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February 18, 2009

District judge asks questions about apparent "don't tell" sentence reduction

SLV The Boston Globe has this new report on a fascinating federal sentencing case that could perhaps provide the basis for a hot new screenplay that could be titled "Sex, Lies and Variances."  Here are some of the juicy details:

The chief judge of the US District Court in Boston today ordered federal prosecutors to justify why they are recommending that an alleged Canton prostitute receive a sentence of only six months in jail for extorting $280,000 in cash from a prominent Boston-area businessman in exchange for keeping their liaisons secret.

Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf said today that neither US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's office nor lawyers for the alleged prostitute have explained why the woman, Michelle Robinson, 29, should receive a sentence that would likely result in her being immediately freed....

That sentence "represents a significant downward departure" from the 33 to 41 months that probation officials have calculated would ordinarily be recommended for the defendant under federal sentencing guidelines, Wolf said.  The judge said that since neither prosecutors nor Robinson's lawyers have responded to an earlier court order to explain the sentence, "it is now uncertain whether the court is likely to accept the plea agreement."  He gave prosecutors until noon Thursday to file papers justifying the proposed six-month sentence.  Robinson's lawyer can also file an explanation....

The criminal case against Robinson was the subject of a Globe story Tuesday in which several legal specialists criticized prosecutors' efforts to keep the businessman's name a secret.  Among the terms of the tentative plea agreement is an extraordinary provision: Robinson would be forbidden from disclosing the businessman's name for the three years that she is on supervised release.

February 18, 2009 at 04:38 PM | Permalink


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The businessman committed a criminal offense. Since when has the interest of justice shifted from exposing crime to concealing it? One could argue that if there were no other evidence of the businessman's offense than the testimony of an individual engaged in extorting him, the government should not prosecute and might be justified in attempting to conceal his identity. On the other hand, if that were the case, would her word against his really be that damaging? Most people would take the prostitute for a lying crook absent any corroboration. Then if the corroboration is in the hands of the government, why not prosecute him?

Posted by: Robert | Feb 18, 2009 8:49:20 PM

The businessman is the victim. If you think that his name should be exposed you are anti-victim and pro-domestic violence.

On the other hand, judges are not entitled to anything besides what the parties tell them.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 18, 2009 10:11:41 PM


My reversal rate would be much better if the judges in the various united states courts of appeal would stop having their law clerks do research so that they only know "what the parties tell them."

Posted by: anonymous appellant | Feb 18, 2009 10:21:22 PM

I think I agree (for perhaps the first time) with "s.cotus". The businessguy is what the CVRA, 18 USC 3771, and implementing rules call a "crime victim" (in this case). (Of course, in the related state case, he is the perpetrator; but "crime victim" is a legal status in a case, not a personal identity in a life, or so we should hope.) He has a "right" under that law, in this case, to be heard in relation to the plea agreement and to have his "dignity and privacy" protected, to the extent that doing so does not impair a constitutional right of the accused. My guess is that that is what happened here -- the defendant used the CVRA provision to drive a hard bargain. Just a guess.

Posted by: Peter G | Feb 18, 2009 10:56:32 PM

Well, law clerks just give another perspective. Just like the litigants and judges, their views are informed by their politics.

Anyone that says otherwise is a jerk. I mean where do people get off saying "The law is what it is, and not what they want it to be."

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 19, 2009 1:20:25 AM

Peter G.

I think you're off your rocker. It's true that under the law he is a victim. It's also true that under the law he's a perp. You can't break the law in half. The case is not just "related," it is so intimately connected that you can't prosecute one without the other. Or is it the government's position that she blackmailed him for a crime that as a legal matter never occurred. Please. Next thing you'll be telling me is that 10,000 angels can dance on the head of a pin. This type of obtuse hairsplitting is overweening and puts the legal profession in a bad light.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 19, 2009 6:24:41 PM

Daniel, I never split hairs. My opponents always split hairs. This is true 100% of the time.

You say, “It's true that under the law he is a victim. It's also true that under the law he's a perp. You can't break the law in half.”

Turns out, this is wrong. Quite frequently, people are both victims and perpetrators. This is why “victims” of “domestic violence” are often in difficult positions. Frequently, criminal behavior put them in the position that they are in with regard to the lady that keeps beating him up.

Or, more commonly, someone might be the victim of an assault, but responded inappropriately to it (i.e. so that he does not have a self-defense defense.) There is another example of someone being both a “perpetrator” and a “victim.”

Although I find it difficult to associate with non-lawyers because of the damage they have done to my country, the legal profession is held in quite high esteem. People not only demand to speak to lawyers at all times and they demand that their kids attend law school. Anyone that says otherwise scored under 160 on the LSAT and therefore doesn’t really count.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 20, 2009 11:54:59 PM

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