Monday, April 01, 2013

Reviewing for abuse of discretion, no attorney's fees under the Hyde Amendment for defendant after prosecution dismissed

In United States v. Manzo, 12-2294 (3d Cir. March 25, 2013), Manzo appealed the District Court’s denial of his request for attorney’s fees, which he had sought after a prosecution for violations of the Hobbs and Travel Acts was dismissed. Manzo had been a candidate for mayor of Jersey City and allegedly took campaign contributions with the promise he would help the contributor once elected. Under the “Hyde Amendment,” a statutory note to 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, a prevailing party may seek reasonable attorney’s fees if the position of the United States was “vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith, unless the court finds that special circumstances make such an award unjust.” Reviewing for abuse of discretion, the Third Circuit affirmed denial of attorney’s fees. The Third Circuit explained a petitioner shows a prosecution was: (1) vexatious if the criminal case was objectively deficient and the government’s conduct “when viewed objectively, manifests maliciousness or an intent to harass or annoy”; (2) frivolous if the action was “groundless, with little prospect of success”; and (3) pursued in bad faith, meaning “not simply bad judgment or negligence, but rather . . . the conscious doing of a wrong because of dishonest purpose or moral obliquity.” The Court found the government had not acted vexatiously, frivolously, or in bad faith: (1) it had continued to prosecute under the Travel Act when the Hobbes Act counts were dismissed after the District Court’s first ruling that the New Jersey bribery statute clearly encompassed Manzo’s conduct, and (2) Manzo’s brother’s testimony that Manzo had not received cash from the cooperator, even if true, did not establish that the facts alleged in the indictment were blatantly false. The Court also rejected arguments based on conflict of interest and miscellaneous allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

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