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Archive for June, 2012

Is Politics or Race the Reason for Eric Holder’s Contempt Vote?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Democratic lawmakers say party politics, in an election year, is the reason that the Republican controlled Congress found U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.  On June 28, Attorney General Holder became the first Attorney General and the first sitting cabinet member, in U.S. history, to be found in contempt. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D. CA) says the contempt vote makes a witch hunt look like a walk in the park.  If party politics is the primary reason for the Holder contempt vote, then the question remains, whether race is a close second. Democrats and President Obama have not wanted to inject race in the Holder debate.

In a New York Times article last year, Attorney General Holder said race was one reason for the Republican fueled fire over Fast and Furious. Mr. Holder said he believed that a few conservatives— the “more extreme segment” — is motivated by politics and race.  Last year Holder said:

“This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” he said, “both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”

With Republican anger directed towards President Obama and Attorney General Holder, it’s often difficult for some to see where party politics ends and racial lines begin.   The two are like a garment with a thread running through it.  It’s difficult to separate the fabric from the thread.  For many blacks, race is a thread that runs through everything from routine traffic stops, where African Americans are disproportionately racially profiled in many states to racial disparity in treatment in the criminal justice system from beginning to sentencing.

Race has become a lightning rod in this year’s election with the GOP led voter ID laws. Attorney General Holder has aggressively fought several states on the new laws.  Under  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, any changes in voting laws  by many  southern states with a history of discrimination, must be pre-cleared by the Justice Department before becoming law.  The Justice Department blocked new voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas.  Attorney General Holder objected to a photo ID requirement in Texas because it would have had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic voters.  Similarly, the South Carolina law was blocked because it would have an adverse effect on non-white voters.  Both states have sued the Government.

Republicans have often had a contentious relationship with Attorney General Holder.  That goes with the territory of being the first African American U.S. Attorney General.   As chief law enforcement officer of the U.S,   Attorney General Holder has taken an aggressive stance against the GOP fueled voter ID laws, voter registration changes and purging of voters from voting lists. And Republicans have backlashed against him. Whether it’s due to purely political reasons, racial motives or a combination of the two is debatable. Many blacks see the issue of politics and race too closely tied to dissect them on the Holder contempt. Non-minorities often call it playing the race card. The reality exists that race touches on every aspect of our society—whether we choose to admit it or not.   Race is the thread that runs through all political garments.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post

 

GOP Admits Voter ID Laws are Designed to Help Romney Win

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Courtesy Jenn Grover

Pennsylvania Republican State House leader, Mike Turzai, said in an interview that the new voter ID laws are intended to get Mitt Romney elected. That’s the purpose of the laws and not to prevent voter fraud. Voter fraud has never been proven to be an issue, even with Republican data. As we get closer to the election, some Republican lawmakers are comfortable with saying what the real purpose of the new voter ID laws are intended to do.

All along, the GOP has made known that their number one priority is to see President Obama as a one term president. And they’ve gone all out with these voter ID laws to accomplish their number one goal. The Justice Department has denied clearance for Alabama, Texas and South Carolina’s laws. The decision pertaining to Alabama was upheld by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Texas and South Carolina have filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department. The Texas new voter ID law was intended to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. South Carolina’s law was found to be discriminatory towards minorities. Many southern states must have any new changes to voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department pursuant to Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965 due to historical discriminatory practices. The Justice Department has also pursued Florida for its recent purge of voters, of which some are eligible to vote.

From voter photo ID laws, eliminating early voting, purging eligible voters, denying felons who have served their time and otherwise changing the rules of voting, the GOP has attacked the cornerstone of democracy. Voting is the backbone upon which our democracy rests. Without the right to vote, we are no different that the countries who have no democracy. And Republicans will stop at nothing to chip away at our democracy.

As founder of LegalSpeaks, I appeared on The Alyona Show on RT TV on Tuesday to discuss Turzai’s comments and the GOP voter ID laws and other topics.

Should Zimmerman Get a Second Chance at Bail?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

 

After being released on a $150,000 bail, prosecutors discovered that George Zimmerman’s wife lied under oath about the amount of money available to him for bail.  Leading the court to believe that there was “very little” funds available to his family; Zimmerman really had almost $130,000 on hand from money raised through a web site.  Prosecutors have since released the 151 calls placed from the jail, including ones between Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, speaking in code about the money available to him and their attempts to move and hide money. Judge Lester revoked Zimmerman’s bail on June 3. Zimmerman has remained in jail pending his second bail hearing on June 29. Zimmerman’s wife has been charged with perjury for her part.

Zimmerman’s lawyers will have a difficult time proving that Zimmerman did not mislead the court. After all, the conversations between him and his wife are on tape.  And the court has records of the bank accounts. So what’s left is for them to admit that Zimmerman made a mistake because he was scared.  And the defense will argue that he’s still entitled to bail for the same reasons he was entitled to bail at the first hearing.  He is not a flight risk, has ties to the community and has a defense to the crime. Nonetheless, Judge Lester could have Zimmerman remain in jail on no bail status until his trial date.

