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LegalSpeaks is a progressive blog on legal-political issues with an impact on race and gender. Whether covering politics, court trials, Supreme Court arguments or the latest laws and bills affecting minorities and women, LegalSpeaks blog articulates unique and thought provoking opinions. The blog is not meant to be construed as legal advice.

Supreme Court Guts Affirmative Action in Michigan Colleges

April 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »


The Supreme Court by a vote of 6-2  decided to  uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in its admission policies in state universities and colleges which was passed by Michigan voters to amend the state constitution. The two dissenters were Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Usually swing  voter Justice Kennedy sided with the majority this time.  Justice Elena Kagan did not sit because of a conflict while the U.S. Solicitor General.  The majority opinion stated the issue was whether voters had a right to nullify affirmative action in college admissions and side stepped the whole issue of affirmative action.   The court gave voters the final say in making the decision.  A lower court had ruled the opposite.

It is disheartening to keep reading and hearing how all the gains accomplished in the courts and that includes the Supreme Court for minorities affected and still affected by racism and discrimination are being taken away by the present courts.  From voting rights,  civil rights and criminal rights,  the Roberts Supreme Court has been busy taking away the hard fought and won rights of decades ago. And now the Supreme Court suggests that if voters in a state election want to do away with an issue of civil rights, they are free to do so by putting it to the vote of its citizens.  Other states will undoubtedly  follow Michigan’s lead, now that they have the go ahead by the Supreme Court.  And other rights are at issue including same sex marriage in the future.  While voters can go to the ballot to eliminate affirmative action in Michigan state college admissions, those who want preferential treatment for children of alumnae in admission can just go to the Board of Trustees.

It’s interesting that the court stated that the issue was not about affirmative action but about whether the states can choose to eliminate affirmative action by the collective vote of its citizens.  Whenever anyone says it’s not about an issue, you can bet it’s everything about the issue.  The court cannot just decide the right of the Michigan voters to eliminate affirmative action without looking at the reasons for affirmative action which is to redress past discrimination.  And for those in this country who think the past history of racism has been eradicated by any act in this country,  they are living on cloud nine. And they need to return to the reality of the U.S.

Justice Sotomayor who once described herself as “ an affirmative action baby” wrote a scathing dissenting opinion which was 58 pages and longer than all of the majority opinions combined.   And for the first time ever, she read her dissent out loud in the court room. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court, I was overcome with emotion.  I knew that it meant someone was once again on the Supreme court who understood what it means to be a minority and was vocal about it.  Preferring to use the term “race sensitive admissions policy” in her dissenting opinion, she explains how the term “affirmative action” has become incorrectly analogous in the minds of some as being unqualified otherwise and based on race alone.

Justice Sotomayor spoke to the democratic process and the Michigan voters’ amendment of their constitution. She amply summed it up by saying that a democratic process still requires checks and balances to ensure that minorities are not oppressed by the process. Voters may make changes to their constitutions and laws but may not deny equal protection of the law to any citizen. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent relies on previous cases that ruled the majority deprives minorities of Equal Protection guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution when its governing has a racial focus targeting a policy or program that  “inures primarily to the benefit of the minority.” When the political process burdens only a racial minority, that should be cause for judicial scrutiny, says Justice Sotomayor in her dissent.

The Supreme Court is supposed to understand injustice and right any wrongs committed by injustices. Yesterday’s opinion showed that the Roberts Court has no understanding of racial injustice and is not willing to correct any wrongs committed by those injustices.  Justice Scalia stated in his concurring opinion that it would be “shameful” for the court to stand in the way of the Michigan voters who chose to nullify affirmative action by constitution amendment.  I think it is shameful that the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to past racial injustices and refused to see past its own political ideology or agenda.

Debbie Hines is a  trial lawyer who is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court. She is seen frequently in the media on air as a frequent legal analyst appearing on BET, Arise TV, C-Span, RT- America, TV One, Fox 5, NBC4 and WUSA 9 , among others.


Chris Brown Trial Drama Continues

April 21st, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »
Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown is never without drama. And so the drama continues in the Chris Brown assault trial saga.  Chris Brown’s bodyguard’s trial ended on Friday. Early on Monday, April 21, 2014 D.C. Superior Court Judge Patricia Wynn found Brown’s bodyguard guilty of assaulting Parker Adams.  The incident stemmed from a October 26, 2013 incident outside the W Hotel.  The victim alleges Brown hit him as he tried to photo bomb a picture with two young women.  Chris Brown denies hitting the victim.

