Thursday, May 31, 2012

The John Edwards Verdict: Hot Off the Press!

[Photo of John Edwards from wikipedia]
Have you heard the news about the jury verdict in the John Edwards criminal case?  According to news reports, Edwards has been acquitted on one count and a mistrial, (based on a hung jury), has been declared on the remaining counts of the federal indictment charging him with trying to conceal alleged campaign contributions to his secret lover, Rielle Hunter.  

It is unclear at this juncture as to whether or not the federal prosecutors will attempt to re-try the former Senator on the mis-tried counts.

Please recall that I had predicted in this blog that Edwards would be found not guilty!

Criminal Appeals and Oral Argument: A Few Observations

A few days ago, I had an oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Atlanta, Georgia.  As a former federal prosecutor, here in Augusta, I often had to handle appeals of guilty verdicts in trials which I had handled.  (I was very fortunate that I lost only one case in over 20 years as an AUSA). 

Now, as an Augusta criminal defense attorney, I sometimes still must appeal, either a verdict or a sentence.  But no matter which side I have been on -- as a federal prosecutor, or as an Augusta criminal defense lawyer -- the experience of handling an oral argument has been quite similar.  Here are a couple of observations about oral argument which you probably won't find in a law book anywhere!

1.  THE TIME FLIES BY DURING ORAL ARGUMENT:  Generally, each side is allotted fifteen minutes to argue their respective sides of the case. In my recent case, since I represented the appellant, I got to go first and last, so I chose to argue ten minutes in my first argument and reserved five minutes for rebuttal.  There is a time clock in front of the lecturn which shows how much time you have left. Once the judges started peppering me with questions, I was again amazed at how fast the time whizzed by!

2. LAWYERS SHOULD CAREFULLY RESPOND TO JUDGES' QUESTIONS:  Another thing I have learned is that lawyers should focus on, and respond to, the judges' questions.  In other words, you must be willing to discard any planned argument and simply answer their questions.  After all, it is what the judges think is important that matters and not what you may think that matters!

3.  LAWYERS SHOULD RELAX AND ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE:  Finally, I recommend that attorneys should try to enjoy the experience of arguing before an appellate court.  Look, I realize that it can be a grueling experience to prepare for oral argument and to attend court out of town. And it is never fun to get grilled by judges while a time clock is ticking!  But, on the other hand, doing an oral argument, for attorneys, is sort of like playing in the Super Bowl for football players.  

This is why I went to law school and why I enjoy being a criminal lawyer -- the supreme challenge of having my client's fate in my hands while I try to use my skills and experience as an advocate to protect his rights -- and that is what practicing law should be all about!  In other words, the stakes are high, but you can make a difference, so you should relax and enjoy it!  

Also, getting to go to Atlanta for an oral argument also means staying at a nice hotel and eating at fancy restaurants, (like Durango's and the Blue Willow Inn) -- and that part of practicing law can be fun, too!    

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Goolsby Law Firm Brag Board

[Photo of the Goolsby Law Firm located at 233 Davis Road, Augusta, GA]

I hope you don't mind if I, as a proud father, brag a little bit today about my second son, Blake Goolsby.  As you may know, I already practice law in Augusta, Georgia with my oldest son, Ric, and now, my second son, Blake Goolsby, will be joining us, later this summer, at the Goolsby Law Firm! (see here)  In other words, my second son, Blake, just graduated from Mercer Law School a week ago.  Now, he is studying for the Georgia Bar Exam before he joins us at our family law practice later this summer in Augusta. We are so proud of Blake and all his accomplishments!

Of course, I don't mean to overlook my third son, Zachary, who just completed his first year of law school at the University of Georgia, in Athens.  We are proud of Zach, too, and also look forward to him joining us at the Goolsby Law Firm in a couple of years, too!  We are truly a family law firm which handles a little bit of everything, including divorces, adoptions, personal injury, and criminal law, in both Georgia state and federal courts.

That's all for bragging about my sons today!  I hope you understood!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Food Stamp Fraud in a Food Stamp Nation

[Food Stamp SNAP Logo Depiction from wikipedia]
Times are tough.  Some people claim that the United States has become a food stamp nation.  According to the latest government statistics, over 46 million Americans now receive food stamp assistance.  Most store owners and food stamp recipients are honest.  But, as to every government program, including the food stamp program, there will always be some fraud and cheating.

For instance, according to various news reports, a St. Paul, Minnesota Iraqi immigrant and market owner, Khaffak Ansari, was sentenced this week to serve 41 months in federal prison for food stamp fraud.  According to reports, Ansari was also ordered to pay $2.4 million in restitution.

Food stamp recipients are generally required to use their government-issued debit cards to purchase food, but sometimes, with a wink and a nod from cheating store owners, they purchase alcohol or cigarettes, or trade their debt card credits for cash.

In Ansari's case, the government claimed that he cheated the government food stamp program, (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, or "SNAP"), out of $2.5 million by trading cash for food stamp benefits for which the government then reimbursed him.

As a former federal prosecutor, I sometimes prosecuted fraud cases like this one.  I also sometimes saw the same problem occur which apparently happened in this Minnesota case.  Specifically, sometimes when the government agents make such cases, they estimate the amount of fraud, but they don't always have clear cut proof to back up their estimates.

Yes, times are tough.  But here's hoping that the government will do a better job of cracking down on the cheaters, so that there will be something left to help the honest folks.  Don't you agree?