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Putting pressure on defense attorneys — if not his own prosecutors — U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan says he will start asking federal judges to set trial dates during a defendant’s first appearance in court. The change is an indication of Ryan’s more aggressive posture in litigating cases, a reminder of his background in state courts where prosecutors are more likely to throw caution to the wind in pursuing convictions. It is also a move that could help with the district’s slow pace in resolving criminal cases. “On the date that the case goes before the district court judge, we’re asking for a trial memo to be ready letting the court know when the Speedy Trial Act runs and asking that [the case] be set for trial,” said C. Don Clay, Ryan’s first assistant. This compression of time could have several effects. First, keeping the clock moving under the Speedy Trial Act will put pressure on defense attorneys and their clients to decide whether they want to cut a deal or have their day in court. A likely outcome of that is more trials. That will also put pressure on prosecutors, who will have to prepare for trial in a shorter amount of time. Naturally, that should lead to some losses. The other effects could help the district and its image with those who control the purse strings in Washington, D.C. Traditionally, the Northern District has been among the slowest — if not the slowest — in the Ninth Circuit for the duration of criminal cases from indictment to resolution. Arguably, that has contributed to its reputation as a district with high defense costs, for which it has drawn fire. Strict trial dates could help on each count. Federal Public Defender Barry Portman said the dilatory pace of the Northern District is due in large part to the complexity of the cases that are brought here — multi-defendant drug cases are the norm, as are securities fraud, health care fraud and other white-collar cases. “We didn’t have that many criminal defendants in the last couple of years, but those that are charged in these very complex criminal cases dominate our criminal calendar in a way that it doesn’t in other districts,” Portman said. In the early days of the Speedy Trial Act, that was how things worked. Since then, lawyers have been given more leeway in bringing the case to a resolution. “I think the tradition has been to try to let lawyers work through their case,” Portman said. Lawyers can always change the trial date if there’s more work to be done, which could lead to more problems, Portman said. “A judge trying to juggle civil and criminal cases ends up double- and triple-setting. It certainly has a lot of potential for inefficiencies.” In the last week or so, three high-profile trials ended in the Northern District. In those, the U.S. attorney had a mixed record. On Dec. 16, a civil jury routed a group of Filipino war veterans who were accused of participation in a veterans’ benefits scam at Laney College in Oakland. Instead of settling and repaying the benefits as dozens more had, the defendants are now on the hook for treble damages. The jury deliberated for just a few hours. The next day, however, the district lost an important case brought under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Russian software company Elcomsoft Inc. was acquitted after a jury found its conduct in creating a program that circumvents copy protections on Adobe Systems Inc.’s eBooks was not willful criminal conduct. On Friday, St. Luke’s Subacute Hospital and Nursing Center Inc. and its president and CEO, Guy Seaton, were convicted on six counts of Medicare fraud. Although the effort hasn’t been seen in courtrooms yet, defense attorneys weren’t exactly shocked by the news. “I’m not entirely surprised to hear that because Kevin Ryan has said he wanted to take more cases to trial,” said Swanson & McNamara’s Mary McNamara. On that point, the office professes no hesitation in sending prosecutors into battle. “Everyone here wants to go to trial,” Clay said. “Everybody comes over here because they want trial experience.”

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