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Archive for April, 2013

When Will the Sequester End?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

UnionRallyGroupI was always told that it was better to give than receive. Apparently, that is not the motto for Congress. While everyday people are struggling with the sequester cuts, Congress  just before flying back to their home districts last weekend, passed a bill to ease the airport delays brought on by the sequester cuts affecting air traffic controllers. Meanwhile the rest of everyday American citizens are  still struggling with cuts resulting from the sequester.  Yet, Congress saw fit that business travelers and members of Congress were not inconvenienced by the airport cuts across the country.  The sequester is still affecting Head Start programs, senior programs, unemployment, student aid like federal work study programs federal disaster programs and jobs just to name a few.


For many senior citizens who are struggling to make it from month to month, the sequester cuts Meals on Wheels programs. For those recently affected by disaster, the  sequester cut FEMA and threatens to cut disaster relief. For those working parents struggling to afford child care, the sequester cuts subsidiaries for 30,000 children. For many families who are struggling to stay in affordable housing, the sequester cuts affect rental assistance and programs aimed at preventing homelessness.  Yet, Congress chooses to think of itself first and prevent any inconvenience to their going home trips. Even Senator John McCain stated “I think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here.”  And Ellen Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels stated “it’s perplexing that we’re saving programs that are inconveniencing others , but we’re not saving programs that are saving lives.”  And cancer doctors like Dr. Willia Nibley from Utah states that he would invite anyone from Washington to look at his patients and explain why waiting for a flight is a bigger deal than waiting longer or traveling farther to get chemotherapy.


Until we fix what’s broken in Washington, the sequester will continue to affect families and everyday people.   And what’s broken in Washington is our present Congress. 2014 is the next Congressional election.  And we must start thinking now of how to replace those members of Congress who think more of giving gifts to themselves rather than helping to give jobs and necessities  to the American people who they are elected to serve.

The programs and jobs cut by sequester are not hand -outs or entitlements.  They are agencies and programs that help everyday Americans to succeed.  And speaking of jobs, when will Congress fix the economy and job situation.  Despite some improvement in the economy, some people have just stopped looking for jobs.  And others are still waiting on Congress to help clean up the economy. But like Senator John McCain says, Congress has its priorities a little skewed.  In reality, the Republican controlled Congress has its priorities aimed at itself and not the American people.



Terror Comes in the Form of Bombs and Guns

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Last week the Boston Marathon bombing caused terror all over Boston and surrounding areas leading up to the shooting death of one suspect and the arrest of his younger brother.  President Barack Obama described the Boston Marathon bombing as an act of terror and stated his Administration may invoke the public safety exception to Miranda, allowing FBI officials to question the suspect without reading him his Miranda rights to remain silent and seek advice of any attorney.  Presently, the suspect is not in any condition to communicate due to his medical condition.  The Federal Public Defenders say they will represent him.

The issue of terror raises many concerns. Terror comes in many shapes, forms and sizes. For those living in the Washington, DC area in October of 2002, for three weeks, the DC Sniper, John Allen Muhammad and 16 year old Lee Boyd Malvo held the entire DC, Virginia and Maryland area in terror as they randomly killed 10 persons in three jurisdictions and injured three others while on their three week killing spree at gas stations and shopping malls.  Persons were afraid to pump gas in their cars as the two shot and killed persons pumping gas, going to school, at shopping centers, waiting for bus transportation and performing other routine tasks. Montgomery County Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, and private schools went into a lockdown, with no recess or outdoor gym classes. Other school districts in the area also took precautionary measures.   The suspects were arrested just days before the 2002 Marine Corp Marathon.

And for those children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, students on the campus of Virginia Tech, movie goers in the theater in Aurora, Colorado and shoppers in  Tucson, Arizona at the shopping center to hear then Rep. Gabby Giffords, terror and fear rang out in all those places too.  And in many urban cities and communities throughout the country, gun violence causes many persons to live with a perpetual sense of fear every time they leave their homes and sometimes while inside their homes. Many fear their children will be shot while en route to school, coming home from school, playing in a neighborhood playground, sitting on the steps of their porch or inside their home where a stray bullet could come through a window.   For many of those living in communities where gun violence is more the norm, they already live in a shelter at home situation every day out of fear. The feeling of terror that was felt in Boston can be the same feeling experienced by those of mass gun violence incidents and random gun violence experienced in this country on a daily basis.  The main difference is how we react to the terror.

In regards to the Boston Marathon bombing, I listened to the Sunday morning talk shows following the arrest where several legislators talked about delaying the Immigration bill, in light of the bombing.  The reason indicated by one was to allow for more time to review the bill to see if other restrictions might be imposed.   Yet, many of these lawmakers who will want to review the evidence surrounding the Boston bombings to see if tighter security laws can be enacted are  probably many of the same ones who voted to defeat the gun bill’s background checks.   Those same lawmakers who support failing to provide Miranda and other rights to the Boston bomb suspect are probably some of the same ones voting against gun control who want to ensure the 2nd amendment and right to bear arms is not infringed.  Yet, they are willing to infringe on other rights afforded under the Constitution.

