberg was guilty of misconduct, even though his contacts with the judge were unrelated to Loureiro’s murder trial. The court explained that Scheinberg’s extensive contacts with Judge Gardiner created “an appearance of impropriety.”

When an attorney becomes romantically involved with the judge presiding over his case, “the judge’s authority necessarily suffers,” the court concluded. First, the relationship itself undercuts the judge’s role as a detached neutral party. Moreover, when a judge presides over cases involving her romantic partner, she loses her single most important source of authority — the perception that she is absolutely impartial.

The court then addressed the recommended sanction. Although it found no error with the referee’s findings on aggravating and mitigating factors, the court held that a one-year suspension was not sufficient. Scheinberg’s conduct created an appearance of impropriety based on substantial communications that were never disclosed to the defense. And it all occurred in the context of a capital murder trial!

The resulting harm was obvious: Scheinberg’s conduct led to an investigation and a retrial, both of which consumed public and private resources. In the court’s view, the seriousness of Scheinberg’s violation and resulting prejudice to the administration of justice required a suspension twice as long. On that basis, the court suspended Scheinberg for two years and ordered him to cover the Florida Bar’s costs.

posted in:
State Criminal
Jun 27
2013

Prosecutor Fired for Lying on Facebook to Witnesses in Murder Case

For all its benefits, social media has posed some significant challenges for our criminal justice system. One of the more common problems – Internet-related juror misconduct – has been the subject of numerous criminal appeals lately. It has also burdened federal and state governments with added costs for misconduct hearings and retrials. It is no wonder, then, that the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office in Ohio took swift and decisive action when confronted with Internet-related misconduct by one of its own.

Cleveland-area prosecutor Aaron Brockler was recently fired for contacting trial witnesses on Facebook to dissuade them from providing testimony on behalf of defendant Damon Dunn. Dunn was on trial for aggravated murder in connection with a May 2012 shooting, and Brockler was lead prosecutor on the case.

Before trial, the defense team notified Brockler that two of Dunn’s former girlfriends were prepared to provide an alibi for the defendant, testifying that he was on the other side of town when the murder victim was shot. Brockler was concerned that Dunn might walk free, so the prosecutor decided to contact the witnesses on Facebook. First, Brockler created a fake Facebook profile and “friended” the alibi witnesses. In a series of chats, Brockler told the witnesses he was the defendant’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of Dunn’s child. According to Brockler, the women went “crazy” at the news. As a result, one witness decided she would not lie for Dunn, and the other admitted she wasn’t with him when the crime occurred.

The witnesses later complained that they were being harassed on Facebook. Investigators in the Prosecutor’s Office traced the online activity to Brockler’s office computer. Ultimately, Brockler admitted to his online chats with the women, but denied any wrongdoing. According to him, “[l]aw enforcement, including prosecutors, have long engaged in the practice of using a ruse to obtain the truth.” Brockler’s former colleagues disagreed. County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said it best: “By creating false evidence, lying to witnesses as well as to another prosecutor, Aaron Brockler damaged the prosecution’s chances in a murder case where a totally innocent man was killed at his work.”

After Brockler was fired, the entire prosecutor’s office was recused from the case, and the matter was handed over to the office of Ohio’s attorney general. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for July 11.

Many laypersons are unaware (and many lawyers forget) that, as officers of the court, lawyers are prohibited from making false statements of material fact or law. It is true that in limited circumstances, police officers are permitted to lie to suspects about the nature of the evidence in their possession and similar matters, but police officers are not considered officers of the court and are subject to cross-examination as witnesses; this is not true of prosecutors.

In Ohio, as in every other U.S. jurisdiction, attorneys admitted to the practice of law are required to be truthful. In particular, Rule 4.1(a) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct states that, in the course of representing a client, a lawyer “shall not knowingly . . . make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” Lawyers are also bound by certain restrictions on communications with a third party depending on whether or not the third party is represented by counsel.

