The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia has been required by a federal judge to answer concerns that a racketeering case against the ironworkers’ union isn’t properly staffed.
“We consider this a priority case of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We have devoted and will continue to devote substantial resources to the case,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen said in a prepared statement after U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania expressed concern that there were too few prosecutors for a complex case.
Charges including racketeering and arson, for intimidating contractors into using union labor, were filed against members of the Ironworkers Local 401 last month.
“It’s a judgment call,” said Thomas Lee of Dechert, who used to work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, of how staffing decisions are made. “This is clearly a big case to them,” he said, so it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t carefully consider the staffing.
Robert Livermore of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is the prosecutor assigned to the case. He declined to comment Friday.
On Thursday, Baylson held a pretrial hearing during which he granted the prosecutor’s motion to designate the case as complex.
“The government’s evidence in this case includes more than 1,000 pertinent phone calls and more than 100 pertinent text messages intercepted pursuant to a court-authorized wiretap,” Baylson said in his order granting the motion. “In addition, on February 18, 2014, the FBI seized 163 boxes of evidence from the union hall.” The investigation is also ongoing, he said, so more charges and defendants could be added.
“Due to the number of defendants and charges, the nature of the prosecution, and the nature and quantity of the government’s evidence, this case is so complex that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings and trial within the time limits established by the Speedy Trial Act,” Baylson said.
He asked the U.S. attorney to submit a letter about prosecutorial staffing for the case by noon today.
Baylson, who was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for five years in the late 1980s, is “a stickler for assigning the right number of attorneys to a case,” said Melissa Maxman of Cozen O’Connor, who worked with Baylson for three years in that office and then while he was at Duane Morris after that.
“Knowing Judge Baylson as I do,” she said, his concern that there aren’t enough prosecutors on the case gets at his larger concern for judicial efficiency and desire for lawyers to be well prepared to answer the court’s questions.
It’s not at all unusual for judges to criticize prosecutors, she said.
Jeff Lindy, who has been a prosecutor in the Eastern District—part of his time in that office overlapped with Baylson—said that it’s not unusual for judges to reprimand lawyers, especially young ones, from the bench, but it’s less common for federal judges to do so.
“It’s the former prosecutors who are hardest on the prosecutors in front of them,” Lindy said.
He praised the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Zane Memeger, saying that the current administration is superb and that he has confidence in its staffing decisions.
With limited resources and competing demands for them, the supervisors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office have to allocate them carefully, Lee said. Lots of cases get one prosecutor, some get two or more depending on what the case demands.
“My sense is, the judge is concerned the case moves along expeditiously,” Lee said.
The judge, though, can’t order the U.S. attorney to put more prosecutors on a case any more than the U.S. attorney can tell the judge how to order his docket, Lindy said.
The judicial branch, where Baylson sits, and the executive branch, where the U.S. attorney sits, are necessarily separate and “never the twain shall meet,” Lindy said.