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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.


Why a Decades Ago Attempted Rape Should Derail Kavanaugh

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

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: , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

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.


Trump Expresses Desperation Over Mueller Investigation

August 2nd, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump for the umpteenth time lashed out at Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller on Twitter on August 1, 2018 calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Mueller investigation. Presumably, Trump forgot that Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation and has no legal authority to end it.  That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting about it.  Trumps’ tweet stated that Sessions should stop this “rigged witch hunt right now.” From a legal standpoint, the tweet could be viewed as further possible evidence of obstruction of justice.  If Trump is attempting to impede and prevent a lawful investigation from continuing, that could amount to obstruction of justice.

 

Donald Trump appears to be particularly feeling the heat this week with the start of Paul Manafort’s trial, Michael Cohen tape revelations, Facebook’s announcement of new fake Russian accounts and the ongoing attempts by Mueller to interview Trump. While Manafort’s trial is about tax evasion, money laundering and other alleged money crimes having nothing to do with the Russian influence over the 2016 elections, Manafort was Trump’s trusted chairman over his 2016 presidential campaign.  While Manafort remains stoic and silent in regards to Trump, only time and a possible conviction in the first trial will tell if Manafort will seek a deal. Meanwhile Manafort has a second trial coming in September for which he will remain in jail.

Trump’s tweet also comes following Facebook’s announcement this week of Russian fake accounts targeting the 2018 upcoming elections. Since the tweet surfaced, the White House and Press Secretary Sanders have downplayed the tweets—saying that Trump was expressing his opinion. It was more likely a desperate one over the events that appear to be moving quickly towards him.

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen continues to send signals that he intends to give a tell all to the special prosecutor, if and when the opportunity arises.  Michael Cohen may have also recorded a hundred tapes involving Trump matters. One tape apparently discusses hush money that may have been paid to a Playboy model prior to the election to silence details of an affair.  Cohen has not been indicted but appears to signal a willingness to cut a deal to prevent or lessen jail time, if one is forthcoming.

The special prosecutor is still in negotiations with Trump’s attorneys to interview him over knowledge of any Russian involvement and possible obstruction of justice.  No agreement has been reached. The possibility of interviews with Mueller still looms large.

Past actions may be catching up with Donald Trump. Trump’s firing James Comey last year over his failure to end the Russian investigation, to Trumps’ statement during the presidential debate calling for Russia to find the 30,000 missing Hillary Clinton Emails, to campaign meetings with Russians in Trump Towers to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, to wanting a back channel to speak with Russians after the election, may all be adding up with new information and indictments in 2018.

Most American people want to know what the Mueller investigation has uncovered regarding Donald Trump. The Trump administration and the American public likely agree on the desire to end the Mueller investigation albeit in different ways.  Trump would like to shut down the investigation “right now” before anymore dirt on him is uncovered by Mueller’s team. Most Americans and many bipartisan members of Congress want the investigation to end by proceeding to its conclusion.  And that’s the problem that Donald Trump faces. Trump may now feel the walls closing in on him with nowhere to run or hide. When the curtain gets finally pulled back, we may see the real Donald Trump.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former Baltimore prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She frequently appears in media outlets as a legal analyst and political commentator.

 


No Slam Dunk for Mueller in Manafort Trial

July 31st, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

All political eyes and ears are on the start of Paul Manafort’s criminal trial for tax evasion, money laundering and an assortment of other money crimes. Paul Manafort is the former chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  Jury selection is underway today.

If this were a card game, special prosecutor Robert Mueller has held his playing cards closely to his chest to prevent tipping his hand.  Until the start of the trial, we do not know what the evidence will show.  The indictment spells out what the prosecution intends to prove.  Once witnesses take the stand and documents are presented, we will know the hand that Manafort and Mueller have been dealt.

As for timing, the actual start of the trial with opening statements may not take place on the first day.  There is never a magical formula to predict the time that it will take to pick a jury.  Having tried many complex trials lasting weeks and months, it is never an easy guess. And this case is further complicated by the fact that everything is political in nature.  While Manafort’s trial does not focus on Russia and any Russian collusion, it is there streaming in the background. And prospective jurors may already have taken sides in this political climate.

Jurors will be asked a ton of questions to ensure that they can be fair and impartial.  However, most jurors will likely already know something about the case. Some may have already come to conclusions—without ever hearing any evidence.  Those prospective jurors who cannot set aside their preconceived notions and judge the case solely on the evidence presented will likely be excluded.   However, in today’s political climate, it is conceivable that a juror who is strongly for or against one side, might end up sitting on the jury.

The stakes are high for Robert Mueller and his special prosecution team.  If the prosecution wins, then it will send a clear signal that the other upcoming cases are on the right path. If he loses or a jury is unable to render a verdict, a roar of “no collusion”, “witch- hunt “will be heard around the world by Donald Trump and his followers.  If Mueller does not succeed with a guilty verdict on all or most counts, the GOP and Trump will likely call for an end to the special prosecutor.  Although Manafort’s charges and trial are not about Russia, it’s really all about Russia.

Manafort is charged in an indictment with various money crimes consisting of  lying to banks to get money, avoiding paying taxes, money laundering and hiding money in offshore accounts to avoid declaring it as income.  These cases are tried mostly with documents to prove the elements of the crime.  Under most ordinary circumstances, these cases are usually easy to win. Witnesses will testify such as Rick Gates who worked for Manafort.  Gates has cut a deal with prosecutors.  A witness who has skin in the game and has cut a deal with prosecutors is sometimes viewed with doubt or suspicion.  If the documentary evidence is overwhelming, Gates and the witnesses are only icing on the cake.

Most financial crime cases are easy to win for the prosecutor.  Yet, no case is ever a slam dunk for prosecutors.  Despite having a strong case, a case can still be lost.  One never knows what a jury of 12 persons will do when they go to deliberate behind closed doors.  All 12 jurors must agree to render a verdict.  If less than twelve agree on charges, a mistrial will be declared.

The biggest problem for Mueller is predicting how twelve persons will decide this case.  Anything less than guilty verdicts on all 12 counts will be seen as a partial loss.  There is no slam dunk trial in law.  Any case can be won or lost. Manafort’s case is seen as a must win for Robert Mueller.

UPDATE:  In the late afternoon,  a jury of six men and six women were seated to hear the trial. Opening statements and prosecution witness testimony began.  The prosecution intends to paint Manafort as someone who believes he is above the law.  The defense intends to play “pin the tail on the donkey” and blame everything on Rick Gates who received a plea deal.  But Rick Gates was not the one who received $60 million in  unreported income.  A three judge panel denied Manafort’s request for release from jail pending trial.  Manafort must remain in jail pending his second trial in September.

More updates and analysis to follow as the trial progresses.

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

 

 


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