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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.


Pelosi v. Trump: Politics Over Money

January 18th, 2019 | Tags: , , , ,
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Donald Trump may have likely met his match with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. With the government being shut down, Speaker Pelosi raised concerns about Trump giving his State of the Union address before the government re-opens. In a letter addressed to Trump, she stated that he should delay his speech until after the government reopened. Her concerns were for security and the fact that nothing entitles Trump to give a state of the union address, in the manner he intended. In other words, it is almost like a nothing burger.

Pelosi had also made plans to embark on a trip with a Congressional delegation to Afghanistan. Trump in like Trumpeon fashion retaliated. And this is where the story gets interesting.

Trump denied the delegation use of government military planes to travel to a war zone. He likely saw Pelosi’s trip as grandstanding. It was a visit to the troops and to engage in government business.

Despite denying Congressional use of government planes for government business, Trump allowed Melania Trump to take a government plane to go on a weekend frolic. Once again, the Trump hypocrisy continues. If anyone should have been taking a commercial flight, it should have been Melania Trump—not our elected officials on government business.

Trump allegedly doubled down by further exposing the intended commercial travel, thereby placing in jeopardy the lives of the Congressional delegation, the military and anyone traveling on the same commercial flight. Pelosi had decided to take Trump up on his request to travel via commercial airlines albeit more risky. The administration’s purported leaking of those plans thwarted any commercial travel to Afghanistan for the near foreseeable future.

Trump at this stage is reacting to Pelosi’s demands. He is now in reactionary mode. And anyone who knows negotiations will tell you that is a poor position to find oneself in. Trump reacted to Pelosi’s denial of his $5 billion wall; he reacted to her letter to delay the State of the Union address. He reacted to her purported trip to visit the troops overseas and conduct official government business. And then Trump reacted to Pelosi’s attempt to continue travel via commercial flight. If this were an Ali- Frazier fight, with Pelosi being Ali and Trump being Frazier, Frazier is on the ropes. And the Ali/Pelosi rope-a-dope is working quite well.

Nancy Pelosi is a veteran politician from a family of generations of politicians. Many persons fail to remember that Speaker Pelosi hails from Baltimore where her father and brother were mayors of Baltimore. She often speaks about her political lessons learned from her father, Tommy D’Alessandro. While Nancy Pelosi was learning how to be a shrewd politician, Donald Trump was playing with his father’s money—and losing it. While Pelosi was beginning her political career in 1977 and later getting elected to Congress in 1987, Trump was learning how to file for corporate bankruptcy. He filed for business bankruptcy four times beginning in 1991. Nancy was getting re-elected to Congress in 1993.

Nancy Pelosi has many political maneuvers up her sleeve. More importantly, she is an effective leader. While Republicans despise her, she has been able to keep her base intact, while becoming the next person in line for presidency following Vice President Pence.

From his business dealings, Trump has likely never had to deal with a woman, the likes of a Nancy Pelosi. And his naivety is showing with his reactions to her moves. Speaker Pelosi is looking to see what Trump has in the way of punches. Presently, she has ascertained his weakness. Like a boxer, she will continue to hammer away at his weakness. And in Trump’s book, the Art of the Deal, one caveat states that the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. It makes the other person smell blood. Right now, Pelosi smells blood.

Trump wants his wall. He has a wall. Her name is Nancy Pelosi.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and former prosecutor.


The Extreme Hypocrisy of the Republican Party

January 17th, 2019 | Tags: , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

The Republican party was once known as the party of Abraham Lincoln. Now it is known as the party of Donald Trump, a reality star, creator of the birther movement and race baiter in Chief. Time and time again, the Republican party has shown its hypocrisy in the Trump era by failing to speak out against racism and bigotry.

The other day, Congress failed to censure Iowa Representative Steve King for saying “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that become offensive?” To answer King’s statement, white supremacy was offensive to many persons as far back as Abraham Lincoln’s time. The House passed a resolution condemning white supremacy but failed to rebuke King. Every Republican House member should have requested a vote on censuring King, if not seeking his resignation. It is not enough just to fail to appoint him to committees. Steve King should have been asked to resign for his hideously racist comments.

