10/7/10 2:44 AMNot guilty, but stuck with big bills, damaged career - USATODAY.comPage 2 of 6http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2010-09-27-hyde-federal-prosecutors_N.htm
. . ,full colonel, in October 2002, after Morris wascleared of conspiring to steal military supplies.
represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of federalcriminal cases filed each year, the problems were so grave that judges dismissed indictments, reversed convictions or rebukedprosecutors for misconduct. Yet USA TODAY found only 13cases in which the government paid anything toward defendants' legal bills. Most people never seekcompensation. Most who do end up emptyhanded.The Hyde Amendment did nothing for Morris, whose claim was dismissed by a judge who nonetheless criticizedprosecutors and said they had "lost sight of the objective — justice."It did nothing for Daniel Chapman, a lawyer who lost his job and had to sell his house to pay $275,000 in legalbills fighting a securities fraud case a judge threw out for "flagrant" prosecutorial misconduct.And it did nothing for Michael Zomber, an antiques dealer who spent two years in prison and paid more than $1million in attorney fees before his fraud conviction was thrown out.The Justice Department, which fought the Hyde Amendment from the day it was proposed, nearly always resistsefforts to win compensation, no matter how egregious a prosecutor's conduct might have been. Defense lawyerscontend that the scarcity of compensation wins, amid a rise in misconduct charges, shows the law's not working."The Hyde Amendment is practically a useless tool for dealing with prosecutorial misconduct," said Jon May, aMiami lawyer who co-chairs the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' white-collar crime committee.For a defendant to win, "the standard is so high that a prosecutor practically has to know" in advance "that his caseis so meritless that it is unlikely to get a conviction."USA TODAY found the government is seldom forced to pay because:• Many defendants don't apply. The wealthy and those so poor they had court-appointed lawyers don't qualify.Others hold back because they'd have to spend time and money in court and pursue a new civil action against thegovernment after winning their criminal cases. The investigation identified just 92 Hyde Amendment compensationcases since the law's enactment.
Some defendants are pressured by federal prosecutors to give up their right to seek repayment in exchange for lenient plea bargains or getting their cases thrown out.• Even those who seek compensation face what an appeals court called the "daunting obstacle" of proving,sometimes in another trial, that prosecutors wronged them. Congress deliberately set a high legal standard toqualify for payment: To win, a defendant must prove a prosecution had been "vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith."But the House and the Senate never held committee hearings that could have defined that standard.
An anonymous tip
The case against Morris began in 1999 with an anonymous tip to aDepartment of Defensehot line. The caller saidthe infantry officer had diverted $7 million of surplus medical equipment from aMarine Corpsbase in Albany, Ga., just south of his own post at Fort Benning.Morris, now 54, was a decorated combat veteran and logistics expert. Superiors often had praised his ability towork his way through complex military supply rules and get the job done. He played a role, for example, in ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's 1990 surrender to U.S. troops. When commanders decided to usedeafening music to force Noriega out of the Vatican Embassy in Panama City, Morris quickly found and set up asound system.Morris' defense team said the medical supplies were intended to help a charity he had founded open health clinicsin Rwanda. The non-profit, Partners International Foundation, had been approved by Army brass and had never paid Morris.The Army's Criminal Investigation Division and theDefense Logistics Agencyprobed the charges and gave areport to Army Maj. Gen. John Le Moyne, the Fort Benning commander. Le Moyne issued a February 2001decision that cleared Morris, finding that he didn't violate military law, hadn't lied and didn't misappropriategovernment property. "There was no theft," the decision stated.Dissatisfied, the Defense Logistics Agency took its findings to the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus, Ga., whichdeclined to prosecute. The agency then turned to the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas. In March 2001, a grand jurythere indicted Morris on a theft conspiracy charge.U.S. District Court Judge Joe Kendall in Dallas voiced doubts about the case. He said it looked as if investigatorshad shopped it to prosecutors in several jurisdictions. Getting a guilty verdict from a Texas jury could be hard, hewarned, and prosecuting Morris could be a mistake. The prosecutors went forward, and Kendall granted a defensemotion to transfer the case to Georgia for trial.Le Moyne also tried to head off the August 2002 trial. He reminded prosecutors the Army had exhaustivelyinvestigated Morris. Ina letter to an Army officer panel, Le Moyne said he had met with the prosecutor, AssistantU.S. AttorneyCandina Heath, and told her "she would lose … and be embarrassed in the process." In aseparatememosent to prosecutors before trial, Le Moyne wrote that Morris had made an "error in judgment" that "did notrise to the level of a criminal offense." It concluded: "Bob Morris is not a crook!"During a nearly two-week trial, the prosecution called 38 witnesses. The defense called none. The jury acquittedMorris in 45 minutes, a "lightning fast" verdict that U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land tied to the government's"woefully inadequate presentation."The Dallas U.S. attorney's office and Heath declined to comment.Legal bills from Morris' criminal case totaled $250,000.He said he faced at least $40,000 more in related expenses— and had exhausted his savings and life insurance benefits during the earlier Army investigation. So Morris'parents took two new mortgages on their Connecticut home, and also cashed life insurance policies, to help paythe lawyers.Morris filed a Hyde Amendment application. Despite Judge Land's criticism of the prosecution, he dismissed thecase in 2003. The decision to prosecute hadn't been totally baseless, he ruled, because Morris' logistics skill andsigns that he'd skirted military rules provided "sufficient circumstantial evidence" to infer "criminal intent."The judge did not rule that the prosecutors committed misconduct. For that reason, USA TODAY did not includethe Morris case among 201 misconduct cases the newspaper found in an extensive search of federal court records