United States v. John J. Cassese, Docket No. 03-1710 (2d Cir. Oct. 24, 2005) (Calabresi, Parker, Raggi): Oh what it must be like to be John Cassese — lucky enough to draw Judge Sweet as his trial judge, and rich enough (and smart enough) to hire a former star of the SDNY USAO as his defense attorney. If we were he, we would spend the bulk of our next paycheck on the SuperLotto!
Cassesse was prosecuted for securities fraud in connection with his purchase, based on insider information, of the stock of a company two days before the announcement of a tender offer. His sale of the stock, made upon the announcement of the tender offer, resulted in a net profit of $149,000. Not bad for two days’ “work”!
The jury returned a guilty verdict, but Judge Sweet granted the defendant’s Rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal. The Sweetest Judge of the S.D.N.Y. found that no reasonable juror could have concluded that Cassesse knew that his conduct was unlawful. The Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Parker, affirms. Judge Raggi dissents.
No legal ground is broken, and those interested in the details of the necessarily fact-specific opinion can consult it on their own. Two points are worth noting, however:
1. Judge Parker writes: “Following a jury verdict of guilty, we uphold a district court’s judgment of acquittal on grounds of insufficient evidence if we determine that ‘after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Op. at 9 (emphasis in original). Oops. We are quite certain the Judge meant that a guilty verdict will be upheld if “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”
2. Relatedly, given the oh-so-deferential Jackson standard, one wonders how the post-argument conference among these judges proceeded. Since one of the three believed (to paraphrase) that it was reasonable to convict Cassesse, and since that Judge is not irrational, isn’t that disagreement itself proof enough that “any reasonable trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt”? And if Judge Raggi’s disagreement isn’t sufficient to affirm the guilty verdict, does it then follows from Judge Parker’s opinion that Judge Raggi is irrational?