Chris Brown and his bodyguard have said on prior occasions the victim was trying to board Chris Brown’s bus when the bodyguard punched him to protect Chris Brown. A limo driver had a different version which Judge Wynn found credible.  The limo driver testified in court that Brown hit the victim as he attempted to take the picture and then the bodyguard threw punches. Brown’s bodyguard intends to appeal his conviction which could take a year to decide.

Now the legal maneuvering begins on how the Chris Brown trial will play out.  Brown wants his bodyguard to testify in his case. However, the bodyguard’s attorney says he will appeal the bodyguard’s conviction. Chris Hollosy, the bodyguard, will not waive his right to self-incrimination to testify in Chris Brown’s case. Without immunity, anything that the bodyguard says in Chris Brown’s case can be used against him in his case—either sentencing or appeal.   And no one can compel him to testify if he does not receive immunity from the government. Immunity would prevent anything he says from being used against him in his case. The Brown case was delayed until Wednesday morning for the lawyers on both sides to reach an agreement on Hollosy and immunity, if possible.

There’s no guarantee the government will offer Hollosy immunity.  The real problem for Chris Brown is that he is on no bail status.  An appeal could take one year. So Brown and his attorney want Hollosy to testify for Brown but they obviously don’t want Brown to wait a year in jail for his testimony.  It is up to the government as to whether or not they will grant immunity to Hollosy.  Of course, if the bodyguard is not offered immunity and thereby effectively prohibited from testifying on behalf of Chris Brown,  more legal drama could occur.  At the end of the day, this is a trial before a judge.  And the same judge who heard the limo driver and found him credible will be the same judge to hear Chris Brown’s case.  I find it doubtful that she will change her opinion of the limo driver if the bodyguard testifies.

At present, Chris Brown’s trial is scheduled to begin in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM. He is represented by Mark Geragos. We’ll see if it goes off without a glitch. Stay tuned for updates.


Are Oscar Pistorius and Chris Brown One and the Same?

April 20th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »
Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

The Oscar Pistorius trial is on hiatus in South Africa until May 5. Meanwhile the Chris Brown trial starts in a Washington, D.C. courtroom on April 21.  Although both cases are miles apart, in reality, they may be closer than one might think, in terms of anger management and violence. Oscar Pistorius is on trial for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp who in texts professed her fear of him  due to his anger and temper.  And Brown is in DC and faces jail time on his 2009 probation case for assaulting then girlfriend Rihanna, if convicted in the D.C. assault case. These 20 something young men appear notorious now for their tempers.

Chris Brown’s D.C. case stems from an incident on October 26, 2013 when he allegedly assaulted a man who photo bombed a photo that Brown was taking with two women.  The 20 year old victim allegedly sustained a broken nose. In November, Brown was ordered to 90 days at a residential anger management facility stemming from his issues resulting from shattering his mother’s car window with a rock and his probation case.   Before he could complete the 90 days, his anger management stay was halted when he violated the rules of the facility. And now he’s in DC tomorrow facing assault charges before Superior Court Judge Patricia Wynn.  If convicted, he faces a maximum of 180 days and a $1,000 fine.  The alleged victim has also filed a $3 million civil lawsuit.

Chris Brown denies the assault charges. And when he enters D.C. Superior Court, he will be presumed to be innocent.  And the probation case involving Rihanna will have no impact on the trial. Ditto for his incident involving his mother’s vehicle—as long as he does not take the stand  in his defense. If he does take the stand, which is unlikely, the prosecutor could cross examine Brown on his anger issues to show his character.

Brown and Pistorius appear to be consumed with anger issues.  And both need to get help.  For Pistorius, it may too late if he is convicted in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp.  He could face years in jail. For Chris Brown, these cases and incidents may be the tip of the iceberg. Anger management issues are not a laughing matter. And these issues are not to be ignored.  For Brown, I hope that he will get the help that he needs.  Society has a way of looking the other way when it comes to entertainers and celebrities.  Tomorrow as in the past in D.C. and elsewhere, Brown’s fans will flock to court to get a glimpse of him in court.  Chris Brown is not performing in a court room tomorrow. He is appearing as any other defendant accused of a crime. And he should be treated the same way.  And if convicted, I hope that a Judge once again will require that he get anger management help.  Who knows maybe the third time will be the charm.


