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United States v. MGP Ingredients, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 15, 2019




         During a Status Conference conducted on September 3, 2019, the court established certain case management deadlines. See Doc. 45 (reciting pretrial deadlines, repeated below).

         This Order repeats those deadlines to place the remainder of this Order in context:

October 4, 2019 Deadline for Pretrial Motions[1]
November 1, 2019 Deadline for Responses to Pretrial Motions
November 18, 2019[2] at 1:30 p.m. (in Courtroom 403 in Frank Carlson Federal Building, Topeka, Kansas)Hearing on all Pretrial Motions filed on October 4

         But the court deferred a decision about the trial date for three related reasons. First, the parties disagree about when the trial should begin. Second, the government's analysis of the Speedy Trial Act issues was so thin that the court could not rely on it. And last, the court needed time to confirm its availability for a trial projected to last five or six weeks.

         This Order announces the trial setting and provides the findings that make it a permissible trial setting under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161-3174.

         I. Trial Setting

         Consistent with the findings made below, in Part B of this Order, the court sets the case for trial on April 7, 2020 in Topeka, Kansas. The court will specify the courtroom for the trial in a later Notice.

         II. Speedy Trial Act Findings and Rationale

         In a Memorandum and Order entered on July 24, 2019, the court announced that it planned to set the case for trial in January 2020. See Doc. 40. In large measure, the court based that plan on the finding that the case qualified as a complex case under 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B). Id. at 4-7. The July Order also concluded that the case's complexity, combined with one defendant's professed intention to file substantial pretrial motions, justified a significant period of excludable time. But the court declined to specify the precise duration of the excludable period in that Order. Id. at 7. Instead, consistent with United States v. Clark, 717 F.3d 790, 823 (10th Cir. 2013), the court deferred that decision until the parties had provided additional information. The court solicited that information and during a Status Conference on September 3, 2019, and in certain filings made shortly before the conference[3], the parties have provided-and discussed-the relevant information. The court has considered those submissions and evaluated them under the governing legal standard. Based on those materials, the court makes the following findings under the Speedy Trial Act:

         a. Excludable Period # 1: from June 18, 2019, to November 18, 2019

         During the September 3 Status Conference, the court asked MGP to specify the time that it needed, using reasonable diligence, to prepare pretrial motions. MGP identified the specific motions it planned to file-previously discussed in Doc. 40 at 4-5-and advised that counsel was putting finishing touches on those motions. MGP thus asked for a September 15, 2019 deadline for pretrial motions. Harcros Chemicals, MGP's co-defendant, then disclosed that it planned to file its own pretrial motions. But Harcros requested an October 1st deadline for filing them. Harcros explained that the two defendants were not coordinating their filings with one another. And, Harcros indicated, some of its motions might require an evidentiary hearing. Given the complex and novel legal issues identified by the parties, the court granted Harcros's request for an October 1 deadline.

         After hearing this preview of the anticipated motions, the government requested six weeks to respond to the putative motions. This request, if granted, would have established a mid-November deadline. The court found the government's reasons for such a long response period unpersuasive, however, and found that the government, with reasonable diligence, could respond to the motions within one month. The court thus established November 1, 2019, as the deadline for filing responses to pretrial motions.

         Based on the parties' statements-both during the September 3, 2019 Status Conference and in two filings made shortly before that conference-the court finds that the ends-of-justice served by granting the continuance necessary to accommodate this briefing schedule outweigh the interests of defendants and the public in a trial date scheduled without imposing such a continuance. See § 3161(h)(7)(A) (ends-of-justice excludable). The court makes this finding after balancing the benefits of the two distinctly different approaches-i.e., a trial scheduled without the continuance necessary to process the issues raised in the anticipated motions vs. a trial date set without granting that continuance. The court finds that, on balance, the interests of justice favor a schedule including this continuance. Allowing defendants time to prepare their motions will present novel legal issues with carefully reasoned and supported arguments. These threshold questions will play a significant role in the case. If one or more of defendants' motions were to prevail, it could narrow the issues for trial significantly. And if defendants prevail on none of their motions, the parties' arguments and authorities will foment the court's understanding of these important legal issues.

         Also favoring this continuance is the case's broader complexity. The court explained in its July Order why the case qualifies as complex. Doc. 40 at 4-7 (discussing complexity factors specified in § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii)). The court does not repeat that discussion here. The court also is mindful that a complexity designation doesn't provide a blank check, permitting the court to exclude whatever time is requested. Instead, the duration of an excludable based on a complex case designation must be “clearly rooted in [counsel's] expectation of time it would take to properly analyze” the issues making the case complex. United States v. Gordon, 710 F.3d 1124, 1158 n.33 (10th Cir. 2013). Here, the colloquy with counsel during the September Status Conference persuaded the court that the schedule adopted in this Order is commensurate with the procedures needed to resolve the case's complex issues.

         To be sure, this continuance will postpone the beginning of the trial and its resolution of the Indictment's charges. But in context, that postponement is relatively minor. The wrongdoing asserted in the Indictment allegedly occurred in October 2016. The government didn't secure an Indictment until March 2019-more than two years later. And the case's time line is much broader than the 29 months between October 2016 and March 2019. MGP reports the evidence at trial will involve equipment installed and decisions made a decade or more ago. In this context, a continuance, like this one is relatively minor. It will not meaningfully erode defendants' or the public's interest in speedy trials.

         The only countervailing interest is one cited by Harcros. And it's unpersuasive. Harcros reports that it is owned by an employee stock ownership plan. This structure, Harcros asserts, means that Harcros has an expedited need to resolve the charges against it vis-à-vis a typical corporate defendant. But Harcros never has articulated any logical basis to support this conclusory proposition. And if ownership structure is a reason to forego a briefing schedule like the one adopted here, it is not a truth of the self-evident variety. ...

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