Justice Department prosecutors are fighting back against the demands of some criminal defense lawyers that the government not be allowed to control the pace of the department's most ambitious Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case, unfolding in federal district court in Washington.
Twenty-two executives and employees in the arms dealing business have been charged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with attempting to bribe a fictitious foreign official in order to secure a cut of a $15 million contract. The case is the largest-ever prosecution of individuals for FCPA crimes and marks the first large-scale use of an undercover sting in the department's fight against foreign corruption.
Defense lawyers for 18 of the 22 defendants are challenging the prosecution's request to stop the speedy trial clock, saying that the government has had ample time to investigate and prepare the case for trial. Charges were announced in January, capping an investigation that lasted for more than two years. Most of the defendants were arrested that month at a trade show in Las Vegas. Some of the defense lawyers have said they are prepared to go to trial this summer.
Prosecutors want to stop the speedy trial clock, saying that the cases are complex and likely involve novel legal issues. To support the "complex" designation of the case, the prosecution argues that the cases include "voluminous" discovery and a "wide-ranging" alleged conspiracy. The prosecution has not announced whether it plans to group certain defendants together for trial or go at defendants one by one.
"If these cases will involve litigation over the scope of the charged conspiracies, discovery issues and various substantive legal issues -- as the defense has claimed they will -- the cases should be designated complex," Assistant Chief Hank Walther of the department's Fraud Section said in court papers filed Monday night. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Solomon of the Fraud & Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia was also on the filing.
In the court papers, the prosecutors quote snippets of statements made in recent court hearings by several of the defense lawyers, including O'Melveny & Myers partner Kenneth Wainstein, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Michael Madigan and Mayer Brown partner David Krakoff. The prosecution quotes the lawyers to build an argument that the defense demands for information justify tolling the speedy trial clock.
Federal defendants have a right to trial within 70 days of an indictment. Designating a case "complex" could block any defendant's request for a trial within the speedy trial window. (Alternatively, prosecutors have also asked that time be excluded from the clock to allow for trial preparation.)
"The defense cannot have it both ways," Walther and Solomon wrote in Monday's filing. "If this case will involve significant litigation over legal matters related to entrapment, the scope of the FCPA, discovery, and/or the scope of the conspiracy, then the cases should be designated as complex."
Judge Richard Leon of the federal district court in Washington has scheduled a hearing for May to assess the speedy trial dispute. Until then, the speedy trial clock has been temporarily stopped.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.