Friday, October 30, 2009

Defense Attorney Johnny S. Gaskins deserves leniency

Raleigh criminal defense attorney Johnny S. Gaskins could be facing jail time himself, according to an article in the News & Observer by Mandy Locke. Her story titled, “Lawyer’s career ends in crime,” explains how his attempts to deposit large sums just under the amount that triggers banks to file reports to the IRS, resulted in a conviction that could land him in prison for up to 35 years. Also he stands to lose his license to practice law in North Carolina.

When considering that Mr. Gaskins reported to the IRS the deposits he made, and paid tax on the total amount, makes it clear that his attempts to shield his large deposits were not made with the intention of evading the payment of taxes. His explanation of his reasons for making large deposits, just under $10,000, sounds reasonable to me. His comment that he does not trust banks, also sounds reasonable, especially in lieu of the high risk investment policies they engage in, and the large salaries and bonuses the upper tier enjoys.

Now, I am no fan of Mr. Gaskins, especially in light of his actions regarding his former client James Arthur Johnson. On a broadly broadcast Fox-50 TV news program, Mr. Gaskins made inflammatory and prejudicial statements about Johnson which decidedly undermined Johnson’s likelihood of prevailing in an upcoming trial against charges trumped up by Wilson District Attorney Howard S. Boney, prosecutor Bill Wolfe, and others. Because of his actions then, which I believe deserved a disciplinary response from the North Carolina State Bar, I filed a complaint with the State Bar (which I am sure that it ignored). I even incorporated Mr. Gaskins’s misfortunes in Episode IV of “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper,” but in a light hearted and non-malicious way, of course. Although I believe Mr. Gaskins’s statements against his former client were a serious breach of attorney client privilege, I do not feel that they were necessarily grounds for disbarment.

Because he tried to deceive bank tellers by making repeated deposits of just under $10,000 at a time, does not merit disbarment by the State Bar, especially when his intent was obviously not to defraud the IRS. Unfortunately, in our capitalistic society, when it comes to money, the consequences for violations are much greater than for violations of injustice towards human beings.

Did Johnny S. Gaskins violate federal law with his depository dealings? Yes. Should his sentence be severe? No. I would definitely rule out any jail time. Some community service might be appropriate. Finally, should he be forced to surrender his law license? Absolutely not. If the unregulated State Bar were to disbar him, it would be an unfair, illogical, and insensitive action. With its 2007 disbarment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, the Bar has already demonstrated its capacity to act without reason, justice, consistency, and mercy. Hopefully it will not make another mistake regarding Johnny Gaskins.


William L. Anderson said...

The Gaskins case is another example of just how bad federal criminal law has become, and it also shines a spotlight on the abuses committed by federal prosecutors. According to the federal government, a bank must act as a spy if you deposit money, no matter what the amount.

Because of the clientele Gaskins represented, he always was being investigated by police, the FBI, and prosecutors, and I think that after he convinced a jury not to vote death in a case involving someone who killed a police officer, Gaskins was a marked man. Federal officials investigated him on a regular basis, but could not find anything by which to charge him.

The "structuring" law of which Gaskins was convicted was written as a way to give federal prosecutors leverage in cases involving drugs or stolen goods. That is, there was supposed to be an underlying crime to trip off the investigation. However, in Gaskins' situation, there clearly was no underlying crime, so essentially he was convicted of depositing money in a bank.

This was a "payback" charge, pure and simple. By the way, there was another person who withdrew money in small amounts in order to avoid detection, but this person was doing it in the commission of a crime, in violating the Mann Act and also prostitution laws.

The man was Elliott "Client #9" Spitzer, and during the commission of these acts, he first was Attorney General of New York State and later governor. Of course, no one charged him with a crime. He had the "proper" political connections.

Federal criminal law as currently written is an affront to the Constitution and is little more than a roadmap for prosecutorial abuse. This is just one more example of how prosecutors can take non-criminal acts and make them crimes. As a retired physician, I am sure that you have seen cases in which federal prosecutors went after doctors, who found themselves in star chamber conditions of "justice," and whose lives were ruined.

Unfortunately, Americans love to see the perp walks and are not bothered by false charges and false convictions, as it provides the "bread and circuses" that pretty much define American society today.

Nifong Supporter said...

To William,

Thank you for the comments, which I believe are insightful and right on. Nice to know that there are issues we can agree on.

I had not considered the vendetta by the Federal government against Mr. Gaskins, and I think you present a valid case.

Another case where a vendetta was used by authorities is the present case against Alan Gell, for which he is serving excessive time on convoluted charges of statutory rape of his girlfriend. Had he not had a prior history with authorities, he would not be serving time now.

William L. Anderson said...

I agree with that last one regarding the new conviction of Alan Gell. Police and prosecutors like to engage in "payback" whenever someone seems to have bested them.

I believe that the federal system is worse because there are fewer checks and balances in federal criminal law. Also, many charges have a de facto civil standard and in some situations, the civil standards for the plaintiffs to meet are higher than criminal standards that prosecutors are supposed to meet in presenting evidence.

Moreover, in the state systems, generally a real-live crime has occurred and the jury must decide if the person being charged is the guilty party. In the federal system, however, people generally agree on the acts committed, but the jury is supposed to interpret the law to decide whether or not a crime has been committed. This is a recipe for tyranny, but few people really care -- unless they find themselves charged.

I have met more people caught up in the federal system who have told me that they cannot believe that what happened to them could happen in this country. People have to understand that the Progressive Movement of a century ago -- and it is still dominant in our political life -- was aimed at either doing away with a lot of Constitutional protections of individuals or re-interpreting the Constitution to claim that the Constitution says what it clearly does not say.

This is the system we have, like it or not.