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LEGAL SPEAKS BLOG

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.


Celebrating Presidents Day with a Fake President in Office

February 19th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

With everything going on with the Russian interference with our November, 2016 presidential election, some question the legitimacy of the current person holding the title and office of president.  On Friday, indictments were handed down against Russian individuals and entities for engaging in unlawful activities to undermine the 2016 election and to favor Donald Trump.  It begs the question that if a person holding the office of president won the office through the influence by the Russians, is President’s day still a legitimate holiday in 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018 is President’s day.  Most local, state and federal offices are closed.  President’s day is celebrated on the third Monday of February.  When I was in school, it was celebrated as Washington’s birthday in honor of our first president.  It was changed throughout time to celebrate Presidents Washington and Lincoln and then all presidents including the present president in office.

If Robert Mueller’s investigation determines that Donald Trump’s campaign engaged in collusion or in overt activity with the Russians to undermine our election process in November, 2016, then the person presently holding the office is a sham or a fake.  Even with the lack of any present indictments showing a combined effort by the Trump campaign to engage in a conspiracy with a foreign adversary, this so-called president has already shown an unwillingness to actually occupy the office.

Instead of bringing the country together, Trump has consistently engaged in a pattern and practice of dividing the country.  It’s like it’s him and his staunch supporters and the rest of the country in a battle.  When opportunities arise to console and comfort a grieving country, he takes every opportunity to further ignite divisive sparks.   Charlottesville, VA showed the president’s true colors in supporting the Neo-Nazi’s during the summer rally where one individual was killed.  And this past weekend, after visiting first responders in Parkland, FL, he headed to a party at his nearby Florida resort, in the wake of 17 persons killed at Douglas High school.

Trump’s attacks on women and support of men who are known sexual and domestic abusers further shows his division among gender.  And then there’s the race divide with Trump going against the NFL players’ right to silently protest the police brutality against blacks. He forcefully spoke against the players’ constitutional rights to address racism.  And many whites sided with the president and missed the point of the protests.  And Trump rarely misses an opportunity to attack Hispanics, Muslims and African Americans but often remains neutral in criminal actions by whites such as the Las Vegas killer and Charlottesville rally of KKK and white supremacists.

While there is no job description for the office of president, it appears that at a minimum, a president should unite the American people—or at least make genuine efforts to do so.  The Trump administrations does the exact opposite.  Sowing seeds of division may win votes with the weak Trump base.  However, it undermines the office of the president and disserves the e American people.

 

With possible further indictments in the wing on the Trump campaign and the president’s non-presidential actions in year one, do we really have reason to celebrate President’s day this year? I suggest we use President’s day 2018 to make a donation online to an organization that is upholding the constitution and democracy.  We don’t appear to have a president that honors either one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal and political commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.


Why is it Easier to Kill Kids than Change Gun Laws?

February 17th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

assaultweapons (1)Last Wednesday as I sat in a hospital family waiting room awaiting the surgical outcome for my brother, a breaking news alert flashed across the TV screen. Another school shooting had occurred.  This time the shooter took aim in Parkland, Florida at Douglas High school-killing 17 persons including students, one teacher, wrestling coach and football coach.  At first, I couldn’t bear to watch under my present circumstances at the time. As the day ended and the next day arrived, I saw students speaking out on TV about the shooting and their fervent plea for changes to our gun laws.

Having once debated  former NRA president David Keene on gun rights, I know the NRA opposes any restrictions which take away gun rights.    However, I also know we need to prioritize life over death; people over profits; actions over silence; laws over prayers and kids over guns. While the second amendment grants the rights to bear arms, the Declaration of Independence states we are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words suggest at a minimum that these are the values that our society holds dear.  Unequivocally we honor and value life over death in all circumstances except when it comes to demands of the NRA and the acquiescence of many lawmakers who accept their donations and then do their bidding.

 

We turn our attention to the shooters and look for their pattern.  We go to great lengths to see patterns and ways to have prevented mass shootings like Douglas.  We say prayers and thoughts for the victims when we need action and prevention.   Last year was called the deadliest year in mass shooting. 2018 is off to a running start to take the lead.  In 1999, the year of Columbine shooting at a Colorado high school, 12 students and one teacher were shot. By 2017, Columbine no longer makes the list for the top ten mass shootings.

