Were they hiding this news behind the turkey?

Yesterday, Lorraine Brown, the founder of DocX/LPS, was scheduled to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud at 1 PM EST. I found out about it around 2 PM from the wonderful Lynn Szymoniak who has nagged and noodled the US Attorney’s Office about this case 4-evah (she really is the unsung hero of this development, but Lanny Bruer managed to leave her out of his self congratulatory press release).

So, I start making calls to the press liaison at United States Attorney’s Office Middle District of Florida and the Office of Public Affairs at Main Justice. No one would confirm that she had in fact completed her guilty plea and that the judge had accepted it. What most of the non-lawyer press does not realize is that a plea agreement is only a contract of intent between the USAO and defendant, it is not binding until the defendant actually goes into a courtroom and pleads guilty in front of a judge – and the judge makes a ruling that the allocution (confession of the specifics of the crime) is legally sufficient to support the guilty plea, that it seems credible, and that it is not coerced or the result of some physical or mental impairment (such as being stoned).

So she could have changed her mind at the last minute, I’ve seen it happen. Or the judge could have found fault with the plea allocution, I’ve seen that happen, too. Then you have to reschedule and have a do-over on another day.

So you can understand that despite having read the Plea Agreement and Criminal Information, as well as the written version of The Facts she would be giving in her allocution, I was loath to hit “publish” on my backstage draft until I had confirmed that it had actually completed.

So I called, and I called back and I called back some more. Oh, “OPA is working on a press release.” “ No, I can’t confirm that her court appearance has concluded.” “No, I can’t confirm that her court appearance even initiated.” “Don’t worry, press release will be emailed to you any minute.” This went on for hours until that magic moment at 5:01 PM EST when the press release arrived and there was not one word on it that could not have been written in advance of the plea appearance with “send” hit once the judge banged the gavel.

Soooo, why would it take so long to get out this simple plain vanilla press release? Let me put on my tinfoil hat for a minute. You know how they dump news that is bad for the stock markets late on a Friday afternoon, so there is time to digest the news and not cause a sell off panic? What’s even a deader time to do that? Right before Thanksgiving. A lot of newspapers have a 5 PM deadline for getting a story into the next morning’s print edition. Yes, if you have a story in draft and are just waiting for some last little detail, they will let you file late, but if you first learn about a thing after 5 PM, it’s doubtful you can get it in unless it’s so momentous at to rate a “stop the presses” moment.

Most reporters have filed their pieces for the day and are closing up, heading out. Many will not see that press release until they get to work this morning, which means they will write their stories to file by 5 PM today, after the markets close at noon for the holiday. Holders of big bank stock who desire to engage in a panic sell off will need to do so via foreign exchanges. Of course most won’t even know about it in time to panic because Thanksgiving is hardly a day for reading the newspapers, especially the financial news. So, maybe I’m reading too much into the timing of this press release, but I do know that the DOJ press operation is more than sophisticated enough to understand story deadlines and timing of news releases, so it sure looks to me as if they were afraid the news would spark a panic selloff of bank stock and were trying to avoid that.

Photo by Ginger Me under Creative Commons license.