Cassell wins two federal court rulings in Boeing crash case, sex trafficking case

Oct 24, 2022 | Criminal Law Program

""Professor Paul Cassell has won federal court rulings in two important victims’ rights cases. Cassell, a former federal judge and a nationally-recognized expert in crime victims’ rights, is representing the clients in each case pro bono.

District court ruling for families of Boeing 737 MAX crash victims

Cassell is representing the families of victims killed in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, which on October 21 ruled that the families are “crime victims” protected by federal law.

Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice violated the rights of fifteen families who lost family in the two Boeing 737MAX crashes.  The judge ruled that the crash victims were “crime victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and that the Justice Department illegally failed to confer with the victims’ families before executing a deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing. O’Connor has set a hearing to determine what remedies exist for that violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

“Judge O’Connor has recognized that the Justice Department should have conferred with the crash victims’ families before reaching this ill-considered and inappropriate deferred prosecution agreement,” said Cassell. Now that the judge has ruled that the Justice Department violated the law in reaching the deal, we are optimistic that he will take the logical next step and declare that the provisions in the agreement giving Boeing immunity from criminal prosecution are likewise illegal. The record now establishes quite clearly that, directly because of Boeing’s criminal lies, 346 people died. Boeing should be held accountable for the consequences of its crime.” Cassell says the case is being closely watched because it has important implications for the how crime victims’ rights are to be enforced in the federal criminal justice system.

O’Connor held that the families had proven that Boeing’s conspiracy to lie to the FAA about a new software system in the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft  “directly and proximately” harmed the crash victims. Judge O’Connor’s ruling noted that the families had proven that, through expert testimony and other evidence, Boeing’s criminal conspiracy caused the two Boeing 737MAX plane crashes. Specifically, the families proved that Boeing’s conspiracy caused the FAA not to order full flight simulator training for 737 MAX pilots on how to respond to improper software activation, that the FAA’s recommendation had worldwide effects, and that as a result the pilots on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 did not know how to safely land the planes when the software took over the two flights.

Circuit court ruling for victim of sex trafficking

On October 25 Cassell also won a ruling in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in which he is representing a young sex trafficking victim. The court granted a writ of mandamus overturning a district court’s order denying the victim, Jane Doe, restitution from the trafficker, and it has ordered the district court to address the defendant’s arguments concerning the appropriate amount of restitution.

The trafficker kidnapped Doe when she was 12 years old and drove her from California to Nevada, knowing that she would engage in prostitution. After being convicted, he agreed to pay full restitution to Doe, but then convinced the district court that it lacked authority to award restitution. In September 2022, Cassell filed a petition for a writ of mandamus before the court, and today the court agreed with his arguments that, properly interpreted, the trafficker’s plea agreement required him to make full restitution.

“This is an important ruling that federal judges have authority to enforce plea agreements to make sure that they provide full restitution for crime victims.” said Cassell.  “In many cases, restitution for victims is more important than anything else in the case. The court’s decision signals that restitution must never an afterthought in resolving a criminal case.”

Cassell was joined in representing Jane Doe by Justice at Last, a San Francisco-based non-profit that assists labor and sex trafficking victims.

News coverage of rulings:

Judge rules DOJ violated rights of Boeing Max victims in prosecution deal

The Washington Post

The New York Times

Passengers in fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes are ‘crime victims,’ US judge says


U.S. judge: Passengers in fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes are ‘crime victims’


Boeing crashes: Passengers’ families deemed crime victims

AP News

Boeing Max Crash Passengers’ Families Ruled Crime Victims


737 Max Families Get ‘Victim Status’ In Boeing DOJ Deal Fight

Law 360

US judge applies ‘crime victims’ status in Boeing 737 MAX crashes

Al Jazeera

Utah law prof. helps win precedent in restitution case for sex trafficking victims