Time and time again, the Republican party fails to address racism and bigotry under the Trump era. Donald Trump following the August, 2017 Charlottesville, Nazi rally where Heather Heyer was killed by a hate filled Nazi supremacist, stated there were good people on both sides—meaning the Nazi’s and their protestors. No Republican lawmaker serving in the House or the U.S. Senate strongly condemned Donald Trump for referring to Nazi’s, Neo-Nazi’s  and white supremacists as “good people.”  It’s as if Trump can do no wrong when it comes to siding with racists.

Donald Trump  sets the tone for white supremacy and bigoted speech. Even before he was elected, he fueled the birther movement alleging that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in this country, without any valid basis for the assertion. It was likely one of Trump’s proudest moments when the first African American president produced his birth certificate—just like slaves once did to show they were free persons.

Once Trump ran for office and won, he became race-baiter-in chief. He gives a platform for all the Steve Kings to stand on. Trump called Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” as well as other NFL African American players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem in protest of police brutality against Blacks. He refers to Mexicans as rapists; He disparages judges of Hispanic descent. He views African countries as “shithole” nations. To point out all of Trump’s racist remarks would take up more space than needed to make the point. Republicans fail to see the big fat elephant in the room named Donald Trump.

Recently, when N.Y. representative Rashida Tlaib stated we should “impeach the mother f’er”, Texas Republican Representative Brian Babin called her words “ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values.” I don’t ever recall Babin or any GOP legislator calling any of Trump’s comments inconsistent with our national values. The only thing that would have delighted me more would have been if Rep. Tlaib had used Trump’s own language that he called Colin Kaepernick—a SOB.

The latest Republican hypocrisy seems focused on holding the federal government workers hostage while Trump demands a Mexican border wall. As most folks will remember, Mexico was supposed to pay for the wall. Time and time again, Trump chanted that point to his base. Yet, now it appears the wall will be financed on the backs of American taxpayers and on the hostage taking of the federal government workers—the vast majority that live in Red states and towns. No Republican member is calling for Trump to back down from his wall double talk and re-open the government. Mitch McConnell won’t even bring a vote to the floor to open the government and then continue talks about the so-called wall that Mexico would have paid for.

All the talk about the wall is double talk and code talk for race baiting. As the president demands a $5 billion ransom money to open the federal government in exchange for a so-called wall, he continues to ramp up incidents of persons killed by undocumented persons. Some of those victims were killed by guns, yet I fail to see any gun control measures being introduced and passed.

Immigrants contribute significantly in the U.S. from serving in the military, owning businesses, paying taxes, doing menial jobs, inventing and investing in our economy and society. As recently seen in the news, some undocumented immigrants work in Trump’s many businesses with forged papers. When it is to Trump businesses’ advantage, undocumented immigrants are valuable. To his base, he calls them rapists and murderers.

As an African American, I know this country has long been known for its hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another when it comes to race and race relations. The explicit race baiting language used by Trump and supported implicitly and explicitly by Republican lawmakers without rebuke brings the hypocrisy to an extreme level. If this were a fake reality show, it could be dubbed “Extreme GOP Hypocrisy”. Sadly, this is our new norm under the Trump era.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor.


R. Kelly is No Bill Cosby: He’s Worse

January 9th, 2019 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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The recent docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, has many folks wondering if R. Kelly will be joining Bill Cosby in prison one day. Multiple state attorneys are looking into investigating possible charges against Kelly. Although a prior 2008 case involving 14 child pornography charges against Kelly was unsuccessful, this time may be different. It’s still too soon to tell if Kelly’s time is up. The docuseries helped to re-ignite the fire but the flame is still low for a prosecution or conviction of R. Kelly.

The issues facing any prosecutor who investigates and brings charges against Kelly will be credibility of witnesses and victims, statute of limitations, solicitation of victims by the prosecutors, length of time to bring charges (assuming the statute has not tolled) and the popularity of R. Kelly.

