Case News, Staff News
The passage of the First Step Act in December 2018 expanded compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1), allowing our clients to file compassionate release motions to reduce sentences based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons” directly with their sentencing courts. Through advocacy by the whole office, the district courts have joined the majority of courts across the nation that recognize the COVID-19 pandemic should inform the requisite analysis – either in terms of whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist or, if a person qualifies for a sentence reduction, whether relief is warranted based on § 3553(a) factors. Together with members of the CJA panel, we have filed over 300 petitions under § 3582(c).
This month, another three motions were granted; their stories follow:
On Veteran’s Day Mr. G, a Viet Nam combat veteran client of the FPD was informed that late on the previous day Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez reconsidered his earlier decision to deny compassionate release and ordered that he be released within 14 days. Mr. G was thrilled to receive the news on Veterans Day and is looking forward to volunteering with the VA to help other vets. Congrats to Mr. G and the team that helped with his release!
Mr. U. was within 18 months of completing a very lengthy prison term for bank robbery. He is now in his 60s. Mr. U. was granted compassionate release by Judge Marsha Pechman based on his age, serious health problems and the assistance needed by his sister who also suffering from health issues. The probation office in Eastern Washington had approved him for transfer to the Eastern District of Washington. Mr. U. Is thrilled for the chance to reconnect with family and to be heading home after his long absence. Thanks to all who helped make this happen for Mr. U!
Mr. C went to trial in January 2018 for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (which carries a 10 year mandatory minimum) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. Mc. C testified at trial that he used methamphetamine to held with his congestive heart failure. Mr. C was convicted and sentenced to 180 months.
We filed a compassionate release motion before Judge Leighton based on congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and degenerative hip failure. The Government conceded that his medical conditions are extraordinary and compelling circumstances but argues that 3553(a) factors did not support release. Judge Leighton denied the motion holding that my client’s co-morbidities are not an extraordinary and compelling circumstance and that he remains a danger to the community.
Following the denial, FMC Rochester had a COVID outbreak. We filed a motion to reconsider citing the COVID outbreak at the prison and including a letter from the client. Reconsideration was considered by Judge Bryan. After we filed the motion to reconsider, Mr. Carlson tested positive for COVID. That test result was noted in the Government’s response. We filed a reply addressing the reinfection cases. Judge Bryan granted the motion for compassionate release and was quite critical of Judge Leighton’s prior ruling. Congrats to Mr. C and CJA Panel Attorney Emma Scanlan on this great victory!
Seattle AFD Gregory Geist Secures Dismissal for their Client!
Dale Casey was released from custody for a crime that he did not commit after serving almost a year in custody. Mr. Casey’s case was a hard fought case that illustrates how a victory can be obtained by way of committee. He was originally charged with assault by strangulation and as a habitual offender. Building on Johnson work done by Seattle AFDs Ann Wagner and Andy Kennedy, Seattle AFD Greg Geist convinced the Honorable Richard A. Jones to dismiss the habitual offender charge. With the strangulation charge remaining, Mr. Casey asserted his right to a speedy trial, as he had since the beginning of the case. Because of the pandemic, he was not given that trial. Despite experiencing extreme difficulties while confined and losing loved ones, he stood up the government and refused to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. After approximately one year and with the case proceeding to trial, Seattle Investigator Jennifer Davis discovered a potentially significant evidence tampering issue. That issue was brought to the government’s attention along with other issues including expert testimony raising serious doubt as to the government’s case. This collective effort which included significant contributions by Seattle Paralegal Emily Ziel, and interns Makayla Gustafson and Anthony Stokes and Seattle paralegals Charlotte Ponikvar and Barbara Hughes, who worked late hours to prepare, edit, organize pleadings all led to a dismissal that was just under the circumstances. Mr. Casey was reunited with his family in the parking lot of the federal detention center where he was able to hold his grandson. Congratulations to Mr. Casey, his family, and the entire defense team who fought for this amazing outcome.
Legal Intern Mak Gustavson represented RR at a hearing on a motion for early termination. Judge Lasnik had sentenced RR to 84 months of prison in March 2013. RR has worked tirelessly since her arrest, including during her years in prison. She maintained her relationships with her children and took advantage of every rehabilitative program available to her. Since her release, she has consistently worked and provided her family with stability and love. Mak gave a heartfelt presentation and Judge Lasnik, the prosecutor, and the probation officer were all impressed with RR’s success. Judge Lasnik will help RR welcome in the new year, promising to grant the motion for early termination on January 1, 2021, if RR continues to do well. Kudos to Mak and the client on this wonderful outcome!
