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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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