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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.


Lawyers Sue Heartless Trump on DACA

September 6th, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

AmericanflagThe law can be used for good or bad. And when it’s used for good, I have no greater feeling as a lawyer. Today was one of those good days.  The District of Columbia joined 15 states to sue the federal government, Donald Trump as President, Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Trump’s decision on ending DACA.

 

Litigation is my life and one that I’m proud of. And I am so proud today that lawyers in New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia took a stand for DACA in fighting for the lives of those young undocumented “Americans” who came here as children before the age of 16 and know no other country except the U.S.

 

The lawsuit filed in federal court in New York alleges that Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA is motivated by ill will; will cause a loss of revenue for these states, lower employment, split up families and serve no useful purpose under the rule of law. Major businesses, Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft filed affidavits within the lawsuit stating the effect of ending DACA will have ill adverse impact on businesses.  Mr. Trump, also known to a few as the jobs creator, will be doing anything but increasing jobs.  In addition, Mr. Trump has made known that he does not favor Mexicans—from a Mexican American judge presiding over his lawsuit to calling Mexicans “bad hombres”. More than 78% of the DACA recipients are of Mexican descent.

California has an unusually large segment of Hispanic residents. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra intends to file his state’s separate lawsuit to protect the almost 200,000 DACA recipients in the State of California.  Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh is contemplating taking similar action.

A federal lawsuit must be based on an aspect or issue involving the U.S. Constitution or federal law. The basis appears that the revocation of DACA is illegal based, in part, on discrimination of Mexicans.  Each state spells out in the lawsuit how its individual state will suffer substantial harm in areas of business, education, health and tax revenue.  Many aspects of the lawsuit sound similar to travel ban legal arguments in lawsuits filed earlier this year citing previous derogatory statements by Trump against Mexicans and due process arguments.

The 15 states and the District of Columbia joined in the lawsuit are both blue states and a few red states that voted for Trump.  North Carolina, a red state, argues that immigration and DACA recipients are vital to its economy. North Carolina asserts in the lawsuit that it has one of the highest application rates to DACA in the country.  The lawsuit alleges that North Carolina will lose 7.8 billion dollars over the next ten years if DACA is rescinded.  I assume that before long other states will take action, in addition to those contemplated by Maryland and California.  The full Complaint can be read here.

The Department of Justice will defend against the lawsuit.  While the case will likely be an uphill climb to win, legal precedent is often won by advancing the right arguments and being on the right side of the law. And fighting Trump on ending DACA is being on the right side of the law.  The law can be sterile at times.  But this lawsuit is full of heart.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.  She often appears as a legal and political analyst on MSNBC, CBS, PBS, Al Jazeera and Fox 5 DC.  Her opinion articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Huffington Post.


DACA and The Devil Living Inside the White House

September 4th, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump proclaimed Sunday, September 3, 2017 as National Day of Prayer.  And on that same day, he announced that he intends to end DACA with a 6-month delay period of time.  DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  It is the executive order that President Obama signed in June, 2012 which protected and allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to be granted work permits.  It does not cover all young undocumented immigrants brought here, as it has a cut-off age and other requirements.

800,000 undocumented young persons are believed to be covered under DACA.  Trump had earlier stated that he had a “great heart” in terms of DACA and those young persons covered under it.  On Sunday’s National Day of Prayer, he showed where his real great heart lay. He announced ending DACA on the same day he asked people to pray.

Over 91% of individuals under DACA are employed or attending school. They are mostly law-abiding individuals.  They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, colleagues, students and family members. They traveled to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own.  They are often referred to as Dreamers who have earned their place in our society and are contributing to it.

During Hurricane Harvey, one Dreamer, Alonso Guillen, a recipient under DACA,  lost his life as he was trying to save the lives of others during the flooding.   Rescue volunteer Guillen, a 31 year old disc jockey, insisted on helping those in the floods in his neighborhood of Cyprus Creek. After helping others, he was swept away and his body was discovered by his family on Sunday.

