Last week, I teased the continuation of a series of posts about the Fifth Amendment. That’s still coming, but I had to return to another common theme first. My preview came at the end of a post about both the Fifth Amendment and parallel proceedings, which I’d also written about before. The Inception-ing of the blog continues with yet another brief comment on parallel proceedings, this time inspired by a news item that Justin flagged in last week’s roundup: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein gave a speech before the New York City Bar Association’s annual white collar crime conference. The whole speech is worth watching or reading, but the highlight of the address was DAG Rosenstein’s announcement of “a new Department policy that encourages coordination among Department components and other enforcement agencies when imposing multiple penalties for the same conduct.”
News of the last few weeks has prompted me to return to two issues I’ve discussed here before: parallel proceedings and the Fifth Amendment. This time around, the Fifth Amendment issue is not double jeopardy, but instead the constitutional protection against compulsory self-incrimination.
Remember parallel proceedings? By that I mean the government conducting criminal and civil investigations of the same or similar conduct, and bringing related criminal, civil, or administrative enforcement proceedings around the same time. This creates all kinds of problems for defendants, including the difficulty and expense of fending off legal challenges on several fronts and the care needed to ensure that steps taken responding to one enforcement action don’t bite you in the other.
Among the most important dangers are those stemming from offering testimony in a civil or administrative proceeding. You see, “pleading the Fifth” and refusing to answer questions that might incriminate you doesn’t work the same way in civil and administrative settings that it does in the criminal context.
Hypothetical Bad News. You or your company has been served with a civil investigative demand requiring you to produce documents and answer questions from the government. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating you for suspected violations of the False Claims Act, or perhaps for participating in a price-fixing conspiracy in violation of the antitrust laws. The investigation could drag on for years and—if you’re found liable—you may be on the hook for millions of dollars.
Hypothetical Worse News. Government agents have also inspected your premises pursuant to a search warrant, and you learn that associates of yours have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. You are the target—or at least the subject—of a criminal investigation. For a company, a criminal conviction and associated fines could be devastating. For an individual, it could result in the loss of your liberty.
To provide a more concrete example, there have been dozens of administrative and criminal proceedings over the last few years that grew out of a massive public corruption scandal involving the bribing of dozens of Navy officials in exchange for participating in or turning a blind eye to baseless bills from an overseas defense contractor. Many participants have been criminally prosecuted, but the criminal investigation (which remains ongoing) has also coincided with administrative enforcement actions that resulted in the debarment of numerous contractors, permanently preventing them from doing business with the government.
More and more, government officials and agencies bring to bear all of the enforcement tools—civil, criminal, and administrative—in parallel investigations and proceedings to put a stop to unlawful conduct. If you’re the target of parallel investigations, you and your lawyer will need to be mindful about the different discovery tools available to the government, the risks of compromising your rights in one investigation through your response to another, and the need for a global settlement with the government.
All of that could fill a treatise, so I won’t try to cover it here. Instead, I’ll cover:
- A brief overview of the DOJ’s approach to parallel investigations and proceedings (they’re favored).
- Your chances of halting either a civil or administrative proceeding pending resolution of the criminal case (spoiler alert: not great).
- The importance of thinking strategically at every stage of your response—not just about the individual request or process you’re responding to—but also about how it affects the other investigations (it’s really important).