As we look for patterns of these mass shooters, we overlook the one common thread.  We want to blame mass shootings on Muslims, the mentally ill and persons with mental health issues. While mental health issues may be one component of some mass shootings, the Trump administration blocked efforts by the Social Security Administration from supplying names of mentally impaired receiving benefits to the national gun database.  The sole culprit in all mass shootings are guns. Many involve assault type weapons that can execute a multitude of victims at a time.  Assault weapons are weapons of war. They should be banned for recreational use.  And assault weapons account for a majority of mass shootings. Assault weapons are the common denominator  in mass shootings.   From 1982 to 2012,  half of all mass shooters used assault weapons, high capacity magazines or both.

 

Until we pass gun legislation that bans weapons that allows a shooter to fire a large number of bullets without reloading, we will continue to see mass shootings.  It seems like a no brainer to value our children over guns.  In our morally bankrupt society, guns are valued over the lives of children and everyone else.

In November, 2018, we have an opportunity to elect lawmakers who will address changing gun laws.  While we cannot change the hearts of those opposed to sensible gun laws, we can change those lawmakers from representing our children’s lives.  Our children’s lives are more important than guns.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer,  legal/political commentator and former Baltimore City prosecutor.


Trump’s Wins are Major Losses for the U.S.

February 4th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

When Donald Trump campaigned in 2016, he stated that he planned to win on every single issue for Americans.  And one year after taking office, Trump has won hands down on every single issue that seeks to divide rather than unite us as a country and lower our standing in the world.

Trump got off to a running start on January 27, 2017 by hastily implementing a Muslim travel ban on 7 Muslim countries.  The ban barred citizens of the Muslim countries from entering the U.S. After a federal appeals court struck down the first ban, a second ban ensued.  Later after litigation, a third ban was enacted. On December 4, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed a third version of the travel plan to go into effect banning individuals from eight Muslim countries.   Citizens from the effected countries will not be able to immigrate, work, study or vacation in the U.S. while the ban is in effect. Litigation is still ongoing.

The propaganda of “America First” touted by Trump has resulted in a loss of travel business and jobs in the travel industry. An analysis shows that the travel ban could cost $18 billion dollars in U.S. tourism over two years.  In just the first week after the travel ban, business travelers canceled $185 million in travel bookings.

By January, 2018, Trump continued his attacks on other non-white countries by calling Haiti and all countries in Africa “shithole countries” in decrying against immigration from these countries.  The derogatory remarks further show the open bigotry advance by Trump.

On May 31, 2017, Trump declared that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. One hundred and ninety-five countries support the agreement. Only Syria and Nicaragua didn’t join—and now the U.S exited. The purpose of the Paris Climate Accord was to help prevent further global warming and to use clean energy.  Most of Trump’s base and likely Trump, himself, do not believe in the science of global warming. The Trump administration’s policies on world issues have diminished the U.S. in the eyes of the world and its standing among most countries, except Russia.

On August 12, 2017, hundreds of white supremacists, Klu Klux Klan members and Nazi’s marched at a rally in Charlottesville, VA.  The rally resulted in the death of one woman as a car plowed through peaceful anti-Nazi protestors and injured 35 other individuals.  Trump instead of denouncing the bigotry, racism and divisiveness of the rally, defended the white supremacists.  Trump stated there were “very fine people” on both sides.

White supremacists have existed throughout our country’s history.  Trump has allowed a renewed platform for their bigotry and hatred. According to research by the Anti- Defamation League, white supremacy propaganda has increased by almost 300% at college campuses –up from 2016.

In the fall with the beginning of NFL season, Trump weighed in on the protests by NFL players on police brutality and mistreatment against African Americans.  The protests began in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick.  By 2017, some NFL players began kneeling during the national anthem in silent protest.  Trump referred to Kaepernick and others as “sons of bitches” in defiance of players’ first amendment rights.  During his State of the Union address, Trump again stressed the importance of standing during the national anthem.  He never addressed the underlying reasons for the protests—police brutality against Blacks and Black mistreatment in the criminal justice system.

 

Just in time for Christmas, Trump gave the best winning Christmas gift to the rich— an overhaul of the tax code resulting in increased wealth for the wealthy. On the tax increase, Congressman Paul Ryan boastfully stated on Twitter on February 3, 2018 that the tax increase resulted in one high school secretary to receive an additional $1.50 per week—as if that was something to be boastful about.

Previously Trump and the GOP—tried to repeal and “replace” Obamacare on at least two occasions. With the tax law, Trump ended up settling for repealing the individual mandate requirement to purchase health insurance—all but insuring that insurance premiums will soar in 2019.

