Legal Speaks Home Debbie Hines Bio Blog TV Clips Community Services Res Ipsa Loquitur Links Contact

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.


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.


Women’s Contraceptive Rights Under Affordable Care Act Under Assault

March 18th, 2014 | Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

supcourt_building

As the deadline for coverage under the Affordable Care Act looms on March 31,  the U.S. Supreme Court gets set to hear  2 cases next week on March 25 which set to deny women birth control coverage by their employer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  The cases represent another chapter in history to deny women their reproductive rights using religion as the basis.

 

One of the  cases to be heard on March 25, 2014  is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. which asked for an exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) requirement that certain for profit corporations provide contraception to their employees.  Hobby Lobby has stores nationwide and was started by  a religious  family  who states the ACA requirement violates their strict religious beliefs.   Hobby Lobby is a secular private for profit corporation.  They are not exempt under the law.  And the government argues that the ACA does  not place any burdens to individuals such as the Green family. The government further asserts that Hobby Lobby is not a person exercising religious beliefs but a for profit corporate employer. The government argues the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not apply to Hobby Lobby, a corporation for profit.

And while there are exemptions for churches and houses of worship  under this specific mandate,  other non-profit affiliate groups like church run hospitals and parochial schools are not exempt. Another joint case is Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity providing services to the elderly that contends it should not be required to provide contraceptives even through a third party’s insurer, even without the employer’s involvement. Somehow, Little Sisters of the Poor claims that it still violates their religious rights even if they are not involved in the process.

 

In advance of the Supreme Court’s hearing, national religious leaders consisting of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Universalist and Muslim leaders released and signed a joint statement affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good.  The leaders who support religious freedom under which the Hobby Lobby cases argue is against their religious freedom, stated:

 

“We support religious freedom.  Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions.”

The group of religious leaders called on  the Supreme Court to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it.  These religious leaders are evidence that major religious leaders of differing theological approaches support birth control for those who choose to use it. It’s a matter of choice.

The full  text of the statement can be found on www.religiousinstitute.org/faithleaders4bc

And one of the most compelling supporters of contraceptive rights under the Affordable Care Act is the  National Coalition of American Nuns who have filed a petition with the Supreme Court  supporting a  woman’s freedom to use birth control and not be hampered by her employer in her choice to do so. Sister Donna Quinn head of the National Coalition of American Nuns says it isn’t religious freedom when a woman can beheld hostage by the  owner of a business.  Sister Donna Quinn adds:

 ”We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”

There are approximately 50 other cases pending on the same issue as the Hobby Lobby case, filed by other for profit corporations.  And the outcome of the cases being heard on March 25 will have far reaching impact if the government loses.  The case could jeopardize access to affordable birth control for millions of women.  And it could also prove dangerous for freedoms of other groups.  First, it will likely cause more laws and lawsuits by businesses and other to deny employees and customers health benefits and other services they are entitled to under the law, all based on the business owner’s belief. And other religious parties  of based for profits corporations who are not exempt may claim religious preference  to forbid  providing HIV/AIDS medication through health insurance coverage on their religious beliefs against gays and lesbians as well as coverage of blood transfusions for religious reasons.

And as usual with the Supreme Court, it is no way to predict how the court will rule.  A ruling will not likely occur before June, 2014.  Following the oral arguments on March 25, an update will be provided.

 

Updated: March 23, 2014


DC Mayoral Scandal: How Far Will it Go?

March 11th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

 

Photo by David Brooks

Photo by David Brooks

As the DC primary mayoral race heats up with 3 weeks to go before the April 1 election, the U.S. Attorney’s office is heating up its potential case against Mayor Vincent Gray. One day before the DC State of the District Address given by Mayor Gray on March 11, businessman Jeffrey Thompson was in court pleading guilty to a conspiracy involving an alleged  shadow election campaign with the mayor in 2010 and other prominent unnamed and named politicians  stemming from 2006- 2012, including the 2008 presidential primary  campaign and  Michael Brown’s 2006 campaign for mayor.

 

According to the government’s case   outlined in a 33 page document, against Jeffrey Thompson presented in federal court, Mayor Gray knew about the shadow campaign that contributed over $650,000 to his campaign and coordinated the shadow campaign with Thompson. Thompson also funded a “street team” shadow campaign in the amount of over $600,000 for a 2008 presidential primary candidate, presumably Hillary Clinton without her knowledge, in Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Thompson faces as much as two years to as little as 6 months in federal prison, if he cooperates.  And the judge said prosecutors have discretion to reduce any punishment for Jeffrey Thompson to home confinement. Mayor Gray went on the offensive and labeled Thompson a liar.   Thompson’s next court date is May 15.

 

These are just some of the allegations presented by the government on Monday, March 10:

 

  • Jeffrey Thompson influenced DC union and local elections.
  • Thompson paid Michael Brown $200,000 in 2006 to drop out of the mayor’s race. Brown has already pled guilty.
  • Jeffrey Thompson met with Jeannie Clark Harris and Vernon Hawkins to plan a shadow campaign for the 2010 DC mayoral election. Hawkins and Harris have already pled guilty.
  • Federal prosecutors allege DC Mayor Gray met with Thompson about campaign financing and agreed  “to keep support secret”
  • Thompson disbursed $1.4 million to at least 15 DC candidates.
  • Shadow campaign funds for Mayor Gray’s campaign purchased “yard signs”, “door knockers”, “catering” and other campaign expenses.