Brockler’s Facebook chats violated Ohio’s requirement for truthfulness in the course of representation because Brockler conducted the chats using a fake profile. Brockler contacted the defense witnesses by posing as Dunn’s fictitious ex-girlfriend and the mother of Dunn’s child; he used the misrepresentations to foment the witnesses’ anger against the defendant so they would change their testimony or refuse to testify on his behalf.

One could argue that Brockler’s deception seemed to aid the search for truth in Dunn’s case, but the deception might just as easily frustrate the search for truth in another case. The rules avoid this problem by prohibiting a lawyer’s knowing deception across the board.

If Brockler’s ruse had not been discovered, it may have helped him win a conviction. But there are crucial societal values that also must be upheld and that are more important than winning a conviction at all costs.

posted in:
State Criminal
Jun 26
2013

Appeals Court Hears Argument on N.J. Sports Betting Law, With Uncertain Outcome

Very lively oral arguments were held today, June 26, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on the New Jersey sports betting law, in a case that will have an enormous impact on the future of sports betting in the United States.

At issue in the case is the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which prohibits any state from offering sports betting unless that state had a sports betting scheme in place between 1976 and 1990. Last year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill authorizing single-game sports betting in the state. In August, the four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) filed suit arguing that the state’s sports gambling law was in violation of federal law.

In December 2012, Judge Michael Shipp of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey held oral arguments to determine whether the sports leagues had standing to bring the lawsuit and determined that they did have standing. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) later intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the statute. Oral arguments were held in February, and Judge Shipp held that the New Jersey law was invalid as conflicting with PASPA, which he found to be a valid exercise of congressional power. In March, New Jersey filed an appeal with the Third Circuit, appealing both the standing and constitutionality rulings.

Today in the Third Circuit, the judges dictated the path that the oral arguments took for both sides. Ted Olson, a former United States Solicitor General arguing on behalf of New Jersey, began the arguments by stating that PASPA is “plainly unconstitutional.” Olson also argued that the sports leagues did not have standing to bring the lawsuit because they did not meet the Article III requirement that they actually suffered harm from the New Jersey wagering law.

On the issue of anti-commandeering, which could be crucial to the court’s decision on the constitutionality of PASPA, the judges peppered Olson with questions regarding precedent on the issue and whether “commandeering” is limited to instances in which the federal government forces a state to take affirmative steps. There seemed to be some skepticism from the judges that PASPA should be considered an instance of commandeering because New Jersey did not have to do anything to comply with the statute. Olson argued that PASPA is a federal initiative and the responsibility for enforcing it is on the states, thus making this an instance of commandeering.

The issue of state sovereignty was not an issue that New Jersey focused on in the district court or in their briefs in the Third Circuit, but today Olson focused more on the issue by citing Supreme Court decisions that were issued yesterday and today, arguing that those cases support the position that PASPA is a violation of state sovereignty. Olson took contention with the argument made by their opponents in the briefs that the issue of state sovereignty only applies to states that are newly admitted to the Union.

Paul Clement, also a former United States Solicitor General, argued for the sports leagues. He pointed to the Third Circuit’s previous decision in Office of the Commissioner of Baseball v. Markell, a case that he conceded did not directly address standing, to support his position that the leagues have standing in the case. Clement also pointed to other cases, such as copyright cases, that show that the leagues are entitled to protect their product, and in sports wagering, it is their product, the games, that is at issue.

Clement was questioned about the recent Supreme Court decisions and was asked why PASPA was not a violation of state sovereignty. Clement attempted to distinguish the cases by arguing that they did not apply to PASPA because it was passed under the Commerce Clause, which affords the federal government broad powers to regulate interstate commerce. The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Paul Fishman, argued on behalf of the federal government and agreed with Clement’s stance that PASPA is distinguishable from those cases.

There is no definitive timetable for a decision in the case, but it may take several months before an opinion is issued. Regardless of the decision reached by the Third Circuit, the losing party will have the option of seeking a rehearing en banc in that court or filing for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. However, both these steps are subject to court discretion.