On November 20, after many years of litigation and countless setbacks, a team from the Seattle office was able to achieve a substantial reduction in sentence for client Mr. S. Originally convicted of murder in the first degree and burglary with several weapons enhancements, Mr. S. was serving a sentence of 579 months in prison. At his trial, the prosecutor sought to strike the sole Black juror. Mr. S. repeatedly attempted to challenge the strike as the product of improper purposeful discrimination but was repeatedly unable to find a court willing to address the issue through his case. The Washington Supreme Court was very concerned about what had happened but decided his case was not the best vehicle to implement a new, more strict, standard and instead chose to do it in a subsequent rule. Following the passage of that rule and it being applied retroactively to another individual, Mr. S. filed a petition requesting that it be applied to him as well.
While the petition was pending, our team reached out to the prosecutor who agreed that settlement of the case was in the interest of both parties, particularly given that Mr. S. was the victim of a very troublesome upbringing and has worked very hard to turn his life around during his incarceration. After some negotiation, the parties presented a joint motion to Judge Jim Rogers of the King County Superior Court and asked that the original conviction be vacated and that Mr. S. be allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of second degree murder. Judge Rogers described the motion as unlike anything he had dealt with in his career but agreed with the parties and granted the motion. He then sentenced Mr. S. to 260 months in prison, less than half as long as he was originally sentenced to serve. Mr. S. was represented by Defender Mike Filipovic and Seattle AFD Andy Kennedy, with assistance from Seattle Paralegal Janet Stanton, Seattle Investigator Jennifer Davis, Seattle Paralegals Charlotte Ponikvar and Suzie Strait, and countless others throughout the time he has been a client of the office. He also was fortunate enough to have a prosecutor and judge who were willing to look at his case as a whole and work with the defense team to achieve a just outcome. His case is truly a confirmation that it takes a village to get the best result in such a challenging case. It also goes to show that dedication does pay off. Thanks to the diligent efforts of so many members of the team as well as the remarkable strides Mr. S. himself made, Mr. S. should be released from prison in his early 40’s rather than in his 70’s and will have a chance at a real life on the outside. Congrats to all who made this happen!
Federal Defender Celebrates 30 Years!
On November 5, 2020, our FPD Michael Filipovic celebrated 30 years as an Assistant Federal Public Defender. In 2004, Mike became this Office’s First Assistant and over the course of his career, whether the case was high profile or not, Mike was and is described by his team as “tireless.” For the attorneys, he is an incredible resource, unflappable and repeatedly exemplifies by his actions that he just loves the work.
In 2014 he became our Defender. He took over from Tom Hillier who had been in the position for 32 years, and on the heels of sequestration where, those of us in the office recall, Mike and Tom, and others on the admin staff worked tirelessly to minimize layoffs and the impact on all of us.
Theodore Roosevelt once said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Mike has certainly been in the arena. And since he took office, he has strived to do better. To continue the fight for things that he cares about, but in a way, that let others shine. For example, in addition to his own cases, he asked us to work towards a more environmentally and healthy manner with sit-stand desks and a paperless practice.
He initiated telework (long before the pandemic would require it), updated our intranet and internet, including the creation of our newsletter with Stacey Brownstein’s invaluable lead. He created a social worker position, as well as a Chief Paralegal position. He worked with Natalie Harmon and the panel to hire our first CJA Resource Counsel – Jenn Kaplan – another invaluable addition to our office and the criminal defense bar. Under his leadership we have successfully avoided the death penalty for two of our clients and we are hoping to make it a third.
Mike has lead us through the anxiety of COVID-19, the Trump administration and the weight of the times, making decisions, with the priority being what is right and in the best interest of our health and safety. He has welcomed honest critics and has earned the respect of many. While work, of course, remains, we are grateful that Mike put himself in the “arena” 30 years ago and thankful for his service to the mission of the office. Congrats Mike on your 30 years and here is to 30 more!......
Social Worker Daniel Potter-Engelskirger Receives his LCSW License!
This month our social worker, Daniel Potter-Engelskirger, passed his clinical examination and became a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the State of Washington. This Department of Health license marks the culmination of three years of post-graduate work, providing 4,000 hours of direct service to hundreds of clients while being supervised and mentored by other licensed mental health professionals. Dan hopes this achievement will directly benefit the clients and defense team by ensuring a high quality of social work services and mitigation materials. Congrats to Dan!