Unlike most of Bill Cosby’s victims, R. Kelly’s victims are African American and other women of color. A sexual assault case is always difficult to obtain a conviction. A sexual assault or rape case involving a woman of color presents an even further uphill battle due to implicit race bias.

In spite of the docuseries, the popularity of R. Kelly still soared. The streaming of his music soared during the docuseries. Even without the docuseries, Kelly’s “I believe I can fly” is played almost every Sunday on many gospel radio stations and in churches across the country. His “Step in the Name of Love” is played at many wedding receptions. And when the music starts, almost everyone is on their feet dancing to it.

Many of the women who are alleged to have been emotionally manipulated and sexually controlled by Kelly in a cult are over 18 years of age. Consent is a real issue for most sexual assault cases. Unlike Cosby, many of the victims allegedly held captive in Kelly’s orbit are not drugged. They are allegedly held against their will but not by drugs, alcohol or any other substance. They are held against their will allegedly by mind manipulation and psychological tactics by Kelly. Some refuse to come home despite pleas by their families.

In addition, Cook County prosecutor Kim Fox is soliciting potential victims to contact her office. If any of those potential cases lead to an indictment, there will be issues raised of coercion by the prosecution office. I applaud prosecutors who are looking into evidence against Kelly. The docuseries made me physically sick to watch it. The alleged acts were so gross that my heart bled for the victims.

R. Kelly is no Bill Cosby. He’s a much worse predator than Cosby, if the women’s accounts are believed.

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


Cyntoia Brown: Justice Delayed and Denied

January 7th, 2019 | Tags: , , , ,
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Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a former teen sex trafficking victim who received a life sentence at age 16 for killing a man who allegedly paid money to have sex with her. Brown was tried as an adult and had no chance of parole until she would have turned 61. Brown, now 30, after having served 15 years, will be released in August and must remain on parole for 10 years. Her case sparked the attention of the media with support by celebrities Rihanna, Ashley Judd and Kim Kardashian West.

Cyntoia Brown did not receive a get out of jail free card. Her clemency conditions require that she remain on parole for 10 years. She will not be free of parole conditions until she turns 40. Clemency differs from a pardon. In clemency, an inmate’s sentence is reduced, usually with some conditions. In a pardon, a person’s conviction is completely wiped out. Today, we hear the pardon word being considered and thrown around like Frisbees in the cases of Trump companions, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen but not in the case of Cyntoia Brown.

Brown has been a model prison earning an AA degree, counseling and mentoring other youth offenders and working towards earning her bachelor’s degree while in prison. These reasons in addition to her status as a sex trafficking victim at the time of her offense speak volumes in support of a full pardon. I applaud the governor for granting clemency. I just wish that that Gov. Haslam would have seen fit to grant Brown the true justice she deserved. He lacked the courage to do the right thing. Gov. Haslam did grant 15 pardons to individuals and is considering other clemency requests before he leaves office on January 19.

The criminal justice system does not usually work in favor of minorities. More than half of the criminal justice system is made up of African Americans and Hispanics. The disparity of Cyntoia Brown and other minorities receiving harsh sentences goes unnoticed in most instances. Yet, an Ethan Couch, a white teen, who plowed over 4 persons with his car in 2013, killing all 4 of them, received a sentence of 10 years probation. Couch’s case was argued as the Affluenza defense – that his parents’ irresponsibility and wealth contributed to his actions. The criminal justice system, judge or jury gave no regard to Brown being a teen sex trafficking victim.

And Brown is not the only sex trafficking inmate serving time. Most jurisdictions prosecute sex trafficking victims for prostitution. The MeToo movement and celebrities speaking out against sexual injustices committed by Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Les Moonves and others must speak out against criminal disparities in treatment of sex trafficking victims and persons of color. The Cyntoia Browns are the most vulnerable of all victims of sexual assault.

Until the criminal justice system is over hauled to fairly treat a Cyntoia Brown like an Ethan Couch, justice will remain elusive for many minorities, women and victims of sex crimes without a celebrity to advocate for them.