 

I don’t know what Trump prayed for or who he prayed to on his self-proclaimed National Day of Prayer. I prayed for humanity, empathy, compassion and fairness in our leaders and for our country.  Donald Trump has been on the wrong side of humanity, empathy, compassion and fairness ever since taking office and even before.

 

Trump supports white supremacists in the White House and Neo-Nazis shown killing Heather Heyer on the streets of Charlottesville.  He supports and pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff for 24 years, abused the criminal justice system in treating Hispanics as sub-human in his jail. Arpaio is known for being one of the most corrupt and abusive sheriffs in America. He sparked fear in Hispanics by unlawfully targeting and detaining them, holding them in cruel and sub-humane conditions.  Trump started his term with an illegal Muslim travel ban to the U.S.  At every turn these last 8 months, Trump has been on the wrong side of justice and fairness.

 

We must stand as a nation with Dreamers.  We are all dreamers of the American dream. While many of us were born in this country, most of us were not born with a multi- million-dollar inheritance like Mr. Trump.  And most immigrants are not able to marry a millionaire like Melania Trump  and remain here.

 

We must diligently work and pray for the Dreamers to remain.  I pray that all Dreamers will be allowed to remain in this country. Mostly, I pray for Donald Trump under Psalms 109:8 which reads:  “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

 

 


Donald Trump’s Dog Days of Summer

September 3rd, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

 

The dog days of summer are usually referred to as the hottest days of the summer, particularly from mid- July to almost the end of August.  And Labor Day has come to mean the unofficial end of summer with vacations ending and students returning back to school.   The dog days of the Trump Administration have been particularly hot.  With summer closing to an end, I thought that now is a good time to evaluate the Trump Administration’s summer days.

 

Trump’s Administration has been hounded with its failure of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, the ever- ongoing Trump-Russia investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller, Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville Nazi/white supremacist rally, the Twitter roll out of elimination of transgenders in the military, pardon of Sheriff Arpaio and now the expected ending of “DACA”, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

 

For the past 8 years of the Obama Administration, the Republican Party vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and leave millions without health insurance.  Trump declared the repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be the very first thing that he intended to accomplish.  With a Republican controlled House and Senate, it seemed very likely that the Affordable Care Act was on its death bed.  A vote in favor of repeal and replace would have likely left more than 16 million people uninsured by 2026.  And yet in the summer of 2017, the Republicans and the Trump administration failed to accomplish their signature promise. On July 28, 2017, during the wee morning hours, the repeal and replace voted failed with deciding votes by Senators John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) joining the Democrats.

 

The ongoing Russia- Trump investigation has continued to heat up and dog Mr. Trump.  It shows no signs of going away. With leaks abundant, it appears that each summer day brought a new revelation.  There were times that White House reality show was turning faster than any televised soap opera.  With a search warrant of Trump’s former campaign manager and chief campaign strategist Paul Manafort’s house on July 26, 2017 to revelations about previously undisclosed June 9, 2016 meetings with Don Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and a Russian lawyer evolving around possible collusion, there was no letting up.

 

Beginning in mid-June, the Mueller focus began centering on targeting Trump for obstruction of justice and Kushner’s finances and business dealings. And even Vice President Pence lawyered up in mid-June with hiring of outside counsel. Despite all, Trump tweeted claiming victory against the investigation on June 16, 2017.

 

Unfortunately for Trump, Mueller did not wave a white flag and give up on the Trump-Russia investigation. Instead the efforts intensified. And Trump had to add lawyers to his legal team along with Kushner and Don, Jr adding additional counsel in the form of criminal defense attorneys.

 

In mid-June, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) director testified that Russian hacking occurred in at least 21 states.   In July, Trump refused to blame Russia for meddling in our election. Instead of relying on information from DHS, he relied on the word and denials of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit—as if Putin was going to admit anything.

