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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.


Lynching Statement by GOP Senator is no Laughing Matter

November 12th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Everyday bold racist statements emerge in the media. A recent appalling racist statement was made by Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. She praised support for someone by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” As an African American who is a descendant of slaves, I can never get used to the bigoted statements and bigotry in the U.S.  In response, Hyde-Smith says “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” She’s running in a run-off election against Mike Epsy, an African American and former Congressman.

I don’t know what Hyde-Smith thinks about a public lynching. But I can tell her that it’s no joking matter—now or never. It is a negative part of U.S. history.   Billy Holliday sang Strange Fruit in which the lyrics describe lynching of Blacks in the south. Those words in part were:

“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”

“Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh”

During the 1800’s and well into the 1900’s lynching of Blacks in the south and beyond was almost like a national past time. The forms of lynching varied from hanging, burning, tarring or splitting with a hatchet, to name a few. The purpose was to punish and terrorize African Americans. African Americans were lynched due to hatred by whites and a distorted fear of Blacks refusing to stay in their place.

Senator Hyde-Smith is consciously using her hanging analogy to remind racist white supporters that Espy is not in his place. The lynching of community leaders were most common in the period of 1915 and 1940 to remind Blacks to stay in their place—of below, beneath, behind and after white Americans. That is the essence of white supremacy.

Lynchings often escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community in places such as Mississippi. The Equal Justice Initiative researched and found 4084 racial terror lynchings in 12 southern states and 300 in other states, including California from the period between 1877-1950. Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings. Counties in Mississippi were sites of mass killings of African Americans in single-incident violence.

Senator Hyde-Smith’s racist remarks harkens back to a time in history when lynchings were mainstream and whites wanted a front row view just to see a Black person lynched. In places like Mississippi, during the height of lynching, public lynchings often held white spectators of 500-1000 and sometimes upwards of 2,000 or more. Hyde-Smith is saying if she lived during this time that she would have been on the front row.

During the high period of lynchings in the U.S., many were carnival-like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. This is what Hyde-Smith wanted to watch. And during the height of lynching in the U.S., spectators watching included elected officials and prominent citizens while white press coverage regularly a lynching. No one was brought to justice for a public hanging of a Black person.

These killings were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a clear message that African Americans were less than human. The message behind Hyde-Smith’s statement is clear and resonates with many whites today. These bold racist statements have no place in politics or anywhere else in the U.S. Ever since the election of Trump, many white persons feel emboldened to publicly make such racist comments.

On November 27, 2018 Mississippians should send a clear message to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. The message to Hyde-Smith should be the joke is on her by voting her out of office.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer, legal and political commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.


Gun Shootings Require Action From Lawmakers–Not Just Prayers

November 7th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Two days after the midterm elections, I woke up to the news that another mass shooting occurred–this time in a supposedly safe suburban community outside of Los Angeles.  A white man opened fire in a college bar and grill restaurant killing 12 persons, including a 29 year police veteran.

On Saturday, November 3, I woke up to the news that a gun shooter killed two persons in a yoga class and wounded several others. My initial thought was we can’t even peacefully pray, meditate or practice yoga or dance in this country without the fear of being gunned down. It was just the previous week that I felt the pain of gun violence at a Pittsburgh synagogue killing seven Jewish persons. And yet, many of our powerful lawmakers act powerless in the face of tragedy.  We need more than just thoughts and prayers in these tragedies from our lawmakers.

Tragedy is what propelled Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate, to run for office. McBath appears headed to Congress from Georgia’s 6th district, once held by Newt Grinch. McBath fueled her grief over the death of her son, Jordan Davis, to running for office to end gun violence. Davis was shot down because the white killer acted out his rage against a car of African American teenagers.

I do believe one person can make a difference. And there must be a counter position to that of Donald Trump. Trump thinks that putting guns and armed individuals inside every building in America will solve the problem. A security guard and police deputy entered the shooting today.  Blaming the victims for not having armed guards in their places of worship, schools, malls and everywhere across the country is not the answer. Having more guns is not the solution to the problem. Guns in the hands of more individuals will only cause more deaths. There is a reason why many police departments across the country have gun turn in days where persons can turn in guns to the authorities without any hassle. Many law enforcement leaders know less guns on the streets equal less lives being taken.

Trump also wants Americans to accept that gun violence is a way of life that we must accept. We can’t do anything about death. We all will die. We must accept death. We can do something about gun violence.

Most people want a cure to cancer, Alzheimer’s and most other illness that often take the lives of our loved ones. We accept that cures for terrible diseases are within our reach. Gun violence is a malignancy that is affecting our way of life. And unlike cancer and other terminal diseases, there are no attempts for gun legislative cures being sought. Other countries have found a solution to the problem. Yet, “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump and most of the Republican party have thrown in the towel on fixing senseless gun violence.

