John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder bestowed the Award for Distinguished Service – the department’s second-highest honor for employee performance – on Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Shelledy, chief of the Sacramento office’s civil division, and Kelli Taylor and Colleen Kennedy, who work in the civil division; as well as Richard Elias, former assistant U.S. attorney in the civil division who is now in private practice in St. Louis.
The four were cited for their work, under the guidance of Shelledy and U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, “that led to an unprecedented civil settlement with JPMorgan Chase,” the nation’s largest bank.
“The settlement negotiations and the (underlying) fraud investigations they undertook led to what was the largest settlement with a single entity in American history – $13 billion – and the largest … penalty ever recovered by the department – $2 billion” under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. The measure was enacted in response to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.
The settlement resulted in part from an investigation showing that, in the lead-up to the 2007-08 collapse of the economy, JPMorgan sold billions of dollars of residential mortgage-backed securities which included loans that did not comply with underwriting guidelines, were secured by properties with inflated appraisals, were supported by inaccurate loan-to-value or debt-to-income ratios or were otherwise unlawfully originated, according to the citation.
All the while, the citation says, JPMorgan was “misrepresenting to investors the (high) quality of the loans … and the (low) risk of loss.” The efforts of the four award recipients held “wrongdoers accountable for reckless and abusive conduct that contributed to the financial crisis,” the citation says.
Wagner said Wednesday the four attorneys “exemplify what it truly means to be a public servant.”
In C.B. v. City of Sonora, No. 11-17454, the Ninth Circuit en banc today affirmed in part and reversed in part the EDCA Court's judgment following a jury trial in an action arising out of a decision by Sonora City police officers to handcuff and remove from school grounds an 11-year old child with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder who was sitting on a bench and refused to leave the playground.
At least that's what the summary says of the 83-page opinion with multiple concurrence and partial dissents.
A Shasta County atheist whose parole agent required him to participate in a religious-oriented drug treatment program has settled his lawsuit against the state and a rehabilitation contractor for nearly $2 million.
Barry A. Hazle Jr. did a year in prison on a narcotics conviction. His release on parole was revoked – and he was sent back to prison for more than three months – after he complained about mandated attendance at a drug treatment program where acknowledgment of a higher power is required.
Hazle, 46, sued officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation six years ago in Sacramento federal court. Six weeks later, the department issued a directive that parole agents may not compel a parolee to take part in religious-themed programs. A parolee who objects should be referred to nonreligious treatment, the directive said, citing federal case law.
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U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. found that compelling Hazle to attend the program ran “afoul of the prohibition against the state’s favoring religion in general over nonreligion,” and violated a constitutional right against government imposing religious beliefs on him.
But when the case went to trial on the issue of money, the jury refused to award damages for Hazle’s loss of freedom and emotional distress.
In August 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw the jury’s verdict out, ruling that Hazle must be compensated for the violation of his constitutional right.
The three-judge circuit panel sent the case back to Burrell for a new trial and directed the judge to instruct the jury that Hazle is entitled to damages.
Officials with the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians will learn Wednesday [1:30 p.m., Fresno Federal Courthouse, Judge O'Neill's Courtroom, 7th Floor] whether the tribe’s Coarsegold casino will reopen sooner or later when a judge hears from state and federal lawyers who ordered it closed.
On Tuesday, regulators were in the 1,800-slot, 42-table Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino along with a skeleton crew of about 100 employees.
The state Attorney General’s office and the National Indian Gaming Commission closed the casino to customers Friday after a fight between two tribal factions forced 500 patrons to leave the casino and hotel Thursday night — some with money on the table and chips to cash in. The closure occurred after members of a tribal faction led by Tex McDonald, which has control of the nearby tribal business complex, forcibly entered the casino and began fighting with security guards loyal to the Reggie Lewis/Nancy Ayala faction. Seven weeks ago, members of the Lewis/Ayala group seized the casino from McDonald’s faction.
Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill, who issued the temporary restraining order on Friday to close the casino and hotel because he believed the health and safety of patrons could not be protected, will decide how to proceed.
A federal court ruling out of California could inject a new line of litigation in the already contentious world of cleaning up with country’s most contaminated sites.
The ruling by Judge William Shubb of the Eastern District of California holds that state government agencies can be targeted as potentially responsible for the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (aka Superfund).
Law blogs are abuzz trying to decipher the potential ramifications of the ruling, which seems to suggest that regulators could bear some responsibility for cleaning up the messes left by generations of industrial users.
Here's bits and pieces from today's front page story in the Sacramento Bee:
The incendiary legal battle over responsibility for the Moonlight wildfire, which scorched 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada seven years ago, has flared anew with charges of corruption and cover-up leveled at federal prosecutors, and state and federal investigators. [2:09-CV-2445-KJM].
The allegations are contained in hundreds of pages of documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento seeking to wipe out a 2012 settlement calling for timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries to pay the federal government $47 million and deed it 22,500 acres of its land to compensate for the devastation of more than 40,000 acres in two national forests in Plumas and Lassen counties, as well as the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting costs.
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On Thursday, the company took the rare step of asking Mueller to “vacate the settlement” due to “fraud upon the court.”
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It insists in its motion that the investigators’ origin-and-cause report is a fraudulent document that omits or distorts all information that might have hurt the government’s case.
One of the documents Sierra Pacific filed is a declaration from a veteran former assistant U.S. attorney, who says he was forced to give up his position as the government’s lead lawyer in the Moonlight case, apparently because he rebuffed pressure from a superior to “engage in unethical conduct as a lawyer.”
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His declaration describes his conclusion in connection with another wildland fire recovery matter in 2009 that he was ethically obligated to disclose a document to the defense that called into question the viability of the government’s prosecution.
He sought confirmation from the U.S. Department of Justice’s professional responsibility advisory office, which “strongly supported my view. … As a result, we dismissed that action,” the declaration says.
Later in 2009, it says, a dispute arose between Wright and Shelledy in the context of another wildland fire case over whether the office had an obligation to disclose to the defense the fact that the Forest Service had miscalculated the damages, which were $10 million less than the government was claiming.
Wright again sought the advice of the professional responsibility office and again the office supported his view that the error had to be disclosed, according to the declaration.
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At this point, it says, an attorney in the professional responsibility office weighed in “with a directive that could not have been clearer: ‘Part of the issue in making a false statement means not only an affirmative misstatement but deliberately withholding information which refutes the position you assert.’ ”
The information was turned over to the defense and the case settled.
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Although Sierra Pacific agreed to a settlement in 2012 to end its legal fight with federal authorities, it has always contended the fire investigation was flawed and that investigators manipulated evidence and lied under oath about where and how the blaze began.
According to Sierra Pacific, the government could reach into the company’s deep pockets for a big recovery only if it could blame the company for the fire, and that is what motivated investigators to move the blaze’s place of origin to the area where the bulldozer was working and then falsely deny they had originally settled on a different location.
A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by Missouri and five other states asking the court to strike down a California law barring the sale of eggs in the state produced by hens in cramped living conditions.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the suit Thursday, giving California a major victory in a cross-country battle that pitted animal protections against the economic interests of farmers in the South and Midwest.
In her order on the parties' motions in limine available here, Judge Mueller somewhat limited the testimony at the evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance in United States v. Schweder, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM. The evidentiary hearing is still scheduled for October 27 and is expected to last three days.