Towards the end of July, it was leaked that Special Prosecutor Mueller was allegedly investigating Trump’s business deals, had his tax returns, the same ones Trump failed to disclose. A special prosecutor has the power to subpoena documents during its investigation.

Now CNN and MSNBC are reporting that Mueller has brought on top IRS Department of Justice prosecutors.  The heat is really on.  A case on the Russia collusion may take months if not years to complete an investigation.  Whenever prosecutors follow the money trail, it is a much easier case to prove matters such as tax evasion.  While they are not as salacious as the Russia-Trump collusion, tax matters are less reliant on fact witnesses.  Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion instead of the alleged violent acts he committed. In cases involving mob members, it was often tax evasion that brought them to justice and jail—instead of the crimes of murder and obstruction of justice.

And on August 3, news outlets reported Mueller impaneled a Washington grand jury to investigate the Trump-Russia thing. As a former prosecutor, the grand jury means the Trump-Russia investigation is not going away any time soon. Politico reported on August 29, that special counsel Mueller and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has teamed together on the investigations.

 

The most egregious and morally repulsive aspect of Trump’s summer were his comments surrounding the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi/KKK/white supremacist rally in August. Counter protester Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist whose car attacked protesters.  Instead of denouncing the hatred, bigotry and violent actions of Nazis and white supremacists, Trump defended it. He stated publicly that there was blame on “many sides”—meaning Nazis and the counter protesters against bigotry and hatred were both to blame.  As an African American, I know which side the President stands on in with respect to blacks and Jews versus white supremacists. Throughout history, White supremacists openly lynched, burned and terrorized blacks in many parts of the country. And now a U.S. president openly condones their racist and bigoted conduct.

With fall approaching and the dog days of summer leaving us, things will not cool down for Trump.  And it will only get hotter for the Trump Administration. Unfortunately, things are heating up for everyone else as long as he remains in office.

 


Cosby Prosecutor Gave False High Hopes to Victims

June 18th, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

BillCosby

In the aftermath of the Bill Cosby mistrial, many have been left wondering why the jury could not convict Cosby. After all, Cosby is alleged to have committed 60 sexual assaults on women. Having prosecuted sexual assault cases, despite what some have said was an easy case, nothing is farther away from the truth. No sexual assault case is ever easy to win.  Sexual assault cases are some of the most difficult cases to obtain a conviction.   And they are also some of the most heart wrenching cases.

 

Due to the psychological issues which surround the victims, numerous issues abound such as inconsistent testimony, long waiting periods in which to bring charges, difficulty remembering and often forgetting details and a host of other issues.  My sixteen year old self understands why a sexual assault victim would wait years before coming forward to tell people or to report a crime; my prosecutorial self knows the delays in those cases often make for acquittals or hung juries. The prosecution bears the high standard of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. And all of victim’s issues can boil down to reasonable doubts in the minds of some jurors.

 

When campaigning to become Montgomery County District Attorney, Kevin Steele made it his mission to try Bill Cosby.  It appeared as if the case against Cosby was brought on behalf of all of Cosby’s alleged victims and perhaps sexual assault victims everywhere.  And therein lay the problem. This was a case about Andrea Constand—not 60 other victims. In a court of law, Cosby’s case was treated the same way as any other sexual assault case.  The dynamics of a sexual assault case did not change because Bill Cosby is viewed as a career sexual assault perpetrator, in the eyes of many people.

 

The prosecutor sought to have thirteen alleged victims to testify to show a pattern and practice in Cosby’s case.  The judge denied the request.  That was the best shot for a conviction in this case. In the case of Jerry Sandusky, Penn State University’s prior athletic director, a judge allowed nine victims to testify.  He was convicted. And in the case of Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, a judge allowed fifteen victims to testify. Holtzclaw was convicted. In Michael Jackson’s criminal trial, the judge allowed testimony from two victims of sexual molestation. Jackson was acquitted after a jury deliberated for 32 hours over 7 days. Nothing is a certainty in a sexual assault case even with multiple victims.