Let me give our leaders and future leaders some advice. All is not lost. As a country, we can’t give up or give in to gun violence. We are a country of fixing problems. That’s what will make America great—not succumbing to apathy to gun violence and deaths from it.
First, we can take a lead from other countries where gun violence is relatively low. We can also make it difficult to quickly obtain a gun permit; increase the age requirement; and require more lengthy background checks to investigate a person’s mental stability . The assault weapons ban must be renewed outlawing those military style weapons and high capacity magazines whose sole purpose is to shoot multiple persons at a time—not intended for hunting or sports. In 2017, that bill was voted down.

Just as all cancers are not alike and require different cures, not all gun killings are alike. And there must be different legislative cures for the differences in gun violence. Mass shootings often occur with military style guns that can kill and injure many persons at a firing.

We can also vote in those politicians, like McBath, who have a passion to fix the gun violence plague. After all, any one of us might be the next victim of gun violence. The life you save may be your own.

UPDATE:  15 House Republicans with an “A” rating by the NRA lost in the midterm elections. They were replaced by Democrats who received a “F” rating by the NRA.  Lucy McBath will be joined by others in a quest to legislate for gun control to save lives.

Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.


Why a Decades Ago Attempted Rape Should Derail Kavanaugh

September 17th, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
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Judge Brett Kavanaugh was on to smooth sailing to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court before Professor Ford came forward with allegations of an attempted rape by Kavanaugh when he was 17. Ford at age 15 attended a party where Kavanaugh attempted to rape her on a bed and in the process placed a pillow over her head to prevent her from screaming. Now years later, Ford is scheduled to testify publicly about these allegations.

As I appeared on DC Fox 5 this evening, I was asked why would Professor Ford come forward so many years later. Most women, including Ford would prefer to forget the details of a sexual assault. However, the reality is most can never forget the assault or in Ford’s case an attempted rape.

While I cannot speak for Ford, she likely came forward now because she has a civic or moral duty to convey significant information about Kavanaugh’s character and fitness to serve on the highest court. And it doesn’t matter that the incident took place decades ago. No one should get a pass for attempted rape. And the issue should not be lightly dismissed due to the length of time. What should be judged is substance over timing.

Fox 5 also asked how me does one decide a “he said, she said” controversy. Normally, in a sexual assault case, it is viewed as he said she’s lying and that’s the end of it. But the MeToo movement is slowly changing all of the previous perceptions. A funny thing has happened. Women are now being believed. But the stakes are high here. So Professor Ford took a lie detector test given by a former FBI agent. Even with lie detector test, it may not be enough.

The determination of what will happen depends on how well Prof. Ford testifies; how believable she appears; Most will need to judge if there is any ulterior motive or if anyone has anything to gain by testifying. In this instance, Prof. Ford has everything to lose and nothing to gain. And if there is any doubt, folks should read up on what happened to Prof. Anita Hill after she testified. She almost lost everything in her academic career. Kavanaugh has everything to gain—a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
The parallels to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas are misplaced. Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in the work place. Professor Ford accuses Kavanaugh of a serious crime—-attempted rape. And those allegations deserve a serious look at Kavanaugh’s past. The FBI should be investigating him to locate persons who may have further information about the party, the judge and the professor.

Kavanaugh’s vote should be delayed until a full and complete investigation of these serious allegations. With the Republicans, that is not likely to occur. They want to ram Kavanaugh through the process before the midterms. What may occur is the Senate Judiciary committee may vote against a full Senate vote after hearing the testimony. There are 21 senators on the Senate Judiciary committee. 11 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats.

Most Republicans knew about Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial taste for women. That’s why he was selected in the first place—to turn back the hands of time for women; to vote against abortion rights. And now what stands between him and a lifetime appointment is a courageous woman. And her life will never be the same for her act of courage. All women’s lives will never be the same if Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice.

Kavanaugh must be blocked at all costs. The stakes are too high for an alleged rapist to sit for a lifetime on the Supreme Court. We are better than this.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer, former prosecutor and member of the Supreme Court bar.


Why I Will Never Forget 9/11

September 11th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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Seventeen years ago, the worst attack on American soil occurred with terrorists hijacking four planes resulting in the loss of almost 3,000 lives and additionally more than 6,000 injured in New York City at the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA. Everyone who was living at the time and old enough to remember, recalls what they were doing at those moments. And we must never forget the loss of lives and the way our society has changed forever as a direct result of the terrorist assault on American soil. Many others died later from illnesses due to the exposure to the dust in the attacks. Those who lost their lives were Americans and others from 90 countries.

At the time of the attacks, I lived on Capitol Hill and worked nearby in downtown Washington, D.C. I was rushing late for a deposition to be held at my office. When I arrived to the office, in hurry mode, I ordered the court reporter to go to the conference room and told my client I would be with her shortly. I failed to notice the eerie silence in the office until my office colleague brought me in to watch the breaking news on the office TV. The first World Trade Center tower had been hit and was engulfed in flames. As I sat in fear and horror, I watched in real time as the other attacks unfolded.
We were told to evacuate our office building after the plane hit the Pentagon. Most folks did not return to their office and went home—which took hours.

Living 8 blocks from the Capitol, I was scared to go home for fear that the Capitol might be hit. Instead I went to a college friend’s house overnight in nearby Silver Spring, MD which like D.C. was devoid of any people on the street. I was still reluctant to go home afterwards. I knew a few folks who were stranded in towns across the country when their planes were ordered to land.

