December 15, 2017

Tenth Circuit: District Court has Wide Discretion to Impose Special Conditions of Supervised Release

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Bowers on Friday, February 10, 2017.

Donald Bowers was charged and convicted on two counts of civil contempt in violation of 18 U.S.C § 401(3) for willfully and repeatedly violating a permanent injunction against him stemming from a civil trade secret misappropriation suit. Bowers was sentenced to fifteen months’ incarceration and, following his release, a thirty-six month period of supervised release, during which he would make monthly payments of the remaining amount he owed to the plaintiff in the underlying civil suit. Bowers appealed, claiming that the court erred by imposing payments to the plaintiff in the civil case as part of his supervised release, denying his motion for disclosure of the criminal referral, and sentencing him for a period that exceeded six months.

The underlying civil case did not actually include Bowers himself, but his son Lonny Bowers (Lonny) and the officers of WideBand, who were sued by ClearOne Communications, Inc. for misappropriation of trade secrets. Bowers became involved when he entered into an agreement with the defendants in the case to purchase WideBand’s assets in exchange for money to pay their legal fees. The court issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the transfer of assets to Bowers.

In the civil case against WideBand, the jury returned a verdict against the defendants that included compensatory damages against all the defendants, and punitive damages against two of the WideBand officers (not including Lonny). The day after the verdict in the WideBand case, Bowers filed a statement to perfect a security interest in all of WideBand’s assets. When the court ordered Bowers to appear to show why he was not in contempt for violating the existing temporary restraining order, he failed to appear, and the court determined that he was also subject to the existing restraining order as he acted in concert with the defendants in the WideBand case.

After Bowers failed to appear in multiple contempt hearings and again violated the permanent injunction by setting up and operating DialHD, Inc., a company that used the assets of WideBand, the court issued a memorandum decision and civil contempt order against Bowers for violating the permanent injunction, and directed Bowers to self-surrender for incarceration and pay ClearOne’s reasonable attorney fees and costs. Bowers failed to purge himself of the contempt charge, and the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. The court rejected both of Bowers’ appeals from the civil cases.

The district court entered a civil judgment against Bowers in an amount of $57,188.61 in attorney fees for violating the permanent injunction, an amount of $22,743.88 to pay ClearOne’s costs and fees from the original ClearOne civil case, and $8,648 in appellate attorney fees in connection with his first appeal in the civil case. In relation to the contempt cases against Bowers, the district court judge who presided over the civil case sent a memo regarding the referral of criminal contempt charges for Bowers to the United States Attorney for the District of Utah, outlining the details of the civil case. A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Bowers for willfully disobeying the permanent injunction and civil contempt order, both in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 401(3). A jury found Bowers guilty on both counts.

Bowers was sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment, followed by a term of three years supervised release, during which he would make monthly payments to ClearOne. On appeal, Bowers argued that the district court abused its discretion by ordering him to make monthly payments to ClearOne, denying his motion to compel the government to disclose the criminal referral, and argued that his sentence is illegal because 18 U.S.C. § 402 limits sentences like those Bowers committed to no more than six months.

As to his first contention regarding the imposition of payments as a condition of his supervised release, the court stated that district court has broad discretion to impose special conditions of supervised release, stating that the conditions must only (1) be reasonably related to the nature and history of the defendant’s offense, the deterrence of criminal conduct, the protection of the public from the defendant’s crimes, or the defendant’s educational and other correctional needs; (2) involve no deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary; and (3) be consistent with pertinent policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission. The court rejected Bowers’ argument, stating that the special condition in this case satisfies all of the requisite elements.

Bowers’ second argument on appeal, that the district court erred in denying his motion to discover the criminal referral, was also rejected by the court, as the information in the referral did not contain oral or written statements or other evidence that would render it discoverable under Fed. R. Civ. P. 16. Finally, the court also rejected Bowers’ argument that a sentence of fifteen months for his crimes was illegal under § 402, as he did not raise it at the district court level and therefore waived his right to assert the argument at the appellate level. The court added, however, that even if Bowers had not waived the argument, he still would not be entitled to relief because he was not charged under §402, but under § 401, which does not impose a maximum punishment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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