 

There was no guarantee that Judge Steven O’Neill would allow thirteen victims to testify as the prosecution requested.  It is within the discretion of the judge depending on the facts of each particular case. In Cosby’s case, Judge O’Neil held that it would be too prejudicial for thirteen alleged victims to testify.  In a retrial, his opinion and rationale for excluding thirteen victims will likely be used by Mr. Cosby’s lawyers to avoid it from happening in a retrial.

 

Montgomery County D.A. Steele ran a political campaign on bringing charges and a conviction against Cosby. In doing so, he raised false high hopes and false high expectations of sexual assault victims in the Cosby case and those across the country.  He said following the trial that Andrea Constand deserves a verdict.  He meant to say she deserves a conviction.

 

To Constand and Cosby’s alleged victims, I say keep the faith.  To Bill Cosby, I say –stop celebrating, it’s not over yet.  To D.A. Kevin Steele, I say go and deliver on what you promised to all those women whose hopes you raised with false high hopes and high expectations.

 

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


Bill Cosby Goes to Trial and Just Might Win

May 22nd, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

BillCosbyJury selections started on Monday, May 22 in the criminal case of Bill Cosby.  Cosby is charged  with aggravated indecent sexual assault in the case of alleged victim Andrea Constand.  Constand alleges that in either January or February of 2004 that Cosby drugged her and then sexually assaulted her.  The State’s Attorney filed charges within days before the statute of limitations tolled or ended any possible charges being filed. Since then, Cosby has become a pariah with most persons including his former celebrity friends shunning him and judging him guilty of Constand’s assault and those of 60 other alleged victims.

 

On June 5, 2017, Cosby will only face the charges of Constand.  The other alleged victims’ cases statute of limitations expired.  So those women mostly place their hopes in Constand that justice will be served in her case—thus vindicating the others who can’t press charges.

 

Constand’s case is far from a slam dunk. In reality, it faces many uphill climbs to reach a guilty verdict.  The previous State’s Attorney declined to press charges stating insufficient evident. That’s legal buzz words for cannot be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

So why did another State’s Attorney decide to pursue charges?  And does the case have sufficient evidence for a conviction?  As in all sexual assault or rape cases, multiple problems exist. Most cases, as the present one, rest on the strength of the victim and her account of the events.  The defendant cannot be compelled to testify and usually remains silent.

 

Andrea Constand will need to give the victim performance of all time to secure a conviction.  Cosby, age 79  and apparently blind, is charged with three felonies of aggravated indecent assault which carries 10 years for a maximum of thirty years, if convicted on all counts. At Cosby’s age, a conviction would amount to a death sentence for the comedian and former actor.  Cosby has called the trial a “public lynching” and alleges consensual sex.

 

The alleged facts surrounding the case are murky.  Constand alleges that in either January or February of 2004 she went to  Cosby’s house.  She had been to his house on two prior occasions where he allegedly tried to hit on her.  At the time, Contand was working for Temple University in the athletic department. And Cosby was an icon at Temple. What transpired on the alleged night of the incident, only the two of them know for sure.

 

One thing is for sure, Constand waited one year before alleging that Cosby sexually assaulted her.  She couldn’t remember the exact date—only January or February. In the interim, Cosby sent her tickets to his show in Canada.  She attended with her parents and brought him a sweater as a gift.  And she even went back to his house again after the alleged incident. She alleges that it was to confront him.

 

Cosby on the other hand testified at a deposition that he used to give women Quaaludes before having sex with them.  That testimony, part of his deposition in another case, will be allowed—although Quaaludes ceased manufacturer long before 2004. The jury will not be told that Cosby settled the civil case involving Andrea Constand. The testimony of one other woman who alleges Cosby assaulted her in the 1990’s will also be allowed.