Until we treat gun violence  in this country with the same intensity as we do bombings, persons will continue to be killed at an alarming rate in this country due to gun violence.  Gun violence is the terror that exists in many urban cities across the country on a daily basis.  And although mass gun violence has stretched to places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tucson, Arizona, Virginia Tech University and Aurora, Colorado and includes many urban communities, our lawmakers still fail to see guns create terror and fear too.  And just like with bombing incidents, we will not be able to avoid all gun incidents with legislation.   Yet, gun violence deserves the attention to the terror that it also invokes among us.  And passing universal background gun checks, banning some assault weapons and limiting magazine cartridges would have been a good start.

NRA Wins Round 1 on Gun Control Bill

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

GunThe vast majority of Americans support background checks for guns at gun shows which exceeds our present background check system.  The NRA is stronger than the will of the American people at least at this moment in time.  The U.S. Senate failed 90% of Americans on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 when it failed to pass the gun control legislation.  Over 90% of Americans support filling in the gap with stronger  background checks to help prevent getting guns in the wrong hands. Sixty votes were needed to pass the legislation due to procedural rules agreed to by both sides of the aisle.  With 52 Democrats in the Senate and several Republicans voting in support, it seemed to have a chance at passing. However, several Democratic Senators voted against the amendment on background checks.  Four Democratic Senators voted to kill background checks.

The final vote on the Manchin-Toomey background checks amendment was 54-46.  The Manchin-Toomey plan would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, while continuing to exempt most sales between family members and friends.  A proposed bill to ban assault weapons failed. And the bill to limit magazine cartridges to no more than 10 also went down in flames.  The NRA’s attempt to lessen restrictions on concealed handguns also failed.

President Obama spoke on the failed vote at the White House Tuesday evening. “All in all, this is a pretty shameful day for Washington,” he said.  Congresswoman Karen Bass  (D. CA) asked what does it say about our democracy when a few special interests are able to cloud out the wishes of the majority of the American people.

The battle is not over. Progressives vowed to fight even harder saying another vote will be scheduled. In round 2 of the gun battle, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will hold a press conference on Thursday to discuss and address the Senators who voted against the bill.  Having almost lost her life due to senseless gun violence. Giffords has found another voice in speaking out in support of gun control.  Others such as the vocal families of the Newtown victims also vow to continue the fight until we can say we did all we could to help prevent another Newton tragedy from occurring.  Nothing is fail proof.  But with no further actions to control guns in the wrong hands and continuing the same course of action, the same results are likely to occur.

On another fight on the state level, the NRA vowed to fight the Maryland gun control bill in court instead of by referendum. During the recent Maryland General Assembly which just concluded, Maryland passed sweeping gun control legislation.  But if the NRA has its day in court and wins, Maryland may have to reverse its course.

The fight is not over. This is a war and the first battle was won by the NRA.  The war must be won by the will of the American people. And the fight for sensible gun control legislation continues.

DC Honors Emancipation Day on April 16

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

UnionRallyGroupOn April 15, Boston commemorated Patriots Day while on April 16 , Washington, DC honors  Emancipation Day. April 16 is a local holiday in Washington, D.C.  Emancipation Day is the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed a declaration freeing 3,100 slaves living in Washington. The president’s action happened nearly nine months before Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in ten Confederate States.

Patriot’s Day is held one day earlier in Boston and commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were fought near Boston in 1775. Patriot’s Day is annually held on the third Monday of April and coincides with the running of the Boston Marathon.  And following the day after the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, the parades and speeches went on as planned in DC–albeit with much greater security in DC.  It is important to remember our past.

Emancipation day is more than parades but offers an educational approach to the past, present and the future.  The District of Columbia also uses the day to bring attention to the fact that it does not have “true emancipation” as its citizens have no autonomy.  On April 23, there is a special election being held in DC with a question to vote on autonomy for DC’s budget. There is no representation in the Senate and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has no voting rights in Congress.  DC Emancipation Day is used to bring attention to the injustices on the residents of the District of Columbia who have no say in local budget or federal representation.

In honoring the former slaves, Emancipation Day also brings attention to the fact that former slaves helped to build many of the historic buildings that tourists come to visit every year such as the White House, the Capitol and land surrounding these buildings.

In 2005, DC Emancipation Day was made an official public holiday. Each year, educational and commemorative activities are held celebrating the end of slavery in the nation’s capital.  But this year, greater attention was also paid to those in Boston and those who came to Boston for a fun filled day on Patriot’s Day and ended with tragedy.  As the nation mourns the terrorist activities in Boston, DC remembers Boston too.  In DC, we are praying with you in Boston.


Police Officer Makes Mockery of Trayvon Martin’s Death Gets Fired

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

trayvon_martin_zimmermanFrom George Zimmerman’s mother writing on the anniversary of her son’s arrest that he is the victim used “solely to placate the masses” to last week’s firing of a  police officer sergeant  who wanted to use a silhouette picture of  the likeness of Trayvon Martin as a target in gun shooting practice,  things could not have gotten any stranger in the Trayvon Martin saga last week.  The image which was not used shows the heights to which some people will go in showing either their racism, ignorance or both.  In the words often used by Dr. Phil to describe bizarre circumstances, what was he thinking?  A Port Canaveral, Florida police sergeant wanted to use a likeness of an image dressed as Trayvon Martin as a shooting target, according to various sources.  The image was not used as other officers declined.

