Arbitration Award Stands Even Though One Of The Arbitrators Was Later Convicted Of Crime

  by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Divorce decree (pd)Arbitration awards are, by design, difficult to vacate. But what happens when one of the arbitrators who entered the award is later convicted of a crime related, at least to some extent, to an issue in the arbitration. In Litton v. Litton, the Appellate Division addressed this interesting but (hopefully) uncommon occurrence.

In Litton, plaintiff and defendant were married in 1982 and had one child. In 2008, the Family Part entered a judgment of divorce and ordered them to share joint custody of their son. They were also directed to proceed to arbitration before a rabbinical panel, or Beth Din, which they did. The panel, which was comprised of three rabbis, entered an award requiring the husband to pay the wife $5,000 per month until he gave her a Get. (As the Appellate Division explained, a Get is a "written document a husband must obtain and deliver to his wife when entering into a divorce. Without a Get, a wife cannot remarry under Jewish law.") Once the wife received the Get, the husband's monthly support obligation would be reduced to $3,500. The husband was also ordered to pay $20,0250 in arrears, $100,000 in the wife's legal fees, and a fine of $250,000 for "his refusal to disclose information about the couple's joint funds."

Several months later, the wife moved to enforce the award and, apparently, have the husband jailed for not complying with it. The Family Part denied the request and found that the husband was not capable of complying with the support order.

Four years later, the Family Part reduced the husband's support obligation from $5,000 per month to $23 per week. Around the same time, in a "wholly unrelated matter," one of the arbitrators on the panel was charged with, and apparently later convicted  of, "criminal conspiracy to threaten and coerce Jewish husbands to give Gets to their wives."  The husband moved to vacate the arbitration award, arguing that, in light of these charges against one of the rabbis on the panel, "the award was the product of corruption." The trial court denied the motion, holding that there was no causal connection between the arbitration in 2008 and the charges against the rabbi five years later, and that there were two other rabbis on the panel who were not charged as part of the conspiracy. The husband appealed.

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File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Law book (pd)I don't usually post about bankruptcy or criminal law issues, but the facts from a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which involved both bankruptcy and criminal law issues, were too intriguing to ignore. 

In United States v. Free, defendant "made the bizarre decision to file for bankruptcy even though he had more than sufficient assets to pay his debts." Then, "having filed for bankruptcy unnecessarily, [he] hid assets worth hundred of thousands of dollars from the Bankruptcy Court." Not surprisingly, this led to criminal charges being brought against defendant and convictions for multiple counts of bankruptcy fraud. To make things even more odd, despite all of his "prevarications," defendant's creditors were paid in full from the bankruptcy estate. So, to summarize, defendant did not need to file bankruptcy but chose to do so, only to then defraud the Bankruptcy Court by hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets, but eventually paid "100 cents on the dollar" to his creditors.

The legal issue in the case was how to properly calculate "loss" under the Sentencing Guidelines, which increase a "fraudster's" recommended sentence based on the loss he causes, or intends to cause, his or her victims. The curious part about Free was that the victims, defendant's creditors, were paid in full, therefore they had not suffered any loss in the usual sense of the word.

In Free, plaintiff filed for bankruptcy in his capacity as as the sole proprietor of an electric company he owned. He also owned a company that specialized in the sale of vintage firearms, which would become a central part of his bankruptcy case. Free claimed that he filed for bankruptcy to stay the sheriff's sale of property he was on the verge of losing through foreclosure. When he filed, he identified more than $1 million in assets — property and personal property, including firearms — and almost $700,000 in liabilities.  He originally filed under Chapter 13, but the court converted it to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would liquidate his assets and distribute the proceeds to his creditors.

Continue reading “File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?”

Not Quite El Chapo’s Escaping Through A Tunnel Under His Shower, But Still An Escape From “Custody”

HandcuffsThere have been two high-profile prison escapes in recent weeks — one in Mexico and one in upstate New York. In United States v. Small, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt with a third escape that was much lower-profile but still interesting. It presented the question of whether an individual could be guilty of the federal crime of escape even if he was never in the physical custody of the federal government or its agents.