 

Jurors are coming from the Pittsburgh area and will be sequestered once the two week trial begins outside of Philadelphia—where the alleged incident took place. It’s hard to fathom a prospective juror who has not heard of Bill Cosby or has an opinion on him. And  Allegheny County, where the jurors were selected,  is a conservative area.  Montgomery County, PA, where the case is being tried, has a high conviction rate. I don’t think the case will rest on what jurors think or know about Cosby—as much as what the victim’s testimony will be along with portions of Cosby’s deposition and statement to the police.

Most cases are won or lost on the type of jury that is selected. If those members of the jury are inclined to base their verdict solely on the evidence as they will be sworn to do, it may end up as a not guilty verdict—due to the what some may conceive as inconsistent behavior of the victim and other factors. If the jury wrongly either unconsciously or consciously  factors in the other 60 alleged victims, it may be a guilty verdict—as those jurors will likely believe he did something criminal, even if not something criminal to Andrea Constand.

 

Stay tuned for updates as the trial testimony starts on June 5.

 

UPDATE:  The jury began deliberations on June 12, 2017.  The jury asked several questions which bear on the issue of consent.  Judge O’Neil has read back portions of Bill Cosby’s  previous civil deposition. Cosby stated he wanted a romantic relationship with Constand.  He acknowledged that he gave her three Benadryl  pills which he described to her as “three friends.” to help her relax. If the jurors believe Constand gave consent, the verdict will be not guilty or in the alternative, a mistrial if all 12 cannot agree on a verdict. For Cosby, a mistrial would amount to a win.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She has prosecuted sexual assaults and defended those accused of sex crimes.

 

 


Blacks Go to Jail for Killing Dogs; Whites Stay Out of Jail for Killing Blacks

May 18th, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Black-Lives

I was on Twitter last night when I found out that Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby had been acquitted for killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man.  There have been so many police killings of unarmed Blacks with so few charges brought or guilty verdicts that I have become numb.  But yesterday’s verdict of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby struck a raw nerve.  As a former prosecutor, I respect law abiding police; I detest those officers who lack the temperament, skills and self-control to wear a police uniform.

 

Terence Crutcher is just the latest unarmed Black victim in a decades long string of Black victims killed at the hands of police without justice.  On September 16, 2016, Betty Shelby stated she fired her gun killing Terence Crutcher out of fear.  That is the standard response by police officers used in these cases.  It’s as if it’s in their police training manual of what to say when you shoot and kill a Black person.  Nine white jurors and three Blacks evidently believed her version.  Crutcher had his hands up when he was shot by Shelby, as evidenced on two videos.

 

After the trial of former police officer Michael Slager, I have come to believe that most police officers can get away with murder of blacks with impunity.  With a video and a bystander filming and watching on, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s trial.  Slager was caught on tape shooting Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away. Slager gave the same verbatim response as Shelby that he feared for his life.  How one fears for his or her own life as the perceived threat is fleeing –defies logic.  A jury trial ended in a mistrial.  Slager later plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, thereby avoiding a re- trial and a state trial. He will be sentenced later this year.

 

And then there’s the other side of the coin.  Blacks receive jail sentences for killing dogs or stupidly and accidently shooting themselves. NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for harming and killing dogs.  And former NFL player Plaxico Burress received a two year sentence for accidently shooting himself while at a night club.  Due to New York’s stringent gun laws, Burress likely pled guilty.  With both being black, Vick and Burress also likely pled guilty due to the likelihood of a guilty verdict against a Black man, if tried.  A jury will more likely render a guilty verdict against a Black man for killing a dog or almost killing himself that against a white police officer for killing an unarmed Black.

 

While I am not a Black man, I fear for all Blacks who encounter a police officer under circumstances that a white police officer can assert his fear.  That’s just about any circumstance imaginable.  Racial disparities exist in the killings of unarmed blacks versus whites.  According to statistics, African Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed than whites.  In 2015, 40% of all unarmed persons shot and killed by police were Black men. Yet, Black men make up only 6% of the U.S. population.

 

I would like to end on a positive note. But I am outraged at the constant loss of unarmed Black lives by police officers who cower under the guise of  their own innate racism.

 

 

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


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