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United States v. Orrock

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 16, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff
Craig P. Orrock, Defendant


          Jennifer A. Dorsey U.S. District Judge

         Pro se defendant Craig P. Orrock stands charged with three felonies: two counts of tax evasion and one count of attempting to interfere with the administration of the Internal Revenue laws; he was released on bond. After numerous stipulated or defendant-requested continuances, trial is scheduled for May 7, 2019.[1] The government has filed five motions in limine and has also moved to strike Orrock's responses to two of those motions as untimely. I grant the motion to strike because Orrock has not demonstrated excusable neglect for filing his responses 20 days late. I also grant three of the government's first four motions in limine because the evidence it seeks to exclude is irrelevant to this prosecution or otherwise proscribed by the Federal Rules of Evidence. But because Orrock has represented that he does not intend to argue for sentence mitigation or jury nullification during trial, and the government has not cited evidence to the contrary, I deny its motion on these topics. And because it is not clear if some of the topics raised in the government's final, “omnibus” motion in limine are relevant, I direct it to file a reply to Orrock's opposition.

         I. Motion to strike [ECF No. 168]

         On January 8, 2019, the government filed four of its pending motions in limine, making Orrock's oppositions due 14 days later on January 22.[2] But Orrock filed only two of his oppositions by this deadline, [3] filing the remaining 2 oppositions 20 days after it expired.[4] Orrock neither moved for an extension of time nor addressed his filings' untimeliness. The government moves to strike these late oppositions.

         This district's local rules state that a request for an extension of time “made after the expiration of the specified period will not be granted unless the movant or attorney demonstrates that the failure to file the motion before the deadline expired was the result of excusable neglect.”[5] In response to the government's motion, Orrock represents the he forgot about the other pending motions due to the stress of preparing for trial-which at that point was scheduled for January 29-his lack of experience as a trial attorney, and learning at an unspecified point that a friend had taken his own life.[6] As to this final point, Orrock states that his “mind was not on this case since [he] was talking with his [friend's] family and preparing a tribute to his memory, ” but Orrock acknowledges “this is no real excuse . . . .”[7] Although I am sympathetic to Orrock's loss, I find that he has failed to demonstrate excusable neglect-a standard he does not cite or address. Orrock has filed many stipulations for extensions of time in this case, and as a former attorney (regardless of his area of practice), he should be well aware of the importance of court deadlines. He filed his two timely oppositions two days after the government filed its underlying motions, so he was clearly aware of the four pending motions, and if he needed more time to respond to the remaining two, he should have moved for an extension or sought a stipulation. And even after the deadline expired, Orrock remained active in this case-filing an ex parte motion for trial subpoenas on January 30[8]-but he failed to seek an extension nunc pro tunc. I therefore grant the government's motion and strike Orrock's responses to its motions in limine at ECF Nos. 165-66.

         II. Motions in limine re: decision to prosecute, vindictive prosecution, and motions practice/discovery [ECF Nos. 148, 151]

         In two separate motions, the government raises two related topics that it seeks to preclude Orrock from raising at trial: questioning its motives for prosecuting him and explicitly arguing that the government has engaged in vindictive prosecution. Orrock has accused divisions of the Treasury Department of misconduct in investigating his tax returns prior to this case and has asserted that the government vindictively chose to prosecute him.[9] But it is well established that inquiries into why the government chose to investigate and ultimately charge a defendant are irrelevant[10] and thus inadmissible at trial.[11] Similarly, the question of whether the government is vindictively prosecuting a defendant “to punish [him] for exercising a legal right” in violation of his due-process rights is a question of law for the court[12] and is therefore not relevant to trial. Although Orrock asserts that he “has no objection . . . with respect to [excluding] pre-charging decisions” from trial, he goes on to state “that the jury should be free to conclude on their own why [he] is being prosecuted . . . .”[13] But any evidence or argument about the government's decision to charge Orrock is irrelevant, and I therefore grant the government's motions in limine as to this issue. Orrock may not argue or attempt to present evidence to show that the government's motives for prosecuting this case are improper or that he is being vindictively prosecuted.

         The government also seeks to exclude reference to “pretrial litigation conduct and discovery related matters . . . .”[14] It raises concern that Orrock will attempt to address alleged discovery violations during trial.[15] And in a supplemental brief that I gave the government leave to file, it cites a plea-negotiation meeting with Orrock, in which one of the prosecutors allegedly shook her head no after Orrock stated that he hadn't received information about his settlement offer in his U.S. Tax Court case.[16] Orrock has since asserted that he “took” this gesture to mean that the prosecutor “stopped” government counsel in his civil tax case from responding to his settlement offer.[17] In a letter to the prosecution, Orrock asked for confirmation on this point and stated that he may seek to call the prosecutor who shook her head to testify at trial in this case.[18]Orrock provides a meandering response to the government's motion, arguing the relevance of “previous and pending litigation” and contending that the scope of the term “pretrial litigation” is overly expansive.[19]

         But the government's motion clearly seeks to preclude reference to the motions practice and discovery in this prosecution-issues that are irrelevant to trial. Indeed, since responding to these motions, Orrock has moved to dismiss the indictment based on alleged discovery violations by the government.[20] As for the prosecutor's non-verbal response to Orrock's question, this alleged conduct occurred during a settlement negotiation and is thus inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 408.[21] Further, Orrock has not addressed how anything to do with his tax-court case is relevant to this criminal prosecution, [22] and because I cannot perceive of any possible relevance, the non-verbal gesture is also inadmissible under Rule 402. I therefore also grant the government's motion as to this point. Orrock may not argue or attempt to present evidence about the motions practice in this case, any alleged discovery violations by the government, or the prosecutor's non-verbal gesture during the settlement negotiation.

         III. Motion in limine re: plea negotiations [ECF No. 150]

         The government also moves to preclude Orrock from introducing evidence about any statements made by government attorneys and investigators during settlement negotiations. It cites to allegations made by Orrock in various filings that the government confirmed-or at least failed to deny-that it had miscalculated his tax bill to some degree.[23] Because Orrock's own allegation establishes that this exchange occurred in a meeting negotiating the terms of a possible plea agreement with the government, [24] any statements made by the government's attorneys are inadmissible under FRE 408. Although that rule allows me to admit such statements “for another purpose, such as proving a witness's bias or prejudice, ”[25] it is clear that Orrock would advance these alleged statements only to refute the merits of the tax-evasion charges against him. And that purpose is precluded by FRE 408.

         And though I struck Orrock's response to this motion, I note that he refers in this and other filings not only to the original statements made during the settlement negotiation, but also to a court hearing in which he asked one of the prosecutors to deny the error.[26] Because the prosecutor did not respond, Orrock asserts that he may admit this alleged admission by silence and will file his own motion in limine on this topic.[27] Given that this exchange did not occur during a settlement negotiation, it does not fall within the scope of the government's motion or my ruling. So, I make no determination at this point on whether this purported admission by silence would be admissible.

         IV. Motion in limine re: sentencing matters and jury nullification [ECF No. 149]

         Next, the government seeks to preclude Orrock from arguing sentencing-mitigation factors during trial, such as his health problems, and from advocating for jury nullification. Orrock represents in response that he will not argue either point.[28] Because the government has not cited anything in the record that supports its stated concerns, it does not appear that an in limine ruling is needed, so I deny its motion. But I caution Orrock that these topics are off limits at trial.

         V. Omnibus motion in ...

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