Some other wins for Trump are appointments to lead federal agencies whose ideology are in direct conflict with the agencies they lead, nominating federal judges for a lifetime appointment who have little or no trial experience, casting doubt on our system of checks and balances otherwise known as the rule of law and his relentless attack on the media and journalists except Fox News —referring to the media as “fake news”.

 

Assuming if Trump is impeached, indicted or otherwise put out of office before 2020, he will still be winning in 2020 and thereafter. The dismantling of our norms, distrust of our media, loss of world standing and divisiveness caused by Trump’s first year in office will likely last for decades—long after 2020.   Trump’s wins are our losses as a society.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political commentator and former prosecutor.


Trump’s Days are Dwindling Down

November 1st, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC. #Trump2016

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

 

Some Republicans now state that Donald Trump may not seek re-election. If the unsealed indictments of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and guilty plea agreement of George Papadopoulos are any indication of things to come, Trump may not last the entire first term. The much anticipated hashtag of #MuellerMonday revealed a 31 page, 11 count indictment against Manafort and co-defendant Gates’ indictments for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent. Allegations revealed $75 million held in offshore account by Manafort resulting in his use to purchase lavish million-dollar homes, secure loans, purchase a lavish lifestyle of a million-dollar wardrobe in an alleged scheme to evade reporting of income and payment of taxes. It is a classic money laundering scheme as alleged.

After turning themselves in, Manafort and Gates respectively were released on $10 million and $5 million bail, ordered held on house arrest, only to leave for lawyer, doctor and court appearances and ordered to turn in their passports. NPR reported after reviewing unsealed court documents that Manafort had three passports and traveled with aliases. For a man alleged to be worth over $75 million, perhaps $10 million in bail was low. And if the government proves its case, all of the alleged ill-gotten gains will be turned over to the government. Usually, white collar defendants are released on their own recognizance—only having to report to pre-trial. The trial may not occur for over a year due to the nature of the charges.

The real coup of Mueller was the unsealing of the indictment and guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, an alleged Trump campaign foreign policy advisor. Papadopoulos pled guilty to one count of making a false statement. It was the best kept secret in a town that is not known for secrets. According to court papers, Papadopoulos is a cooperating defendant—meaning he is likely wearing a wire to gain and or corroborate information.

The Trump administration denies having knowledge of him, except to say Papadopoulos was a volunteer. The Internet is not as forgetful. In March, 2016, Trump tweeted an Instagram photo of Sessions and Papadopoulos at a meeting with Trump and a few others present. Trump titled it  “national security meeting”—with Papadopoulos present seated two seats to the left of Jeff Sessions.  Trump and Sessions are at the heads of the  table shown in the Instagram photo.

Today, Trump says Papadopoulos was a low level volunteer. Court papers allege a meeting was held in March, 2016 on seeking assistance from Russia on dirt on Clinton, in the campaign. In addition to Trump, Attorney General Sessions may now be in legal hot water. Of course, both will continue to deny involvement—and attribute everything to fake news.

Special Prosecutor Mueller, a former George W. Bush FBI director appointee, has been diligently working on the Trump Russian investigation for months now. By all legal accounts, he is methodically investigating the involvement of Russia into our 2016 presidential election. And the end game for Trump may likely be death by Mueller, whether by indictment, impeachment, resignation or 25th amendment. But mark my words, Trump’s days are numbered.

Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC. #Trump2016

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer who represents white collar defendants and a former Baltimore prosecutor.


Harvey Weinstein is Everywhere

October 16th, 2017 | Tags: , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

gamma_2From Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump to Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, men like Harvey Weinstein are in every professional. While the recent focus has been on prominent men in the media and politics, the truth of the matter is powerful men who seek to use women as sexual objects for their own power perks have existed since the beginning of time. And the crime of rape has also existed since the before the beginning of this country. As a lawyer, I have encountered my own Harvey Weinstein.

There are powerful men who view women as toys for their own sexual satisfaction. And in many professions, the practice is pervasive, in all areas. While the encounter may last only a few minutes, in some instances, for women, the stigma and emotional trauma may last a lifetime. While women seek to advance in their careers on their professional merits, often times, some powerful men have other misogynist ideas in mind which may make or break a woman’s career or her self-esteem.

I spoke recently to a lawyer who represents companies in sexual assault and other discrimination cases. She confirmed that the practice of powerful men who want women to pay to play is in every profession from law, business, entertainment, politics, tech and even the medical profession. And although the Harvey Weinstein defense is that it was a different culture earlier than it is now, that is not true. Sexual predators, perverts and rapists existed in the early Weinstein days and now. And the fact that most of these men can get away with decades of wrongful sexual allegations shows the power of silence.