At the first bond hearing, the prosecutors asked for $1 million bail.   In light of what was perceived as Zimmerman’s financial status, the judge released him on the paltry $150,000 bail. During the second bond hearing, Judge Lester could increase the bail or keep it the same.  It’s highly unlikely that Zimmerman will be placed again on $150,000 bail. This time, the bail will be closer to what the prosecutors requested at the first trial.

If the judge wants to teach Zimmerman a lesson for being untruthful, he could set the bail at a cash bail which would mean that Zimmerman would have to put up cash to procure his release.  Ordinarily, a defendant can post 10% of the amount through a bail bondsman. He would not be able to use a bondsman, if a cash bail were set.  That would teach him the lesson that he needs to learn.  Using his cash to procure his freedom would send Zimmerman a loud and clear message about lying.

The best lesson for Zimmerman would be if Judge Lester allowed him to keep his money raised and remain in jail on no bail status until his trial date—which has yet to be set.

No matter what happens, Zimmerman’s credibility is at issue for future court proceedings. Judge Lester will not forget that he’s a liar.  And the prosecutors will not let the judge forget that he’s a liar. If Zimmerman could lie to get a low bail, think how much more he could lie to keep his freedom.

Zimmerman’s bail hearing is scheduled for Friday, June 29.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.

Why is the GOP Partying Like It’s 1999?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Republican opponents of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act have already started to party in advance of their anticipated celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision.  The Supreme Court has not ruled yet but with a 5-4 split of justices along party lines, Republicans believe they definitely have the edge. And they’re probably right.  Politico reports that Freedom Works has scheduled a party for June 26. Some tea party groups are calling their own events “Dead Mandate Walking” in reference to the anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Affordable Care Act. Democrats and proponents of the law have been quiet and reserved hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

All of the GOP party activity leads me to wonder is there any fun in seeing Americans suffer.  Republicans seem poised for their best party since the Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000.  And we know how that turned out. This time around with the precedent of the Supreme Court on their side, Republicans have no reason to believe the 5 majority Republican justices will let them down.  This time around, Republicans are acting like football players who score a touchdown and then dance in the end zone rubbing it in the other team’s face.

While spiking the ball and celebrating in the end zone on a football touchdown is fun, it is difficult to imagine how Republicans get so much fun and excitement out of millions of Americans losing health care benefits.  The GOP is unrelenting about President Obama’s handling of the economy and millions of Americans out of work.  And the Affordable Health Care Act would guarantee health insurance to millions including those who are unemployed, underemployed or without insurance for any other reason. As many of our fellow Americans are struggling to make ends meet while health care costs are rising, the GOP is planning lavish parties, gatherings and events to celebrate what may be the demise of the Obama Administration’s act to help insure millions of Americans.

Ironically, many of the same GOP opponents of the law, who are not wealthy Republican lawmakers with government insurance benefits, need the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.  This is not a partisan issue when it comes down to those who need health insurance.  But, many Republicans would rather cut their own arm off, if they thought it would hurt President Obama.

As for Democrats, if the Republican controlled Supreme Court strikes the Affordable Care act along party lines, it should be a rally call to fight back while the GOP is partying like it’s 1999.  While Republicans may score a touchdown with the Supreme Court ruling, the real game doesn’t end until November.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post.

 

Why Sandusky is the Most Hated Man in America

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

From grinning and laughing during jury selection, to a somber face of a disgraced man, after hearing a verdict of guilty on 45 counts of  child sex abuse,  Jerry Sandusky went from once celebrated assistant football  coach to became the most hated man in America.  The crowd outside the Bellefonte court room erupted in cheers upon hearing the verdict.  Many were happy to see the man who wrecked their happy Penn State home get convicted. That’s a far cry from one year ago when the Penn State community was in denial at hearing Sandusky’s abuse charges and the cover up involving famed coach Joe Paterno,  Penn State President Graham Spanier and other college officials.

Second to Sandusky being hated is his attorney Joe Amendola. Following the verdict, Amendola spoke about the deck being stacked against his client, a man waiting to be sentenced up to 442 years. In reality, the opposite was true.  The defense was given the right to keep the trial in Centre County, over the wishes of the prosecution. Nine of the jurors had ties to Penn State, some with substantial ties to the college. The Penn State jury was viewed favorably by the defense up until Friday’s verdict. Amendola  now complains much ado about nothing.

