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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.


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: , , , ,
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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.

 

 


A Study in Patriotism: Trump versus Colin Kaepernick

July 25th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

Just in time for the start of the NFL football season with preseason in August, 2018, the issue of the players’ kneeling during the national anthem begins a new again.  Recently, the Miami Dolphins owners stated that the team intends to punish players who kneel or otherwise protest during the national anthem with up to a four game suspension and fines, according to documents obtained by USA Today.  However, the team owner later retracted the statement and proposed plans for suspension or penalties.  The local media covered the Dolphins intentions before there was the retraction.

 

Meanwhile the New York jets took the opposite approach by emphatically stating the opposite of no intention to fine players for their right to peaceful protest under the First Amendment. Previously, the NFL  intended to institute a policy of sanctions and requiring that players stand for the anthem—before the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) filed a grievance. The filing of the grievance resulted in the NFL putting on hold any policy against players’ protesting the treatment of Blacks killed by police.

The whole controversy is mistakenly centered around the anthem, kneeling and patriotism—when the real issue is protest of police brutality of Blacks. The kneeling protest began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest the mistreatment of Blacks by the police and our failed criminal justice system.   It sparked a fire storm that resulted in the misinterpretation by many persons, including Donald Trump, of the protests being about lack of patriotism.  And Trump’s criticisms helped to fuel the negativity surrounding the protest

The purpose of the protests is to bring attention to the injustices inherent in the criminal justice system and mistreatment of Blacks. Kaepernick stated in 2016 that he’s “not anti-American”. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”

Last week Donald Trump insisted to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that fines must occur for players, mostly African Americans, who conduct peaceful protests.  One would think that Trump has more important things to be concerned about other than taking away constitutional rights away from NFL players.

There is nothing inherently illegal, unpatriotic or morally wrong with the NFL players’ protests.    Ironically, Donald Trump, who complains loudly about lack of patriotism by Colin Kaepernick, met in private behind closed doors with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump placed full trust and confidence in Putin’s denials concerning Russian interference with our 2016 election over that of the findings of our U.S. intelligence community. Trump attacks the press, our allies, our intelligence community, the First Amendment, to name a few. Trump defends and supports Neo-Nazi’s who kill innocent persons, rogue dictators who kill and torture their people including Kim Jong- Un and Vladimir Putin. Trump even considers turning over a citizen and former U. S. ambassador to Putin for questioning.  Do Trump’s actions appear as being patriotic?

Trump’s Foundation was recently sued by the N.Y. Attorney General who alleges that the Trump Foundation, instead of paying chartible organizations paid itself.  The lawsuit alleges the Trump Foundation was used as a checkbook for payments to benefit Mr. Trump.  Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick, who has been without an NFL job for over a year, has paid over $800,000 to charitable organizations, since the kneeling controversy began.

The NFL players who are protesting mistreatment of Blacks in the criminal justice system and seeking change to a failed system are real patriots.  Challenging the lack of liberties and justice for all Americans does not make one unpatriotic. Through kneeling to the anthem, these players’ protests intend to bring attention to a system that has systemically denied criminal justice rights to African Americans and other persons of color—going back for centuries.  And hopefully, one day a change will occur with patriotic efforts to make America live up to her pledge of – “with liberty and justice for all”.

Real patriots try to help make America better for all. Thanks Colin Kaepernick for your patriotism.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and legal commentator on multiple media outlets.


Sorry Camille Cosby but Bill Cosby was not Lynched

May 3rd, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

BlackManLynchedNAACPCamille Cosby broke her silence today following her husband’s conviction when she wrote a scathing attack on the justice system comparing Bill Cosby’s, conviction to a “lynching”, “mob justice” or to Emmett Till.  Cosby who was tried and convicted on three counts of sexual assaults on Andrea Constand, after a first jury failed to reach a verdict.  Mrs. Cosby’s misunderstanding of the words “lynching” and “mob justice” deserves a teaching moment for her and perhaps many others who might be confused.

