In case you missed it, in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19, James Rosemond, who is aka Jimmy The Henchman, lost his last appeal of his third conviction for charges of murder-for-hire and is now serving seven life sentences in US federal prison.
Rosemond founded Czar Entertainment in 2003, and managed the careers of several big names in the entertainment industry, including Akon, Mike Tyson, Sean Kingston and The Game.
Drug trafficking and money orders
Several years after starting his music company, he was charged pursuant to a thirteen-count superseding indictment, along with several co-defendants, charging that he had led and operated a criminal enterprise since 2007 which generated more than US$11 million a year in proceeds from cocaine distribution and that he had laundered the proceeds of crime.
Rosemond’s narcotics trafficking operations moved cocaine and proceeds of crime between LA and New York. The method in which he laundered money was through the US Postal Service in which cash proceeds were converted into money orders. Rosemond used those money orders to pay rent and tuition.
He was later charged with arranging a murder-for-hire.
In 2007, members of a rap music group known as “G-Unit” assaulted Rosemond’s son outside his New York apartment. G-Unit was run by rapper 50 Cent.
In 2009, Rosemond recruited a crew to kill Lowell Fletcher, one of the G-Unit members who had assaulted Rosemond’s son, in retaliation. Fletcher was killed on September 27, 2009, with a handgun owned by Rosemond.
Rosemond was tried three times for the murder-for-hire of Fletcher. However, the first trial was declared a mistrial. He was convicted in the second but the conviction was vacated by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was convicted in the third trial and in May 2020, lost an appeal of that conviction.
Lawyer conflicts from representing a criminal unit and one of its members
In 2011, the Rosemond case became note-worthy as well over complex issues that arose over potential lawyer conflicts.
What happened, in part, was that the government made arguments pursuant to Wheat v US and its progeny to have Rosemond’s lawyer disqualified for reasons of institutional integrity.
It argued, among other things, that Rosemond’s lawyer would be in the position of an unsworn witness, partly because of the fact that his law firm received a large payment for legal services in trust from funds that could not be attributed to revenues from Czar Entertainment or Rosemond. That placed the law firm in the position of being a witness against its own client in respect of the payment it had received. Since it was possible that it would be a witness, it could not also act for the client.
House counsel doctrine for organized crime members
Another lawyer conflict arose by virtue of the fact that the government argued that Rosemond’s lawyer was what are called “house counsel” in Mafia and criminal enterprise cases – meaning in essence that the law firm was akin to an in-house counsel, corporate lawyer, except to unincorporated entities (called criminal units) that form crime organizations.
In this case, the law firm – the “house counsel” – acted for the Rosemond enterprise (the criminal unit) and then crossed-over and acted individually for Rosemond (the person). It was the “house counsel” because it had acted, in the past, for more than one of the defendants in the ad hoc criminal enterprise, which in this case was the drug trafficking activities of Rosemond and his partners. Moreover, in the specific prosecution, one of the lawyers of the firm had met with a witness to discuss the government’s investigation, which meant that it could not then act for Rosemond. The multiple representations and the crossing-over placed the law firm in a conflict.
In a Canadian version, the same would apply for law firms that act for the Hell’s Angels, for example. Issues arise if they then act for any one of the individual members of that organization under the conflicts rules associated with the “house counsel” doctrine. To be clear, the “house counsel” doctrine necessarily starts with the law firm acting individually for one person of a criminal group – not the organization per se – and kicks in once the law firm acts for a second member. Lawyers may cross-over into conflicts without knowing that there is a house counsel doctrine that governs conflicts in respect of criminal enterprises, even if they are ad hoc, as in the case of Rosemond’s group.
The underlying conflicts rule when it comes to legal and natural persons is that a firm is not supposed to defend both a legal person (a company) and its directing minds (directors and officers) or members (shareholders or gang members) whether the defence is in a criminal, civil or regulatory matter.
Another conflicts problem arose in that the lawyer’s firm had previously acted for one of the parties besides Rosemond in the proceeding and that necessarily meant that the law firm’s interests diverged – the law firm could not honor its obligation to the former client not to act adverse in interest to it while it was subsequently representing Rosemond (the current client) in a litigation – the positions were not reconcilable.
Convictions have been overturned when law firm conflicts are present and lawyers have not disclosed them; ceased to act; or obtained, if possible, waivers in respect thereof, which is why governments move early to remove lawyers from acting when they may be in, or appear to be in, a conflict of interest that may jeopardize a proceeding and the rights of any one defendant.
Not surprisingly, one of the grounds of appeal later argued by Rosemond during one of his many appeals was that he was denied the right to a lawyer (and law firm) who was conflicts-free.
There have been at least three “house counsel” doctrine cases that are known – perhaps more that were never reported, and the doctrine mostly is used in the US where government and defence lawyers, and Courts very strictly apply conflicts rules because of a greater awareness that a breach of conflicts rules can completely de-rail a criminal prosecution and overturn a conviction.
One of the very first “house counsel” lawyers went on to become, decades later, the defence lawyer for the leader of the largest criminal enterprise at one time – El Chapo.
When clients lie to government
The defence of Rosemond in respect of his drug trafficking trial was extraordinarily complex, partly because Rosemond had lied to the government and thus his lawyer was faced with the reality that lawyers are prohibited from assisting clients to be untruthful in their testimony. The lies made by Rosemond, which impacted and limited his options as a defendant, were described by the Court as the hand his lawyer was dealt from the client’s gamble to go down a path of being untruthful to government agencies.