Amendola intends to appeal the verdict.  An appeal must be based on an error of law and not just dissatisfaction with the outcome.  In order to be successful, the error must have harmed Sandusky’s defense. Judge John Leland gave the defense just about everything they asked for, in order to preclude the possibility of having a valid reason to appeal.  While a defense request for delay was denied, a defendant has a right to be tried swiftly by the prosecution. So while Amendola has a legal right to appeal his client’s verdict and ask for a new trial, it will likely be futile.

The question beyond any appeal is how Penn State intends to move forward following the verdict. Two pending perjury cases remain against Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley for lying to a Grand Jury about the sex abuse cover up case. Civil cases are pending for many of the victims.  The way Penn state handles the aftermath of Sandusky’s trial will determine its legacy for the future.

Penn State can start by not making these victims testify again in a civil trial.  A civil trial has a lower standard than a criminal case. Since a criminal jury believed the victims, it’s very likely a civil case would have the same results.  While some of the victims are suing in a civil case, no amount of money can ever give them back what they lost.  They cannot be fully compensated for the loss of their childhood and innocence.

Penn State can start by settling these cases and any future ones.  Penn State should provide a fund for future victims who may come forward later.  They should also fund a nonprofit organization to help victims of child sexual abuse, offering services such as treatment, counseling, job skills and other necessary services by caring and skilled professionals.   That’s what these victims and their families thought they were getting when they entered Sandusky’s Second Mile —a caring and nurturing environment with opportunities for their future success.  Instead, they found a child sex predator who robbed them of their youth.  And for that Sandusky deserves to be sentenced to all 442 years.

While Sandusky is hated in the Penn State community and  across the country, he is not in a category by himself.  The pedophile case of Sandusky is in many ways like ones that I have prosecuted. They generally involve an adult in a position of trust and sometimes a family member or close family friend.  As a country, it is difficult for us to talk openly about sexual crimes. And that attitude allows these sexual deviants to continue to prey on children often times for years.   Making it easier to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse, report and prosecute it, will go a long way towards helping victims of abuse. If Penn State can create a foundation to help victims of sex abuse, Penn State will leave a far greater legacy than any football championships.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.

 

GOP Plays Fast and Furious With AG Eric Holder

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

In true Republican style, Republicans played their favorite game of witch hunt on Wednesday against their number two enemy, Attorney General Eric Holder. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) convened the committee to vote on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for the Justice Department’s  refusal to produce additional documents related to “Operation Fast and Furious.”  “Fast and Furious” is a botched sting operation involving guns in Mexico which landed in the hands of the Mexican Cartel and resulted in a US Border agent getting killed. Attorney General Holder produced almost 8,000 documents and offered to brief Republicans on the documents but that did not satisfy them.  Republicans want his head on a plate along with additional documents.  That’s how this game is played.

President Obama invoked his first Executive Privilege to withhold the documents from Congress.  Extraordinary demands call for extraordinary action. Of course, that didn’t stop Republicans, who are not known for doing anything that the President commands.  Although President Obama invoked Executive Privilege, Republicans still chose to proceed full steam.  The Committee voted along party lines and recommended to cite Attorney General Holder in contempt.  The full Congress must vote on the recommendation.  Republicans promise a vote as soon as next week.

Some legal scholars will consider all of this a great big waste of time due to Executive Privilege asserted by the President.  Republicans are hoping for the full Congress to cite Attorney General Holder in contempt and then for the Justice Department to charge him with a crime. Attorney General Holder stated that the actions of the Committee are “an election year tactic intended to distract attention from the issues facing the country.”  Rep.  Issa has led the Committee into political theatre to take extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action against the Attorney General.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Rep. Issa a “loose cannon” and says the contempt proceedings undermine the purpose of contempt of Congress.  Senator Carolyn Maloney (D. NY) stated the GOP has denigrated to tarnish the Attorney General and the President in an election year.   In a nation that is already polarized, Rep. Issa and Republicans seek to further take us to the bottom of the sea.

House Republicans now appear obsessed with the Fast and Furious documents instead of the economy and jobs for the American people.  Even Mitt Romney would probably agree, albeit in private, that this latest Republican distraction is an unacceptable one and not working for anyone.

Meanwhile, there are two looming deadlines fast approaching which will require immediate attention of Congress.  On June 30, the Transportation bill and student loan bill are set to expire.  Federal highway funding is at stake and the fate of federal subsidized student loan rates.  This means that Congress must move quickly if it wants to keep student loan rates at 3.4% instead of jumping to 6.8%.  Millions of students and their parents will be faced with rising costs if Congress doesn’t act.  None of that seems to matter to the GOP who is too consumed with playing games with Attorney General Holder than to work on the country’s problems.

I was always taught that you do homework before you go out to play.   This is not the rule that the Republicans are working by.  Work is not their strong suit. Every game has winners and losers.  The real losers in this latest Republican game are the American people who do not have a working Republican controlled Congress.  Although, Republicans may fancy themselves as winners, there are no real winners in this game—-only losers.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post.