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May 24, 2011

Brother of Raj Rajaratnam asks friends to write letters to judge urging leniency

As detailed in this interesting article, which is headlined "Raj's Brother Tells Friends How They Can Influence Raj's Sentencing With A Letter To The Judge," Rengan Rajaratnam "has sent a long letter to friends asking them to write to Judge Holwell to help make sure his brother Raj gets a more lenient sentence."  Here are excerptsfrom the now-public letter:

As we prepare for the appeals process, we need your help and I am I only sending this letter to a handful of people.  The sentencing phase is coming up relatively quickly and the federal guidelines are calling for 15 to 19 years in jail.  The guidelines are harder and less flexible than many prison sentences for violent and predatory offenders.  This is simply unfair, and we are praying for leniency from the judge while we prepare for the appeal.

In the meantime, on behalf of Raj and the family, I would like to enlist your support one last time.  Positive character letters from family, friends, and colleagues that know Raj well can play a pivotal role in helping persuade the Hon.  Judge Holwell to be fair, and lenient during Raj’s sentencing.

If you can find it in your hearts to write a personal letter to Judge Holwell describing your relationship with Raj; when and how you met; as well as illustrate some of the positive experiences you’ve had with him, it would be of immense service to Raj and our family. The longer you can state you have known Raj, clearly the better.

The goal is to appeal to Judge Howell, by informing him that Raj is a loving human being with deep friendships and ties to the community.  That Raj is a person of good character, a positive member of society who is deserving of the court’s leniency.  As many of you may be aware, Raj has donated significant amounts of money to charity in excess of $30 MM in the last 5 years alone.  If you need specifics, please call me.

It is important that the letter come from you, and paints Raj in a positive light. Since time is of the essence, it would be great if you could send the letters to me before the end of the week or the early part of next week.

The format of the actual letter is important, and there are several examples on the web. I have included one link that I found helpful on some guidelines on how to properly write a character reference: http://www.ehow.com/how_4683439_write-letter-judge-before-sentencing.html

I am interested to hear from experienced federal practitioners concerning whether they believe in this case (or others) that "character letters from family, friends, and colleagues ... can play a pivotal role" in post-Booker sentencing decision-making.

May 24, 2011 at 10:00 AM | Permalink


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From personal experience, these letters mean nothing if the DA has "picked" to indite on a charge that carries a MM. Even in a case where an individual was charged the MM for Receipt of CP(for a total of 12 pics on a laptop)and over 25 letters mostly from long time friends that are mothers and neighbors that are all mothers, and an ex father-in-law who was a former head of the Ice division that headed this group....all meant nothing! The most the judge could do is make comments that could be pointed out later if the laws ever get corrected...

Posted by: Fixnrlaws | May 24, 2011 10:45:26 AM

"Raj has donated significant amounts of money to charity in excess of $30 MM in the last 5 years alone."

Easy to do when you've made over $60M on insider trading over a 6 year span. Just sayin'.

Posted by: centrist | May 24, 2011 11:54:38 AM

Having been the defense attorney on 500+ federal cases, I can assure you, these letters mean very little relative to the facts of the case.

Posted by: sf defense | May 24, 2011 1:11:08 PM

sf defense and fixnrlaws have it right....Its nice but doesnot carry any weight to influence a Federal judge...Sorry...

Posted by: Josh | May 24, 2011 1:52:24 PM

As a defense attorney (and former prosecutor), my view is that the letters can't hurt (as long as they follow some basic rules - like avoiding attacks on the merits or the court . . .). At most, they help to individualize the defendant, and may help to counterbalance the two-dimensional portraits presented in court up until the time of sentencing.

The judge may have very little sense of who the defendant is as a person before that point (indeed, it's probable that the defendant has barely opened his mouth in the courtroom during all of the proceedings).

That being said, the impact of such letters may vary depending on the particular jurist and the facts of the case. If the contents are completely out of sync with the evidence, it may be like trying to put lipstick on a pig. The best letters are those that make it clear to the judge that the writer understands the allegations, and respects the process, but would like to provide more information to help the judge form a more complete picture of the person who will be sentenced, or to help place the criminality within the larger context of a defendant's life.

Besides, if personal appeals didn't have some potential to influence a judge at sentencing, the government wouldn't push so hard for victim impact statements on the other side . . .

Posted by: L Shulman, Crim Defense Atty | May 24, 2011 1:53:09 PM

I disagree that sentencing letters have little or no weight with judges. Of course, it depends on the individual judge, but in my experience sentencing letters do have an impact in white collar cases. White collar defendants usually have a long history of personal, professional, and civic achievements that can be compelling and can offset the picture that has been presented by the government. It's important to highlight those things, especially as a judge is considering a variance or where a sentence will fall within the applicable range. I have even heard judge quote particular letters during a sentencing hearing. Sure, a stack of letters is not going to mitigate criminal conduct fully, especially after a long trial, but it does help and is an important part of the defense presentation at sentencing. Letters are even more important when there is a plea, because the total information before the judge is less.

What surprises me a little here is that the defense attorneys are not controlling the process a little more tightly. Generally, when we have a sentencing, I will provide the defendant with a letter explaining the sentencing process and the value of letters, and then provide a basic outline of what is appropriate to put in a letter to the court. The idea is to give a general outline for the letter-writers, but not give them so much guidance that the letters all sound the same. Even with that guidance, the letters come back in all forms--some great, some terrible (attacking the judge or asserting the defendant did nothing wrong)--so I collect the letters, choose ones that are particularly compelling, and then provide the letters as an exhibit to a larger sentencing memorandum (which often quotes key letters). I think this practice is essential (and probably fairly standard) in high-profile white collar cases, especially in light of Booker and judges' new focus on the 3553 factors. I can't speak for how they are perceived in non-white collar cases

Posted by: TJH | May 25, 2011 9:55:39 AM

RAJ's case is to public & famous for letters to have any impact.

Posted by: Steve | May 27, 2011 12:46:10 AM

Raj seems like a nice guy. But why is it that must be impressed with someone who donates 30M? If I made 100M and gave away 30M I cannot see this as impressive. I have about 10.00 dollars in my bank account. The other day I gave a homeless man /2 of all that I have. Are you impressed?

Posted by: miee | Oct 9, 2011 3:29:26 PM

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