 

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened on April 26, 2018 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama and is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Blacks who lost their lives through lynching.  It depicted the over 4000 known lynchings that were held in this country of mostly African Americans from post slavery to 1950.  And when it opened, some questioned why a memorial on lynching was necessary. Comments like Camille Cosby’s show there is a need for the public to be aware of the atrocities of lynching.

First, Mr. Cosby got not only one trial but two fair trials.  The first jury deliberated over 56 hours before a mistrial was declared.  Those who were lynched in this country were neither given a trial, jury or judge to determine their fate. Instead an angry mob of white individuals hung them up to die on a tree, usually first torturing them.  Throngs of white persons, including law enforcement and children watched as the lynchings took place.  Persons were lynched for any perceived slight to a white man or woman.

The Equal Justice Initiative researched many of the lynchings that occurred post slavery in 1877 until the 1950’s. Some of those lynchings were as a result of multiple single incident lynchings—where lynching one Black person was not enough. Counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina had the highest single but mass incidents of lynchings. Some lynchings were observed by mob crowds over 2,0000 persons attending such as ones held on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1933.  There were never any convictions or arrests.

As far as Camille Cosby’s comparison to her husband’s conviction to lynching, she and others should be mindful that many lynchings occurred on the court house lawn.  I see no resemblance there to Cosby’s trial. While Cosby was convicted of sexual transgressions over a white woman before a jury of both Blacks and whites, victims of lynchings never received a trial. Persons like General Lee in 1904 was lynched for merely knocking on the door of a white woman. In 1889, Keith Bowen was lynched by an entire white neighborhood for trying to enter a room with three white women. In 1916, Jeff Brown was lynched in Mississippi  for accidently bumping into a white woman as he ran to catch a bus.

If Bill Cosby were Emmett Till, at the first mention of a sexual assault on a white woman, he would have been lynched.  Till, 12 years old, was lynched for either looking, whistling or doing nothing at all to a white woman.  If Cosby had been comparable to Till, at the first instance of an account by a white victim, he would have been lynched.

I hate to hear when persons compare themselves or their situation to a lynching. Clarence Thomas did it at his Senate confirmation hearings when he referred to himself as being involved in a “high tech lynching”.  To make a modern day court room trial comparison or Senate confirmation hearing akin to a lynching does enormous dishonor to those  persons who lost their lives as a result of real mob justice and real lynchings. .

The reason for the Peace and Justice memorial on lynching is to honor those whose lives were taken away in brutal lynchings.  And it is also to bring awareness to what lynching and mob justice did to Black Americans. For those who cannot travel to Alabama to see the memorial, a trip to the website of the Equal Justice Initiative for its report on lynching in America will also bring awareness to our country’s ugly past.  Perhaps when Camille Cosby gets some free time on her hands away from her husband, she might want to travel or read to see what a real lynching looked like.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.


The Problem with the WHCD was the White House Correspondents

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

There has been a flood of comments ever since last Saturday over comedian Michelle Wolf’s roast monologue at the White House Correspondents dinner (“WHCD)’. Wolfe was an equal opportunity comedian who mocked everyone from Congress, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Hucklebee Sanders, journalists, Michael Cohen, Reince Priebus and the Russian collusion. Margaret Talev, President of the White House Correspondents Association wrote in a letter that Wolf’s performance was not in the spirit of the dinner. She personally invited Wolf to the dinner. And therefore, she should have been aware of the comedic style. Imagine if I invited Donald Trump to speak at my Black family reunion with a few Hispanic, Haitian and Muslim friends. Why would I expect Trump to refrain from insulting everyone?

The whole point of the comedic performer at the WHCD is for the comedian to roast the President and the White House. One problem was that Donald Trump failed to attend last year and this year. The dinner is usually attended by the president except for the last two years. And in years past, the president gets to also address and roast the dinner attendees- followed by a comedian. This year, Trump sent Sarah Sanders. The absence of the president again presented a challenge for the dinner format.

