With another blockbuster corporate prosecution in the works, this past week Reuters ran a story on the rise in corporate fines over the past decade. They cited to my data and prepared a chart depicting some of it (above). But is this steady rise in federal corporate fines powerful evidence of tougher corporate prosecutions? In "Too Big to Jail" I present that data but then describe how it is not what it seems. The approximately 650% percent rise in corporate fines is striking. Billion dollar fines, once unprecedented, are imposed more regularly, though not often. However, that sweeping rise in fines is mostly due to a handful of blockbuster cases each year. Even in those remarkable cases, much of the money consists in payments to victims or to regulators and not fines strictly speaking. And the fines themselves are often far less than they could have been under the Sentencing Guidelines. But for the full story that lies behind the numbers you will have to wait for the book, which comes out in October.
The New York Times just ran a story in Dealbook describing work with the UVA First Amendment clinic and the law library to locate sealed corporate prosecution agreements - my "Too Big to Jail" book studies such cases. There are over 30 agreements, mostly non-prosecution agreements, of the over 300 that Jon Ashley of the UVA Law Library and I have identified, that have been "sealed" by agreement with the prosecutors. The clinic has filed a FOIA request seeking all of those agreements - after the DOJ ultimately decided to provide the single agreement requested last year in a test case. We view these corporate prosecutions as important, of public interest, and believe that basic information about how such prosecutions are resolved should be made public.
Sheriff J.E. "Chip" Harding, of Albemarle County, VA is proposing forming a Justice Commission in VA. He has offered to send copies of the book to law enforcement interested in reading more about why improvements can help convict the guilty and clear the innocent.