Oscar Pistorius and His Domestic Violence Valentine’s Day Killing

April 16th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

GunIf it were a movie, the killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius could be called the Valentine’s Day Domestic Violence Killing. The killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius appears to be a classic case of domestic violence.  He stands trial on premeditated murder of her death. By Reeva’s own account in her text messages read into evidence by the prosecutor, their short 3 month relationship had been rocky with outbursts of jealousy and temper tantrums by Oscar.  One text said she was scared of him.  And her Valentine’s Day card professed her love for him.  There was no similar card by him given to her. A love relationship wrought with feelings of fear of a lover coupled with a lover’s jealousy and anger is a recipe for domestic violence and disaster.  The cycle is usually feelings of love, jealousy, anger, rage, abuse and then remorse with the cycle repeating again.  For Reeva, there is no repeat.  Her life ended on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013.

For Oscar Pistorius, there is the ongoing and appearing never ending cycle of remorse.  His crying, sobs, weeping and emotional outbursts in the courtroom are indicative of an abusive lover who now feels remorse for what his violence has caused.  There is more than one sign of domestic violence in this case.  In addition to Reeva’s text telling Oscar that she feared him, her actions of being locked in the bathroom on the night she died show fear.  If you were to ask 1 million women, if any of them lock themselves in the bathroom when staying at their lover’s home, I bet the answer would be zero.  The only logical explanation is that Reeva feared Oscar on February 14th –a day known for love. Neighbors heard arguments earlier in the evening  before the killing occurred. Others heard shots followed by a woman’s screams and followed by more gun shots.  Logically, if true, it shows that Oscar Pistorius knew his intended target—Reeva, was in the bathroom.

The whole defense seems so bizarre that Pistorius thought an intruder was hiding in the bathroom.  Then again, the arguments and reasoning by an abusive lover or spouse never seem to make sense.  It is reported by the World Health Organization that anywhere between 40% of women killed  worldwide are killed by their loved ones as a result of domestic violence. According to World Bank data, women worldwide between the ages of 15-44 are more likely to be a victim of rape and domestic violence than cancer, motor accidents or war. A U.S. government study shows that 1 in 4 women will be the victim of domestic violence by a boyfriend or husband. Violence is defined as pushing, punching, hitting, slapping   or attacking with a weapon.    These startling facts are also reported in the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s  In-depth Study on Violence Against Women, 2006.  None of these facts will bring back Reeva Steenkamp.   Awareness may help to save the lives of other women in similar situations.

In an age, where women who do report sexual violence or abuse are treated less as a victim and more as the reason for the problem, makes it difficult for many women to come forward and report domestic violence.  Yet, somehow the wash, rinse, repeat domestic violence cycle of love, hate, anger, abuse and remorse must end.  If not, there will be many more Reeva Steenkamps who die too early at the hands of the one they profess to love.


Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who represents victims of domestic violence and prosecuted defendants who commit domestic violence.  She is a Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center contributor.

Oscar Pistorius Trial Winding Down

April 15th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

GunThe Oscar Pistorius trial is winding down in day 23 with Pistorius being grilled by the prosecutor. Unfortunately for Pistorius, the trial is taking a twist and turn for the worse for him. It first started with him crying, vomiting and other emotional outcries in  court earlier in the trial.  He composed himself enough to take the witness stand in his own defense.  The facts of the case are quite simple and yet emotional.  Pistorius shot 4 shots through a closed and locked bathroom on the early morning hours of February 14 thinking an intruder had come into the house, while he and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp were sleeping.  The shots killed Reeva Steenkamp.  Key witnesses for the prosecution stated they heard screaming and arguing earlier in the evening, coming from Pistorius’ home.  Others testified they heard one shot, a pause and then a woman scream followed by other shots.  Pistorius is sticking with his story that his fear caused him  to get up and reach for his gun and start firing—at unknown intruders, through the closed and locked bathroom door.


There are so many holes in Pistorius’ defense.  Most people can see right through them.  And if this were not a real murder case, it would be laughable. But it is not laughing matter when someone’s life is taken.  Fear can cause one to do irrational things.  And if Pistorius was alone in the house, the shooting at a closed door in the middle of the night after hearing noises would make better sense.  It is far too irrational to think that he was protecting Reeva and then didn’t bother to tell her to hide for fear of intruders in the house.  It is even more irrational to think that an intruder would hide or use the bathroom while burglarizing it.