There appeared to be outrage among some journalists about Wolf’s jokes about Sarah Hucklebee Sanders. Andrea Mitchell wanted Wolf to apologize to Sanders. Press secretary Sanders lies on an almost daily basis to the same White House correspondents attending the dinner. The indignation towards Wolf among some journalists about jokes made about Sarah Sanders shows that one of Wolf’s jokes missed the point. Wolf joked that Sanders was a disappointment for other white women—saying what’s a name for a white woman that disappoints other white women—Ann Coulter. A few white women journalists who came to Sanders’ defense missed the whole point of that joke. No matter how much Sanders lies to their face (and she does lie a lot) some white women still will come to her defense.

After seeing the criticisms directed at Michelle Wolf by members of the media, I came to several conclusions. The same journalists who attended the dinner support free speech –except if it is a comedy roast at their annual dinner. Then free speech and truth are off limits. Margaret Talev as president of the White House Correspondents Association failed to do her job. If Talev invited Wolf, she should have also fact checked her previous comedy routines – to understand what she was getting. It’s called buyer beware. And since this was year two that a president failed to attend the dinner, then maybe—just maybe a different format might have been considered in lieu of a one -sided monologue roast.

In the end despite the criticism, Michelle Wolf’s performance was the most watched on C-Span in the history of the White Correspondents Dinner—in just three days. She was the real winner. And the White House correspondents were the real losers. Michelle Wolf said she wouldn’t change a single word. And why should she?

Watch Michelle Wolf’s performance here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDbx1uArVOM

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.


#TimesUp for Bill Cosby

April 26th, 2018 | Tags: , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

BillCosbyIn a retrial of Bill Cosby’s case, a Norristown, PA jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of all three counts of sexual assault without consent and by drugging a victim who was incapable of consenting to sex. Cosby faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. There are many factors that can cause a retrial to end with a conviction. The main factor in the Cosby case was the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement which exposed other alleged sexual predators such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons, former Senator Al Franken, Kevin Spacey and a host of others.

For the first time, women alleging sexual assault and or harassment were viewed with less suspicion. The change in the nation’s attitudes towards sexual harassment swayed against Mr. Cosby in his retrial. Despite the inconsistencies in the victim, Andrea Constant’s accounts and a more aggressive defense by Mr. Cosby’s new lawyers, a more aggressive prosecutorial case brought in the long sought after verdict. Five other women testified in the prosecution’s case with one woman crying on the stand—despite the length of time since her encounter.

The defense changed counsel to Tom Messereau for the second trial. Messereau is known for the not guilty verdict in the Michael Jackson molestation trial. He used a more aggressive style. A more aggressive style apparently didn’t help the defense. Calling the victim a “pathological liar” and a “con artist” backfired. When I try cases, I never flat out call someone a liar, even if the evidence supports it. Often times, juries like to reach that decision on their own. The defense also likened the victim’s testimony to a “lynching”. As an African American, if I were sitting on the jury, I would have been completely offended by that characterization. Mr. Cosby’s case or the victim’s accusations do not amount to a lynching comparison. He is not facing a capitol crime for which he could receive the death penalty.

Cosby was seen laughing at times. While that may be his personality, I always tell my clients that any facial expression should be flat without smirks, laughing or any other emotions showing. I guess Mr. Cosby’s lawyer failed to give him that advice. Jurors are watching a defendant’s every move. The defense should know every little thing adds up.

The testimony took twice as long in the retrial. The deliberations were swift—suggesting that the prosecution’s case was believed by most of the jurors going into deliberations. When the victim was asked why did she agree to take the stand again, she replied two words—“for justice.” This time, justice was won for Andrea Constand and all the other victims sharing in her story. #TimesUp for Bill Cosby.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.


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