The ruling from the Third Circuit in this case will have far-reaching implications. A decision in New Jersey’s favor would remove the primary hurdle preventing states from offering sports betting within their borders. The panel today left no clear impression about which way they are leaning in their decision. and ultimately it may take a Supreme Court ruling before there is a definitive answer on PASPA.

posted in:
State Criminal
Jun 11
2013

DOJ Files Briefs in Key 3rd Circuit Case on N.J. Sports Betting Law

On June 7, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as the four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) filed their briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a case with major implications for the future of sports betting in the United States.

Last February, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp struck down New Jersey’s new sports betting law, finding it invalid as conflicting with federal law. The federal law at issue is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which prohibits any state from offering sports betting unless the state had a sports betting scheme in place between 1976 and 1990.

In December, the court held oral arguments on just the standing issue and later held that the leagues did have standing to bring the suit. The Department of Justice later intervened in the lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of PASPA.

New Jersey filed its opening brief in April and will have the opportunity to file a reply brief by June 14 to the briefs submitted by DOJ and the sports leagues. Oral arguments are scheduled for June 26. New Jersey is challenging both the constitutionality of PASPA and the leagues’ standing to bring the case.

Also in April, the attorneys general from Georgia, Kansas, Virginia and West Virginia filed an amicus brief with the Third Circuit in support of reversal of the district court’s ruling, on the basis that the ruling threatens the system of dual sovereignty.

A key to this case will likely be how the Third Circuit interprets the anti-commandeering principle recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in a number of cases. DOJ argues in its brief that PASPA does not offend the anti-commandeering principle and focuses on the fact that the Supreme Court has only applied the principle twice in invalidating a federal law.

DOJ argues that from those two decisions the Supreme Court has established “the basic touchstone of the anti-commandeering doctrine: it applies when a federal law requires a State to enact or implement a federal regulatory program.” In this case, PASPA is not demanding affirmative regulatory action; instead it prohibits New Jersey from sponsoring sports betting. The brief from the leagues points out that the Third Circuit has never held that a statute violates the Tenth Amendment.

The other key constitutional question that the Third Circuit is being asked to address is whether PASPA violates the equal sovereignty principle. New Jersey has argued that because PASPA discriminates among the states by allowing only a few states to offer sports betting, it violates the state’s right to equal sovereignty, which requires any discrimination among the states to be justified by “a showing that a statute’s geographic coverage is sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” DOJ argues that PASPA does not offend the equal sovereignty doctrine and has traditionally been applied only in the context of States’ admission to the Union, and “has never been understood to invalidate, or even subject to heightened scrutiny, all federal legislation that draws distinctions among particular States.”

Regardless of the decision reached by the Third Circuit, the losing party will have the option of seeking a rehearing en banc in the Third Circuit, or filing for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. However, both options are discretionary, leaving the possibility that the ruling from the Third Circuit will be final.

There have been prior challenges to PASPA in federal court, but none of those cases required the court to directly address the constitutionality of the statute, which the Third Circuit is being asked to do here.

The ruling from the Third Circuit in this case will have far-reaching implications. A decision in New Jersey’s favor removes the primary hurdle preventing states from offering sports betting within their borders. A decision that opines on the constitutional issues in the case could have a significant impact in the future on the federal government’s ability to regulate the states.

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About Ifrah Law

Crime in the Suites is authored by the Ifrah Law Firm, a Washington DC-based law firm specializing in the defense of government investigations and litigation. Our client base spans many regulated industries, particularly e-business, e-commerce, government contracts, gaming and healthcare.

Ifrah Law focuses on federal criminal defense, government contract defense and procurement, healthcare, and financial services litigation and fraud defense. Further, the firm's E-Commerce attorneys and internet marketing attorneys are leaders in internet advertising, data privacy, online fraud and abuse law, iGaming law.

The commentary and cases included in this blog are contributed by founding partner Jeff Ifrah, partners Michelle Cohen, David Deitch, and associates Rachel Hirsch, Jeff Hamlin, Steven Eichorn, Sarah Coffey, Nicole Kardell, Casselle Smith, and Griffin Finan. These posts are edited by Jeff Ifrah. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!

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