In Small, defendant was serving a state prison term when he was convicted of federal tax fraud and sentenced to 135 months in a federal prison. The federal sentence was set to begin after the state sentence expired. To that end, the U.S. Marshal delivered to the state prison a detainer, which "governed Small's transfer to federal authorities upon completion of his state sentence." A few years later, however, the state prison "received documents in the mail, ostensibly from the [federal court], but which in reality were forgeries sent at Small's direction," which purported to vacate Small's conviction and sentence. The forgeries must have been good because the state prison believed them to be genuine and released Small after his state prison sentence ended.

A few months after he was released from state prison, a federal agent learned of Small's release. Federal agents quickly located and arrested Small, charging him with several crimes including escape. Small moved to dismiss that charge on the ground that he was never in federal custody, a requisite element of the federal crime of escape. He then entered an "open plea of guilty" and was sentenced to 60 months in prison on each count of the indictment (to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to his tax fraud sentence).

 

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Is A Locked, Fenced-In Parking Lot A “Structure”? It is in New Jersey.

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

I was in law school during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky drama. When the pundits seized on Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony about what the "meaning of 'is' is," I recall one of my professors saying that lawyers make distinctions like that every day. In practice, I have learned that this is true. At depositions and in court, lawyers often argue over the meaning of certain words that most people would think are fairly uncontroversial. Sometimes these arguments are more for the sake of argument than anything else, but often they are crucial to the issues in the case, like in the recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision in State v. Olivero.

In Olivero, defendant was convicted of third-degree burglary for stealing metal printing rollers used in printing presses from a fenced-in lot that was adjacent to a warehouse. Defendant and his brother cut the chain and padlock that secured the fence around the lot before driving in and taking the rollers. Unfortunately for them, a security guard noticed that the chain and padlock had been cut and called the police, who arrested defendant and his brother as they attempted to drive out of the facility.

Under New Jersey law, "A person is guilty of burglary if, with purpose to commit an offense therein or thereon he . . . enters a structure." A "structure" is defined as "any building, room, ship, vessel, car, vehicle or airplane, and also means any place adapted . . . for carrying on business." At trial, defense counsel argued that defendant could not be found guilty of burglary because the lot was not a "structure." The trial court rejected this argument, holding that the fenced-in area was "a prohibited space not open to the public, as well as a place for carrying on . .  business." The Appellate Division affirmed, noting that the lot was secured from the public.

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If You Ever Wondered What “Accompany” Means, Justice Scalia Has Your Answer

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

  The two or three of you Those of you who regularly read this blog or are familiar with some of the posts and articles I have written know that I am a fan of Justice Scalia. Not necessarily his judicial philosophy, but his written opinions – both for the court and in dissent – which are almost always entertaining and compelling even if you disagree with his conclusions. This morning, the Supreme Court released its opinion in Whitfield v. United States, where Justice Scalia, writing for a unanimous court demonstrated again why he is one of the Supreme Court’s most engaging authors.

Whitfield was a tragic case that reads like it was ripped from a law school exam question. Whitfield was fleeing police after a botched robbery when he entered Mary Parnell’s home through an unlocked door. “Once inside, he encountered a terrified Parnell and guided her from the hallway to a computer room (which Whitfield estimates was between four and nine feet away . . . ). There, Parnell suffered a fatal heart attack. Whitfield fled, and was found hiding nearby.”

Whitfield was found guilty of a number of federal offenses, including one that makes it a crime for a suspect who is “avoiding or attempting to avoid apprehension” to “force[] any person to accompany him without the consent of such person.” Whitfield appealed his conviction, arguing that this statute requires “substantial” movement and his movement with Parnell did not qualify. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and Whitfield appealed to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit’s decision and upheld Whitfield’s conviction.

 

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