Jennifer Bonjean – an attorney handling Bill Cosby’s appeal to Pennsylvania State Supreme Court – has been retained to represent Keith Raniere for his appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Raniere was convicted in June 2019, in Brooklyn Federal Court, of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, and two counts of sex trafficking, He was sentenced last October to 120 years.
“I am honored to represent Mr. Raniere on his appeal to Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit,” Bonjean told Frank Report in a statement. “Although new to the case, It is already clear to me that Mr. Raniere’s Due Process guarantees were not safeguarded during his trial proceedings that resulted in an outrageous 120-year sentence. I look forward to review from the Second Circuit where I am confident this grave injustice will be rectified.”
On the same day Bonjean filed notice of appearance in the case, word was received that the Bureau of Prisons was planning to move Raniere out of the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center [MDC] to the federal prison in Tucson, AZ.
Attorneys Marc Agnifilo and Teny Geragos, who represented him at trial, reportedly will withdraw from their representation of Raniere.
According to Suneel Chakravorty, a member of Make Justice Blind, a group of supporters of Raniere, his possessions were removed from his cell by prison officials and he may leave MDC as soon as January 12 (MDC generally quarantines prisoners who are being transferred for several days before the transfer takes place).
Bonjean told Frank Report, “I am most concerned that as a result of the Government’s eagerness to transfer Mr. Raniere, I will not be afforded the opportunity to meet with my client. He is a critical asset to his own defense and he will be greatly prejudiced if I am unable to meet with him over the course of the next several months as we prepare the briefs in his case.”
Bonjean also filed a letter with Judge Nicholas Garaufis asking that Raniere not be relocated until her appeal was filed, and his restitution hearings are completed.
A number of victims have filed claims for restitution from Raniere and hearings are expected to begin in February.
Bonjean wrote in her letter to the judge, “On behalf of the Defendant [Raniere], I write respectfully to ask this Court to make a recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons that the Defendant remain incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center (‘MDC’) as opposed to being transferred to his designated facility, FCI Tucson.
“Undersigned counsel [Bonjean] was only recently retained to represent the Defendant on his direct appeal, and in light of the current public health crisis, she has had no opportunity to meet with him to discuss his pending appeal.
“In normal times, traveling to confer with Defendant would not prove overly problematic; however, in the current climate, multiple and/or an extended trip to Tucson would be exceedingly burdensome – to speak nothing of the health risks posed to all involved. Given the complexity of this case and the stakes involved, undersigned counsel must have meaningful communication with her client which cannot be accomplished via phone calls.
“In short, undersigned counsel cannot provide Defendant with the defense to which he is entitled without reasonable access to him, and counsel is hopeful that attorney-client visits at the MDC will resume in short course.
“Furthermore, outstanding restitution issues remain in this case. It is critical that the Defendant remain close so that he can assist and participate in his defense as it relates to challenges he may wish to lodge to the Government’s proposed restitution order, currently due on January 27, 2021. Accordingly, Defendant requests that this Court recommend that Defendant remain detained at the MDC at least until he has an opportunity voice an objection to the forthcoming restitution claims and this Court enters a restitution order and/or until Defendant files his opening brief in the Second Circuit, whichever is later.”
Make Justice Blind’s Chakravorty said that the selection of Bonjean as the lawyer to handle the appeal helps establish the validity of Raniere’s claims that he did not get a fair trial.
“To show the depth, sincerity and integrity of this effort, we want to point to the fact that one of the premier appellate lawyers in the United States has taken on this case. Lawyers of this caliber do not take on frivolous appeals,” Chakravorty said.
Bonjean, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer with offices in Brooklyn, who specializes in appellate, post-conviction and habeas corpus litigation, says she is “committed to exposing the rampant police and prosecutorial misconduct that often leads to wrongful convictions”
In 2014, the Chicago Innocence Project awarded Bonjean the Humanitarian of the Year Award for her work on Stanley Wrice’s appeal.
She represented Jason Gray, who had been convicted of a triple murder and sentenced to life in prison. Bonjean championed his innocence for over 10 years and eventually won Gray’s freedom in 2006. Gray had served 20 years.
According to her website, Bonjean recently succeeded in procuring a large civil settlement for James Degorski, who was brutally attacked by a corrections officer upon his arrival at Cook County Jail.
In December, she argued before the seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for Bill Cosby’s appeal of his conviction arising from the drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004.
Cosby, 83, is serving a 3-to-10-year sentence at SCI Phoenix, a maximum-security facility outside Philadelphia. He is housed in a 9 by 5 foot cell.
Any ruling by the appeals court to overturn the verdict would be by a majority vote and is not expected for several months.
Bonjean’s argument was that Cosby had been treated unfairly at his sexual assault trial in 2018 when five other women were allowed to testify that they had been similarly abused by Cosby in encounters dating back to the 1980s.
None of the women had been the subject of criminal cases of their own.
The decision by the trial judge to include the testimony by other so-called “prior bad acts,” unfairly tainted the jury, Bonjean argued.
“Mr. Cosby suffered unquantifiable prejudice,” Bonjean, said at the hearing. “The presumption of innocence just did not exist for him at that point.”
In an interview with the Seattle Medium, Bonjean said:
“I’m not looking to make friends with prosecutors. I’m not looking to make friends with judges. I’m not trying to offend, but what I have to do is protect my client’s rights without worrying about any ramifications.
“In this country and our Constitution, we try cases based on the charges, and if you look at the charges against Mr. Cosby and look at those brought because of Andrea Constand, her story doesn’t hold up.
“The prosecution knew her story couldn’t hold up, so they went and brought in these other women from 15 or more years ago, and no one has ever tested their stories.
“You can bring in accusers from [decades ago] and accuse him or anyone of something. There’s no way to defend that. That should have been a red flag to let people know that the prosecution had no case.
“Look, I sue police officers for a living. What makes Mr. Cosby’s conviction so egregious is that the judge allowed these other witnesses from decades ago. I knew the fix was in when the trial judge allowed that testimony.”
As another sample of this lawyer’s style:
At a Chicago mortgage fraud trial, Bonjean impudently asked 80-year-old U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle Sr. if “the court would like to take off its robe and come down here and do the government’s job for it?”
Bonjean, who has made a name for herself as an advocate for wrongfully convicted inmates, followed up by telling Judge Norgle— in front of the jury, — that he was “attempt(ing) to influence the jury during these proceedings in an inappropriate manner.”
She complained to Norgle that he was “exceptionally rude” and “abdicating your job as a judge.”
Her client lost and she appealed.
She lost the appeal.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bonjean’s argument that Norgle was so biased against her client that the client received an unfair trial.
The appeals court spent five pages of a 25-page ruling castigating Bonjean for her “inappropriate outbursts,” which it ruled “quickly became sarcastic to the point of hyperbole.”
Though it noted that Norgle did “make a facial gesture” during the defendant’s testimony (he rolled his eyes, Bonjean says), and made some “puzzling” rulings against her, “we do not reward defendants for success in baiting the judge,” the appellate court ruled.
Writer and editor.