Cyntoia Brown deserved a full pardon—not clemency.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.


2018- A Year of Sex, Lies, Guns and Trump

January 1st, 2019 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Every new year, we look back towards the past year to see the good, bad and ugly. If 2018 can be boiled down to a theme—it would be sex, lies, guns and Trump. Trump fits into all three categories.

Guns were rampant again this year with no end in sight in terms of gun control. On February 26, 2018, in Parkland, Florida, one of the safest towns in the U.S. , a school gun shooting occurred and 17 persons died including teachers and students. This time may have been different than previous gun shootings in that it galvanized students to hold the March for Our Lives on March 25, 2018. It once again raised the issue of gun control. Like in so many times and years before, no meaningful gun legislation occurred.

 

On June 29, five journalists were shot and killed at the Annapolis Gazette in Annapolis, MD. Throughout the Trump administration, Donald Trump has shouted chants that the media is the enemy of the state. Our constitution’s first amendment is freedom of the press. Yet, the person sitting in the White House holding the office of President continues to attack the press as an enemy. While the shooting and death of 5 journalists is not directly attributable to Trump, the constant attacks on the media with chants of fake news using the term “enemy”, have no place in the U.S. Following the deaths of the journalists, the Trump administration had to be convinced that a lowering of the U.S. flag in mourning was appropriate.

October 28, 11 persons were killed while holding religious services in a Pittsburg synagogue. Following Trump’s 2017 response to the Charlottesville, VA killing of Heather Heyer during a neo-Nazi march, many persons in Pittsburgh had no desire to see Trump visit there. In 2017, Trump all but defended the neo-Nazi’s hatred of Jews  stating there were fault on both sides of the aisle. As a former prosecutor, I understand that violence and hatred have no place in this country. Apparently, Donald Trump doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of spewing hatred with words and acts. Both have consequences.

Sex played an important part in 2018. From Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, CBS executive Les Moonves, Bill Cosby to Donald Trump, sexual harassment, sex crimes and paybacks continued to play a huge part in 2018. CBS executive Les Moonves lost not only his job but a $120 million severance pay, after an independent investigation revealed a decades long history of sexual harassment against women employees. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh fared better than Moonves. Professor Christine Blasey Ford testified publicly accusing Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape in high school, with “100%” certainty. Many Republican lawmakers still voted to confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It just goes to show how little has changed since the Clarence Thomas hearing and Anita Hill’s testimony.

In a different outcome, on September 26, Bill Cosby, once considered America’s TV dad, received a sentence of 3-10 years in prison for sexual assaults committed against Andrea Constand which occurred 14 years earlier. In April, Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual assault and classified a “sexually violent predator” requiring lifetime registration.

From accounts from the Mueller investigation, Donald Trump was implicated in ordering and directing the payment of hush money and other ways to silence his sexual escapades with several women, according to alleged testimony by his fixer, attorney Michael Cohen and others. It is suspected that if such behavior had been known, it may have derailed his presidential outcome. We will never know.

According to the Washington Post as reported by Fact Checker’s database, Trump had an unprecedented year of deception averaging 15 false claims a day in 2018. This triples the amount from the year before, according to Fact Checker. This would account for a November Quinnipiac poll which found that 58% of voters saying Trump wasn’t honest. For obvious reasons, there is not enough room to discuss his voluminous false claims in 2018.
Aside from false claims, Trump continues to side with Russian President Putin at every opportunity. In 2018, he sided with Putin saying there was no 2016 Russian interference in our election—going against the report of our U.S. intelligence community. At every turn, Trump has tried to derail the Mueller investigation—changing Attorney Generals. His most dreaded fear of impeachment may occur in 2019.

The latest Trump debacle is the government shutdown. Trump refused to sign legislation on December 22 that would allow the government to remain open and running. Instead he insisted on $5 billion for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. As of January 1, 2019, the federal government workers and contract workers remain hostage to a wall without pay—that Mexico was supposed to pay for.

2019 brings the hope of some stability in the government with the oversight of the Democrats taking control of the House.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.


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.


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