A trial is scheduled for June 10 and regardless of which way the jury or judge decides, a tragedy occurred last year on February 26, 2012.  And a tragedy should not be seen as a comedy as Officer Ron King tried to make it out.  A young seventeen year old teenager was shot and killed for walking back from the store in the neighborhood where his father’s girlfriend resided, while carrying a soda and a bag of Skittles.  And when teenagers cannot walk in neighborhoods without being shot and killed, it’s a tragedy whether it’s done by George Zimmerman, a black perpetrator  or anyone else. And to make mockery of the victim is tasteless and repulsive.  It’s the way that the police officer acted last week and the way the officers acted last year in not arresting George Zimmerman on the night of the shooting that causes many persons of color to believe that justice will be overcome with racism.

Then there was George Zimmerman’s mother who spoke out to say her son’s version was true and he was only arrested “to placate the masses.”  I understand a mother standing by her son…just like Sybrina Fulton is standing up for the rights of her son.   But the police officer’s attempt to use Trayvon Martin’s picture as a target practice is not justified under any circumstances.  The family attorney of Trayvon Martin, Ben Crump, released a statement that stated it is absolutely reprehensible to use an image of a dead child as target practice by a high ranking officer of the Port Canaveral police force.


Some online comments have said that the officer had first amendment rights.  That’s true except the officer was on a job and conducting a target practice and should have been setting an example for other officers. And conduct that was unbecoming to being a police officer is what got him fired.  Whether it was a stupid gesture, a racist one  or both, it had no place in a police sergeant conducting target practice.  The officer can appeal the ruling of his firing.

Sargeant Ron King denies that he was using the image of a silhouette of a person wearing a hoodie, carrying a can of soda and a bag of Skittles in his pocket with a bull’s eye on his chest to represent or use the  likeness of Trayvon Martin as actual shooting target practice. Those were the same likeness of what Trayvon Martin was wearing while walking to his death by George Zimmerman.  It is highly unlikely that an appeal will be successful, given the circumstances.

The Sequester is Now Closing Courts

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The Sequester Has Now Hit the Federal Courts

supcourt_buildingPresident Obama has been having a difficult time getting his federal judicial nominees confirmed and now the sequester and furloughs have hit those judges already serving on the federal bench.  There has been little talk since the sequester began on when it might end. And no federal agency was exempt from sequestration. Now with many of the federal courts in an emergency situation due to a lack of judges being confirmed to fill vacancies, furloughs are now beginning to take place. And yes, the furloughs will mean closing federal court houses that are already backlogged with overwhelming dockets.  It will also mean reducing trial time and hearings.  Even federal prosecutors, federal public defenders who represent defendants and the U.S. Marshall’s office will be placed on furlough.  For a court system that is already running on fumes, it will further hamper the judicial process.  For that man or woman who has been waiting to have their criminal or civil case heard, they will now have to wait even longer.

In major cities, the federal dockets can become backlogged due to the lack of judges and an emergency status declared in some areas based on unfilled judicial vacancies. Now litigants must endure even further issues with the courts taking furlough days and being completely closed.   The move will not just inconvenience parties, witnesses, judges and lawyers, it will compromise our entire federal court system.

As reported in an earlier blog post, federal courts decide cases about clean air, environmental issues, social justice issues, privacy issues, reproductive rights, corporate accountability, employment issues,  first amendment issues, criminal law, Voter Rights Act cases to name a few. Just about every issue important to our society is decided by cases in federal court.

Litigants must wait a long time for their case to be tried and then sometimes appealed. Now they will just have to wait even longer for justice and their day in court.  To say that the wheels of justice runs slow is an understatement in this case.  Many of those persons awaiting a trial date that could be prolonged by furloughs are persons awaiting for a criminal case to be adjudicated.  Our system presumes that a criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  And there are many defendants who are later found to be not guilty by a jury or judge.  However, before their day in court, often defendants are not able to make bail or may be placed on no bail status while awaiting a trial date.  A furlough delay for someone in jail who is awaiting a criminal trial that may be later be found  not guilty is more than a little inconvenience.  It is a denial of justice.

Our system deserves better than it is now receiving.  The sequester hit every segment of the federal arena.  In the federal court system, it is rocking our system of justice. In civil trials, the judges may decide to limit the time of trials or hearings to accommodate the issues associated with the furloughs.  Limiting the amount of time to hear a case based on a lack of judges, lack of court time due to a backlogged system is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind   with our judiciary branch. Yet, until or if and when the sequester ends, our system of justice will continue to be compromised.  This hardly seems fair and yet that’s exactly what courts and judges are supposed to be.

Debbie Hines is a practicing trial attorney who has practiced in federal trial and appellate courts throughout the country.