ILNews

Judges: Evidence proves scienter in fraud case

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld fines against two men convicted of defrauding investors, finding a reasonable jury would have found them guilty of scienter even though the defendants didn't take the stand.

In Thursday's ruling in United States Securities and Exchange Commission v. Melvin R. Lyttle and Paul E. Knight, Nos. 07-2466, 07-2467, Melvin Lyttle and Paul Knight appealed the $110,000 fines each got following a grant of summary judgment in favor of the SEC on a variety of counts and an award of injunctive relief.

Lyttle and Knight argued because scienter - knowledge that a person knows he is making false or reckless representations to investors - is a state of mind, summary judgment can almost never be granted in favor of a plaintiff who has the burden to prove it. And, because the two refused to testify in the case, they believe a jury couldn't convict them without knowing their states of mind.

But the 7th Circuit didn't accept Lyttle or Knight's arguments, finding the SEC provided sufficient circumstantial evidence with regard to the defendants' beliefs that was reinforced by the inference of guilt from their refusal to testify. As a result, no reasonable jury could doubt the two acted with scienter, wrote Judge Richard Posner.

Lyttle and Knight offered three defenses regarding their states of mind which Judge Posner labeled as "'I am just a copying machine' defense, the 'honor among thieves' defense, and the 'better liar' defense." They argued they merely repeated the lies and misrepresentations made to them by another person who may have been the ringleader in the defrauding scheme. They were victims of fraud by that person, who pocketed more money in the scheme than they did, they argued. That reminded the judge of the highwayman's case in which one highwayman sued another, claiming he was entitled to a larger share of the money they had stolen. Summing up the outcome, "The suit was dismissed, both were hanged, and the plaintiff's lawyers were fined for having brought a suit 'both scandalous and impertinent,'" wrote Judge Posner.

In regards to the "better liar" defense, the defendants believed the false representations that they made because the investors believed them, so if the lie was skillful enough to deceive the victim, then it must have also deceived the liar, he wrote.

"For it is inconceivable that the defendants could have believed the cascade of fantastic lies that they told the investors," wrote the judge, who ended the opinion with: "Enough said."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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