Case News, Staff News, Audio Visual (AV) Training
Tacoma AFD successfully saves client from receiving 2.5 more years of prison!
Tacoma First Assistant Miriam Schwartz, Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky, along with Investigator Mike Stortini, and Paralegal Carolynn Cohn, were surprisingly successful at a Federal Parole revocation hearing, which was held at FDC SeaTac on September 19th. Our client was alleged to have violated his parole, by committing crimes of kidnapping, assault, with a firearm, and stalking (different victims/ different incidents) and failing to report contact with law enforcement. After a 3-hour hearing, the only allegation that was found to have merit, was the Failure to Report.
To give context, federal parole is a dying entity, and contested parole hearings seem almost non-existent. Such “hearings” are conducted by a hearing examiner (ours had no formal legal training), who plays both prosecutor and judge. The “hearing” is unconstrained by rules of evidence; however, the parolee is entitled to some due process.
Based on his history and the Parole Guidelines, our client faced an additional 30 months incarceration (beyond the 6 months already served) if found to have committed the more serious (kidnapping/armed assault allegations). And, from what we had heard from lawyers who had dealt with parole hearings in years past, we feared the handwriting was on the wall regardless of our work or the merits of the charges.
However, amazing investigation by Mike Stortini supported by tenacious and exhaustive record gathering by paralegal Carolynn Cohn revealed the “kidnapping” allegations to be a fabricated story. This was clear when we reviewed the video evidence gathered by local law enforcement (which was never requested by the Parole Commission) and interviewed collateral witnesses. The evidence developed by police (obtained by Cohn), complemented by the investigation on the part of Stortini, made it very clear why the local prosecutor had declined to file the “kidnapping” case--although that did not stop the Parole Commission from proceeding, refusing to consider the evidence we provided in advance of the hearing, or to discuss resolution based on the lesser allegations.
Despite being armed with the police videos and reports, court documentation, defense witnesses, and Zarky’s strong briefing on parolees’ confrontation/due process rights, we headed into the hearing expecting defeat.
Following Schwartz’s “opening statement” and the probation officer’s admission that there was a “reason” why he had not actually alleged the “kidnapping” incident in his Violation Report (a fact previously overlooked by the Commission and the Examiner), the Examiner asked Schwartz to summarize what the defense witnesses would say. Schwartz meticulously presented the facts developed in the course of the investigation and cited to our brief objecting to the use of hearsay evidence. (Live witnesses declined to show up.) After a 3-hour hearing consisting only of defense evidence and the (mostly helpful) testimony of the probation officer, the Hearing Examiner ultimately found our client had committed only the least serious- administrative- violation of failing to report contact with law enforcement.
In a case filled with secrecy, twist, turns and trepidation, our client fared well in the end and was grateful to the team for all of their hard work. Based on the guideline range of 6 – 12 months (due to his heavy duty criminal history) the Examiner has made a recommendation to the Commission for a sanction of 12 months (including the 6 already served) (far less than expected, but still pretty steep compared to what our judges generally hand down for similar violations).
Schwartz has already followed up by writing to the Commission urging them to reject the 12-month recommendation and impose a lesser sanction of time served.
Our client was very appreciative, and wrote the following words to the team after his hearing:
Tacoma AFD gets 1326 case Dismissed!
ICE arrested Mr. N.L. as he left his home one morning on his way to work at the construction company where he had been employed for the last four years. His wife and children, ages 12- 21, were suddenly left without the husband and father who had provided them with a good stable home, with abundant opportunities to work and study with friends and neighbors. There was no evidence that Mr. NL had committed any recent or ongoing illegal conduct, and was instead a valued family member and member of the community. Instead of simply deporting
Mr. N.L. after this arrest, the decision was made to prosecute him for illegally re-entering the United States following a deportation, a charge which can mean months or even years of additional incarceration. Tacoma First Assistant Miriam Schwartz successfully argued for Mr. NL’s release from federal custody while his charges were pending, as he was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and that his immigration status independently did not qualify him for continued detention. After 6 days in Federal custody, Mr. NL was released and returned to the custody of the immigration service. The prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charges against Mr. NL on September 19, 2019. Due to the efforts of Schwartz and Tacoma paralegal Julie Valencia, Mr. NL will not have a felony charge on his record following this unfortunate arrest.
Seattle AFD’s Advocacy, leads way for the ACLU to continue the fight!
The Seattle Federal Defender Office represented Melissa Godsey in an aggravated identity theft case, which resulted in a 24 month and 1 day prison sentence. While on pretrial release, she obtained medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and had been successful for over 15 months. At her sentencing hearing, the Judge recommended that the Bureau of Prisons continue MAT. Her Seattle AFPD helped coordinate a meeting with the ACLU. The ACLU decided to take on Ms. Godsey's fight against the BOP to allow her to continue with a Suboxone prescription, without interruption, while in the BOP. Read about the ACLU lawsuit here
For the first time in our office’s history, the FPD staffs a Chief Paralegal!
Congratulations to Patricia Stordeur on being promoted to the position of Chief Paralegal. Patricia has been a paralegal in our office since 2005, and has been a valued member of the CAP group since the beginning. Patricia is one of our Spanish speaking paralegals and has also been a key contributor to the DREAM program. Besides the AAPs (attorney assigned paralegals) and CAPs (case assigned paralegals), Patricia will also supervise the social worker position. Patricia is excited about working collaboratively with the paralegals and social worker, as well as the rest of the office to improve communication and teamwork.
Audio Visual Team Training:
Two members of the Federal Public Defender Audio Visual (AV) Team, Seattle paralegal Janet Stanton and Seattle investigator Debra Malcolm, along with Seattle AFD Jennifer Wellman, presented at an all-day training for Criminal Justice Act counsel hosted by the FPD’s Office at the US Courthouse on September 18, 2019. The three presented on the topic of mitigation videos, and shared their experiences using FPD produced film, including sentencing videos, to help tell our clients' stories, hoping to inspire attorneys outside the office to incorporate film and visual media into their own practice without great expense or difficulty.
Seattle Paralegal Patricia Stordeur and Tacoma Investigator Stacey Brownstein, both AV team members, presented on Mitigation and Sentencing Videos at the King County Department of Public Defense Annual Conference on September 27, 2019.
Upcoming AV Trainings!
The Federal Public Defender Audio Visual Team announces a new training program for Criminal Justice Act appointed counsel and WA State public defender agencies interested in learning video and visual media production skills. This training program will consist of hands on workshops in which participants will be guided through the process of making a mitigation video, we will also provide non-case-related technical consulting on all aspects of production.
The FPD AV Team has been producing sentencing videos and other case-related visual media since 2001. Our work has been used successfully to educate judges, prosecutors and probation officers about our clients’ lives using short biopic videos, video letters, slideshows, long-form video and video enhanced sentencing memorandums. If interested, please email the AV team at: zzWAWml_AV@fd.org