Ironically Reeva Steenkamp may be her best witness.  On prior occasions, she text Oscar about his jealousy.  Apparently, according to text messages, there were earlier arguments between the two due to Oscar’s jealousy. And those text messages were read into evidence. Her words chillingly fit the description of what probably happened. In her texts, she said that he scared her due to his jealousy  and emotional temper outbursts.  And it is more likely that something caused him to become jealous or emotional on the early morning hours of February 14.  The more believable version is Reeva retreated and locked herself in the bathroom following one of those heated moments.  This time, Oscar did not calm down. Instead his anger led him to shoot through a door, killing Reeva. While this is theory, judges and juries are allowed to use their common sense. And the one thing that is troubling  that can’t be explained by Oscar is why the bathroom door was locked in the home of Reeva’s lover.  A locked door clearly infers that Reeva did not want Oscar to enter.

This case has domestic violence written all over it.  And Oscar’s emotional outbursts, tears, vomiting and crying in court are reminders of domestic abusers who always feel sorry after an abusive incident.  I believe Oscar Pistorious feels remorse for his killing of Reeva.  Most domestic abusers always say they feel remorse after an outbreak of violence. And then the pattern repeats.

For Reeva, the likely volatile pattern unfortunately ended on February 14.  On a day proclaimed for lovers, Valentine’s Day,  Reeva’s lover shot and killed her.  And now he’s sorry. That won’t bring Reeva back to life.  But her text words along with the evidence may just help prove her lover guilty of her murder.

Why Women Make Less Than Men in 2014

April 7th, 2014 | Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

BarbaraMikulsiPaycheckFairnessNearly all women in almost every line of work are paid less than a man including women who have attended universities and colleges, attained advanced degrees and acquired excellent job experience, according to recent research analyzed by the Association of American University Women (“AAUW”).  And in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education.  Often times, women do not know they are paid less than their male counterparts.  That’s why the Paycheck Fairness Act 2014 needs to pass to close loopholes in existing laws and make it easier for all women to know and inquire about salary information without retaliation.  The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions  held a full hearing on it on April 1, 2014. And the  Paycheck Fairness Act is not being pushed for a show vote by Democratic Senate leaders.


Equal pay for women should not be a political issue.  It should be a reality for all women. Yet, in 2014 on average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job. And Latina women come in last, making only 54 cents to every dollar a man earns. African American women make 64 cents.  Opponents of the gender pay gap cite many reasons why women may earn less than a man for the same position, including that many women take disproportionately lesser paying jobs in female dominated fields. That argument does not explain why most women in male dominated professions still earn less than a man for doing the same work, according to the Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.

In the field of law, the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Task Force on Gender Equity determined that the legal profession is subject to its own gender inequality in pay.  Former ABA President Laurel Bellows stated in addressing the issue:

“Female lawyers are not immune to pay disparities. Many of us have watched as male colleagues have advanced their careers and earnings in ways that we have been denied because of nothing more than implicit bias. Female equity partners in the 200 largest firms, who do comparable work to men, earn 89 percent of the compensation of their male peers.”


In the April, 2014 print edition of Essence Magazine, I tell my personal story of how, I was offered and paid less annually for an attorney position, at a now defunct law firm, than a male co-worker and friend who had declined the job. When my co-worker turned down the offer, he told me about the open position including his salary offer. I was sure I would receive the same offer because if anything my credentials, experience and education were superior to his resume.  To my surprise, he was offered $30,000 more than what they offered to me, a woman of color, for the same job. The difference of my friend being a white man made all the difference.  I believe the firm provided me a lower salary offer because of what former ABA President Laurel Bellows calls “implicit bias.” And I am also sure they were not aware that my friend had told me of his salary offer.  And that’s the case often with the gender pay gap.  Women don’t usually know other co-workers’ salaries. That would be made easier with the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Earning less on a job follows women to other jobs.  It’s not like you can tell your next employer that you should be paid, in my case, a minimum of $30,000 more because that’s what you lost on your last job every year. And so, over years the amount adds up as to what the pay should have been until the point where you cannot make up the difference.  The pay gap costs a woman at least $400,000 over the course of their work life, according to AAUW Executive Director and CEO Linda D. Hallman, CAE.

Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 8, the symbolic day on which a woman must work in 2014 to catch up to a man’s wages earned in 2013.  And this year, in spite of the gridlock in Congress, President Obama intends to sign an executive order on Equal Pay Day  which will forbid federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay.  And so once again the arguments on the gender pay gap will heat up.  Unfortunately, the paychecks for many women still remain the same.


Note:  This article first appeared in part in the Huffington Post on March 28, 2014.


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