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Adventures in the Law: No Harm in Asking?

Norm Tabler


  • Jason Owens faced federal charges for participating in events related to January 6.
  • Despite being granted pretrial release, he filed an "Emergency Motion to Travel" to attend a "business-critical" meeting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
  • The judge, Chief Judge Beryl Howell, discovered that the meeting was an award ceremony for Jason's success in selling drugs for a pharmaceutical company involved in opioid production.
  • The judge denied the motion, publicly exposing Jason's attempt to mislead the court and mocking the nature of the "emergency."
Adventures in the Law: No Harm in Asking? Traite

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We hear it all the time: There’s no harm in asking. But is that always true? Here’s a case that proves it’s not.

Jason Owens traveled with his adult son from Texas to Washington, D.C., to participate in the events of January 6. Jason’s participation was exuberant enough to result in his arrest and indictment for several felonies, including assaulting, resisting, or impeding an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department and obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder. Charging documents include photos of Jason making physical contact with officers.

On April 21, 2021, Jason was granted pretrial release, subject to certain conditions, including a prohibition on travel outside the United States. The release enabled Jason to live at home and continue his sales career with a pharmaceutical company prominent in the production of opioids.

It was in connection with his career that on March 23, 2022, Jason filed an “Emergency Motion to Travel” [emphasis in original], asking Chief Judge Beryl Howell for permission to travel to “a corporate meeting” for a “work-related conference.” Why was it an emergency? Well, Jason’s emergency motion recited, the important business meeting was less than two weeks away, and flights had already been booked.

Something about Jason’s emergency request piqued Chief Judge Howell’s curiosity, causing him to look further into the matter. He was so intrigued with his findings that he included them in his ruling, which was widely reported in the national news media.

First, the emergency. True, the business meeting in question was less than two weeks away when Jason filed his motion. Left unsaid by Jason, however, was that he had been fully aware of the meeting for over a month before filing his motion.

The nature of the vital business meeting? His employer had named Jason to its President’s Club in recognition of his outstanding success in selling drugs. Such recognition entitled Jason and his wife to a five-night “sun-and-fun” getaway in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

In anticipation of the meeting, Jason’s employer had requested what the judge sarcastically characterized as “business-critical data.” The judge’s order listed the requests and Jason’s responses:

Tee-shirt and shoe sizes (“Men’s Large and Men’s 10 ½”), favorite color (“Blue”), willingness to receive delivered alcoholic beverages (“Yes”), and special dietary request (“Vegan, but not too crazy strict”).

The judge reprised that last phrase in reciting the background of Jason’s motion. Jason had, the order stated, asked his lawyer to secure permission for the trip because he had assumed that this Court’s approach to nonessential foreign travel by defendants facing federal felony charges would be, like defendant’s adherence to veganism, “not too crazy strict.”

The judge’s order revealed that he (or perhaps his clerk) had taken to the internet to learn more about the President’s Club. The findings were included in the order denying Jason’s motion: The President’s Club is “a prestigious award for top-selling reps that came with free trips to destinations like Hawaii and Europe,” citing Inside the Sales Machine of the “Kingpin of Opioid Makers,” Washington Post. In past years, winners were promised “a great trip dedicated to celebrating your achievements,” including “a week of fun and relaxation,” five-star accommodations, and “spa treatments, golf and water activities such as snorkeling, paddle boarding and outrigger canoes.”

The Chief Judge concluded his entry with these words:

“While to Court does not begrudge defendant’s apparent business success while on pretrial release, his international travel to harvest the bounties of such success will need to wait until he is no longer facing felony charges arising from ill-advised domestic travel in January 2021.”

Thus, Jason proved that sometimes there is harm in asking. If you get caught asking a federal judge in a manner deliberately designed to mislead him, you may be publicly humiliated in an order that makes you look foolish and characterizes your employer as Kingpin of Opioid Makers.

The case is U.S. v. Jason Owens, D.D.C., order entry of May 23, 2022.