For me and many others, it brought about the loss of innocence—that living in America was somehow a safe -haven –at least from terrorist activities. It broke the naiveté that modern-day terrorist attacks only occur abroad—never here. Watching Pres. George W. Bush, speaking on behalf of all Americans, brought a sense of unity. It was heart warming to see our allies abroad support us and stand beside us. For an entire week, I was glued to the TV—hanging on to every known fact.

What I will always remember about 911 is that our freedoms and way of life cannot be taken for granted. For many long weeks later, I saw police with rifles, military style trucks and tanks on Capitol Hill. It was a surreal scene like something in a movie—except it was real. Our way of life from boarding airplanes, entering government buildings to getting a driver’s license changed-forever.

On this 9/11 anniversary, we as Americans must remember that our U.S. allies stood with us and for us. And we must never forget that we are a global society. The isolationist policy today by the Trump administration is a flawed one which could prove fatal to us. And 911 proves that we must never forget the tragedy of loss of life and the global support of our world neighbors. Never forget.

Washington, D. C. based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.


Trump and Implications of Cohen and Manafort Convictions

August 29th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Robert Mueller and his team of special prosecutors had a great week with the convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.  As soon as the jury went out to deliberate, Manafort and his lawyers attempted to reach a deal for Manafort. Presently, they were unsucessful. The second trial with Manafort begins September 24, 2018.  And while neither man has been sentenced, there are still many legal implications for Trump with his lawyer of over 12 years and his campaign chairman being convicted.  While the convictions do not involve the Russian collusion or meddling in our election, they are a tipping point to what lies ahead for Donald Trump.

Last week, I discussed the Trump, Cohen and Manafort convictions on CGTN-America TV. Watch here:

 

 


Federal Judges Show Human Side: A Tale of Two Judges

August 9th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Court watchers and other interested persons are getting a close look inside a Virginia federal court room on how judges act.  Judge T. S. Ellis, III presiding over the Paul Manafort trial has a style all his own. He has been testy with the prosecution lawyers since day one. Real court drama is often stranger than fiction.  Judges are human—as Judge Ellis stated on Thursday “this robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.”  Although, it appears as if the prosecution team and Judge Ellis are in a constant dog fight.  Across the river in Washington, D.C. federal district Judge Emmet Sullivan is trying a different type of case.

Judges’ personalities, quirks, demeanors, tempers, court room styles vary from as many ways as there are judges. Judge Ellis appears to currently focus his harsh attention and comments on the prosecution lawyers.  He accused the prosecution team of crying or at least having water in their eyes, frowning, looking down (presumably at notes) and taking too long with their case presentation.  At times, it appears as if Judge Ellis is against the prosecution.  Most of the criticism has occurred out of the presence of the jury.  With the jury, the judge has appeared jovial making jokes about lunch and other court room matters.

On Wednesday, the judge rebuked the prosecution in front of the jury for allowing an IRS expert witness to remain in the court room for the entire length of the trial.  Usually witnesses and potential witnesses are sequestered which means they must remain outside of the court room until called or excused.   By Thursday, the prosecutors had filed a complaint against the judge for his failure to recall that he granted prior permission for the IRS witness to remain. And in a fashion unlikely of many judges, Judge Ellis admitted to the jury that he made a mistake—stating he is human.  No one knows what effect this mistake may have on the jury. Once impressions are made of attorneys, it may be difficult for a juror to totally disregard what caused the impression—even if asked to do so. In other words, once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to put it back in.

 

In another federal court room today in Washington, D.C. another federal judge is presiding over a government case.  In an immigration asylum case presided over by Judge Emmet Sullivan, some bold statements were also made against the government. Upon learning that the government had violated an agreement, Judge Sullivan made one of the boldest orders that I ever recall a judge making.   Enraged over the government’s failure to follow an earlier commitment to refrain from deporting the plaintiffs in the case –at least before the hearing, Judge Sullivan demanded that a government airplane return a mother and child seeking asylum back to the U.S.  At the time of the court hearing, the plane was already in the air headed to El Salvador—in direct defiance of the government’s agreement to the court. The judge almost found Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court –saying “this is pretty outrageous.”  Judge Sullivan further demanded that the government refrain from removing any plaintiffs in the case who are seeking asylum from gang and domestic violence.  Judge Sullivan shows judges are human and bold too.

In the cases of Judge Ellis and Judge Sullivan, the comments and actions made by both are indicative of the vastly different styles of judges.  As a trial lawyer, I prefer that judges allow me to try my clients’ cases without snide remarks and what I perceive as unfair rulings.  Most trial lawyers will agree that we prefer a judge who lets us try our case without much interruption, unless ruling on motions or objections.  From trying hundreds of cases, it is still often difficult to read a judge’s mind or motives.

I understand that judges are only human. Whatever style they exhibit, I always prefer a judge who is fair and just– no matter what must be done to achieve justice.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She is often seen in various media outlets as a legal analyst.


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