In 16 states, the statute of limitations has changed to no statute of limitations. This means that there is no longer a year limit in which to file a claim in these states. This is why New York and Los Angeles are investigating alleged claims against Weinstein. But for many women, the harm has been already done and some may still prefer to stay silent.

In these misogynist cultures, it is incumbent upon other men to speak up, in defense of women who are victimized. In the Weinstein case, there were men who knew of his sexual transgressions. According to accounts, at least several women allegedly confided in male colleagues. If the all -male board had been advised of the alleged Weinstein sexual predator actions, then perhaps some women may have been spared his advances.

Many times, women may not want to speak up. Silence is the protector of male sexual predators. I encourage men to become more actively involved in speaking out against these sexual transgressions by their male colleagues, instead of staying silent on the sidelines.

For further commentary on the subject, I participated in a lively panel discussion with anchor Bruce Johnson.


What if the Las Vegas Killer was Black, Muslim or God Forbid Both

October 4th, 2017 | Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

las-vegas-The Las Vegas mass shooting and killing by Stephen Paddock resulting in 58 deaths and hundreds of injured individuals is a horrific event in our history.  The media’s focus on the motive of the killer and the whitewashing of Paddock committing the crime loses the point.  There are no good motives for killing anyone—let alone over 50 persons.  Any killer who kills innocent persons while perched from a high-rise luxury hotel shooting them down as if he were playing a video game, is not a good person. Much of the media has gone out of the way to paint Paddock as a regular white guy.  I can’t but help to think how the media would have addressed the killer if he or she were Black, Muslim or both.

Every possible good trait known about Paddock has been mentioned.   From being prescribed Valium to being a high stakes gambler and an apparently wealthy individual with a girlfriend, the media has struggled to make sense out of his killing rage.  Contrasting the depictions of a good white male figure with how the media describes Black or Muslim killers and victims makes me what to scream out loud.

Assumptions of a bad actor are the routine media response when describing even Black victims, particularly when shot and killed by whites.  Trayvon Martin was said to be “up to no good;” Ditto for Michael Brown who was shot and killed in Ferguson.  The media went out of its way to find anything bad associated with Michael Brown. Media accused Brown of a robbery before police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The alleged robbery had nothing to do with Darren Wilson shooting Brown.  Freddie Gray was portrayed as a criminal instead of the six officers who were on trial for his murder.  Eric Garner was portrayed as a criminal selling loose cigarettes illegally instead of a victim gasping for air while being unlawfully choked to death.

And for Muslims who are involved in killings, there is never any semblance of the media looking into the individual’s life for anything good.  Media almost always looks for everything that a Muslim did wrong, any association with ISIS and coming to this country illegally, if they immigrated here.

But when the white mainstream media looks at a white guy killer, like Paddock, they see themselves and wonder how it could happen.   As a former prosecutor, there is never a good reason for a murder or why someone kills and plans a vicious attack on hundreds of innocent individuals.  So, please stop trying to find out why or how a good white guy went bad.  Or in the reverse, look for the same good traits when reporting about Black and Muslim victims and killers.  It is a two-way street—if you care to look both ways.

 

And while you’re looking down the two-way black and white street, make sure that Black history is not erased in the coverage.  First, the killing of 58 persons in Las Vegas was not the largest mass killing in modern U. S. history—as inaccurately rolled on many network chyrons and stated by anchors.   The largest U.S. killing occurred on the early morning hours of June 1, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  White Tulsa police officers deputized other whites to attack innocent Blacks for what they believed was an attack on a white woman by a black man. In the vicious killing, burning and raping that followed of an entire town of 10,000 Blacks, 300 Black persons were killed; 4000 were captured and placed in jail and thousands more left and never returned.  The area was known as the “Negro Wall Street” in 1921 due to wealthy Blacks residing there. And while some may ask, why is this important at a time like the Vegas shooting?  It is always important to never forget history—and particularly to refrain from erasing Black history.

And lastly let’s remember that all Black is not bad and all white is not good.   And Stephen Paddock was not good—at all.  He was pure evil.  He was a domestic terrorist. So please let’s stop trying to make him out to be a very good white guy gone bad.  He was rotten to the core—his white skin and all.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.  She frequently appears on MSNBC, CBS News, PBS, Fox 5 DC and Al Jazeera.  Her opinion articles appear in the Washington Post Huffington Post and Baltimore Sun.

 


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