Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Federal Government Launches Assault on South Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys

Miami criminal defense attorney (and amazing law professor) Roy Black did the right thing when representing notorious Medellín kingpin Fabio Ochoa. He retained an attorney for the sole purpose of conducting a due diligence investigation into the origins of the funds Ochoa planned to use to fund his criminal defense. But Black didn't hire just any attorney. He hired Ben Kuehne - an attorney of impeccable ethics and former counsel to Al Gore during the 2000 Presidential Election. Kuehne performed the necessary research and drafted an opinion letter recommending that Black accept payments from Ochoa totaling nearly $5 million. Kuehne purportedly earned between $220,000 to $260,000 for his work.

Sounds fair, right? Not in the eyes of the Federal government who indicted Ben Kuehne on charges of money laundering alleging that approximately $1.8 million of the funds referenced in Kuehne's opinion letter could be traced back to five separate undercover operations in New York and Miami. At the least, the government alleges that Kuehne knew the funds were commingled with drug money and funneled back to the U.S. through black market money brokers.

Prominent Miami criminal defense attorney David Markus points out that the motive for Kuehne to be unethical and knowingly lie about the origins simply isn't there. Some opine that the indictment may be politically driven.

The more likely scenario is that the government is trying to deter criminal defense attorneys from accepting high-stakes drug trafficking cases. And what better way to send that message than to pick on one of our Bar's most ethical attorneys? Maybe the government hoped the indictment alone would have a calming effect and attorneys would stand down. Fortunately, the opposite appears to have happened as our local attorneys have rallied behind Kuehne in record numbers.

A commenter on Markus's blog references Shakespeare’s Henry VI, which in this context is appropriate. The reference of course is to Dick the Butcher's famous exclamation: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." In his dissenting opinion in Walters v. National Association of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305 (1985), Justice Stevens assessed the quote and said "Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government." For the sake of our country's future, lets hope the local bar remains undeterred by this latest government assault.

U.S. v. Kuehne et al [PDF]
Money-laundering charges against famous lawyer fueling debate [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]


Anonymous said...

"that money got blood on it, man."

"ever seen any that didn't"

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