 

 

So what does all this mean for Mayor Gray?  It is highly likely that the US Attorney’s office intends to file charges or an indictment against Mayor Gray at some time in the near future with the assistance and cooperation primarily of Jeffrey Thompson.  Gray vehemently denies any allegation of wrong doing.  And in looking at the case, one may wonder why the Mayor does not drop out of the mayoral race. One newspaper has already retracted its endorsement of Mayor Gray following the Thompson plea.  Others still support the mayor as he is innocent under the law of any wrongdoing until proven guilty.  But Mayor Gray may very well have the last hurrah in what may seem to some to be an overwhelming case against him.

 

Jeffrey Thompson received a more than generous plea deal from the government, perhaps too generous.  He received the sweetheart deal in large part because any potential case against Mayor Gray needed the testimony and cooperation of Jeffrey Thompson.  And while this may be jumping ahead, Mayor Gray is making the right move to go on the offensive against the government’s case and brutal allegations against him.

 

The government’s plea deal with Thompson, while a very generous one for businessman Jeffrey Thompson, may become quite problematic to the government if a jury ever has to assess it in a case against Mayor Gray.  Thompson admitted to corrupting national and local elections for many years by funneling illegal money into those campaigns, including Mayor Gray’s campaign.  Through the actions of Jeffrey Thompson, many elections were corrupted by his actions and outcomes may have been affected.   And for all the wrong that Thompson did for many years, he could end up with spending as little as 6 months confined to his home at the discretion of the US Attorney’s office.  While I applaud the efforts of Thompson’s attorneys in procuring such a sweet deal for Thompson, I also wonder if it will undermine any case against Mayor Vincent Gray.  And the deal itself suggests to me as a former prosecutor, that any case against Mayor Gray cannot be made without Jeffrey Thompson. In other words, the government’s case likely rests on the testimony of Jeffrey Thompson.

And in his State of the District Address, Gray defiantly denounced the government’s claims and asserted:  Who do you believe? And that sums up the potential problem for any future government case against Mayor Vincent Gray—a case of credibility of Jeffrey Thompson who will now likely be viewed as someone who will  say anything  or “sing like a bird” to avoid a prison term.  And so, Thompson’s credibility may sink the government’s ship if it sails to a trial.

UPDATED March 13, 2014

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who appears frequently in local, national and international media addressing issues on race, gender and class.  She also contributes to the Women’s Media Center and the Huffington Post. 

 


Why We Still Need Black History Month

February 27th, 2014 | Posted in Legal | No Comments »

RosaParksEach year since 1926, February has marked celebrating black history, originally founded by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History week. February was chosen as it was the months of the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. And each year, the issue is raised by many people as to why do we need a special month to commemorate black history. Ditto for Hispanic History month, and Women’s History month which follows in March. I struggle with the fact that black history month is necessary in our society.

Black History month was never intended to go on forever. Carter G. Woodson, the original founder of Black, did not intend for it to go on forever. Instead, he hoped that one day, we would not need a Black History Month or any other specific month based on race, gender or nationality. That day has not come yet. So once again, we must wash, rinse and repeat Black History Month. Carter Woodson once said on Black History Month:

“We should emphasize not Negro history but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate and religious prejudice.”

Woodson made this comment in 1926. And if we emphasized and practiced what Dr. Woodson said, we would be studying black history fully incorporated into American history, every day of the year in lieu of a month long celebration in February.

Continuing Black History month is first necessary in our country until we do a better job of incorporating black history into American history. Recently the movie, 12 Years a Slave, and through efforts of Montel Williams, will be available as a teaching tool in high schools throughout the country. That is an effort towards a good start. But there must be more of an emphasis on black history, past and present to understand our present and future. As an African American, I am continually surprised at the lack of knowledge of African American history among Americans. Every year I learn new facts about black history—all year long.

And we will know it’s time to forego black history month when racist viewpoints no longer exist. When comments such as slavery was not that bad, that nothing was wrong with the poll tax which prevented Blacks from voting in the Jim Crow south, when hatred expressed towards blacks no longer exist, we will be able to eliminate Black History month from February’s calendar. Until then, we need to start by working towards eliminating laws that discriminate against African Americans such as Stand Your Ground Laws, Stop and Frisk laws and felony voter disenfranchisement laws, to name a few.

Black History Month bears repeating over and over again until those racist remarks and persons spewing racism are eradicated in our society. When we eradicate ignorance of black history and the racial hatred spewed by some who still see African Americans as inferior to whites, we will be able to eliminate black history month. Sadly, we are nowhere close to its elimination.

And so in 2014, as we close out the month of February, we must again commemorate Black History Month as we have yet to rid our society of the need for a specific month recognizing the achievements and sacrifices of African Americans in American history. When we get to the point of not needing Black History Month, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. we shall have overcome and reached the mountain top. Until then, we need to wash, rinse and repeat Black History Month until we get it right.


Archives

Can't find what you're looking for?